Friday, 3 June 2022

Gets your racquets ready

The Beginning

Your Wealth is a custom Enterprise briefing for people just like you: Executives, entrepreneurs and builders who know that time isn’t money, but that time and money are feedstock for the one thing that matters most in life: Your family, however you define it.

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RACQUETS AT THE READY

This month’s edition of Your Wealth is all about racketeering. Not the criminal activity. The thing where after a hard day’s work, or a fitful night’s sleep, you grab your best tennis shoes / prized padel paddle / fave match partner, and head to the courts to work off some steam. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is the racquet sports edition. We know plenty of you like to whack a ball around, and others are professional spectators. Keep on reading to discover why Egyptians are so fantastic at squash, how to build your amateur tennis game, everything you need to know about Wimbledon this year — and just why it is that padel tennis has taken over our sports clubs and our office chats.

SQUASH COUNTRY

Egypt ❤️ squash and squash ❤️ Egypt. Why? Egyptian players have for decades dominated the international squash circuit. Seven of the top ten players in the Professional Squash Association’s (PSA) men’s game are Egyptian nationals, as are five of the top ten women — with the top three spots all currently occupied by Egyptian women.

Case in point: Egyptian champions Ali Farag and Nour El Sherbini (both World #2s) walked away with the PSA squash championship cups earlier this month following two all-Egyptian final matches at the CIB-sponsored event.

Where it all began: The English exported their game to Egypt in the early twentieth century, building courts to entertain the colonial officers stationed in Cairo and Alexandria. Squash even gets a mention in the classic film Lawrence of Arabia (watch, runtime: 1:23), when staff brief the famed lieutenant as he arrives back at British military HQ in Cairo: “We’re doing alright, sir. We’ve built a squash court.”

It wasn’t long before we were beating the British at their own game: Egyptian diplomat F.D Amr Bey picked up the racquet when he was sent to England in 1928. By the early 1930s, Amr Bey became the first non-English victor of the British Open, the equivalent at the time of the world championship. He held the title until he retired, undefeated, in 1938, making him “the first truly dominant squash player in history,” PSA says. Amr Bey passed the mantle on to one-time ball boy Mahmoud El Karim, who walked away with four British Open titles in the 1940s.

But it was in the 1990s that the seeds of our current squash success were sown: Egyptian players faded from the squash scene in the second half of the twentieth century — only to come roaring back as it drew to a close. The catalyst was one Ahmed Barada, who shot to fame when he reached the final of the inaugural Al-Ahram International tournament. The sight of a wildcard Egyptian player rocketing to the top of the game — against the backdrop of the Giza Pyramids, no less — is credited with inspiring a generation of local kids who would go on to command the international circuit. "We always had someone to look up to and follow," men’s world #3 Mohamed Elshorbaghy was cited by the BBC as saying of Barada.

So what’s the magic recipe that has propelled our players to the top? The ‘Barada effect’ spurred enthusiasm among young athletes to learn the game — but it doesn’t explain why we’ve been able to produce so many stellar players.

Advantage #1: “Concentrated quality.” Around 1.7 mn people play squash in the US across 3.5k courts. By contrast, we have just 400 courts and less than 10k players — and the pros are all based at some 10 clubs in Cairo and Alexandria, the New York Times reports. That makes for a tight-knit community where up-and-coming talent get to play against and be mentored by the very best in the game. “These young players get to see how the greats play, train, eat,” Daniel Coyle, who writes about the science of success, told the paper.

Advantage #2: Dynamic technique. Our players are pioneering a new technique that some say also makes for a more interesting game. Egyptian squash is dynamic and unstructured, with out-of-nowhere drop shots and deceptive flicks of the wrist,” the NYT says. It’s also aggressive: "The old style of game was about the long attritional rallies, hundreds of shots, up and down the side wall, but now largely thanks to the Egyptians you're seeing a new style of squash: attacking squash," Squash Mad editor Alan Thatcher tells France24.

Advantage #3: Cachet. Few countries hold squash players in quite as high esteem as we do — and that draws young athletes to the game. Add to that the fact that squash talent can help land Egyptian high schoolers much-coveted spots at US universities, and it's not surprising that parents of athletically gifted children are keen for them to pick squash. Whereas in the US, there are any number of well-funded, high-profile sports to funnel athletic kids into, here, a greater proportion of those kids head straight for the squash court, the NYT notes.

The future of Egyptian squash? While some have sounded the alarm that our dominance could be under threat as more young players move abroad for study, the current rankings suggest otherwise. With each success, more young Egyptians are discovering the squash scene — and that positive feedback loop will be hard for any other country to break. Long live the era of the Egyptian squash champions.

TENNIS TIPS AND TRICKS

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Tennis is the safest midlife crisis we can think of. Deciding to pick up a racquet at, say, age 47 and learn the game from scratch is unlikely to get you fired. Spend too much time on the court? Your spouse is likely to do one of two things: Breathe a sigh of relief that you’re out of their hair (if they have any left) — or decide to join you on the clay. And no matter how much you blow on private lessons, court fees and ballboys, the risk to your financial health is nothing akin to that from deciding you’re some kind of next-gen Warren Buffett who knows that this is the memecoin that’s going to make you a quadrillion USD in a week.

Tennis is also awesome for you. Every point is a sprint. Strung together into games and sets, they become a marathon that demands power, endurance, finesse, mental toughness and the ability to think on your feet. And when you’re hooked? You’re hooked — it’s a sport folks can play into their 80s.

The biggest problem with picking a red Yonex V-Core 98 instead of a vintage Testarossa or other redhead as your midlife object of desire? It’s knowing where to start. And you’re in luck: The tennis subculture on the interwebs is (for the most part) warm, supportive, funny. Better still: It doesn’t pretend to be solving the global food crisis or doing anything more than helping newbies like us learn to hit a topspin forehand, sort out that hitch in your serve — or improve your singles strategy — at any age.

Here are some channels we’ve found super-helpful on our tennis “journey.”

ESSENTIAL TENNIS (Youtube | website) is run by Ian Westermann in some “flyover state” or another. Westermann has been on YT since 2009 and offers a massive back catalog packed with how-tos on technique and strategy. In years past he had excellent on-screen co-hosts who worked in his Wisconsin-based coaching business, including Kevin Garlington (see Total Tennis Domination, below). Garlington’s departure to a job in another state was a turning point for Westermann: He still pumps out instructional videos, but he’s now putting himself out there as a player: Chronicling in videos his return to competitive play, the rehab of a horrible on-court ankle injury, the rebuilding of his one-handed backhand.

The best part about Westermann’s channel (aside from the host’s fundamental likability) is the great cast of characters he’s assembled in the “Essential Tennis Universe,” including Mark Sansait (software developer by day, NRTP 5.0-rated pottymouth tennis player, pundit and emerging Youtuber at night) and Scott “Angry Old Man” Broady (goals for middle-aged guys and the channel’s very literate, zen-tennis philosopher). Broady, Sansait and a rotating cast of supporting characters regularly play singles and doubles matches on the channel against each other and “special guests.” Great commentary. Great learning experience. And great people.

What more could you ask for? Westermann’s book (naturally enough titled Essential Tennis) is new this month and getting great reviews. He’s spent the better part of the last month on a media tour of US tennis websites promoting it.

Starting point for newbies: The rules of tennis explained (scoring, terms and more) (watch, runtime: 7:55).

Must-watch gameplay series: Any one of the matches in ET’s “Play Your Court bracket challenge.

TENNIS TROLL (Youtube) is tennis to which any middle-aged Egyptian can relate. The Atlanta-based channel features players of every age and skin color. Some have abs so taut they’d show a single bite of hawawshi — others look like they have nine hawawshi every morning for breakfast before washing it all down with a couple of fuul sandwiches and some fries. From elite college-level players to old guys with crappy second serves and strokes so ugly that only their mother could love them, they go by nicknames ranging from Wannabe Pro and Most Exhausting Player to Tennis Rodman, Tennis Psycho and 50 Year Old. But they’re putting themselves out there, playing on outdoor courts in the baking heat and humidity with smiles on their faces. If you love match play, Tennis Troll is a close second to Essential Tennis. Added bonus: characters here occasionally show up on ET and vice versa.

TOTAL TENNIS DOMINATION (Youtube | website) features Kevin Garlington, a former professional tennis player turned coach whose clean, crisp technique is rivaled only by his ability to break complex concepts down into chunks accessible to newbies and 5.0 players alike. (An NRTP 5.0-rated player is basically at the top of the recreational heap.) Garlington radiates intelligence and decency in videos that focus heavily on technique, though his recent piece on the four phases of a singles match highlights his strength on strategy, too. Garlington was a standout on Essential Tennis when he and his wife Megan worked with Westermann and it’s fantastic to see him coming into his own as a solo host.

TENNIS NERD (Youtube | website) is the got-to for anyone afflicted with GAS. Gear Acquisition Syndrome, not flatulence (not that we’ve ever suffered from either). Host Jonas is an accomplished (and steadily improving) player who recently binned his day job in marketing to make a go of his Youtube channel full-time. He’s your guide to racquets, strings, string setups and self-improvement — and he’s recently gotten into (pre-)match coverage informed by a deep understanding of the game, of the gear, and of the people who play.

MARK SANSAIT (Youtube | LinkedIn) is a leading character in the Essential Tennis Universe (above). A software developer by training, his PG-13 wit on ET morphs into R-rated territory on his eponymous channel. Sansait’s matchplay is brilliant to watch and his gear reviews are really on-point. Sansait also has some of the best editing, cinematography and graphics of any tennis Youtuber you’ll see, including some really tight drone work. We’re not deeply into his livestreams, but that’s just us. The guy is a talent — on court and off — on which to keep an eye.

TENNIS SPIN (Youtube | website) is quite possibly the most prolific of the tennis Youtubers, pumping out a new episode near-daily while running a tennis shop in the San Francisco Bay area. Coffee-addict Harry holds court on everything from new racquet releases to your grip size, the economics of tennis retail, the global supply chain nightmare, gender bias in tennis retail, and whether vintage wooden tennis racquets are worth collecting. Harry is witty, engaging and features a recurring cast of characters who help make each short (near) daily episode a delight.

ALSO WORTH YOUR TIME-

  • Gladiators Tennis — simply excellent racquet reviews by two funny, engaging twentysomething pros based in Barcelona. (Youtube | Instagram)
  • My Tennis HQ — tennis wisdom, match play and gear reviews from one of the top 200 players in the world (and current hitting partner of the women’s tour phenom Naomi Osaka). (Youtube | website)
  • Tennis TV — Daily highlights from the ATP men’s world tour, including from the “Big Four” — the Australian, US and French opens as well as Wimbledon. (Youtube | website)
  • WTA — The official Youtube channel of the women’s tour is nowhere as slick as the men’s, but the match highlights are stupendously awesome and the interviews occasionally compelling. (Youtube)
  • Dill Plays — A top-ranked former college player making a go of it on Youtube with great match play and solid editing. (Youtube)
  • 2MinuteTennis — Ryan rarely keeps it to two minutes, but his insight into technique, tactics, strategy and the rules of the game make his channel a must-watch. (Youtube | Website)

YOUR TOP 5

Your top 5 pieces of business and economic news in May:

  • The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) raised interest rates for the second time since March by 200 basis points, bringing its deposit rate to 11.25% and the lending rate to 12.25%
  • Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund ADQ will invest USD 10 bn in industrial projects in Egypt, the UAE and Jordan as part of a partnership to finance large-scale projects in “key industries” that “create jobs, support growth, boost industrial production and increase exports.”
  • Egypt’s non-oil private sector continued to contract in April, buffeted by inflation that has been turbocharged by the war in Ukraine as well as by falling demand.
  • Production inputs and raw materials will be exempt from CBE rules handed down in February requiring the vast majority of importers to use letters of credit (L/Cs) to cover imports.
  • Egypt’s unemployment rate dipped to 7.2% in 1Q 2022 from 7.4% the previous quarter. Unemployment was also down 0.2 percentage points compared with the same period last year.

WIMBLEDON

For tennisheads, summer means only one thing: Wimbledon fever. A Grand Slam is a Grand Slam — but many tennis players and spectators alike keep a special place in their hearts for Wimbledon. It’s the oldest of the four Grand Slam tournaments; the only one played on grass; and the only one that comes with that English sense of grandiosity that so often veers into the absurd (see: players must wear all white, including their underwear, and the grass must be cut to 8 mm exactly.)

This year’s tournament is just around the corner: Wimbledon will be held this year from 27 June through 10 July. Qualifying rounds will be played from 20-23 June, and the official draw will be announced on Friday, 24 June. The women’s singles final will be held on Saturday, 9 July, and the men’s singles final will be played on Sunday, 10 July.

No more Middle Sundays or Manic Mondays: For the first time ever the competition will run 14 days long and matches will be set up for the first Sunday of the tournament. The so-called “Middle Sunday” is traditionally a rest day so maintenance work can take place on the courts — and had been followed by a packed “Manic Monday,” when all the fourth-round matches in both the men’s and women’ shingles were played on one day. “Improved grass court technology” has doen away with the need for the tradition, All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) Chairman Ian Hewitt told Reuters.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has spilled over into the grass court: Wimbledon officials decided to ban Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s tournament over fears that their participation would be used to serve Russian propaganda. The move met with massive backlash from players including Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, and from the sport’s global governing bodies, which moved to strip Wimbledon of world ranking points this year. The decision to exclude Russian and Belarusian players undermines “the ability for players of any nationality to enter tournaments based on merit, and without discrimination,” said men’s tennis governing body the ATP.

Wimbledon now looks set to go ahead without world rankings: Wimbledon organizers said they were “deeply disappointed” by the decision to remove world rankings from the tournament but would not be changing their stance. “We remain unwilling to accept success or participation at Wimbledon being used to benefit the propaganda machine of the Russian regime,” organizers said. Top Russian and Belarusian players including men’s world #2 Daniel Medvedev and women’s world #4 Aryna Sabalenka sadly look set to be forced to sit this one out.

Things are different this year — but Wimbledon’s legacy stretches back over a century: The championships began life in the London suburb in 1877, as an amateur competition put together on the lawn of the All England Croquet Club to raise money for “a pony-drawn roller for its croquet lawns.” In the intervening century and a half or so, Wimbledon has had a key role in shaping and professionalizing the game of tennis itself. Its famed center court has played host to some of the defining moments of the sport — from the 1962 breakthrough of Billie Jean King to what some call the best forehand shot in history, courtesy of Steffi Graff in 1988.

How to watch like a pro: There are almost as many rules for how to behave off the court at Wimbledon as on — and plenty of non-tennis fans tune in simply for the celebrity-spotting in the stands and to feel part of the ritual of it all. If you want to get into the Wimbledon spirit, help yourself to a nice big bowl of strawberries and cream as you watch — the tournament reportedly shifts some 27k tons of the fruit and 7k liters of cream each year. The quintessential drink of the tournament is, of course, Pimm’s — for a non-alcoholic version of the English fruit cocktail, check out this recipe.

And which pros to watch: Novak Djokovic will be defending his title this year and is vying for his seventh WImbledon victory, while Andy Murray is looking focused on the British tournament this year after he skipped last month’s French Open. Odds are good on Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Matteo Berrettini to walk away with this year’s trophy.

In the women’s game, hopes are high for Iga Swiatek, Naomi Osaka, and Serena Williams. Last year’s victor Ashleigh Barty won’t be back to defend her trophy after her surprise retirement earlier this year. And we’ll be rooting for young newcomer Emma Raducanu, who became a household name in the UK when she smashed all expectations at last year’s WImbledon — and then went on to win the US Open a few months later.

PADEL, PADEL

A little known sport not long ago, padel tennis has seen an astronomical rise in popularity: The legend goes that padel tennis was first conjured up in 1969 by a Mexican businessman who wanted his own personal tennis court but was short on space (and built walls around it so he wouldn’t have to go chasing balls into his neighbors’ yard. Padel has long been adored by amateur athletes in Spain — but it wasn’t until the outbreak of the pandemic, and the lockdowns that followed, that the game really took off.

Case in point: In Italy, which has 5k padel courts (five times more than it did pre-covid), padel is soon expected to become the second most practiced sport in the country after football.

So how’s it played? Imagine squash and table tennis had a baby, and you’re pretty close to padel. The game has the same central premise as tennis but is typically played in doubles on a smaller, walled off court. Here’s a quick guide to the basics.

Italians aren’t the only ones going wild for padel — it’s a huge craze here, too: Our first few padel tennis courts were set up way back in 2014, says JPadel co-founder and CEO Ismail Seddik, who had a hand in bringing those first few facilities to Egypt. But the padel tennis landscape today is unrecognizable now compared to even a year ago, he tells Enterprise. At the start of 2021, there were about 50-60 padel courts in Egypt. Now we’re looking at some 200 courts—and by the end of the summer, JPadel will be responsible for 28 of them. Seddik says. “Now, in every sporting club I pass by you find football pitches, tennis courts and padel courts.”

Why the padel madness? We have a newfound appreciation for staying fit: “Covid-19 really helped drive this demand for playing padel tennis,” Seddik says. “There’s been a huge increase in awareness about the importance of staying active and exercising that wasn’t around 3-4 years back, and I think people were also really bored with hanging out at cafes.”

And padel has a low bar to entry: The doubles set-up brings the camaraderie, and the design of the racquet and courts makes it an accessible sport for beginners. “It makes it a cozier and a more social game. The paddle racquet is also a bit more intuitive than other racquet sports like tennis,” Seddik says.

Expect to hear more padel talk: The Egyptian Padel Federation wants to train 1k kids in the sport, and competitions have sprung up in plenty of local clubs. With courts now being built outside Cairo, the sport could soon be generating interest from a broader segment of society, Seddik says, adding that padel could soon become “one of the main sports in Egypt.”

We could even go pro: “We could be only a few years away from an Egyptian padel tennis team showing up in international competitions,” Seddik says.

Another eerily similar pandemic-era paddle sport is taking root across the Atlantic: Pickleball. The invention of a US congressman in 1965 and typically a pastime favorite at retirement communities in the US, Pickleball is a combination of tennis, ping pong and badminton that’s lately seen booming interest from younger people, too. Pickleball racquets are a little more boxy than in padel tennis, and the game is played with a plastic ball full of holes.

Meta-racquet, anyone? If going outside isn't your thing, a virtual reality racquet could be soon coming your way. The AirRacket apparently simulates what it feels like to hit an actual ball, by shooting out compressed air so that players can better “feel that directional force right from the impact of the ball,” one of the researchers behind the technology said.

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