Playing in just his second match for the Harvard men’s squash team, sophomore transfer student Ali Farag was pitted against the reigning CSA Individual Champion and top-ranked player in the nation, Princeton junior Todd Harrity.
And despite picking up the first game, 11-7, Ali dropped the next two, putting himself in a do-or-die situation heading into the fourth. But although Harrity got off to a strong start in the pivotal fourth game, winning the first four points, the sophomore was able to turn the tide.
"At 2-1 and 4-0 down, I said to myself, ‘There’s no way you’re going to lose this match; do whatever you can,’" Ali remembered. "I started doing nothing but hitting the ball hard and running."
The tactic paid off, as Ali went on to take the match in five games, becoming the first player to beat Harrity since Harvard’s Colin West ’10 took down the then-freshman at the end of the 2009-2010 campaign.
But there’s more to this story than meets the eye.
Rewind about five years over in Cairo, Egypt, and Ali—discouraged with recent losses to players who had abandoned their studies to focus solely on squash—is on the verge of giving up the sport for good. That is, until his brother Wael steps in.
"He told me, ‘no, please give me a chance, I’m going to work with you, and you’re going to be good,’" Ali said.
Ali and Wael share more than just a last name, or even an aptitude for squash: The two brothers have also both worked toward the goal of being crowned Junior World Champion. But in 2008, Wael’s last shot at the world junior title ended in the round of 32—at the hands of none other than Harrity. The Farag brothers were devastated by the loss.
"I didn’t want to quit squash, but I sort of lost interest in squash [after that]," Ali explained. "I didn’t want to be down like my brother, and he’s the biggest figure in my life.... He told me, ‘No, I’m going to help you and maybe one day you’re going to beat him.’"
The day came sooner than expected—on Jan. 15 of this year, to be exact.
"It’s a small world," Ali said.
Training under his brother since age 15, Ali’s squash game drastically improved.
And after coming in second to rival and fellow Egyptian Amr Khaled Khalifa at the World Junior Championships in August 2010, Ali entered the British Open—a championship that Ali noted is "like a second world championship," with all of the world’s best players typically in attendance—the following January.
This time, Ali came out on top, earning the Junior World Championship as well as retribution against Khalifa with a three-game victory in the finals.
Ali is quick to credit his brother Wael for his success on the global stage.