Elias dethrones ElShorbagy for his maiden Platinum semis berth
By ALEX WAN – Squash Mad Asian Bureau Editor
The “Peruvian Puma” Diego Elias reached his first Platinum level semi-final at the Qatar Classic and what better way to do it than to take out the defending champion and world number one Mohamed ElShorbagy. It’s even more impressive that he did it on this court, which ElShorbagy had recently described it as his “home” court.
The 21-year-old former world junior champion delivered a stellar performance to contain ElShorbagy for most of the match, never really allowing the dangerous Egyptian to get into his zone of a fast and furious pace.
It was akin to watching an artist paint a masterpiece as every shot from the racket of Elias seemed to be measured. Rarely would a drive be overhit and every shot was hit with a purpose. Whenever the pace was upped, Elias would lift it high and wide enough just to break the momentum.
Even when he was denied a court wipe in the final game when he was 10-4 up after an energy zapping rally, he kept his cool. Despite losing the next three rallies, he maintained his composure and, when an opportunity arose, he duly placed a backhand volley to the front beyond ElShorbagy’s reach and dropped his racket in celebration.
Elias said: “I’m really, really happy with my win today. Somehow, I always play well against the good players. I started the day well today and I knew I was going to have a good day.
“I’m so happy to be into the semis of a major event for the first time in my career and to do it by beating the World No.1 is special.
“I have a big opportunity now and I don’t want to waste it so I will do everything I can to recover for tomorrow and come back and do my best against Rösner. It will be tough against him – we’ve only played once before and he smashed me – but I’m feeling good and hopefully I can play well.
“I tried to take it point by point today and not get too far ahead because I knew if I got nervous then I’d start going for stupid shots. I just focused on what I had to do – at every opportunity I wanted to go to the front and it was working. I’m really happy I managed to stay calm and see it through in five.”
The win was also extra sweet for the Peruvian, who has twice come within striking distance against ElShorbagy.
“We’ve played some really tough matches. I lost 3-2 twice so I just had to believe I could win these matches. I played really well and kept believing in myself, and that was really just the difference.”
Elias’ opponent tomorrow, Simon Rosner, overcame a first game deficit to halt the progress of Kiwi Paul Coll. The German, who had struggled the previous day, did not have the best start too today as he was finding the tin too many times in the opening game, particularly on the backhand front corner – six to be exact.
He came back strongly after the break to race to a 5-0 lead, which was cancelled out by Coll at 8-8. The German dropped another point, before wrapping up the game with a backhand trickle boast that left Coll flat-footed, to draw level.
The third was one-way traffic for Rosner, who was always in control, dropping just four points for a 2-1 lead. But the next game started the other way round – Coll forging ahead 5-1 and later 8-3. Things took a turn when Rosner won the next three points quickly, eventually drawing level at 9-a piece. Coll got to game ball, but then Rosner won another hat-trick of points to secure his last four berth.
“I’ve been here for the first time in the semis last year, so coming back and getting into the semis again is a big achievement. I’m really proud of how I dealt with the situation midway through the second game. I’m really happy to get the better of him here after losing to him in Shanghai just a few weeks ago,” the German tree chopper said later.
Karim Abdel Gawad did not have a slow start today like he did in the previous two rounds, and perhaps as he usually does in many matches. But that was still not enough to halt a very smooth moving Ali Farag. Gawad opened the match with a 5-3 lead in the first, but couldn’t hold on to it.
While the score may read 3-0 in Farag’s favour, the quality of the rallies was very high. There wasn’t much Gawad was doing wrong, but the ability of Farag in reading the game was pretty incredible.
“I don’t know what it is he has against me, but he always come out firing (from the start) against me,” Ali said when asked if he was surprised Gawad did not have his usual slow start.
“I was fired up. Like I said yesterday, having the tough first match really helped sharpen me up. I’m very happy with the way I played. Karim is a very attacking player and I had to be on my toes. I think I hit my targets well again today. That paid dividends. I stopped him from volleying for most of the match.”
In the third game, Farag was in cruise control, racing to a 9-2 lead. But a nick off the return of serve started the ball rolling for Gawad, who played incredibly to claw back within a point at 9-8.
“I’ve been playing with Karim since we were 10 and I think this must be our 50th match or something. When he loosens up, that’s when he plays his best. I don’t think I did anything wrong really. I stayed solid, he just went for it and I think that paid. I just told myself to stay solid because I don’t think he will hit nine winners in a row. He nearly did but I was so relieved to see that last one going into the tin.”
But that was all Gawad managed. A no let decision from the video referee followed by a tin from Gawad wrapped the match up for Farag, who will play compatriot Tarek Momen tomorrow in a repeat of the Channel VAS Championship final a week ago.
Momen had halted the gallant run of Welsh number one Joel Makin, who, after two tough matches, still did not show any signs of fatigue today. In fact, he surprised the crowd when he forged ahead to an 8-2 lead in the opening game. Makin went on to game ball at 10-5, but Momen staged a comeback. He got to 10-8 but then sent a shot into the tin next to give Makin the lead.
Momen was in control of the next and tied the score 11-6 after nine minutes. In the third, it was Makin once again who nudged ahead 8-5. But some accurate placement of the ball at the front backhand corner from Momen forced mistakes off Makin’s racket, allowing the Egyptian back at 8-8. Makin won the next two rallies to get to game ball, but was unable to convert, and on his second game ball, Momen sent a forehand volley drop into the nick for the lead.
The third game seemed to have fired up Momen, who was backed by a boisterous crowd. Right from the start, he was hitting and moving with such confidence that was not as evident in the previous games. He raced to an 8-2 lead and then to 10-4. He then sent two easy backhand volley drops into the tin to give Makin a glimmer of hope. Whatever Makin had in mind was vanquished after Momen sent a low cross court backhand volley so delicately.
“This guy is a machine. For the amount he has spent on court the last few days, I do not know how he could pick up some of the shots. He has truly exceeded my expectations. I knew the third was going to be very important. I could sense he was getting little tired physically. I didn’t want to go 2-1 down and having to play five games, or even risk losing in four. So I had to push really hard in the third. It gave me more confidence in the fourth game. It was not any easier, but more straightforward than the third,” Momen said later.
“I’m very happy to be back in the semis. Obviously tomorrow is going to be a tough one but I’m looking forward to it. I’m trying to get used to getting to these latter rounds during the tournaments. I think I’m playing really well and I just have to recover well tonight”, he added.
Men’s Qatar Classic, Khalifa Sports Complex, Doha, Qatar
 Diego Elias (PER) bt  Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) 3-2: 11-8, 11-13, 13-11, 10-12, 11-7 (76m)
 Simon Rösner (GER) bt  Paul Coll (NZL) 3-1: 8-11, 11-9, 11-4, 12-10 (63m)
 Tarek Momen (EGY) bt Joel Makin (WAL) 3-1: 8-11, 11-6, 14-12, 11-6 (51m)
 Ali Farag (EGY) bt  Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) 3-0: 11-9, 11-7, 11-8 (45m)
 Diego Elias (PER) v  Simon Rösner (GER)
 Tarek Momen (EGY) v  Ali Farag (EGY)
Pictures courtesy of Qatar Squash Federation