By David A. F. Sweet
Imagine being on top of a Colombian mountain, thousands of miles from home, immobilized with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Amanda Sobhy knows the feeling. Not only did she endure the physical pain that day in 2017, but she lived through the psychological torture as well — after all, when she collapsed within the glass squash court during the Ciudad de Floridablanca Open, she was one point away from winning the match, a victory that likely would have catapulted her into the top 5 among female singles players in the world.
“I was in complete shock,” Sobhy said. “I couldn’t even move.”
Weaving down a dirt mountain road in an ambulance as rain poured, it took about an hour to reach a hospital in the South American country. Recalled Sobhy, “I didn’t speak the language, I was strapped in a stretcher and I was all alone.”
Let’s just say life is much better today. Having survived a 10-month rehabilitation process (“the toughest thing I’ve ever had to go through”), Sobhy is the top-ranked singles squash female player in the United States and stands No. 7 in the world — when she ranked No. 6 before her injury, it represented the highest Professional Squash Association world ranking of any male or female in U.S. squash history. And the 5-foot-8 left-hander is ready for the $500,000 Windy City Open in Cathedral Hall at the University Club in Chicago Feb. 27-March 4.
“It’s a great venue with those stained-glass windows,” said Sobhy, 26, a Windy City Open veteran who also played in Chicago during the World Championships at Union Station in 2019.
Aidan Harrison, a squash pro at the Onwentsia Club in Lake Forest who has given Sobhy a number of lessons, is extremely impressed by her game.
“Amanda has one of the strongest forehands on the tour,” he said. “She uses a lot of firepower to keep her opponents behind her. That allows her to open up the court and use her distinctive flair to finish the point.”
When asked about the biggest challenge she faces, Sobhy referred to the grind of the pro tour.
“You have to find ways not to burn out and to keep yourself excited,” she said. “You’re hitting the same tournaments all the time. You’ve got to keep finding ways to improve.”
Unlike some squash prodigies, Sobhy didn’t have a racquet in her hand as a toddler. As a child on the East Coast, Sobhy thrived in a number of other sports, such as softball, soccer, and tennis. At 11, her father, Khaled — an Egyptian once ranked No. 30 in the squash world who had played against the likes of Jahangir Khan — introduced her to the sport at the Creek Club in Locust Valley, N.Y., where he served as the head squash pro.
“I was strong and powerful. Because of my tennis background, I was used to hitting the ball hard,” Amanda said. “But my backhand in squash at the start was abysmal.”
Despite that handicap, she flourished quickly. During high school, she captured the World Junior Squash Championship — the first American to do so — and played in dozens of professional tournaments as an amateur, even traveling to India, Germany, and other countries to compete while missing quite a bit of school. She appeared in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd, a prominent showcase for up-and-coming athletes.
By the time she considered college, Ivy League schools lined up to make offers. As a junior, Amanda was interested in Yale. Its historic rival, Harvard? She didn’t even bother to send her SAT scores there.
Then, the Crimson switched coaches. New coach Mike Way had trained a number of pro squash players, which appealed to Sobhy, who was determined to prove one could focus on studies to earn a college degree while improving enough at squash to become a pro of consequence after graduation. She sent in her SAT scores and headed to Cambridge.
At Harvard, she did not lose a match. In addition to winning the Intercollegiate Individual National title all four years — making her the second female squash player ever to do so — she won the U.S. Women’s singles championship as a sophomore.
Her sister Sabrina followed in her squash footsteps at Harvard. In 2018, Amanda defeated her for the gold medal in singles at the Pan Am Games — before teaming up with Sabrina to win the doubles gold medal. Shades of the famous Williams sisters in tennis? Sobhy laughs.
“We’ve definitely been referred to as the Williams sisters of squash,” she said. “I’m honored. Since I played tennis growing up, I love it.”
Sobhy has become great friends with the Dolan family of Lake Forest and even stayed with them during and after the World Doubles Championships at Onwentsia in 2015 as she studied for final exams at Harvard.
“She’s exceptionally poised and extremely kind, “ said Danny Dolan, who is on the U.S. Squash Board of Directors. “We discuss important topics. She’s as close to me as any non-family member I have.
“She represents the United States like a true American. There couldn’t be a better person to be ranked No. 1 in the United States.”
Given that, it’s almost fitting that Sobhy — a member of her high school choir—has such a fantastic singing voice that she is occasionally asked to sing the National Anthem, most recently before a Brooklyn Nets game with Hope Prockop. Perhaps a career in music after she eventually retires? Not likely.
“I love squash, and I want to stay in the sport,” said Sobhy, an assistant coach for the MIT men’s team. “I want to grow the sport and get it more in the public eye.”
The Sporting Life columnist David A. F. Sweet can be followed on Twitter @davidafsweet. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.