Mo: My hunger is back
By SEAN REUTHE
Defending champion Mohamed ElShorbagy says that he is excited to respond to the challenge of losing his World No.1 ranking earlier this month as he looks to capture his second successive title at the El Gouna International Squash Open – the World Series tournament taking place in El Gouna’s New Marina between April 7-14.
It will be the first time since December 2015 that current World No.3 ElShorbagy has not topped the World Rankings heading into a tournament after a loss of form, combined with mental and physical fatigue, saw him concede top spot to Frenchman Gregory Gaultier after the 34-year-old’s title win at last month’s Allam British Open.
But ElShorbagy, who sat atop the World Rankings for a total of 28 months since first reaching World No.1 in November 2014, admits that the loss of that ranking has resulted in the pressure being lifted as he targets a second World Series title of the season.
“To know that this is the first tournament I will play since 2015 that I haven’t been World No.1 is actually something that I’m proud of at 26 years of age,” said the Bristol-based Egyptian, who has also slipped below World Champion Karim Abdel Gawad in the rankings.
“It makes me realise that I have already achieved so much in my career, when I still hopefully have many years left in me to try and achieve more.
“I haven’t been playing as well as I have been over the last two seasons, but I am a human being before being an athlete and the amount of finals and World Series tournaments I have won while carrying the pressure of being World No.1 has made me play more matches than everyone else over the past two years.
“It left me feeling very tired mentally and physically since the start of this season and I couldn’t get things together. But I feel I am starting to find my form and my hunger is definitely back again.
“Now I have a very different challenge in my career that I haven’t had before and I’m really excited to see how I can respond to it. The only positive thing about the challenge is that I will play free from pressure for the first time since I got to World No.1 because I have nothing to lose. I hope this will bring the best out of me again.”
Last year’s final saw ElShorbagy fight back from two games down to defeat Gaultier, with a partizan crowd cheering him on to victory at the third attempt after successive final defeats to long-term rival Ramy Ashour in 2014 and 2015.
And ElShorbagy paid tribute to the Egyptian crowd while also praising the atmosphere around the tournament.
“The crowd was amazing last year, especially in the final,” ElShorbagy said. “But at the same time, I did feel pressured and nervous and felt that I couldn’t lose the final, so it didn’t make me relax for a second during the match. However, I was very proud with how I was able to make a huge comeback in that final.
“Playing in El Gouna is special as it’s an amazing event. It’s always a good mix as you have the pressure of the matches, but at the same time it’s easy to relax after the matches and take your mind off things.”
ElShorbagy begins his title defence against French World No.26 Mathieu Castagnet, with a potential rematch with Gaultier on the cards if both players make it through to the semi-final stage.
Qualification for the El Gouna International Squash Open is held between April 5-6, while the main draw begins on April 7.
Tickets for the tournament can be purchased at www.e7gezly.com/event/elgounaintlsquashopen and 50% of the ticket price will go to Abu Reesh Hospitals.
Pictures courtesy of PSA