Meet The Player: Farkas Balazs

By RJ Mitchell

Inspiration comes in many forms and in these modern times distance is no longer an obstacle.

Thus it was that the genius of Amr Shabana – which saw the great Egyptian’s racket artistry claim the last of his four World Championships in 2009 in Kuwait – that provided a source of encouragement to a 12-year-old boy growing up in Tatabánya, a city of 64,305, located in north western Hungary in the Central Transdanubian region.

A left-hander, just like his hero, Farkas Balazs has a dexterity of shot, a lethal hold, and a languid grace which his six foot three inch frame uses to good effect to patrol the parameters of the court.

Having seen his recent semi-final appearance at the Canadian Open take him to a career high of World No.43 in the PSA rankings, Balazs has now himself become a figurehead for the hopes and dreams of the Hungarian squash community.

Yet for Balazs, Shabana will always prove his greatest role model and he shared: “I watched Shabana a lot back in the days, he is ‘The Maestro’ and I love his playing style and of course, like me, he was left-handed as well.

“So every time I want to learn something new I watch left-handers and see how they play the ball, how they hold, use the body and I always try to analyse them.

“Of today’s guys I also like watching Youssef Ibrahim, he has a nice tactic, he is very interesting and I like his game and also Rafa Kandra who moves very well and volleys a lot. So I always watch the players and figure out how they play and learn from them.

“But I am still watching Shabana’s matches, he is just my greatest inspiration. He just played squash like nobody else.”

In recent months the 26 -year-old has had the opportunity to pit his game against the very best, having recently battled it out with World No.1 Ali Farag and World No.3 Diego Elias.

Clearly the experience gained from these encounters has been invaluable for Balazs: “It was really good to play Diego (Canadian Open semi-final) and also Ali in Houston. I had three tough matches before Diego, so I was a bit tired physically and I just tried to play my best squash and enjoy every moment.

“There was a full crowd in Calgary and it was really nice to play there. But Diego is a fair player and he has beautiful technique and if I’m not playing a tournament I like to watch him.

“He was also very friendly off the court and fair on it, but it was so hard to hurt him. The court was pretty hot and the ball was bouncing high and I was not able to finish the rallies as I would have liked.

“So I had to build the rallies and he just made me do too much work, but I learned a lot from that match.

Balazs after his first round defeat against Mohamed ElShorbagy at the 2022 World Championships

“The first thing I must improve is my fitness. Diego, Ali, Paul Coll, I think you would have to play three hours to make them tired – an hour is just not going to be enough.

“So my fitness must get better and also I must improve my shot quality. The better the quality of your shot, the less work you have to do.

“So I have a training block for the next couple of weeks before I play El Gouna and I will be working hard on both these things.”

With his world ranking now sitting at No.45 the six-time Hungarian champion is hoping there is better to come in 2024.

“I really want to finish this year in the top-30. It will be hard work but it’s possible to make it.

“I am around six foot three inches and I have a good reach and I think you can get more balls with less movement because of that so I try to make the most of it.

“But also sometimes, because I am a big guy, in tough matches I am using more energy, so an advantage and also sometimes a disadvantage.

“But I just need more experience and match time with the guys in the top-20 and this is one of the most important things, playing guys better than you and not worrying about winning or losing but just improving from tournament to tournament.”

Now starting to feature with increasing regularity at the top events on the PSA World Tour Balazs admits it is all a long way from the origins of his squash career at the Squash Berek squash Sports Center.

Looking back he reflected: “I started playing in my home town of Tatabánya when I was 14, my first love was football but I also played squash and my father Janos got me playing and since then he became my coach.

“At first I played junior tournaments in Hungary, then in Czech Republic and Slovakia and the better I did the bigger the tournaments became.

“So I live one hour away from Budapest and we only have one club with four courts and a gym, but the club is really like a family group and I love playing there.”

While this likeable individual currently ploughs a lone furrow as Hungary’s only squash professional, Balazs has no doubt our sport is on the way up in his homeland.

“There are not any other professionals in the country – just me. But if you look around the clubs it’s pretty full and the juniors are getting better and there are more of them.

“The squash community in Hungary really supports me and I get so many messages when I’m playing tournaments and I do well. In Canada when I made the semi-final this was big for me and big for squash back home and so hopefully it inspired the players in Hungary that they can do it as well.

“So now a lot of people are watching my games back home. We are not a big country like France or Germany and our squash community is small but they are proud of me.

“They were proud of me when I made top-100, proud of me when I made top-50 and now also in making semi-finals in Canada in a World Tour event and I got over 100 messages of support.

“That made me really happy and very proud and I am determined to keep making my country and our squash community proud, it means a lot to me.”

Next up for the gentle giant is a trip to Egypt which will culminate in his second appearance at the World Championships.

It is a prospect that clearly excites the young Hungarian and he said: “I am playing El Gouna and then after it will be the World Championships, it is my second one but I lost the first round last time and I am determined to do better this time.

“So I have played in Egypt before and I really enjoy it, it is just a four hours direct flight from Hungary which is good. It is just a beautiful place to play squash and the people love squash there and that is special.”