Doha, 24 July 2018. After the recent triumph of Qatar’s squash player and Aspire Academy graduate Abdulla Al-Tamimi at the 2018 Malaysian Open, his Australian coach and former world’s no. 1 in squash, Geoff Hunt explains in an exclusive interview the importance of this big win, takes a look at the development of Al-Tamimi since his beginnings in Aspire Academy and explains how he is benefiting from the support system Aspire is providing for him.
Geoff, Abdulla just won the 2018 Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur, a $ 35.000,- PSA tournament and defeated better ranked players such as the Worlds’ number 20 and 29 on the way to secure this triumph. Where would you place this achievement in the professional career of Abdulla?
This win is perhaps his best and slightly better than his British Open results in December even though he then beat a player in the top 10 and another in the top 30. The reason being that in Malaysia on top of his great individual wins he won the overall Malaysian Open championship.
Abdulla is currently ranked as Nr. 33 in the world. How do you see his overall development since he turned pro and did it go as you – as his supervising coach – had envisioned it?
Since turning pro Abdulla has made big improvements in his squash. At times his progress has been slow but steady. He needed to move overseas to maximize his chances and get further quality coaching and solid training partners. The ideal solution was to go to New York to train with Rodney Martin, and his squad. Rodney is an exceptional coach and former world champion and developed in a similar way to Abdulla with his natural skills. He also works with a group of quality professional players. This has turned out to be the great for his ongoing squash development.
You started working with Abdulla when he was still a teenager at Aspire Academy. Undoubtedly he was talented in squash, but his passion used to be football as he also played for Al Saad. What made him finally put 100% of his efforts into squash?
Most young boys like to play football in Qatar and Abdulla was no different. He is quite athletic and was a good footballer as well and only just outside being selected in Aspire as a footballer. So he was a good player for the Al Saad club. As Head squash coach I was happy to let him play football because of his enjoyment of the game and the fact it helped develop other athletic skills on top of squash. You will have to ask Abdulla why he finally chose squash over football but the fact he showed enormous talent at squash and won numerous junior events including gold medals at the GCC, Arab and quality European Championships must have encouraged him to take on the sport professionally.
Can you briefly explain the support system and the environment Aspire Academy has created for Abdulla in order to reach the top in squash?
I think the whole support system for all athletes at Aspire has been fabulous not only for developing the boys sporting prowess but academically and socially as well. Aspires philosophy of developing students to be champions in sport as well as champions in life cannot be any better. Abdulla like many other boys at the Academy embraced it all. After year 12 most students leave the academy however I knew it was important for Abdulla to have continued support for him to get to the top of squash. Again Aspire stepped in and provided that. It has included the normal coaching, sport science & sports medicine at the Academy but also finances for living, training, competing, coaching in the US with Rodney Martin, and my mentoring role.
Abdulla holds a graduate scholarship from Aspire Academy and has the opportunity to support the squash program as assistant coach. How can the young Qatari players benefit from Abdulla’s experience?
Apart from being an exceptional player Abdulla is a fantastic role model for the students to emulate. He also is a natural coach. He understands the game thoroughly from technique to tactics, although at times may not always apply it to his own squash. I think he would also be a good football coach if he so wished. He also enjoys helping people and is a good communicator. Already he has positively influenced and motivated a number of the squash student athletes through his squash results, his presence at training, and his coaching advice.
What does the relationship between Aspire and Qatar’s Tennis and Squash Federation look like?
The administration of squash has changed now with the Tennis Federation looking after squash as well. They appear to have bigger resources and used to running a bigger organization so I believe are in a great position to further enhance the sport. This includes the good relationship that has been developed with Aspire in the past by the former administration.
Abdulla is only 23 years old, most top players in squash are older than 30. Where do you see his development going in the next couple of years?
Some players are able to get to the top of squash quicker than others and there have been world champions ranging in age from 19 and 34. Abdulla is now starting to control his emotions much better on court and his play in the Malaysian Open showed that. I have seen a big improvement by him in many areas over the last 12 months and I think this will continue over the next few years. By then I believe he will be challenging the world’s best. It would be nice to see squash included in the Paris Olympics and by then I believe Abdulla will be at or near his peak.
ABOUT GEOFF HUNT:
Geoffrey Brian Hunt, MBE (born 11 March 1947, in Melbourne, Australia), is a retired Australian squash player who is widely considered to be one of the greatest squash players in history. He was ranked the World No.1 squash player from 1975 to 1980 and has been inducted into the World Squash Federation Hall of Fame and the Sport Australia Hall of Fame. Hunt won 178 of the 215 tournaments he contested during his career. After retiring as a player, Hunt served as the Head Squash Coach at the Australian Institute of Sport from 1985–2003. He joined Aspire Academy in 2006 as Squash Head Coach, where he developed Qatar’s most promising young squash players. Following his move back to Australia in 2013, he has continued to work with Aspire Academy graduate Abdulla Al-Tamimi as his supervising coach.