Thursday, September 21, 2023

Exclusive: Jansher Khan talks to Squash Mad about today’s top stars and his friendship with Mohamed ElShorbagy

‘Having French legend Gregory Gaultier in his corner is a shrewd move for Mohamed’

JANSHER KHAN believes that Mohamed El Shorbagy’s thunderous run to the final of the PSA World Championship final is proof that those claiming ‘The Beast of Alexandria’ is no longer capable of being the game’s dominant force were premature in their dismissal of the former World No.1.

Jansher, the greatest of all male world champions with a record eight world titles on his resume, met Shorbagy during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown last year at the Balochistan International Squash League exhibition series when the duo, pictured below at dinner together in the Punjab City of Multan, became good friends.

Since that meeting the great Khan has followed Shorbagy’s career with interest and believes that his decision to instal former playing nemesis Gregory Gaultier as his chief coach prior to the Cairo World Championships has already proven a shrewd move.

With Shorbagy having now clearly recovered his mojo and his determination to reclaim the game’s top ranking no secret, Jansher admits it will be fascinating to see what happens at the El Gouna International tournament this weekend where the Alexandrian could face World No.1 Paul Coll at the same semi-final stage where he beat him in an epic last four encounter at the worlds last week.

In the first of a two-part Squash Mad exclusive, Khan said: “Mohamed has a lot of experience, he has been playing for a long time and I was delighted to watch him in Pakistan when he was playing some league matches last year, so for me he has more experience than the rest of the players and when you have that you should never be written off.

“Mohamed has the know-how, he has been there, he has won World Championships and British Opens and been World No.1 on many occasions, and yes, I know that he has struggled recently to get back where he wants to be.

“But at 31 and with him showing the desire and hunger to return to the very top then I think they made a mistake to say he was finished and this world championship in Egypt he has proven them wrong.

“Mohamed is still so strong and he has not had major injuries, he has not had the problems with his knees and his back like I did and which finished me.

“I believe that Mohamed still has two or three more years at the very top if he wants it. From what I can see at the Worlds that is very much the case.

“You only have to look at how hard he fought against Paul Coll in the semi-finals to see that he is back in the right type of shape and I thought he was very clever with how he played Coll and that is because of all his experience.

“But he was also able to come out again inside 24 hours to face Ali Farag in the final and at 9-9 in the fourth game he was just two points away from being crowned world champion again.

“Then he fought to the very end in the fifth set although he had cramped and for me that told the story, ElShorbagy is back.

“So, as I say Mohamed has more experience than anyone else at the very highest level and now he is back in very good shape and he is still so hungry I think he can get back to where he wants to be and that is World No.1.”

Mohamed ElShorbagy pictured in Cairo with his new coach, Gregory Gaultier (Picture by NATHAN CLARKE, PSA)

Jansher, the man who ruled squash as the sport’s longest standing No.1 for a staggering 97 months between 1988 and 1998, has been fascinated by El Shorbagy’s installation of former foe Gregor Gaultier as his new coach.

The duo met on 23 occasions with ElShorbagy holding a narrow 12-11 supremacy, with six of those meetings in major finals, in which ElShorbagy claimed a 4-2 dominance, yet it was the painful nine-match losing streak to ‘The French General’ at the start of their rivalry that instilled the Egyptian’s famous ‘refuse to lose’ mentality.

Jansher, who enjoyed a similar rivalry with his great adversary Jahangir Khan which he edged 19-18, is in no doubt that the urbane Gaultier will have brought unique insight to ElShorbagy’s camp with which he has been able to impart just what made the Alexandrian great and in turn can inform his return to the very top going forward.

Eye on the ball: Mohamed ElShorbagy and Gregory Gaultier in action during the 2017 World Championship in Manchester (Picture by PATRICK LAUSON)

The immortal Khan said: “Gregory was a great player and like ElShorbagy, World Champion, British Champion, World No.1 and with his experience and the fact he knows Mohamed so well and they have played each other on so many occasions and shared so many tough matches in finals of the greatest tournaments that all means he is probably the best person to get the best out of Mohamed.

“I would have to say that would appear to be the case given how Mohamed played at the Worlds. You see Gregory knows what is inside Mohamed, what he responds to and what will fire him up.

“He will know exactly what buttons to press to get the extra out of Mohamed but he will also know what he was not doing that he did when he was at his best and they shared the court together. Also, as an equal, Gaultier is someone Mohamed clearly respects and he will be able to speak with him on level terms.

“Gregory will know that if Mohamed can reproduce his best he can climb the mountain again and he has done a good job in the starting of that journey in Cairo.”

It seems barely believable that the last of Jansher’s eight World Open titles came in Karachi 26 years ago when he defeated tough Aussie Rodney Eyles over four games and since then no one has come close to producing the mind-boggling consistency that would be needed to even threaten his eightsome reel.

Indeed the great man himself has his doubts if he will ever be displaced from the game’s history books as squash’s preeminent world champion: “Of course I remember my world titles and it was really tough as there were six or seven guys who were really strong and hard to play.

“You had Jahangir, Chris Dittmar, Rodney Martin, Chris Robertson, Rodney Eyles, and some of these matches with them were lasting over two hours. When you do that over a 10-year period there is a cost for your body.

“By the time I played Eyles in my last final I knew I was coming to the end and that my body was starting to say enough. And to win my last world open in Karachi against him, well, it was a great way to take my eighth and final world title.

“Now, 26 years on, nobody has beaten my record and it will be interesting to see if it ever is broken but I doubt that will happen.”


TOMORROW: In part two of Squash Mad’s exclusive interview with Jansher, the great Khan discusses how Ali Farag’s third world title should change the way he is perceived, Paul Coll’s bad day at the office, and Jansher’s role in finding the next Pakistani champion.


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