by Olalekan Okusan
In Egypt, Ahmed Saleh is the last man standing among the older generation of Egyptian players and as a veteran he still carries the team when it matters most.
Regarded as one of the most talented players in Africa, it is his high level of skill that enables him to match the speed of the modern generation.
Unlike many players whose interest with sport was fanned by either their father or uncle, for Saleh it was his mother that ignited his interest in the sport.
“It was my mother that actually made me love table tennis because she used to take me to the Zamalek Club in Cairo for training; now the rest is history. When I look back at when I started, I continue to be grateful to my mother for fanning the passion for table tennis in me…
…She sowed the seed of the sport when she used to take me to the Zamalek club and today, it is through the sport that I made my livelihood having played professionally in Asia and Europe.” Ahmed Saleh
Since his last appearance at the 2013 World Cup in France, Saleh had not given up playing on the big stage; this was what spurred him early this year when he defied all odds to beat Nigeria’s Quadri Aruna to win the African Cup title in Tunisia and secure the continental slot for the World Cup.
For more than two decades, Saleh had played in Spain, Turkey, Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Now he features for the Spanish club Leka Enea Tenis de Mesa.
Notably, before his triumph in Tunisia this year, Saleh had won the African Cup title in 1997, 2005 and 2011; in addition he had secured the men’s singles title at the African Championships in 2000, 2007 and 2010.
Throughout Saleh has been coached by Maged Ashour, the Egyptian national coach. The father of two; in China at the ITTF World Cup, the priority for Saleh is to advance from the group with the aim of reaching the quarter-finals, a feat only achieved by an African player when Nigeria’s Quadri Aruna reached the last eight in 2014.
“The World Cup is a special event for every player because only the best from the continent and the world are expected to be present and the uniqueness of the tournament is also the big ranking points that are available. For me I am going there to do my best and I will not be intimidated by the pedigree of any player as my focus is to make my country proud.” Ahmed Saleh
Despite the slow-down of events across the globe due to the lockdown necessitated by coronavirus, Saleh said this period afforded him to hone his skills in a safe environment as well as slow down his activities to have more time for his family.
For Saleh, table tennis is everything.
“I cannot survive without table tennis because I earn my livelihood through the sport and it has taken me to the length and breadth of the world; this alone has made me glued to the game. For now I don’t know when I will stop as long as my body still carries me I will continue; this is what I have been doing for more than 30 years and I have not done anything apart from table tennis and to say I should stop abruptly is to kill my spirit…
…My spirit is still alive. Now the game is not that of physical ability but more of mental exercise. My speed cannot be compared to most young players nowadays but what I have up there will complement the speed I am lacking.” Ahmed Saleh
Saleh still believes he can continue, his other option is to coach after retirement.