“I was really worried I might never play again” – Ibrahim Recalls Crossroads Moment

“It was definitely a rollercoaster of emotions,” Youssef Ibrahim admitted as he retold the moment he came close to hanging up the racket 18 months ago.

After the 2021/22 season had come to its conclusion, then-World No.11 Ibrahim had decided to finally deal with a long-standing knee injury, which he had previously pushed to the side with hundreds of injections and painkillers.

However, the tough road to recovery that followed throughout the first half of the 2022/23 campaign soon left him questioning his very future in the sport, and whether he could ever return to the form which had seen him billed as one of the brightest young talents on tour.

Four months into his rehab, Ibrahim reached a crossroads moment: whether to continue pushing for a return to the sport or look for a job away from the professional game.

He recalled: “At that point I was really worried that I might never play again. I was talking to my brother and I just didn’t think it was possible. I thought I might need to look to get a job or something and I just didn’t think I was going to get through it.”

“My brother just told me to give myself three, four days off, not to do anything, and just be at home and go out. He said after those three days, if you feel like you want to go back and continue rehab, then do it. If you feel like it’s done, then you’re probably feeling the right thing.

“And after two days off, I just couldn’t wait to get back in the gym, and my knee felt so much better.

“I could start playing 15 minutes, then 20 minutes and then one hour a day. Part of the rehab was playing tournaments, so that half of the season that I played in [January to June] 2023, I was not fully recovered, but it was part of the process because it made me do lunges that I was really scared to do in the gym.

“It didn’t actually go really well [results-wise]. I obviously was losing a lot, and then there was so much pressure. When I was coming back, the expectations were really high.

“You know, I was World No.11 beforehand, and I thought I could break into the top 10, but then I obviously didn’t take into consideration that the injury would slow me down a lot.”

As Ibrahim admitted, results were initially hard to come by upon his return to the PSA Tour, with the Egyptian knocked out in the opening two rounds of eight events in succession at the backend of the 2022/23 season.

This campaign has also been one of frustrating near misses for Ibrahim, having come close to claiming a number of high-profile scalps. A pair of close five-game defeats to Mohamed ElShorbagy in Singapore and Qatar, as well as a tight loss to Karim Abdel Gawad in the deciding game of the Pittsburgh Open semi-final, are notable examples.

However, the ‘Gunslinger’ finally got his reward for his persistent efforts at the Black Ball Open, defeating World No.9 Joel Makin in four games to reach the quarter-finals of the Gold-level event.

Despite narrowly missing out on a spot in the last four with a defeat to Mazen Hesham in five games, Ibrahim admitted to having waited for a “good win like this for so many months” following his victory over the Welsh No.1.

Talking about his season to date, Ibrahim said: “This season, I have felt so much better physically, but I have been putting so much pressure on myself about performing and just winning against the top guys. I was so close so many times this season, but it hasn’t gone my way.

“I haven’t taken it very well when I have lost this season, which is something that I’m learning. I think after the last couple of tournaments [Windy City Open and Cleveland Open], I didn’t do very well, and I just thought that I was going to train normally and not think too much about the results. I wasn’t really enjoying my squash at all this season.

“So I mean this tournament [the Black Ball Open] and hopefully for the rest of this year I’m just going to just give it my all and just try to enjoy it as much as I can, because that’s who I am and that’s why I love to play the sport.

“I just like to put pressure on myself, but now in this tournament, I’m not playing with much pressure, and I just feel like I’m enjoying it again. Hopefully, I just keep that up throughout the rest of the season.”

After the conclusion of the Black Ball Open, Ibrahim returned to the top 15 in the PSA Men’s World Rankings for the first time since February 2023, and the Cairo-born left-hander has no plans on stopping just yet.

He said: “My goal eventually is to reach the top five and be World No.1 one day, but I just don’t want to think about it too much.

“I think it’s better off to just try to perform, and without even knowing you’re going to be there. I think when I made it to World No.11 I remember there’s one interview that I did and I was asked what my goal was. I said I hoped I could be top 30 when I graduate, you know, and that would be a dream.  And then I made it to World No. 11 without even knowing.

“When you do the work consistently, and you don’t think about it too much, it’s just going to happen. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself.

“That’s why I play this sport, I want to reach the very top, but I’m just going to take it step by step. Everybody has a different journey. I’m just going to enjoy the journey rather than think about the destination.”

Ibrahim’s next event on the PSA World Tour will be the 2023/24 World Championships, which will be held in his hometown of Cairo. The 25-year-old, who has been named as the 16th seed at the prestigious event, will get his campaign underway against USA’s Shahjahan Khan, before potential second and third-round bouts against England’s Nick Wall and Peru’s Diego Elias, if the event were to go to seeding.

On how highly he holds competing in the World Championships, Ibrahim said: “I think it’s literally the epitome of our sport. When you’re asked why do you play this sport, or what are your goals, the first thing is going to be ‘I want to win the World Championships and I want to get to World No.1’.

“Since such a young age it has just had such a special feeling. To win the World Championships is something every squash player aspires to.

“I think it means everything. I would prefer to win the Worlds than a Platinum, or even 10 Platinums. It just has a special feeling and playing in it is a memory that’ll last forever.”

The 2023/24 CIB PSA World Championships will take place between 9-18 May, with all of the action available to watch live on SQUASHTV. You can also keep up to date with all of the action from Cairo by following the PSA on XFacebookInstagramTikTok, and YouTube.