A month after the Penn women’s squash team took home the Kurtz Cup, the Daily Pennsylvanian sat down with freshman Malak Taha to learn more about her squash journey — from the first time she picked up a racket to now.
1. Can you introduce yourself?
I’m Malak Taha from Cairo, and I’m a freshman in the College. My major is undecided.
2. Why did you choose Penn?
At first, I didn’t want to come to college [in] the U.S. at all. Then, in 11th grade I started thinking about it, and I knew a lot of people that came here, so I was very interested in coming. Also, Penn was my second choice because I knew someone personally at Harvard. But then when I talked to Harvard and Penn, the coaches here were really interested in me to come, and the process just went so fast.
3. How was your transition from Cairo to Philadelphia?
It was really hard, especially at first, because it was the first time I was away from my family and friends for that long, and also to be totally by myself. But then, being in the squash team gave me a group of friends, and also the coaches are really supportive, and if I need anything they’ll totally help.
4. When were you first introduced to squash?
At first I was playing tennis, and then I saw my dad playing squash with his friends, and I was a kid and just wanted to play with him. So I told him I want to switch from tennis to squash to play with him and be with him on court. I think I was seven years old.
5. What’s your favorite part about squash?
I really enjoy playing and having fun on court. I’m not playing for no reason; I think that’s the best thing about it. There’s always a goal for me, so that makes me enjoy it even more, and [I’m always] challenging myself to do more.
6. Who do you think helped you the most as a young player?
It was my coach, Ibrahim Asal. I think he was the reason I continued playing squash because he helped me improve a lot. I was training with him [since] I was nine, and there were a lot of things in my technique and my way of playing and thinking that weren't that good and that might [have] stopped me from continuing to be a college squash player, so I really owe him a lot.
7. Which junior squash achievement are you most proud of?
It was the British Open under 15 [division]. I got runner-up, and it was the best accomplishment because I had many challenges [that] season. It was before COVID, and at the start of the season I was injured and I didn’t play well in the first [qualifying] tournament. But I tried to be positive and it went well in the other tournaments. My draw in the British [Open] was so hard and I didn’t win the tournament, but I think I did a good job.
8. What do you think is the strongest part of your squash game?
For me, I think I depend more on the back corners and my fitness. When I’m on court and I’m in a match and my fitness is good, I feel more confident. My way of playing reflects that; it depends on fitness and getting the ball to the back, and then trying to attack.
9. What was the hardest part of college squash coming from the junior circuit?
We have matches every weekend. Trying to balance that with academics, and at the same time train very well during the week to get ready for the weekend was very challenging for me.
10. Do you have any pregame rituals?
I usually do the same warmup. I try to make it as long as possible before the match to feel very ready and fired up. Most important for me is the mental preparation before the match. When I came here, I was injured, so [I try] to be mentally prepared and just try not to think about my injury, try to think about the game plan, and focus on the positives more.
11. What was your favorite match this year?
It was when I played Nouran [Youssef] in the individual nationals. I think that was the best match for me of the year. When I play, I’m always nervous, but this match I was just playing and trying to enjoy [it]. I won and I enjoyed [it], so it was a very good feeling.
12. What are some hobbies you have outside of squash?
I play piano. I feel like it's my therapy to just take a rest from squash and studying.
13. Glass or regular court?
14. What are some fun memories that you have with the team outside of practice or matches?
When we went to Dartmouth and we went to dinner, and after we finished, it was snowing outside and we had a snowball fight — that was really fun.
15. Do you plan on playing squash after college?
Before I came to college, it was my plan, and it still [is], to go pro after college. I’m trying to work on this from now and keep training hard and managing both studying and squash.