Friday, December 8, 2023

Ali Farag foils tricky Mazen Hesham to set up semi-final clash with Paul Coll

‘I don’t think I played badly but he comes up with winners from nowhere’ says world champion

World No.1 Ali Farag will clash with New Zealand’s British Open champion Paul Coll in front of the Great Pyramids of Giza in the semi-finals of the CIB Egyptian Open. In the most dazzling and atmospheric sports venue on the planet, the second men’s semi-final features an intriguing all-Egyptian battle between home heroes Mohamed ElShorbagy and Tarek Momen.

Of the four gladiators entering the spectacular arena tomorrow, Coll is the only non-Egyptian and the only one without a World Championship title. He was runner-up to Momen in the 2019-2020 event, while ElShorbagy won it in 2017. Farag recently added his second world title by beating ElShorbagy in Chicago, having won his first in the same city in the 2018-19 season.

Tonight’s bottom half of the men’s quarter-finals saw both matches over in straight games, with Farag beating Mazen Hesham in 48 minutes and Coll taking three minutes less to see off Marwan ElShorbagy.

Farag, the defending CIB Egyptian Open champion, used all his knowledge, skill and experience to see off a determined challenge from Hesham, who had defeated former World No.1 Karim Abdel Gawad in the third round.

The ‘Squash Falcon’ gave it everything he had, hitting incredible winner after incredible winner, but it was Farag who took the win, closing out the match after three games of high-quality squash.

Farag revealed the psychological challenge of playing a tricky and unpredictable opponent when he said: “I try to find different things out [to beat Hesham’s unique playing style]. We came on with a very dead ball.

“I know the wind affects it a bit, which makes it even deader, but I think there was something with the ball. You had to hit the ball really over the service line to get it deep into the back corners.

“I think I dealt with that well in the first, but as you saw in the second and third, I don’t think I played badly, but he just comes up with winners from nowhere really. You just have to accept that at some point.

“It’s annoying that three of them came at 5-5 in the third, three rolling nicks that I could do nothing with and I don’t think my shots were bad either, but I was just happy that I won that one because I was already thinking of the fourth to be honest.

“I was thinking that I was going to change the ball, thinking about what my tactics were going to be, but then 10-8 to 10-10 in a fraction of a second. A return nick from myself and a return tin from him and there we were again. I’m very relieved to be through in three for sure.”

World champion Ali Farag in action against Mazen Hesham

The reigning world champion will face the newly-crowned Allam British Open champion Coll in the semi-finals, after the New Zealander overcame a tough challenge from World No.5 Marwan ElShorbagy.

The Kiwi, who is in the form of his life, and at a career-high of World No.3 following his maiden major victory in Hull last month, had only tasted success against ‘the Jackal’ twice in their previous six encounters, but he had no issues in this contest.

From the off, Coll’s length game was immaculate, and he put work into the legs of the Egyptian, who has good memories of playing on home soil, after winning the CIB PSA World Tour Finals last October. The World No.3 won in straight games to book his place in the last four.

“It [Winning the British Open] gave me a lot of confidence. I’ve struggled with Marwan in the past and he’s beating me in the head-to-head. I was extremely happy with that performance tonight. I had a tough one a couple of days ago but I’m really happy to come through that in three against a really classy opponent,” Coll said after his victory.

“I’ve been working on it [using the front of the court] a lot. My coach is one of the best in that area I think. In the last month we’ve done a lot of work on it, some sharp work at the front and it really paid off tonight. It was tricky conditions out there, a lot of wind blowing, but I was timing it really well and was comfortable taking it short. It was one of those performances that just clicks tonight.”

Nouran Gohar wins through against Hania El Hammamy

In the women’s draw, World No.2 Nouran Gohar came through an all-Egyptian battle with World No.5 Hania El Hammamy, with the change to a new ball for the fourth game helping her seal the deal.

The pair were meeting for the sixth time on the Tour, with Gohar holding a 100% record over her compatriot, and that continued, as she set up a clash with USA No.1 Amanda Sobhy in tomorrow’s semi-finals.

“It’s always tough against Hania, I think that’s the toughest draw you can get in a quarter final. She was in the top four and was then out for a month, so the draw played a role this time. It’s always tough against her, we’ve played quite a lot over the last couple of months. It has become a bit of a habit to play against Hania!” ‘The Terminator’ explained.

“I’m just glad with the way I dealt with the conditions. It wasn’t easy out there, outdoors. The crowd played a huge role, I could hear them cheering for both of us and that gives us a really good push, even if you’re not in your best form and having your best day, it gives you an extra boost.”

Amanda Sobhy at full stretch for a volley as she beats Salma Hany in quick time

Sobhy, the No.4 seed for the tournament, overcame Egypt’s World No.9 Salma Hany in the opening match of the evening. The American claimed the first game on a tie-break, and that gave her the momentum, dropping just five points over the next two games to advance to the last four.

Sobhy said: “It’s crazy [to be playing in front of the Pyramids]. It’s been five years and I haven’t had much luck in the last few years here, but this year I’m turning it around and finally get to play on the glass and it’s amazing.

“It’s just a really spectacular venue and the fact that I haven’t been here in five years, it’s a long time. So, to finally have made it is something really special and I’m just trying to enjoy every moment.”

The quarter finals of the CIB Egyptian Open continue tomorrow with the bottom half of the draw in action at 18:15 (GMT+2). Glass court action from the Great Pyramid of Giza will be shown live on SQUASHTV.

2021 CIB Egyptian Open, Great Pyramid of Giza, Cairo, Egypt.

Men’s Quarter Finals (Bottom Half):
[4] Paul Coll (NZL) bt [5] Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY) 3-0: 11-7, 11-9, 11-3 (45m)
[2] Ali Farag (EGY) bt Mazen Hesham (EGY) 3-0: 11-6, 11-7, 12-10 (48m)

Men’s Semi-Finals (September 16):
[1] Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) v [3] Tarek Momen (EGY)
[4] Paul Coll (NZL) v [2] Ali Farag (EGY)

Women’s Quarter Finals (Bottom Half):
[4] Amanda Sobhy (USA) bt [7] Salma Hany (EGY) 3-0: 12-10, 11-3, 11-2 (27m)
[2] Nouran Gohar (EGY) bt [6] Hania El Hammamy (EGY) 3-1: 11-6, 11-8, 4-11, 11-6 (52m)

Women’s Semi-Finals (September 16):
[1] Nour El Sherbini (EGY) v [3] Camille Serme (FRA)
[4] Amanda Sobhy (USA) v [2] Nouran Gohar (EGY)

Pictures courtesy of PSA 


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