The Egyptians are famous for their explosive game. Rather than the attritional British style, in which matches are won by driving the opponent to exhaustion, the Egyptians look to finish points quickly and with as much panache as circumstances allow. They were helped by the adjustment of the lower limit on the front wall – lowered by two inches for men in 1990 and women in 2015 – which prompted more risk-taking. There are still plenty of lung-burning rallies in the game, but now there’s a lot more action in front of the court – more drop shots and guilty flicks. John Nimick, a hardball supporter in the 1980s, was perplexed by how the Egyptians transformed squash. “It’s made it so dynamic, so angular, so fast, so creative,” he says.
Given Sobi’s legacy and all the time she spent in Cairo as a child, it should come as no surprise that she sports a style similar to that of the Egyptians, and as a pro, she won over all three of those women. who are above him in the ranking. : Nooran Gohar, Noor El Sherbini and Haniya El Hammami. But they are very tough opponents. “I’ve played them and they’ve probably given me one error throughout the match,” says Soby. Consistency and judicious shot selection are paramount, and this is where Sobh sometimes runs into trouble. During his second match in Chicago, against Welsh player Tesney Evans, ranked 14th, Sobie won the first two games easily and scored match points in the third. But she lost them and went on to lose in the third and fourth games before prevailing. (She was defeated in the next round by world number 5 Joel King of New Zealand.)
Soby is coached by Wael El Hindi, a former Egyptian Top 10 player who owns a racquet club in Boynton Beach, Fla. He hired him in part because he “knows the mind of Egypt.” L Hindi told me he was working with Soby to develop a better understanding of when to attack and when to retreat. He says it is important for Sobie to be able to force his game on opponents without taking too much risk. What impresses him about Soby is his willingness to experiment. “She’s such a great student,” says L Hindi. “Even at his level, he is ready to learn things, to change things.”
Soby showed signs of progress at the British Open in April. In the quarterfinals, he defeated Fichter 3–0 in 35 minutes. She was in total command from start to finish – no lapses, relentlessly offensive without being reckless. The next day, she faced Gohar, who was the world No. Sobi had a winning record against Egypt, but lost in their four most recent meetings. The win over Fechter, however, made him feel very confident. He may have also derived impetus from the fact that New Zealander Paul Cole had replaced Ali Faragh as the men’s top-ranked player – a crack in the Egyptian wall. “I thought I was ready,” she says.
Unfortunately for her Gohar was in a cruel form. Gohar generates even more power as Soby hits the ball, and the American quickly feels overwhelmed by his pace. “Instead of relaxing, I became very nervous, anxious,” she says. Gohar pounced on every loose shot, hitting the winners almost at will and winning the match 3-0. Soby admitted that he was “caught” by how well his opponent played. “It had been a while since I had such a bad loss on a grand stage,” she says.
But if the match showed that the gap between him and the best Egyptian is wider than he would have wished, it also demonstrated the distance Sobi has covered in other ways. She was crushed after the defeat and felt that chronic feeling of shame and inadequacy – “my eating disorder voice”, as she calls it. She knew it was not a good idea to spend the night alone in her hotel room. Instead, she went to visit some friends. By the next morning, Sobi says, she was already strategizing about what she would do differently next time against Gohar. In its own way, it felt like a victory.
Michael Steinberger is a contributing writer for the magazine. His last feature was about billionaire Nicolas Berggren and his think tank.