Mostafa Asal is back from his six-week ban, just in time for the biggest tournament of the year: The World Championships.
He’s already notched up a first-round victory. But can the 21-year-old claim the sport’s biggest prize?
Squash IQ runs through the four factors that will determine his fate in Chicago…
Discipline has been Asal’s undoing at major tournaments.
Of the 10 Platinum/World Championship events held in 2022 and so far in 2023, he has been unable to enter two (including the recent British Open) because they fell within periods in which he was banned. And he was disqualified from a third in the second round (see red and orange bars in graph below).
Barring freak incidents (like the accidental drilling of Lucas Serme that caused the latter), Asal will at least have a shot at glory in Chicago.
Even so, lesser censures such as conduct strokes (or even conduct games, such as Asal suffered at the 2021 Black Ball Open) could potentially compromise his ability to progress through the tournament.
Although we hope Asal can reach the business end of the tournament without controversy, the 21-year-old hardly struck a conciliatory tone in this recent interview following his latest ban (for dangerous play). Whether he is really ready to heed the advice of the game’s greats and modify his movement is an open question.
2) The draw
Asal has the ability to cut through any opponent like a knife through the melted mozzarella on a Chicago Town pizza – but there’s no denying he has a tough draw.
Assuming that Asal wins his second round match, Joel Makin will probably be awaiting him in the last 16. The in-form Welshman would have been viewed as a nightmare third round opponent for any of the top 8, and presents a potent threat to Asal in particular (considering The Golden Tiger bested him at March’s Canary Wharf Classic).
Things don’t get any easier for The Raging Bull from there, with Victor Crouin or Mazen Hesham among his potential quarter-final match ups. Ali Farag – who beat Asal in the semi-final of last year’s World Championships – or Paul Coll could meet him in the semis.
We don’t know what Asal has been doing these last 6 weeks (aside from the occasional Facebook post), but we do know that his fitness was questioned by commentators during the two tournaments he played in March.
Has the youngster spent every waking hour since doing side planks, burpees and court sprints, or playing his beloved Fifa? Judging from the tweet below, he seems up for it at the very least.
Asal seems to have a natural ability to repeatedly pull off the most extreme movements for 60-90 minutes without getting unduly fatigued.
But the time he has put in both on court and in the gym (as opposed to sitting on a beanbag while fondling a joypad), may go a long way to determining his fate in Chicago, particularly if he is to best the more attritional players.
Asal was the form player of the 2022, and would almost certainly have made it to world number one far sooner had it not been for his early 2022 ban and US Open disqualification.
But in early 2023, Diego Elias emerged as the man to beat.
Asal, meanwhile, suffered surprise losses to Victor Crouin, Fares Dessouky and Joel Makin in the first 3 months of the year.
That said, none of the top 5 can really be said to be on a hot streak. While Elias, Asal and Elshorbagy dominated the early season, Coll and Farag have returned to form in recent tournaments (see a breakdown of all 5 contenders here). Indeed, it is Asal – and not world number one Elias – who currently tops the PSA’s alternative Power Ratings, which are based on current form.
The scene is therefore set for an intriguing showdown in Chicago as the game’s biggest box-office star returns from his ban.