Adil Maqbool bounces back in style to win Squash Open
ABU DHABI // It took precisely 24 minutes for Adil Maqbool to extend his record to nine Abu Dhabi Squash Open titles.
The UAE ace now prepares to return to the professional circuit that once took him to No 66 in the world.
Maqbool never had it so easy in taking the capital's premier title on his return to top-flight competition after a two-year break to complete his studies.
He got the better of Aamir Khan, the bottom seed, 11-3, 11-3, 11-5 in the final at the Beach Rotana hotel on Saturday.
"Aamir has improved a lot," said Maqbool, a Dubai resident who remains unbeaten in nine meetings with Aamir, who lives in Abu Dhabi.
"He is fit and faster but I was tactically a little stronger than him and was able to move him around more. I think playing in the recent ranking tournaments made a big difference in my game, so I was able to absorb whatever he was throwing at me."
Maqbool, 25, and Aamir, 22, both born in the UAE to Pakistani parents, play practice games one or twice a week, and know each other's game well.
The closest Aamir has come to a win against Maqbool was six months ago when the latter had just returned from a break. He took the first two games before the UAE No 1 rallied to win the match 3-2.
"He has taken a game from me in four meetings at the Abu Dhabi Open but tonight was the most comfortable win for me since he has grown up," Maqbool said.
He has been the UAE No 1 since 2001 and won the Abu Dhabi Open nine times in 10 appearances, the only blemish coming in 2003 when he went down to Ben Rickaby.
Maqbool stopped training professionally for two years from 2010 when he travelled to England to complete his bachelor's degree in computer science.
"I stopped playing in the [Professional Squash Association] tournaments and my ranking dropped from 66 in the world to 240 in two years," he said.
"I returned to Dubai, got married, and started training professionally from last year."
Since then, he has improved his ranking to 117 in the world, reaching the last eight in recent tournaments in Pakistan and twice in Kuwait. He defeated Ali Bader Al Ramzi, the Kuwaiti No 3, to reach the quarter-finals of the US$10,000 (Dh36,700) PSA event last week.
"I left my job of two years to start my own business in computers and web services, so I can find time to train professionally again," he said. "My objective is now to get to the top 60 and then see how far I can go from there, perhaps the top 20.
"It is an achievable goal for me. It would be a big achievement if I can fulfil that ambition, considering that I had to combine my passion with the studies and now a family to look after."
Maqbool has an eight-month-old son, Amaar, from his marriage in 2011, and he tries to budget his time carefully. "I just want to get back home quickly. My wife is very understanding and supports me." He trains over two sessions five days a week.
Maqbool is hoping to play in some of the top tournaments in the coming months, and insisted that good results would take him to the top 100, a status he had enjoyed for four-and-a-half years, until he was 21. It may also provide the opportunity for him to play again in the open tournaments in Britain, Australia and the United States, as well as the World Open in Manchester in October.
According to Maqbool, the top 32 are guaranteed a place in the World Open and will be joined by the next 32 highest-ranked players.
"Usually all those in the top 64 in the world may not be able to make it for various reasons, so if you are in the top 80 there is a good chance of playing in the World Open, which would be one of my goals for next year," he said.
His father, Khawaja Maqbool, has been his coach all along, but a shortage of training partners has always been a hindrance to his development.
"The lack of good match practice is one of the problems I face in Dubai yet I am confident to achieve a top 60 ranking and beyond," he said. "In squash, you either run or make the other run. I have good racket skills to make the other do the running. So fitness, I can achieve the level in six months.
"If I can get my head into it, I know I can achieve what I am looking for. There are guys now in the PSA top 10 whom I never lost as a junior."