Thursday, September 21, 2023

Exclusive: Ali Farag now one of the all-time greats, Jansher Khan tells RJ Mitchell

‘He showed quality and character to bounce back after losing 3-0 to Paul Coll in British Open final’ says Jansher

JANSHER KHAN believes that Ali Farag must now be perceived as one of squash’s all-time greats after last week’s ‘three-peat’ of PSA World Championship titles in Cairo.

The World No.2 suffered the gut-wrenching low of being dispatched in three increasingly one-sided games in the British Open final by Paul Coll when he was apparently left mentally in bits by the Kiwi’s metronomic brand of error-free squash.

Yet the 30-year-old showed impressive character to rebound at the Worlds and overturn longstanding rival Mohamed ElShorbagy in an epic 74-minute final – when he came within two points of defeat and had to dig increasingly deep to tame ‘The Beast of Alexandria’ over a brutal final stanza.

All of which has caused Jansher, the game’s greatest ever world champion with eight global titles snug in his back pocket, to proclaim that Farag, who now joins Ramy Ashour and Nick Matthew on three world titles, should be revered as an all-time great.

Deeper in part two of Jansher’s exclusive jaw-jaw with Squash Mad, the immortal Kahn will also cast a forensic eye on British Open champion Coll’s disappointing World Championship campaign and the growing threat of a breakthrough from ‘The Raging Bull,’ Mostafa Asal, while also revealing he hopes to have the next generation of Pakistani squash talent on the PSA World Tour within a year.

But first to Farag: “For him to come back after a tough loss in the British Open to win the Worlds tells you how strong Ali Farag is mentally and that will also make it interesting at Gouna to see if he can build on that. But now with three world titles behind him you must consider Ali as a great of the game,” said Khan.

The moment of triumph as Ali Farag beat Mohamed ElShorbagy in the World Championship final

The game’s longest reigning professional No.1 continued: “In this time it is very hard to win the World Open three times and Ali has achieved that – and that is a fine achievement. I still think that with Ali being only 30 and having had no injury concerns then he has the opportunity to add to these three world titles.

“He has all the qualities and now as you have seen the strength of character to do that and he has proven that by coming through some very hard matches in Egypt last week and now, much like Mohamed, he also has a lot of experience in the very biggest finals.”

Farag’s hope’s of a successful defence of his world title appeared to be flickering, at best, when he departed Hull after his humbling at the hands of Paul Coll in the British Open final on April 3.

The other side of that particular coin had many suggesting that the Kiwi, almost error free during a British campaign that saw him fail to drop a game, was a stick-on for his first World Championship bauble.

Yet Coll, left badly bruised by a 122-minute quarter-final with an inspired Tarek Momen, came a cropper at the hands of a Mohamed El Shorbagy, who appeared to be super-motivated to prove his declaimers as purveyors of nonsense and it was World No.1 Coll who foundered over five taught and at times tetchy games.

Paul Coll is overpopwered by Mohamed ElShorbagy in an epic World Championship semi-final

Now Jansher says it is vital Coll uses this weekend’s El Gouna International to show that he had a bad day at the office in Cairo: “Of course Paul is World No.1 and has won two British Opens. And now he has lost in the semis at the Worlds and that will affect him – he is only human after all!

“But sometimes you have a bad day at the office and your opponent has a good one, and you don’t know what will happen in the next tournament. Maybe it will be the other way around.

“I see that Paul is in the same half of the draw as Mohamed for El Gouna this weekend so the chances are we will not have long to see if that is the case!

“Of course Paul had that very tough quarter-final with Tarek Momen at the Worlds and he is also in Paul’s half, so it is all very interesting. But after a bad loss it is very important that you always learn from that type of setback.

“Paul will have had just over a week to do so and I am sure he and his coach will have done a lot of talking these last few days and so let us see how things work out in Gouna this weekend and next week.”

Turning his attention to the fourth member of last week’s semi-final quartet, Mostafa Asal, Jansher, who was introduced to the young Egyptian at the Balochistan International Squash League exhibition series last year, reckons his major moment is imminent.

Ali Farag beats Mostafa Asal in the World Championship semi-finals

The six-time British Open champion said: “Mostafa is playing better and better and he is so physically strong and again even although he is just 21 years-old Mostafa has played in an awful lot of big matches now and he is a real danger to anyone on the squash court.

“I thought he was very close to beating Farag in the semi-final but maybe lacked the experience to finish the job, yet his day is coming and that day is getting closer with every major tournament Mostafa plays.”

Meanwhile Khan, who was installed as head coach at the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Sports Directorate at the end of 2020 with a remit to uncover the next generation of world class Pakistani talent, says that his work is at last almost ready to bear fruit.

Jansher said: “As I have said before it will take time to bring the next great Pakistani champion through as we started from under-13, 15 and 17 years-old but I have confidence in myself and my coaching team to develop and progress our players.

“We have five players at under-13 level, five at under-15, five players at under-17 and in one year I hope to have those from the last group playing PSA International tournaments, which is my target. It is very important for me to produce the next generation of great Pakistani professional players.

“It has been hard but very rewarding work and the day when our young players are ready to test themselves internationally is at last coming onto the horizon. Inshallah!”

Pictures courtesy of Nathan Clarke (PSA World Tour)


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