Monday, February 26, 2024

British Open Squash 2023: Ramadan no issue for battling Ali Farag

Birmingham — Ali Farag refused to make Ramadan an excuse as he survived being without fluid for almost 16 hours to defeat the similarly dehydrated Tarek Momen in a British Open quarter-final which was won and lost on errors.

By his own admission, Farag was far from at his best and although he had primarily tried to avoid weaving his traditional spider’s web around Momen, by the later stages of a gripping fourth game the world champion put up the shutters and let his older opponent punch himself out to earn his place in a fourth successive British Open semi-final 11-6, 7-11, 11-8, 11-8 in 57-minutes.

Speaking to Squash Mad on the sidelines at The Rep, ‘Super Ali’ admitted his relief at earning another last four berth – in between mouthfuls of restorative energy replacement fluid. He said: “It is tough as the last time I had fluid was 4.30am and then I could not drink anything during the match but of course it was the same for Tarek, so it was a level playing field and I am very lucky in that regard.

“It’s a mindset really, we train in these circumstances to get used to it although you have to tweak your game plan and not over do the longer rallies as you just don’t have the energy for it but I think I adapted to it well today and I am very proud.”

This was the 20th episode of a rivalry which Farag has habitually held the whip hand and when these two meet you always feel that however well Momen volleys – and is there any better volleyer in the men’s game? – he will be undone by his mistakes as his margins shrink under Farag’s all-embracing defence.

Yet, while the first game played out exactly to that script, with Farag taking advantage of six plus Momen errors to claim it 11-6, the perceived logic was turned on its head in the second game. Momen prevailed on the back of an unexpected brutality from the world champion, 7-11.

Once again this encounter reverted to type in the third as Momen built an early lead with subtle work to the front and then blew it with characteristic flakiness to run off a string of errors in dropping an 11-8.

Obdurate Momen remained though and the 35-year-old stuck manfully to his task to build a 4-1 lead after a sluggish start by Farag in the fourth, yet momentum once again swung back the three-time British Open finalist’s way and the match finished in its traditional way with another Momen error.

Farag was a relieved man. He said: “I was not happy with my game and I cut out the front corners and went deep and although it was tough I got the job done.

“Now it is just about taking on the fluid before I go back to fasting in the morning.”

For the tormented Momen you wonder just how much longer this supreme squash aesthetic will continue to ply his sumptuous skills against his younger opponents as, not even for an Egyptian as gifted as the former world champion, do the sands of time fail to run out.

In the opening women’s quarter-final Joelle King used all her experience to grind out a tense five-game 68-minute encounter with Rowan Elaraby 11-5 in the final game.

It was a classic match-up pitting the flair play of the young Egyptian and the grit and guile of the gutsy adopted Bristolian and over the piece King just about deserved the distance victory 11-13, 11-5, 10-12, 11-4, 11-5.

Afterwards King admitted she had to use all her craft to get the ‘w’: “The older you get the more you think about how often you will get to play in games like these, Rowan is extremely talented and I had to pull out my tricks in the fifth.”

Indeed Elaraby’s backhand is surely one of the finest shots in the women’s game. She can do it all from literally any position down the right-flank yet King, even when dropping two tie-break games, to her immense credit, refused to be beaten.

As she shared, victory was a relief. She added: “I was probably over stimulated a bit, I know I’m a Kiwi but I live down the road at Bristol, and every time I step on court I try my best but Rowan just stopped me playing my best squash and thankfully I live to fight another day.”

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