EGYPTIAN ACE AIMS TO HALT HOME RULE
By ALAN THATCHER
Egyptian squash star Mohamed El Shorbagy is aiming to halt a long line of domestic dominance in the Canary Wharf Classic in March.
The 22-year-old world No.6 is seeded third behind England’s Nick Matthew and James Willstrop, who each boast three Canary Wharf title wins.
El Shorbagy’s powerful style has produced a phenomenal rise up the senior rankings. He beat Willstrop in the semi-finals of the World Championship in Qatar in December, triumphing 11-8 in the deciding fifth game after a brutal battle lasting 112 minutes.
The hard-hitting Egyptian then took compatriot Ramy Ashour the full distance before losing the final 11-8 in the fifth after another physical encounter spanning 90 minutes.
El Shorbagy combines life on the PSA World Tour with his studies in Bristol, where he is coached by Hadrian Stiff.
His earlier promise had been honed by the legendary figure of Jonah Barrington, head coach at the Millfield Squash Academy in Somerset, from which launchpad El Shorbagy progressed to win two World Junior Championships.
Reigning Canary Wharf champion Matthew will be relieved to see that El Shorbagy is in the same half of the draw as Willstrop as London’s premier squash tournament takes place from March 18-22.
Tickets for the final three days have already sold out as squash fans look forward to another week of high-quality entertainment at the superb East Wintergarden venue in this long-established PSA International 50 event.
El Shorbagy lost 3-1 to Willstrop in last year’s Canary Wharf semi-finals, but will clearly be returning to London brimful of confidence and aiming to collect his first title.
Matthew, however, knows he faces a difficult time in the first round as he lines up against Colombian Miguel Angel Rodriguez.
The South American, who is making his debut appearance in the tournament, is one of the most athletic players on the tour, renowned for his amazing retrieving from all corners of the court.
Matthew will not need reminding that he came close to losing to the 5ft 7in Colombian in a major event last year, taking 92 minutes to shake off his rival in the first round of the North American Open.
The first round draw has thrown up a number of colourful clashes, with No.2 seed Willstrop facing wild card Charles Sharpes in a repeat of last year’s event when the 21-year-old Surrey player won through to the main draw after two superb wins in the qualifying tournament at Wimbledon.
England’s Daryl Selby meets tall German Simon Rosner in what could easily be the most closely-fought battle in the first round.
Another tough clash features former England international Alister Walker, who now represents Botswana, and South African No.1 Steve Coppinger, who has recently burst into the world top 20 after training with Australia’s former world champion David Palmer, the 2009 Canary Wharf champion.
El Shorbagy meets a qualifier in the first round, as do No.4 seed Peter Barker and Londoners Adrian Grant and Tom Richards, who make up a solid English contingent hoping for success on home soil.
First round draw (bottom half on Monday March 18; top half Tuesday March 19):
(1) Nick Matthew (England) v Miguel Angel Rodriguez (Colombia)
Alister Walker (Botswana) v Steve Coppinger (South Africa)
Tom Richards (England) v Qualifier
(4) Peter Barker (England) v Qualifier
(3) Mohamed El Shorbagy (Egypt) v Qualifier
Adrian Grant (England) v Qualifier
Daryl Selby (England) v Simon Rosner (Germany)
(2) James Willstrop (England) v Charles Sharpes (England)
EVENT HISTORY: Matthew and Willstrop have each won the tournament three times. Matthew has claimed three consecutive victories after Willstrop dominated the early years of the event, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year.
Willstrop won the first final in 2004, beating French ace Thierry Lincou in an historic best-of-seven games final. He then overcame the biggest hitters in the game as he beat Scotland’s John White in 2007 and Australian Cameron Pilley in 2008.
Willstrop was aiming for a fourth Canary Wharf title when he reached the 2009 final, but he was hampered by an ankle injury as he lost to another powerful Australian, David Palmer.
Matthew won his first Canary Wharf title at the East Wintergarden venue the following year, but he had to do it the hard way. He and Willstrop battled each other to a standstill in a two-hour semi-final before Matthew recovered in time to beat French star Gregory Gaultier in the final.
In 2011 Matthew beat England team-mate Barker and last year Matthew and Willstrop met for their first Canary Wharf final. Although Matthew won in straight games, the match lasted 78 minutes, which illustrates how closely matched these two great athletes are.
Tickets for the 2013 Canary Wharf Classic cost from £15 and are available from Ticketmaster.
The fabulous East Wintergarden offers superb opportunities for corporate hospitality, with the gallery restaurant offering “the best view of squash anywhere in the world” according to Nicol.
Host Sponsor: Canary Wharf Group plc
The Canary Wharf Squash Classic at the East Wintergarden is jointly promoted by Eventis Sports Marketing and SquashUK.
Tournament Dates: March 18-22, 2013. Venue: East Wintergarden, Bank Street, Canary Wharf, E14
Qualifying at Wimbledon Racquets and Fitness Club: March 16-17.