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Ali Farag takes ToC title and the number one spot in March

ToC champions Ali Farag and Nour El Sherbini

From 2-0 and 6-2 down, Farag hits back to claim ‘a dream win’ as El Sherbini clinches hat-trick
By SEAN REUTHE in New York

Egyptian duo Ali Farag and Nour El Sherbini are the 2019 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions winners after respective victories over compatriots and World No.1s Mohamed ElShorbagy and Raneem El Welily inside New York’s Grand Central Terminal.

Farag will now replace ElShorbagy at World No.1 on March 1 after prevailing in one of the most dramatic finals ever witnessed at the Tournament of Champions.

Farag looked down and out in Grand Central’s Vanderbilt Hall after going two games behind and 6-2 down in the third. 

World No. 1 and world champion ElShorbagy appeared to be on track for a fifth win against the Harvard Graduate, pulling out a tight first game – including a mammoth two-minute rally at 10-10 – to go one game up.

In the second, a string of Farag errors saw ElShorbagy pull away from 6-5 to win 11-6. The match turned on its head in the third game, however, when Farag found himself 6-2 down, and went on to win the next nine points through winners and ElShorbagy errors.

The fourth game proved to be the quickest of the match as a startled ElShorbagy quickly fell 11-3 and took a contributed injury break between games as a medical team examined his calf.

Despite any physical discomfort, ElShorbagy returned to court and pushed Farag in an entertaining climax of the tournament. At 8-8, Farag hit a nick off a return of serve to the thrill of the crowd. Match ball up, Farag caught ElShorbagy in the front left of the court to earn a stroke call on match point.

“It’s been a dream of mine since a very young age to reach that No.1 spot,” said Farag afterwards.

“To do it in such a fashion in front of so many greats of the game, in front of the love of my life [wife, Nour El Tayeb], and my parents watching at home, it couldn’t get any better really. It was very emotional.

“Mohamed is such a warrior, he never gives any points away. It’s been one of the biggest spectacles for the sport, and to be played in such a clean spirit is a great showcase for our sport.”

Later, former world champion Nick Matthew Tweeted his respect for English referee John Massarella. He said: “Special mention tonight for the refereeing in the men’s final. John Massarella handled the match brilliantly, setting the tone from the word go with relaxed efficiency! He remembered there is such a thing as ‘Yes, Let’ in squash and that made a BIG difference.”

ElShorbagy’s ranking points for the 2018 Windy City Open – where he took the maximum on offer after winning the tournament – will expire at the end of February. This means Farag will boast a superior points average going into March, which will elevate him to World No.1. In the meantime, ElShorbagy will stay at the top of the PSA World Rankings in February.

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‘This is my lucky place’ says El Sherbini after winning third ToC title

Earlier, World No.2 El Sherbini became the first woman to win the Tournament of Champions on three occasions after a dominant 11-9, 11-8, 11-8 victory over World No.1 El Welily saw her retain her title.

El Sherbini and El Welily were meeting for the first time since the latter had ended the former’s 31-month reign at World No.1 last month and El Welily, the 2015 ToC winner, came into the match with a narrow 10-9 lead on their head-to-head record.

But things went El Sherbini’s way this time around as the 23-year-old put on a masterclass of attacking squash to lift her 18th career PSA title, which is her first of the season.

“This is my lucky place, this tournament was my first ever [Platinum] win and now it’s the first one I’ve won three times,” said El Sherbini, who also won here in 2016 and 2018.

“It’s really big to put my name on this trophy and to win this tournament, but to win it three times is something that I will never forget in my life.

“We’ve been battling against each other for so long, the head-to-head is 10-10, so that shows how tough it’s been. We’ve been battling in a lot of finals, sometimes it goes my way, sometimes it goes her way.

“At the end of the day, the better player is going to win, and I think I was better than her today. Maybe she was suffering after yesterday’s match, but I’m going to take the win and I’m going to look forward to the next one.”

Both winners take home just shy of $23,000 in prize money, while El Sherbini joins Farag in qualifying for June’s PSA World Tour Finals.

2019 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions, Grand Central Terminal, New York, USA.

Men’s Final:
[2] Ali Farag (EGY) bt [1] Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) 3-2: 10-12, 6-11, 11-6, 11-3, 11-8 (84m)

Women’s Final:
[2] Nour El Sherbini (EGY) bt [1] Raneem El Welily (EGY) 3-0: 11-9, 11-8, 11-8 (38m)  

Report by SEAN REUTHE (PSA PR and Media Manager). Edited by ALAN THATCHER.

Pictures courtesy of PSA


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