By ALAN THATCHER (Squash Mad Editor)
World champion Ali Farag was clearly still in some distress as he lost to Nicolas Mueller in the second round of the Grasshopper Cup just four days after retiring from the U.S. Open final after two rallies.
Tuesday’s Squash Mad article by RJ Mitchell showed the extraordinary lengths Farag went to immediately after his Philadelphia exit to diagnose the problems in his knee.
He flew to New York for scans and then got on a trans-Atlantic flight to Germany to see renowned specialist Paul Klein, who gave him the go-ahead to play in Zurich last night.
However, the Egyptian was clearly still struggling from the same knee problem when he took to the court in the second round of the PSA World Tour Gold level tournament.
The Swiss No.1 Mueller, who has enjoyed the best form of his career this year, was able to delight the home crowd at Halle 622 in Zurich to take advantage and secure a straight-games win to advance to the quarter finals, where he will face Egypt’s Marwan ElShorbagy on Friday.
Mueller kept a cool head and was forced to work for the win by a tenacious Farag, who fought through the pain barrier to keep his Swiss opponent on his toes.
World No.1 Farag’s injury severely inhibited his movement around the court. But a delighted Mueller said: “Finally, a win in the second round! It’s obviously very sad to see Ali not at his best today – I think he’s still struggling with his knee. Even on one and a half legs he’s still a pretty good player, he’s not World No.1 for nothing.
“I played Ramy Ashour when he was also on one leg here, and I didn’t want to end up losing this one, so I made sure I was able to stay on top and win it. Every time I hit a cross court I thought that he wouldn’t get it. I feel very sorry for him, but on the other hand I’m very happy to be playing here on Friday.”
Looking ahead to Friday’s match against Marwan ElShorbagy, he added: “He’s been playing well recently. He beat me last time, but the two times before I won.
“We’re in for a treat on Friday night, so I need everyone to come back and support us. Dimitri (Steinmann) also needs the crowd tomorrow so we can have two Swiss players in the quarters, that’s the main goal.”
Bristol-based world No.7 ElShorbagy overcame Youssef Soliman for the second time in a week, in a hectic two-game encounter.
The match was filled with refereeing decisions with lots of contact round the middle of the court. The antics were affecting Soliman more than ElShorbagy and the elder Egyptian did well to keep moving the ball into space to close the match out in just over half an hour, 11-6, 11-8 to reach another quarter final.
Marwan said: “It was a tough match, of course – Youssef is a good player. I was a bit nervous because I know how dangerous he is. We just came back from the States so we’re all dealing with jetlag.
“I only went to sleep at 7am this morning and missed my morning hit, so I was very nervous about many things, but I’m glad with how I dealt with all the conditions. But I’m very happy to be back here and through. I haven’t been back since 2016 but I’m very happy to be back in Switzerland.
“2016 was a breakthrough year for me here. I beat one of my idols, Greg Gaultier, in the final. It was one of my biggest wins at the time and a breakthrough win for me. I have good memories here with a great crowd and a great city. It will be a great week with some exciting matches tonight and tomorrow.”
Wales’ World No.9 Joel Makin moved into the last eight of the Grasshopper Cup overcoming Malaysia’s Eain Yow Ng 11-9, 4-11, 11-3 in a tough 56-minute battle.
Makin came out strong in the final match of the afternoon session, working the ball into space during long and brutal rallies. After the score reached 9-9, it was the Welshman who earned the first game ball of the contest and converted at the first time of asking after receiving a stroke to take a crucial lead after a mammoth 25 minutes.
Yow responded strongly in the second game and fired off terrific winners from around the middle of the court to trouble Makin. After moving into a 5-1 lead, the Malaysian’s momentum continued as he powered through to win 11-4.
Makin regained control in the third game and created a 5-1 lead of his own, and his trademark ruthlessness came into play once again as he ran through to take the game 11-3 and move into round three.
Makin said: “He really took it to me, and he was volleying unbelievably well. He’s small, so I was tempted to get a wide crosscourt but he was cutting them off and getting in front of me so I had to change it up and re-assert myself in front as he was getting in front too easy.
“My plan was taken away from me, unfortunately. I wanted to get across the middle to play at a good pace and attack him straight. He’s so mobile, he’s got a low centre of gravity and cuts across the court well, you know if you’re hitting boasts then he’ll move onto it well and he was doing a good job of moving onto the ball and nullifying what I was trying to do.”
Makin meets U.S. Open champion Diego Elias on Friday after the Peruvian beat Baptiste Masotti (France) 11-2, 4-11, 11-2.
The Peruvian beat Makin at the same stage during the U.S. Open last week.
“It’s tough playing Baptiste in the second round,” said Elias. “In best of three, it’s one of the toughest second rounds you can get. I’m happy to win and to recover mentally after that second game.
“I had to start the third game strongly. If I let him get one or two points in the first few rallies then it was going to be tough because if he is confident then he goes for shots and usually they go in. I knew if I started strongly, I would be fine.”
Asked about recovering from the U.S. Open, he said: “It was only a few days ago, and I’m just happy I could recover well. I flew here, slept for 24 hours straight and then got ready for this tournament.”
The other women’s quarter final will see the Egyptian duo of World No.6 Nour El Tayeb and World No.7 Rowan Elaraby go head-to-head. They defeated Frenchwoman Melissa Alves and Wales’ Emily Whitlock in their respective second round matches.
England’s Sarah-Jane Perry and Gina Kennedy enter the fray today, with Perry meeting Tesni Evans of Wales and Kennedy back in action against South Africa’s Alexandra Fuller.
2022 Grasshopper Cup, Halle 622, Zurich, Switzerland.
Men’s Second Round (Top Half):
Nicolas Mueller (SUI) bt  Ali Farag (EGY) 2-0: 11-6, 11-8 (21m)
 Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY) bt Youssef Soliman (EGY) 2-0: 11-6, 11-8 (35m)
 Joel Makin (WAL) bt Eain Yow Ng (MAS) 2-1: 11-9, 4-11, 11-3 (56m)
 Diego Elias (PER) bt Baptiste Masotti (FRA) 2-1: 11-2, 4-11, 11-2 (39m)
Men’s Second Round (Bottom Half, Thursday, October 20):
 Mostafa Asal (EGY) v Gregoire Marche (FRA)
[WC] Dimitri Steinmann (SUI) v  Tarek Momen (EGY)
 Fares Dessouky (EGY) v Omar Mosaad (EGY)
Patrick Rooney (ENG) v  Paul Coll (NZL)
Men’s Quarter Finals (Top Half, Friday, October 21):
Nicolas Mueller (SUI) v  Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY)
 Joel Makin (WAL) v  Diego Elias (PER)
Women’s Second Round (Top Half):
 Nour El Sherbini (EGY) bt Cindy Merlo (SUI) 2-0: 11-5, 11-6 (13m)
 Olivia Fiechter (USA) bt Tinne Gilis (BEL) 2-1: 8-11, 11-5, 11-2 (30m)
 Nour El Tayeb (EGY) bt Melissa Alves (FRA) 2-0: 11-5, 11-8 (20m)
 Rowan Elaraby (EGY) bt Emily Whitlock (WAL) 2-0: 11-3, 11-9 (20m)
Women’s Second Round Draw (Bottom Half, Thursday, October 20):
 Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) v Tesni Evans (WAL)
Nadine Shahin (EGY) v  Salma Hany (EGY)
 Georgina Kennedy (ENG) v Alexandra Fuller (RSA)
Enora Villard (FRA) v  Hania El Hammamy (EGY)
Women’s Quarter Final Draw (Top Half, Friday, October 21):
 Nour El Sherbini (EGY) v  Olivia Fiechter (USA)
 Nour El Tayeb (EGY) v  Rowan Elaraby (EGY)
Pictures courtesy of PSA World Tour