Friday, February 23, 2024

Egyptian stars are all aiming for lift-off in Houston

Farag, ElShorbagy, Gawad and Asal hope for a solid start to the New Year

Egyptian superstars Ali Farag, Mohamed ElShorbagy, Karim Abdel Gawad and Mostafa Asal will be looking to recharge their season during the 2022 Houston Open, which will be the first major of the event of the New Year from January 4-9.

All four players will be keen to start strongly after a variety of experiences in recent weeks.

Farag lost badly in the US Open, losing to Joel Makin in straight games, missed Qatar and then lost to Paul Coll in the final of the Canary Wharf Classic. He will want to regain the peak form that brought him his second World Championship title in the summer followed by the Egyptian Open and NetSuite Open in San Francisco.

ElShorbagy lost to Farag in two of those finals and the Bristol-based 30-year-old has taken a break from the game after losing to Youssef Ibrahim in the second round of the Qatar Classic.

Burnout and injuries are two common issues facing every player in this brutal sport. The triumphs are accompanied by the traumas of travel and training, and the mental and physical workload can sometimes be overwhelming.

Just ask Gawad, who has been struggling to maintain peak fitness for some time and has failed to get beyond the quarter-finals in any tournament in recent months.

Asal was suffering from a shoulder injury as he won the US Open in October and he took that problem with him to Qatar, where he did well to reach the semi-finals. He looked in electric form as he won his first match at Canary Wharf but was then laid low by food poisoning ahead of his quarter-final defeat against Tarek Momen.

London fans were disappointed to see him exit the world’s best-supported tournament so early and he will be keen to put that experience behind him in Houston.

All of these sub-plots add a fascinating backdrop to the ambitious plans of promoter Jahanzeb Khan to develop the tournament into a major highlight on the PSA World Tour.

World No.1 Farag will lead the draw at the Houston Squash Club, with the tournament achieving PSA World Tour Gold status for the first time.

The reigning world champion will make his debut at the event and has a bye through to the second round, where he is expected to meet Germany’s tricky left hander Raphael Kandra.

Farag will need to be on his toes to defeat the talented German, who made his first Platinum event quarter final appearance of the year at the Qatar Classic in October and will be looking to rediscover that form in 2022.

Asal is the No.4 seed and is seeded to meet Farag in the semi-finals. Farag has an impressive record against his younger compatriot, beating him seven times in eight matches. Asal’s only win came in a best of three format at the CIB PSA World Tour Finals in June 2021.

Mostafa Asal in action against Mohamed ElShorbagy

In the bottom half of the draw, World No.3 Mohamed ElShorbagy makes his first tournament appearance since his early exit in the Qatar Classic in October.

The 2017 world champion is looking to recapture the form that has seen him win 43 titles on the PSA Tour. ElShorbagy’s first match is expected to be against entertaining Frenchman Gregoire Marche. Marche has never been able to claim a PSA World Tour victory against ‘The Beast’ in six attempts.

A potential sibling battle is seeded to take place in the quarter finals, as Mohamed’s younger brother, Marwan, is expected to advance through to face his brother for the 19th time on the PSA World Tour.

Mohamed has been dominant over his younger brother in the past and leads the head-to-head record 14-4, but Marwan has claimed some impressive victories, including the 2019-2020 PSA World Championships quarter-final.

Qatar Classic champion Diego Elias is seeded three in Houston

Winner of the recent Qatar Classic, Diego Elias, is seeded No.3 for the event and will be looking to make another big statement on the PSA World Tour. Elias is at his highest ranking to date (World No.5) and with his smooth mix of attacking flair and electric pace, he is proving to be a real threat to the world’s top four.

With Canary Wharf and British Open champion Coll giving Houston a miss, Elias will be aiming to follow his Qatar success by breaking the familiar Egyptian stranglehold on most major events.

Elias will face either the event’s wildcard Nasir Iqbal, from Pakistan, or Mexico’s Cesar Salazar in his first match of the tournament. A win would set up a potential quarter-final with extravagant Egyptian Mazen Hesham, who can always be a dangerous opponent due to the abundant choice of attacking shots in his armoury.

Players will battle for a share of the $110,000 prize purse in what will be the first PSA World Tour event of 2022. All of the action from the Houston Open will be streamed live on SQUASHTV.

Houston Open 2022 Draw.

[1] Ali Farag (EGY) [bye] Ramit Tandon (IND) v [9/16] Raphael Kandra (GER)
[9/16] Youssef Soliman (EGY) v Nathan Lake (ENG)
[5] Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) [bye] [7] Miguel Rodriguez (COL) [bye] Todd Harrity (USA) v [9/16] Mohamed ElSherbini (EGY)
[9/16] Youssef Ibrahim (EGY) v Karim El Hammamy (EGY)
[4] Mostafa Asal (EGY) [bye] [3] Diego Elias (PER) [bye] [WC] Nasir Iqbal (PAK) v [9/16] Cesar Salazar (MEX)
[9/16] Nicolas Mueller (SUI) v Lucas Serme (FRA)
[8] Mazen Hesham (EGY) [bye] [5] Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY) [bye] Declan James (ENG) v [9/16] Omar Mosaad (EGY)
[9/16] Gregoire Marche (FRA) v Shahjahan Khan (USA)
[2] Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) [bye]

Pictures courtesy of PSA


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