LONDON — This was a quarter-final night where Mostafa Asal largely let his squash do the talking as he kept hold of his World No.1 spot, we saw the sight of a former rival in Mohamed ElShorbagy’s coaching corner, while Paul Coll continued his bid for a hat-trick of Canary Wharf Classic titles.
Last year’s runner-up was left last man standing in the race for top spot as Asal set up a semi-final with Wales’ Joel Makin – a repeat of their marathon 95-minute best-of-three tussle from 2022 (the longest ever on tour), with the format now turning to the traditional best-of-five.
The young Egyptian kept his World No.1 status by virtue of challenger ElShorbagy slipping to an 11-9, 2-11, 11-7 defeat against old rival Ali Farag. While James Willstrop had young son Logan in his corner on Tuesday, ElShorbagy had old rival Nick Matthew in his 24 hours later as part of the England Squash coaching setup now afforded to him. However, he will now be sweating on what looked like a niggling groin issue during his battle with Farag, at 37 minutes the longest of the last eight matches.
Just 𝙀𝙋𝙄𝘾 🤯
The East Wintergarden crowd salute @AliFarag & @MoElshorbagy 👏 pic.twitter.com/7gGTfffkwi
— PSA World Tour (@PSAWorldTour) March 15, 2023
It was a compelling, tactical encounter all the way through, even with ElShorbagy visibly struggling from midway in the first after a searching lunge. It allowed Farag to dictate play and take the opener. Therafter, ElShorbagy astutely mixed up the pace in the second and carved out quick points which forced Farag into several smiles.
In the decider, it was the miles that Farag searched for in a bid to test ElShorbagy. Two of the match’s longest rallies did just that and despite a late surge of points, Farag stemmed the tide and held on to set up a semi-final with Coll, who beat Mazen Hesham.
Meanwhile, Makin moved to within one match of his first Classic final after the Welshman prevailed 11-5, 11-9 over two-time finalist Tarek Momen.
Makin found success going short in the opener as he accumulated four stroke points with loose errors from the Egyptian. The second was a much tighter affair, as both traded points until the death. Makin rallied from 8-7 down, putting in a telling shift by switching sides and ending with a Momen tin. He then fortuitously won a crucial point via his racket frame before taking the match with backhand and forehand volley winners.
“Don’t worry, Baptiste will win it 2-0 and we will have a proper clean game of squash,” Makin had joked afterwards, when asked about a potential Asal match-up in the offing.
As it was, the 21-year-old moved into Thursday’s semi-finals with a swift ousting of France’s Baptiste Masotti, who showed plenty of reasons why he is making his way towards the world’s top 20 when he shirked away from umpire remonstrations.
There were minor traffic skirmishes, with Asal also told to stop cleaning the court with his shoe at one point, but otherwise his power, precision and speed saw him to a straight-game win.
“There are lots of problems happening behind the scenes,” said Asal. “You may drop, but I’m mentally strong and I’m happy that I’m moving forward playing my squash.”
He refers to an impending disciplinary hearing which could yet hamper his preparations for a first British Open and world title bid in the coming weeks.