The tournament comperes love to refer to us players by our nicknames.
Many of these monikers were originally coined by the main Squash TV commentator Joey Barrington in an effort to reintroduce to squash some of the gladiatorial features the sport enjoyed during his father Jonah’s heyday in the 1960s and 1970s.
Like darts or snooker, some of them are a bit cheesy: Ramy Ashour is the Artist *, James Willstrop is the Marksman, Amr Shabana the Maestro, Gregory Gaultier is Asterix, Karim Darwish the Dark Prince, Alister Walker the Predator, I’m the Wolf. But there’s no doubt they add an extra element to the sport. It’s a great way for the audience to connect with a player’s style and, more importantly, personality.
I actually quite like my nickname. I’ve been called a lot worse than the Wolf in my time, believe me. My favourite nicknames of all are Omar Mosaad’s, whom Joey has christened the ‘Hammer of Thor’ thanks to his hard-hitting style, and Simon Rosner’s, who is the ‘German Tree-Chopper’. He really does swing from so high on his forehand, and so steeply, that you can imagine him with a lumberjack outfit on.
Once the compere has introduced each player, now comes the obligatory handshake with one’s opponent. I always ensure I smile and look as relaxed as possible at this stage, even if I’m trembling inside. It’s crucial your opponent thinks you’re super-confident, looking forward to battle.
Back in 2003, in Qatar, I reached the semi-finals and was due to have my match broadcast on the Sky Sports highlight package for the first time. Back then you only made it onto TV if you reached the semi-finals and I was understandably quite nervous.
My opponent Lee Beachill could see it plainly on my face. Afterwards he told another player that I looked as white as a sheet as we shook hands. Before the match had even started he knew victory was his. Ever since that day I’ve always hidden any nerves behind a poker face.