EXCLUSIVE by RJ MITCHELL (Squash Mad Correspondent)
Just 72 hours after he was forced to retire following less than two minutes of the US Open final Squash Mad can reveal that world No.1 Ali Farag WILL play in this week’s Grasshopper Cup in Zurich.
After being forced to concede against Peru’s Diego Elias, Farag flew from Philadelphia to New York the next day to undergo an MRI scan which showed only wear and tear issues and no injury.
The world champion then stopped off in Germany for a further assessment en route to Zurich for the Grasshopper Cup, where he will play his first match tomorrow.
Farag attended the Cologne clinic of the world-renowned knee specialist Doctor Paul Klein, who was the physician behind Fares Dessouky’s recovery from a torn ACL five years back. After a positive review of the scan, Farag was given a routine injection and the green light to play in the Grasshopper.
Now the world champion’s head coach Karim Darwish, himself a former world No.1, has revealed the dramatic postscript to Farag’s enforced white flag final in Philly which ironically was still good enough to return him to the world No.1 ranking for the fifth time.
Darwish, who was global ruler in two spells between January 2009 and December 2009, said: “Ali had been complaining about his knee for a couple of months, he just had some niggles, nothing serious, but he got through OK.
“Then after Ali’s semi-final with Marwan (El Shorbagy) he felt the pain increase in his right knee and it was much more severe than the usual level of pain, but in the warm-up for the final he had hoped it had gone and settled down.
“Unfortunately it became obvious that was not the case when the match started and Ali just felt he couldn’t move properly. Clearly we felt it was better not to continue and risk his right knee when we did not know what the issue was and how serious it was.
“Of course it was very disappointing to have to pull out of the US Open final but Ali just could not take the chance and then make things much worse.”
It was then that Team Farag sprang into action to ensure their man received the best medical attention and advice possible and pronto.
After the MRI scan in the Big Apple the newly restored world No.1 headed to Cologne and the clinic of the esteemed German specialist in orthopaedics and sports medicine Doctor Paul Klein who is experienced in treating squash injuries, as evidenced by him being the man behind Dessouky’s full recovery from ACL surgery.
Klein is team doctor to German Bundesliga team FC Köln and a physician with an international reputation. And it was there that Farag’s worst fears were allayed.
Darwish added: “Ali had an MRI in New York the day after the final and then on his way to Zurich Ali stopped in Germany to visit one of the very top doctors in this field, Paul Klein, who has done a lot of surgeries for top squash players and elite athletes and he is also into his squash and knows how the game works.”
The Egyptian super-coach continued: “The doctor has assured us the knee was not serious but Ali just didn’t know what it was and he did not want to wreck the knee and like I say he could not take that chance.
“So after viewing the MRI he gave Ali an injection and has assured him there is nothing serious and that with the injection it would settle down nicely and he would be ready to go in Switzerland.
“So Ali is in Zurich for the Grasshopper Cup and he is due to play the winner of Nicolas Mueller and Sebastien Bonmalais tomorrow and the knee seems to be fine and the plan is that he will play.
“He feels good and feels like the knee has settled down and is much better after the injection so he will play. But Ali has to be 100% good to compete and that is how he feels, so we hope it will go well.”
Referred to by Farag as “more than just my coach,” Darwish is the man who has masterminded his fellow Egyptian’s surge from a position of world No.5, where he was nestled in the pack of challengers, to a three-time world champion.
It is a journey of enlightenment which the ‘Dark Prince’ as he was known from his days on the PSA World Tour, believes has many miles still to go: “It is always an honour to coach someone like Ali who is so disciplined on and off court. He does everything right and is 100% professional, taking no short cuts and that makes my work as his coach much easier.
“Ali has a goal that he wants to maintain his position as World No.1 but of course there will be downs on that road but he works very hard to stay at the top of the game.
“At the Egyptian Open he also showed how mentally strong he is and when he is on top of his game and mentally strong then Ali is a very hard man to beat.
“But the improvement process is always there and even although Alia has been World No.1 for a few years there are still parts of his game he knows he can improve and is determined to make that happen.
“Whether that is in his tactics, his technique, or his mental side, we are always working on new tactics and on new ways of thinking and how that can help his performance on court. Also, Ali enjoys that process and he is hungry to keep lifting his level.”
Despite his impressive standing in squash, which also sees Darwish hold the lofty position of sports director for Egypt’s prestigious Wadi Degla Clubs, the former world No.1 remains a courteous individual who was keen to shower newly crowned US Open champion Diego Elias with praise despite the Peruvian’s moment of supreme triumph coming at the ultimate expense of his own charge.
Darwish said: “Of course it is very good for the game to have someone like Diego winning major titles and he is now in the top three – and he has a lot of potential still to develop and is just so talented.
“Really he just needs more experiences in the major finals to chase Ali and Paul (Coll), so he is there and playing very well.
“To beat Mohamed (El Shorbagy), with the way he has been playing of late and how well he has been playing that was a very good result for Diego and it shows how much he is continuing to improve his level.”
The first round of the Grasshopper Cup kicks off today. Stay tuned to Squash Mad for reports and reaction.
Pictures courtesy of PSA World Tour and US Squash