Sunday, March 3, 2024

Gaultier on Hong Kong: With the injury list mounting, coach says Mohamed ElShorbagy is looking ‘confident and complete’ again

‘Mo deserves all the credit, I am just advising and being supportive’

GREGORY GAULTIER is backing his star pupil Mohamed ElShorbagy but has admitted that he has no idea what the draw will hold as the season’s final Platinum Series Event, the Eyebright Securities International Hong Kong Open, counts down to T-Minus four days.

ElShorbagy is clearly enjoying flying the England flag following his summer switch from Egypt and his revitalised form under Gaultier’s expert eye has been a revelation this season.

Up until Tuesday the draw had been headed by world No.1 Ali Farag with ElShorbagy, who has once again become the game’s big beast during a red-hot spell of autumn form which has seen him win three titles and make another final, seeded four.

That would have put the game’s two most recent dominant forces on a semi-final collision course, and a mouthwatering match-up that followed their five-game battle in the World Championship final won by Farag in Cairo in May.

Yet doubts persisted over Farag’s recovery from a knee injury which saw him scratch in the US Open final against Diego Elias. The PSA have taken down the Hong Kong draw and the seedings with no further information forthcoming.

However, Hong Kong sources have confirmed today that Farag is no longer in the draw although the claim the world No.1 has scratched remains unconfirmed by the PSA at the time of publication.

All of which has left ‘The General’ flummoxed as to how the cookie will crumble in a tournament in which he endured one of his greatest disappointments while racking up five final appearances – all of which he lost.

Mohamed ElShorbagy stretches for a volley against Ali Farag in the final of the final of the World Championship back in May

With the elite of the men’s rankings being decimated by an injury list that has also threatened to sideline Mostafa Asal, with Fares Dessouky, Karim Gawad, Mohamed Abouelghar, Youssef Ibrahim all struggling, Hong Kong is looking very much like a case of the last man standing.

Yet one thing’s for sure, in notching recent back-to-back victories in New Zealand and Singapore, ElShorbagy is looking increasingly like the smart bet come next Monday.

Speaking candidly as always the great Gaultier said: “Nobody knows what will happen with Ali and I hope that all is well with him as you don’t want to see anyone injured as it’s bad for the game.

“There are already so many missing players – Gawad, Abouelghar, Ibrahim – so with all these guys missing it is a bit of shame.

“Mohamed’s quarter-final was set to be against Mazen Hesham and if he came through it would be either Ali (Farag) or Mostafa (Asal).

“Now for sure I wish Ali well. I just have no idea if he will be playing and how good he will be and then if he plays he has some tough matches to come through as does Mohamed before you think of a semi-final.

“We don’t want to think too far ahead and then you also have Asal, who pulled up injured with his arm or wrist last week against Diego (Elias), so nobody knows.

“You can also add to that Fares Dessouky, who pulled out with his back, and so the draw maybe changes again and if Ali doesn’t make it then there will be a big change to the draw.

“But at the end of the day Mohamed is in a good dynamic for the last tournament of the year, there is no doubt about it.”

Mohamed ElShorbagy was on fire in Qatar

Reflecting on the part he has played in restoring The Beast of Alexandria to ravenous health, Gaultier was his usual modest self, but since he joined Team ElShorbagy back in March the coincidence in the upturn in the multi-times former world No.1’s form has been more than mere chance for sure.

Yet Gaultier protested: “All credit is due to Mohamed; he is more complete now and more so than a couple of months back. This is due to a few factors and of course the work he has done. We have made little modifications on the court and there has been a lot of repetition of what he has been doing and his mindset is 100 times more positive than he was before.

“One win you can bring another win and that brings the confidence and these are things I have also been through in my career. At the end of the day we talk a lot and we exchange things and I bring my support and knowledge from my time as a player as I lived these moments too, and the way he is now moving on court and the way he hits his targets is very pleasing.

“So Mohamed has managed to adapt quickly to some of the training which I used to do for years, a certain method of training. But he is always willing to learn and that is what makes him a real champion.

“Six to eight months ago a lot of people wrote Mohamed off and now you see you can’t write off someone who has been at the top for as long as he has. A lot of people talk about coming back to the top but saying and doing are different things. Mohamed said he believes it; he is on the right track at least.”

Gaultier is also clearly impressed with the commitment ElShorbagy, now 31, has shown in his thirst for hard work and a reclimb of the rankings and he said: “Mohamed has put in a lot of work and we have had a couple of months and he has made a couple of adjustments so far and it has been working well as he has a very good mentality and on top of that he has managed to back-up well after each event so physically he is in good shape.

England’s in-form Mohamed ElShorbagy beats Wales’ Joel Makin in an all-British semi-final of the Marigold Singapore Open

“Mohamed is also hitting the ball well and has positive feelings from the two previous tournaments. He has really played well and I believe he is now playing better than he was at the start of the season.

“We started around March and we have spent quite a lot of time with Mohamed over in Prague in April before the World Open and then the last three weeks of the summer before Qatar, and then after the US Open he was back here for two weeks before he went to the New Zealand Open.

“So Mohamed spends as much time here in between tournaments as he can. To be fair I am just supporting him and helping Mohamed but at the end of the day he is the player and he is the one on the court playing and he has been playing well and all the credit is his.

“So I am just a supportive person giving the best help that I can, doing all my analysis and giving him my point of view and then we are having good communication between us and it has worked well.

“This week Mohamed took a couple of days off after Singapore and I let him relax and put his head somewhere else than in squash but once he is good to go again we will talk again and he always calls me after the matches anyway.”

A historic tournament which has run from 1985, with the exception of the two-year hiatus caused by Covid and political unrest until next week, the tournament’s first winner was Englishman Phil Kenyon while the immortal Jansher Khan holds the record of eight wins.

Yet Gaultier also holds a rather more unwanted tournament record for Hong Kong over which he remains philosophical and the former world No.1 said: “I lost five times in the final and one of those times I lost to Ramy 11-9 in the fifth and that was tough.

“It’s been a while now and I try not to think about it! But I really enjoyed the Hong Kong Open and I have a lot of friends out there and always enjoyed catching up with them.

Mohamed ElShorbagy beats Gregory Gaultier in the 2014 Hong Kong final

“The Hong Kong was there for years and years, it is a tournament that has been there, and I remember the Hong Kong Open with Jansher (Khan) and all these guys in the past so it is an important tournament and the biggest one in Asia.

“It is great that they have managed to get the tournament back on, especially with Hong Kong being a country still with some restrictions, so it is a really good effort from their team to manage to get it going again.

“But it is very good for the players that they have had New Zealand and Singapore and now Malaysia and then it will be Hong Kong. It is nice to have a tour like this and the players can stay in the same part of the world and have tournaments there back-to-back.”

The women’s event has Nouran Gohar and Nour El Sherbini as top two seeds, with No.3 seed Hania El Hammamy in the top half of the draw pointing to another explosive semi-final clash with Gohar.

New Zealand’s in-form Joelle King is seeded four, followed by Nour El Tayeb, Rowan ElAraby, Sarah-Jane Perry and Salma Hany.

With Georgina Kennedy forced to withdraw because of illness and injury (as reported yesterday here on Squash Mad), it’s good to see Lisa Aitken back in action among the 9/16 seeds.

Interestingly, the PSA Bronze Hong Kong Football Club Open follows from December 6-10, with Marwan ElShorbagy, Mazen Hesham, Youssef Soliman and Nicolas Mueller the top four seeds in the $55k men’s tournament.

British interest features England’s Declan James and Scotland’s Greg Lobban and Rory Stewart, with Curtis Malik and Charlie Lee the top two reserves waiting by the phone to see if anyone pulls out.

Updated Men’s Draw:
Everbright Securities International Hong Kong Squash Open 2022

[2] Diego Elias (PER) [Bye] [WC] Tang Ming Hong (HKG) v [17/32] Mohamed ElSherbini (EGY)
[9/16] Patrick Rooney (ENG) [Bye] [9/16] Moustafa El Sirty (EGY) [Bye] [17/32] Auguste Dussourd (FRA) v Khaled Labib (EGY)
Rory Stewart (SCO) v [17/32] Bernat Jaume (ESP)
[17/32] Rui Soares (POR) v David Baillargeon (CAN)
[8] Youssef Soliman (EGY) [Bye] [6] Mazen Hesham (EGY) [Bye] [WC] Chi Him Wong (HKG) v [17/32] Karim El Hammamy (EGY)
[17/32] Henry Leung (HKG) v Juan Camilo Vargas (COL)
[9/16] Iker Pajares Bernabeu (ESP) [Bye] [9/16] Omar Mosaad (EGY) [Bye] Balazs Farkas (HUN) v [17/32] Ivan Yuen (MAS)
[9/16] Eain Yow Ng (MAS) [Bye] [4] Mohamed ElShorbagy (ENG) [Bye] [3] Mostafa Asal (EGY) [Bye] Curtis Malik (ENG) v [17/32] Leonel Cardenas (MEX)
[17/32] Yahya Elnawasany (EGY) v Mohammad Syafiq Kamal (MAS)
[9/16] Nicolas Mueller (SUI) [Bye] [17/32] Aly Abou Eleinen (USA) v Yannick Omlor (GER)
Christopher Gordon (USA) v [17/32] Faraz Khan (USA)
[17/32] Nick Wall (ENG) v Leandro Romiglio (ARG)
[7] Victor Crouin (FRA) [Bye] [5] Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY) [Bye] Martin Svec (CZE) v [17/32] Dimitri Steinmann (SUI)
[9/16] Shahjahan Khan (USA) [Bye] Timothy Brownell (USA) v [17/32] Sebastien Bonmalais (FRA)
[17/32] Mazen Gamal (EGY) v Tsz Kwan Lau (HKG)
Charlie Lee (ENG) v [17/32] Greg Lobban (SCO)
[9/16] Miguel Rodriguez (COL) [Bye] [1] Paul Coll (NZL) [Bye]

Pictures courtesy of PSA World Tour 


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