In his prime, Michael Jeffrey Jordan of the Chicago Bulls was untouchable. MJ’s signature fadeaway jumpers, stifling defense, and ability to finish at the rim elevated him to a level of greatness that no other basketball player in history has reached. No one could stop His Airness on a basketball court.
Harvard sophomore Ali Farag did his best Jordan impersonation over the weekend at the CSA Individual Championships. And though he didn’t have a basketball in his hands like MJ, Farag was equally unstoppable with a squash racket.
In a field of the 32 best collegiate squash players in the country, Farag did what he has done all season long: He won every time he stepped on the court. The transfer student from Cairo, Egypt swept each of his five matches, including the national championship match against a familiar rival, Columbia’s Ramit Tandon.
Though Tandon and Farag did not face off this season, the two have competed with one another for years, most notably in the Junior British Open.
Farag’s match with Tandon was his closest of the weekend. In the opening game, with the score netted at 10 points apiece, the sophomore was in danger of dropping his first game of the tournament. But Farag was able to rise to the occasion when it mattered most, picking up the next two points for a 12-10 victory.
“Squash is more of a mental game than a physical game,” Farag said. “[Tandon] probably wasn’t physically tired, but mentally tired. He started to make mistakes [at the end of the first game].”
Farag carried his momentum into the match’s final two games, as he edged out Tandon and earned the championship, 12-10, 11-8, 11-4.
When he stepped off the court, the first thing Farag did was call his older brother, Wael, and share the good news.
“[Wael] was so tense,” Farag said. “I gave my mother my Blackberry before the match and she was constantly updating him.”
Before advancing to the championship round against Tandon, Farag swept Trinity’s three-time All-American Vikram Malhotra, who picked up a game against Farag when the pair met in late January. In the other semifinal match, Tandon bested defending national champion Todd Harrity of Princeton in three games.
“I watched [Tandom and Harrity’s] match the night before,” Farag said. “I wouldn’t say that I studied their games, but I looked at their weaknesses and their strengths. I was happy to play anyone [in the final].”
Whereas Harrity took home the individual title a year ago playing a power game, Farag’s teammates attribute his success to his creativity and tact.
“He’s comfortable hitting shots from all areas of the court,” Crimson co-captain Will Ahmed said. “A lot of times, he hits shots that, quite frankly, you’re not supposed to hit. But when you can hit them as smoothly and beautifully as he does, you can get away with it…. For someone who hasn’t seen a lot of squash, it would almost look artistic.”
As much as Ahmed admires how Farag handled his business on the court, he also credited the sophomore for not letting his unparalleled success get to his head.
“He’s extremely humble, almost to a fault,” Ahmed said. “He’s encouraging of his teammates, and he’s exactly the type of player that you’d want as your No. 1.”