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Mohamed Elshorbagy happy to win ugly as he powers to the top

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Hard-hitting Egyptian adds flair and
fire to build faith in his destiny

By JOEL DURSTON 

 

Mohamed Elshorbagy gets up close with Greg Gaultier in Hong Kong

If the current top 11 squash players were to make up a football team, the gaffer – Jonah Barrington? Nick Matthew? Alan Thatcher? – would be looking at an average age of over 30 (30.3).

So the future is looking decidely rosy for Mohamed Elshorbagy, having just bagged his second PSA World Series title at just 23 years of age – and looking good for many more.

This is not to suggest that World No.1 Gregory Gaultier, 31, and World No.2 Nick Matthew, 34, are over the hill – far from it, in the past couple of years they have been in career-best form. However, time is a cruel mistress, and at some point it will take its toll on the intense squash circuit.

Indeed, Matthew is already cutting down on the number of the tournaments he is playing.

Elshorbagy also has at least seven years on five of the six just below him in the rankings – Amr Shabana (35), Borja Golan (31), James Willstrop (31), Peter Barker (30) and Daryl Selby (30).

The other in the top eight, Ramy Ashour, is of course a huge obstacle to his success (when fit). But being the fierce competitor he is, Elshorbagy will no doubt be relishing the challenge of taking a victory of his compatriot after four losses, and more rallies like this between the two.

Anyway, to focus too much on Elshorbagy’s opponents is to do a disservice to the man himself, for he has been in stunning form recently, having reached a career-high of World No.3 in February and kept it for all but one of the months until today.

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His victory against Gaultier in the Hong Kong Open final follows his 3-1 victory in the semi-final at El-Gouna this year and before that all nine of the two’s games had gone Gaultier’s way, with only one going the distance.

Most impressive, though, was the manner of the victory. He saw off strong opposition from, respectively, Karim Abdel Gawad, Chris Simpson, Peter Barker, Borja Golan before Gaultier.

In the final, the Frenchman started a little nervously, tinning several shots (as did Elshorbagy), but recovered to play some very impressive squash after the first two games.

So, with the momentum all Gaultier’s way going in to the fifth it took great mental fortitude to open up a 6-0 lead, and go on to take the fifth game 11-4.

This is indicative of Elshorbagy having, in the past couple of years, gaining an extra layer of mental steel to his game, to add to his magnificently inventive shots like backhand overhead nicks and rolled topspin drops.

Indeed, after last year’s World Championship quarter-final over Willstrop, he claimed to have been influenced by the book Winning Ugly, by former tennis player Brad Gilbert, who has been described by John McEnroe as the most negative person he had played against and by Andre Agassi as the “greatest coach of all time”.

Elshorbagy said: “Brad Gilbert got to number 4 in the world in tennis, and he had the worst technique in the world and was not talented, which he said about himself.

“But he knew, mentally, about how the game worked, and how he could win matches when he was not at his best, and how to be calm in tough situations. I learned a lot reading it.”

With this mental strength, and all his trickery, expect the Hong Kong triumph to be the second of many for Elshorbagy…

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