Friday, March 31, 2023

Jahangir Khan exclusive: Paul Coll and Mohamed ElShorbagy have a point to prove as a gruelling, gripping PSA season draws to a close

‘Everyone wants to finish the season on a high note,’ says squash legend JK
EXCLUSIVE by RJ MITCHELL (Squash Mad Special Correspondent)

JAHANGIR KHAN has admitted that this week’s Necker Mauritius Open will provide a fascinating insight into the impact of some of the titanic struggles that have spanned two of the most brutal weeks of squash in the professional game’s history.

The PSA World Championships in Cairo produced some of the most gruelling grapples in recent year’s like Paul Coll’s 122-minute death struggle with Tarek Momen in the quarter-finals which ultimately did for the Kiwi in his semi-final with a resurgent Mohamed ElShorbagy in a mere 109-minute sprint.

Yet the former World No.1 was himself reduced to a hobbling wreck in the final against Ali Farag when ‘The Beast’s’ body ultimately gave way despite his snarling determination to fight to the end as Farag prevailed to secure a third world title while himself having come within two points of defeat.

Then, just five days later, the PSA World Tour moved on to the El Gouna International where Coll took his revenge on a self-destructing El Shorbagy in another 109-minute semi-final and Mostafa Asal at last defeated newly re-crowned world No.1 Ali Farag to reach the denouement where the 20-year-old was too good and too fresh for a below-par Coll.

Now, with Farag succumbing to injury and Fares Dessouky a COVID cropper, the great Jahangir admits this week’s PSA Gold Level tournament presented by Beachcomber Hotels & Resorts is full of fascinating sub-plots as the squash world waits to see if Coll can regain the dominance that saw him become the most emphatic British Open champion since Jahangir himself back in April.

The 10-time British Open champion said: “I think El Gouna may have been the big breakthrough for Mostafa. He had that win at the US Open last year but since then he has been very close on a number of occasions to repeating it but has just come up short – mainly because he has been losing to Ali Farag.

“It is all very tight at the top of the game just now with Paul Coll, Ali Farag, Mohamed ElShorbagy and of course Mostafa – and small details like attitude and focus can make the difference.”

During his legendary 555-match winning streak in the 1980s the immortal Jahangir was famed for his ability to absorb brutal battles.

It was on March 30, 1983, that the great Khan, then a mere 19- year-old stripling met Egyptian Gamal Awad, in Chichester, where their encounter lasted 2hrs and 46 minutes with Jahangir winning 3-1 to become the longest ever professional match.

Squash Mad editor Alan Thatcher was in the audience that day and took a shorthand note of every point. It makes for fascinating reading in the book he co-authored with Rod Gilmour, Jahangir Khan 555.

That was in the era of hand-out scoring where only the server could win the point for that rally and indeed it was almost 15 minutes before a point was scored with one rally lasting for seven minutes before ending in a let.

Jahangir Khan in action against Gamal Awad in their marathon match at Chichester

Awad, known as The Rubber Man, took the first game after 1 hour and 15 minutes, which is still the longest on record. After that, the next three games took a mere 1 hour and 31 minutes.

Jahangir recalled: “It does remind of my days when there was a group of guys and every match from the quarter-finals on was tough whether you played Rodney Martin, Chris Robertson, Chris Dittmar or Jansher it was always tough and then we went to the 15-scoring system so again things changed tactically because of that.

“Nine points was much tougher both mentally and physically. You were just scoring when you had hand in and so the score was not moving and that was tough mentally while obviously physically it goes without saying that the matches went on and on.

“15 points was different and faster but not as fast as 11 points and that is making things very exciting.

“With the 11-point scoring system this is different to my time when it was hand-in, hand-out and first to nine while the current scoring system is more exciting and favours attacking squash and I think is good for the game.

“But if you look at that match between Paul Coll and Tarek Momen at Worlds which went on for 122-minutes … well, they have, in some ways, similar styles and mentally they are both very strong and very determined and it was a tough match for both guys.

“There has been some great squash of late and I have really enjoyed what I have watched. It is so tight at the very top level; the squash is exciting and right now you are not sure who will win the tournaments and that is all good for the game.”

A montage from Jahangir Khan’s glory days

Of course things in Mauritius have had further spice added to them by Mohamed El Shorbagy’s defection to the Team England camp but for Jahangir it is the battle between youth and experience that fascinates him most.

The man perceived by many as the squash GOAT said: “As I said there is very little in it between the top four or five players and the older guys always try everything they can to hold on to the top ranking while the younger players do everything they can to take it away from them. And it was the same in my day when I came through and was chasing Geoff Hunt.

“We have two tournaments left with this week in Mauritius and then the World Tour Finals ending the season at the end of the month, and there is no doubt that all of the players will want to end the season as strongly as they can.

“But it has been a long season already and you can see that with Ali Farag having to pull out this week due to injury and (Fares) Dessouky testing positive for COVID.

“But for the top guys who are still playing they will be wanting to get the victory. Both Paul Coll and ElShorbagy have been close in the Worlds and El Gouna so they will be very strongly motivated this week.

“But one thing is for sure: it will not be easy for any of the guys.”

Jahangir Khan in action against his great rival Geoff Hunt

With the final furlong of a long and gruelling campaign now firmly upon us, with so many tournaments crammed into the schedule after lockdown, Jahangir is in no doubt about the importance of ending the campaign as world No.1.

“At the top level you always aim to end the season as strongly as possible so you can start the new season at the top of the rankings,” said the squash immortal.

Khan continued: “I noticed that Ali Farag had been saying that regaining No.1 before the end of the season was very important to him and I understand that completely as it was how I always felt.

“Paul Coll has been No.1 and he will be very motivated to reclaim it. He has added that second British Open and been very close at the Worlds when a tough draw did not help him and then losing the final at El Gouna, so I am sure he will have extra motivation over the final two tournaments to go out as strongly as possible.

“Before you finish for the off season you know that you will have two months to rest, recover and then prepare to go again and you know that your rivals will be working very hard to try and take No.1 from you. But it is a very nice feeling to go into the off season at the top of the rankings, there is no question.”

Pictures courtesy of PSA World Tour and Jahangir Khan 


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