Gawad meets Farag in Montreal showdown
By RUNA RETA in Montreal
The final of the PSA M35 Montreal Open has a familiar feel, with an all-Egyptian showdown between the top two seeds, Karim Abdel Gawad and Ali Farag.
These hugely talented young men are enjoying the finest form of their careers and a phenomenal final looks to be in prospect at the Club Sportif MAA in Montreal. Both won their semi-finals in straight games, meaning that each player will have plenty in the tank for a classic set-up between the world No.7 (Gawad) and No.14 (Farag).
The first semi-final featured the in-form baby-faced assassin (Karim Abdel Gawad) against the Ginger Ninja (Tom Richards) – a name that I have just trademarked, before either PJ or Joey from PSA TV can get to it!
Both players came out flying in the first game, with Richards matching Gawad’s attacking style and showing that he was ready to have a real go at his higher-ranked opponent. Richards was the more successful of the two in the first half of the game, closing down the court with good straight length, while also staying positive and taking the ball in short aggressively and holding the ball nicely.
However, as the game wore on, it seemed like Gawad was starting to warm up, and several cross-court nicks and rapid counter-attacks served to prove that point. Richards kept to his game plan, but at 8-7 up, Gawad hit three trickle-boast winners in a row that left the Ninja dumbfounded and unsure of how the scoreline had now turned to 10-8. One last squeeze off of a good length from Gawad and the first game was over just like that.
Gawad looked properly nimble and ready in the second game, using his incredible movement around the court and variety of shots to showcase why he is #7 in the world. Faced with an opponent that was starting to read his holds and counter with added pressure, Richards started to aim for tighter, lower shots, which resulted in a number of balls clipping the tin.
An unforced error off the volley boast at 8-5 down led Richards to scream “STOP IT!” and to remind himself to straighten up with his length. And while he did manage to do so in the next few rallies, he did not get much joy, only managing to get two more points on the scoreboard as Gawad prevailed, 11-7.
In the third, Gawad looked as comfortable as ever, even while Richards was still up for the fight. Aided by a slight dip in concentration from the Assassin, the Ninja went up 6-3 and finally looked as though he might get his teeth sunk into the match. But once again, like a true champion, Gawad calmly clawed his way back, defending well and hitting some incredible counter-drops that left Richards flat-footed and understandably irritated.
To make matters worse, the straight hold down the wall that was paying dividends at the start of the match were now being picked off by Gawad… “SO FRUSTRATING” yelled Richards at one stage – a sentiment we have all held on the squash court before! Gawad made his way to 10-7 and closed out the match with a shot so far behind him, neither the crowd nor Richards could quite believe it.
The second semi-final featured the number 14 in the world – Egyptian Ali Farag – against his friend, Frenchman Gregoire Marche. Feeling each other out a bit more than in the previous semi, both players were hitting their marks and playing some fantastic long rallies at the start.
Staying neck and neck until 4-all, Farag started to pull away, hitting incredibly accurate straight lines and taking the ball in short with confidence off anything slightly loose.
To all those kids out there who love the shot-making abilities of Egyptian players- don’t overlook how impeccably accurate they are with their length to set up their shots! But back to the squash… Farag pulled ahead at 4-all and did’’t look back, taking the first 11-4.
An unexpected nosebleed from the Frenchman before the start of the second meant that there was a long pause before the match resumed. Marche eventually returned looking a bit flat, having lost some momentum from the injury time-out, while Farag continued right from where he left off at the end of the first game 3-1, 4-1, 5-1, 6-1 all the way to 9-1. All Marche could manage was two points in this game and a handful of expletives that the French-speaking crowd could all very well understand.
The last game was much like the first two: Farag started quickly with a 3-0 lead and just didn’t relent… his daddy long-legs (seriously, this guy is 90% legs!) were carrying him from corner to corner in one simple step, while making the court incredibly large for the relatively quick Frenchman.
With amazing court sense and razor-like focus, Farag was in his zone, hitting all the right shots and providing no glimmer of hope to Marche, who went down rather unceremoniously 11-2 in the third.
The finals promise to be a fantastic match-up, featuring two unbelievable fighters, movers and shot-makers… see you all there!
PSA M35 Montreal Open 2016, Club Sportif MAA, Montreal, Canada
 Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) v  Ali Farag (EGY)
 Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) bt  Tom Richards (ENG) 11-8, 11-7, 11-9 (39m)
 Ali Farag (EGY) bt  Gregoire Marche (FRA) 11-4, 11-3, 11-2 (41m)
Pictures by Trevor Bowes (www.squashbeast.com)