“My goal was to break into the top 10 by the end of the season” : Amina Orfi

Egypt’s teenage sensation Amina Orfi is nearly at the end of her first full season on the PSA World Tour, and what a season it has been. The 17-year-old featured exclusively in World Tour events, reaching two Platinum event quarter finals, three Bronze event finals and claimed her first World Tour title at the Squash on Fire Open in February.

The determined young Egyptian burst onto the majors scene in last year’s World Championships in Chicago, where she sliced her way through two rounds before losing out to World No.3 Hania El Hammamy in five games with a quarter final spot within her reach.

As we caught up with Orfi to preview the upcoming World Championships, she talks us through her memories of the event and who she took inspiration from to get to where she is today.

“I think I was nine years  old when I watched my first Worlds. I’m not sure when it was exactly but I was watching Raneem [El Welily] and Nicol David playing in the final here in Egypt and Nicol was down but came back and won the  tournament. I was watching live on TV, obviously I was cheering for Raneem because she’s Egyptian but what stood out for me the most was how she was only a few points away from winning and the score just switched around in a matter of seconds.

“I watched many of the Egyptian players. For example Habiba Mohammad was also a rising talent at that time. She was a very good  junior and she was making waves on the tour but then unfortunately she got injured, so I used to watch her a lot in Egypt when there was junior tournaments. I used to watch Omneya Abdel Kawy because she was also one of the top squash players in Egypt, obviously Raneem and then Nour ElSherbini. I watched her when she beat Laura Massaro in Malaysia after being 2-0 down, amazing.”

Upon beating USA’s Olivia Clyne in round two in Chicago, Orfi became the youngest player ever to reach the last 16 of a World Championships in the women’s game. A record that Orfi had no idea that she was breaking.

“Well, I didn’t actually know that I was the youngest ever to reach last 16. I thought Nour [ElSherbini] or someone else has been the youngest before me. But I felt really good when I won my second round match against Olivia Clyne, because I was playing against her home crowd and she was the more experienced player and she was world No.12 or 13 and I was ranked 60-something and so to beat her, that was amazing.  

“Then I played in the last 16 against World No.3 Hania El Hammamy and at that time, I felt like I didn’t really have a chance but then when I started playing my squash and didn’t focus on the score, it got so close and then at the end a bit of lack of experience let me down but I thought it was a good tournament overall.”

With the 2023-24 CIB PSA World Championships just nine days away, Orfi is very much looking forward to the biggest event on the calendar being in her home city and knows how big the event is.

“I feel the World Championships surpasses all the Platinum and Gold events on tour.

“It’s the most important tournament in squash and in the season and everyone’s waiting for this tournament. I feel it’s sometimes compared to being World No.1, some people would prefer to be World Champion and some people would prefer to be World No.1, so I think they’re similar in terms of value but being called the World Champion is something huge in squash.

“It’s definitely better for me that it is in Cairo because I’ll have my family there, maybe some friends cheering for me and all my coaches, so it’s going to give me more support. Plus, it makes it easier when you’re at home and you’re eating the food that you’re used to and you’re sleeping in the bed that you’re used to, my home is 20 minutes away from the venue, so that’s perfect.”  

Orfi’s debut season on the PSA World Tour has seen her rise 33 places from August to now. She’s currently at her highest ranking of World No.11 as she reflects back on a tough season so far, she’s already identified her target for next season.

“I feel the start of the season wasn’t the best. I played some tough matches in Paris and in Qatar against Amanda Sobhy and then the US Open was the turning point I think.

“I reached the quarter finals after beating Joelle King and I was so close to reaching the semifinals, maybe that match could have gone better. I lost 3-2 after being 2 -1 6 -2 up and so I think about that match a lot.  

“At the Hong Kong FC Bronze even I beat Georgina Kennedy in the semis 3 -2 in a tough match and I didn’t play that well in the final the next day and Siva [Subramaniam] beat me.

“I felt this tournament could have gone better and then I got injured during that semi-final and I didn’t really play my best at the  Hong Kong Platinum event immediately after, but it was fine.  

“The Tournament of Champions  went  pretty  well.  I  beat  Tinne Gilis  for  the  first  time  after  I  lost  to her  last  year 3-0 and  so  it  was  a  big  win  for  me.  I  couldn’t  keep  my  game  for  the  quarter finals   against  Rowan [Elaraby].  Rowan played very well though  and although it was  a  huge  opportunity  to  reach  the  semifinals  again, I  feel  it  had  taught  me  a  lot  and  so  hopefully  moving  forward  I’ve learned  from  it.

“I came back, trained and worked on my mistakes a bit and then I went and won the Squash on Fire tournament which was my first Bronze title. I was up and then I was almost going to lose. I was 9-6 down in the fifth game but I managed to hold my nerve. 

“I think I was still a little caught up in the Squash on Fire win at the Windy City Open so didn’t perform too well there and also felt a bit of pressure in Black Ball. But overall I think it’s been a great season so far for me.

“My goal was to break into the top 10 and hopefully I do that by the end of the season but if not, I’m very close and by the start of the next season I will be there and I’ll try to push towards the top five.”

Amina Orfi celebrates her victory over Sabrina Sobhy in the semi-finals in Washington, D.C.
Amina Orfi celebrates her victory over Sabrina Sobhy in the semi-finals in Washington, D.C.

It’s sometimes easy to forget that Orfi is still only 16 years old. She is certainly not living the life of a normal 16-year-old and admits that sometimes is does play on her mind but she feels privileged to be in this position at such a young age and has high expectations of herself.

“Sometimes I forget that I’m 16 too because everyone around me is expecting a lot from me and sometimes it puts some pressure on me but I feel that this pressure is a privilege. When I think about it, I feel that I’m really lucky to be in this position and so I should keep pushing. I have high expectations for myself and so I try to meet them.

“Outside of squash, I have school as well so it’s very difficult to manage because most of the time I’m traveling and I miss a lot of school. I barely see my friends at school and when I come it’s such a big thing because I’m never there. But when I am home and not playing squash, I like to spend time with my family because of how much I’m away, that is what I like to do when I have time.

“When I think about it, it sometimes makes me feel sad that I don’t have the social side of being a 16 year old but then I have the aspect of being World No. 11 in squash and a chance of going to the Olympics someday. So I feel that obviously outweighs the social life. I can have that when I retire if I want to.”

Orfi claimed her first World Tour title in February this year at the Squash on Fire Open in Washington D.C. She avenged her final loss from last year, beating defending champion Tinne Gilis in an intense five-game battle.

“I was so, so happy. First of all in the semis, I had a tough match against Sabrina [Sobhy], we were both ranked 14 and 15 so very  close. So to beat her in three, that was really important for me.

“In the final against Tinne, I had just beaten her 3-2, 11-9 in the fifth in New York a few weeks earlier so I tried to not think about that too much. When I was 2-0 up, I didn’t believe in myself that the win was getting closer and at 6-2 up, she started to come back and me. Cut to 9-6 down in the fifth, I remember I told myself to ‘stop wasting the chances that you get’ and so I just kept pushing and at the end I won 11-9 and I couldn’t believe it to be honest. I replayed the match several times later and I found that it was a bit of luck that won me that event but it felt so special to me to win a World Tour title in my first season on tour.”

As Orfi looks ahead to the World Championships, she considers herself an underdog in the event and is hoping to mirror the efforts of compatriot Karim Abdel Gawad in his 2016 win and knows that all the attention will be on the ‘Top Three’. Orfi hopes that one day she will get her name on the trophy, which would be the perfect gift to give back to her parents.

“Maybe I’m an underdog because I’m seeded 9/16. But anything can happen at the World Championships. I remember Karim Abdel Gawad winning when he wasn’t seeded when he won in Egypt in 2016. This tournament is so different than the other tournament in the season because everyone is a bit nervy because it means so much so anything can happen.

“Obviously everyone’s always focused on the top three to win these major tournaments but the good thing about it being in Egypt is that a lot of people know me as well because of my junior career. They have been watching me play and seeing my name for many years now so that will be good. I also am seeded to meet ElSherbini in round three so I’m sure there will be a lot of Egyptian interest on that if it happens.”

“The biggest thing I’ve learned is that you always have to keep improving yourself, because everyone around you is trying to surpass you in the rankings and everyone has goals that they want to achieve. So if you’re not improving yourself, even if you are  good, someone out there is improving and they’re going to pass you eventually. 

“If I win it, then that would be unreal to be honest. If I see my name on that trophy I will feel that like all the work I’ve put in throughout the years has paid off in such a big event because as I said earlier it’s the most important event for squash players and it would be the biggest gift to give back to my parents and all of the sacrifices they have made for me.”