Womens Racquetball

The best squash player in the world trains in CT

STAMFORD — The best squash player in the world could be your neighbor.

Nouran Gohar, of Egyptian descent, has lived in the Bull’s Head area of ​​Stamford since December 2021, and this year she reached No. 1 in women’s squash for the second time in her career.

Gohar trains at the Ox Ridge Riding & Racquet Club in Darien and also trains at Norwalk.

But when she returns home, it’s to Stamford, a city she chose because of its proximity to top training centers and coaches, she said.

“It’s the perfect place for me right now,” Gohar said in a phone interview.

Gohar moved to the United States after marrying Ziad Elsissy, an Egyptian professional fencer, in November 2021. Elsissy had been living in Michigan for about eight years and the couple decided to stay somewhere in the United States.

“We thought Connecticut would be a good place to train,” Gohar said.

Squash is growing in popularity in this country, Gohar said, and is more prominent on the East Coast, especially in cities like Philadelphia and Newark. Two Americans – Amanda Sobhy and Olivia Fiechter – are among the top 10 players in the world. Squash is often confused with racquetball, and although the two sports seem similar at first glance, they each have their own style of racquet, ball, court and rules.

Looking for a place to train, Gohar said she was looking for a trainer to work with. She met Greenwich coach Rod Martin through another top Egyptian squash player who worked with him. At the time, Martin was leading sessions from Chelsea Piers in Stamford.

“We clicked really well and had great chemistry,” Gohar said.

Australian Martin was a distinguished and successful squash player himself, reaching world number two at one point and winning a number of tournaments including the World Open in 1991.

“Everything fell into place,” Gohar said.

The best squash player in the world has a busy schedule.

It usually starts with an 8am strength and conditioning session in Norwalk, followed by a technical session in Ox Ridge with Martin around 9:30am that continues until lunch. Gohar takes a mid-day break, followed by another 1.5-hour squash practice around 4 or 5 p.m. On some days, this is followed by a physiotherapy session which ends around 7 or 8 p.m.

During the season, which lasts about nine months in the fall, winter and spring, she usually participates in at least one tournament per month, she said.

The first time she reached No. 1 was in the summer of 2020. She fell to No. 2 after about three months, but returned to No. 1 in April this year, a position she occupied since.

Martin, the “Elite Squash” program director at Ox Ridge Riding & Racquet Club, described Gohar as an intense and aggressive player. Her on-court behavior has led some to believe she’s an aloof person, but that’s not the case, Martin said.

“She’s actually very sweet,” he said. “She’s a smart girl, she’s very loyal and cares about other people around her.”

Her aggressiveness on the pitch, he said, has a lot to do with her competitive nature and her desire to be the best.

“You have to be like that if you really want to be the best in any sport,” he said.

Gohar said she had a similar perception of Martin when she met him, believing the former player to be intractable and intimidating. But she soon discovered that was not the case.

“He’s very nice,” she said. “We kind of have a similar character.”

Martin said Gohar is very focused when she’s on the pitch. Among her attributes is her swing power, which sets her apart from other players.

“She hits the ball harder than the guys,” he said.

The Gohar-Martin pairing has been successful so far as Gohar has reached the final in almost every tournament she has entered since training with the Greenwich coach.

Among Gohar’s top competitors are other Egyptian players. The country currently dominates the sport, as five of the top 10 male players in the world are Egyptian and five Egyptian women are among the top 10 female players.

Gohar credits former Egyptian player Ahmed Barada, who reached number two in the world rankings, with inspiring many players after him.

She described him as the squash version of Egyptian football star Mohamed Salah, a global icon who rose to prominence as the top scorer for English side Liverpool Football Club.

The difference between the two is that with Barada, aspiring Egyptian squash players were able to train at the same facility as him due to the sport’s much smaller footprint. Having access to some of the best players in the world has only inspired more Egyptian players to reach the heights of the sport, Gohar said.

“Having a world champion training next to you, seeing him day in and day out, is more real,” she said. “It feels like it’s accessible.”

Gohar’s main source of inspiration, however, is not an Egyptian player. His idol growing up was Nicol David, a Malaysian player, who held No. 1 in the world for a record 108 consecutive months.

Gohar had the opportunity to play against David a few times; he defeated her three times, she said.

“The first time was very special because I could never have imagined beating my idol,” she said.

Now she is the player that others are trying to eliminate.

“Since I was a child, I dreamed of being the best player in the world,” she said.