Has there ever been a player that has polarised squash opinion more than Mostafa Asal?
Combining hard hitting and extreme movement ability with ultra-soft hands, the ‘Raging Bull’ seems unplayable at times. At 6”2, the powerfully built youngster eats up the court in a couple of strides, and hits cross-court nicks for fun.
But the 21-year-old Egyptian has courted controversy since he burst onto the PSA tour in 2018.
Controversy on court
At first, criticism centred around his exuberant victory celebrations. More recently, the young champion has been punished by referees and criticised by fellow professionals for his movement and on-court conduct.
Having accepted a two-month suspension from the tour in January 2022 for on-court disciplinary matters, Asal was disqualified from the US Open in October after accidentally striking his second-round opponent in the head with the ball. To make matters worse, his father was recently banned from attending games following an incident at the CIB Egyptian Open in September.
Despite all this, Asal last month became the youngest world number one in the professional era.
But it’s clear from social media comments that several of his fellow professionals don’t enjoy playing him. Although there are grey areas when it comes to moving on and off the ball, and no player is an angel, Asal seems to stir up a strength of feeling not seen before.
His giant stature definitely comes into it. When you get two big players on the court, they will bump into each other.
And some of the game’s greats feel that the talented youngster has been unfairly maligned.
A ‘witch hunt’?
Squash legend Jonah Barrington suggested in October that it is Asal’s opponents, and not Asal, who are playing the referees. He hailed the Raging Bull as a “very special player”.
“I am increasingly uneasy about the ever-growing attention placed on Mostafa Asal’s movement and what might develop into almost a witch hunt with an increasing group of his opponents playing the victim to referees both prior and during matches against the young Egyptian,” Barrington wrote in a column for the PSA website in October 2022.
Interestingly, Barrington expanded on his thoughts on Asal again in his most recent column, and had this to say about his controversial semi-final with Marwan Elshorbagy in January’s Houston Open, however.
“Asal’s problems on court are considerable and overt. The movement (e.g. trailing leg) and the left arm lingering on the enemy has to be remedied and that won’t happen overnight, believe me, while it will also tend to re-emerge when the pressure is firmly on.”
Wherever you stand on the young Egyptian, his matches are often (but not always) plagued by refereeing decisions. Are the referees being too harsh on him? Or too lenient? It is an open question.
At Squash IQ we only hope to see a return to the free-flowing, no-nonsense squash that makes the game so thrilling to watch.