After a best-of-three trial, fans are enthralled by two brutal, brilliant five-setters
By ALAN THATCHER
Mohamed ElShorbagy was forced to produce a performance worthy of his world champion status to overcome his younger brother in the semi-finals of the 15th Canary Wharf Classic. In the final, he will meet Tarek Momen, who also won an epic five-game battle with Ali Farag in a line-up featuring four Egyptians, each with his own unique style of playing brilliant, dynamic squash.
In a repeat of their recent clashes in the Windy City Open and the World Championships in Manchester, both won by Mohamed, Marwan, runner-up to his brother on both occasions, executed his game plan almost to perfection. In a physically brutal battle, lasting 71 minutes, three errors at crucial times in the fifth game cost him the match.
The majority of the contest was played at a frightening pace, with the sound of Mohamed’s relentless fierce drives echoing off the glass court walls around a packed East Wintergarden venue.
Despite the lack of English involvement in the final two days of the tournament, the home crowd really got involved in the match, with lots of raucous cheering throughout.
Mohamed, clearly the favourite on the day, had won 10 of their last 12 meetings. However, Marwan began at a blistering pace to dominate the opening game. In a seesaw of scores and emotions, he won the first and third games, with Mohamed taking the second and fourth.
The fifth was anyone’s call, with the scores level midway through. For all the brutal power of Mohamed’s crushing drives, Marwan has his own style of injecting pace into the ball and a fascinating battle grew even more intense as the match extended beyond the hour mark in the final game.
Marwan certainly has more variety at the front of the court, but both players can conjure up winners from the unlikeliest of opportunities. Mohamed endeared himself to a huge percentage of spectators with the occasional reverse angle (dubbed a leisure centre shot by many seasoned observers in the professional ranks) and also buried a few kill shots straight into the nick. I’ll bet most spectators will have forgotten that he also finished one particular rally with the most sublime lob that dropped like a stone into the back left corner.
Marwan, despite being 6ft tall, lacks his brother’s extraordinary physical presence but that makes him a lighter, more mobile adversary who is more than capable of punching above his weight.
It was an engrossing contest. The fact that we were watching two brothers whose lives have been totally intertwined for so many years made it doubly intriguing. One moment these two Bristol residents were glowering at each other with what seemed like a pent-up rage, the next they were complimenting the other on a good shot to win a bruising rally with a tap of the racket, a nod of the head or even occasionally a smile. Such is the intimate nature of this most gladiatorial of sports where two phenomenal athletes are locked inside a glass box until one emerges triumphant.
Marwan, carefully constructing rallies that moved his big brother around the court in a frenzied assault on the senses, built an 8-6 lead in the fifth game and many in the crowd were loudly cheering the underdog and willing him to reverse the scores of the recent finals in the Windy City Open and the World Championship in Manchester.
Suddenly, Marwan’s clinical finishing evaporated at crucial moments and his mistakes, coupled with Mohamed’s stubborn refusal to give up the match to an opponent who he clearly regards as a serious rival to his number one ranking, resulted in the world champion reeling off the final five points to book his place in the final.
A delighted and relieved Mohamed said: “We just played last week and he definitely played better this week.
“Playing someone with the quality of my brother twice in the same week is definitely not easy. After I beat him last week he would have learned so much and he wanted to do things better this time.
“I could see from the first point in the first game that he wanted to win badly today, but I had to try and fight. There were times when he was unstoppable and I couldn’t really cope with his pace, but I had to keep digging in and hope he made a few errors and I think my experience got me through in the end.”
Mohamed revealed he had spoken to his coach David Palmer between games and he added: “We’ve been trying to get things right this season and it’s definitely not easy playing so many matches and so many tournaments. It’s never easy to back up match after match and tournament after tournament, but if you want to be the best in the world you don’t give yourself excuses.
“You just keep pushing and pushing, that’s what all of us do and I’m glad to be in another final.”
ElShorbagy won the Windy City Open title without dropping a game, beating Momen in the semi-finals.
Momen will take on Mohamed for the second time in as many tournaments after the World No.6 also prevailed in a five-game battle against Farag.
Momen won a wonderful match against James Willstrop the night before and again showed his class by moving another tall opponent around the court last night. He will need to do that again, and much, much more, to shake Mohamed ElShorbagy out of his powerful , purposeful stride.
The 30-year-old Momen came flying out of the traps as he hit winners for fun and made it difficult for Farag to put any points on the board.
Farag was much improved in the second and third games as he overturned the deficit but, with the scores locked at 6-6 in the fourth, Momen rediscovered his best squash and punished a rapidly tiring Farag to complete an 11-5, 6-11, 8-11, 11-8, 11-6 victory and he will aim to avenge defeats to Mohamed in the Qatar Classic final and Windy City Open semi-final in tomorrow’s title decider.
“I just tried to give it my best because I know Ali is an unbelievable opponent,” said Momen.
“What he achieved in less than three years on Tour is remarkable. I’ve been playing for 12 years and look where he is at with only three years of experience, so I salute him for that.
“He’s such a tough opponent to break. He’s very tough physically and mentally, with some good racket skills as well. He has the full package and to beat him is just unbelievable.”
The final of the 2018 Canary Wharf Classic – which this year celebrates its 15th edition – takes place at 19:30 GMT and will be shown live on SQUASHTV (Rest of World), Eurosport Player (Europe only) and mainstream broadcast channels around the world including BT Sport, beIN Sports, Fox Sports Australia, Astro and more.
An exhibition match to mark the event’s 15th edition, featuring the tournament’s co-founder and former World Champion Peter Nicol against two-time runner-up Peter Barker, will be held at 18:00 and will be shown live on SQUASHTV.
PSA M100 $100,000 Men’s 15th Canary Wharf Classic 2018, East Wintergarden, London, England.
(1) Mohamed ElShorbagy (Egypt) beat (3) Marwan ElShorbagy (Egypt) 3-2: 8-11, 11-8, 11-13, 11-3, 11-8 (71m)
(4) Tarek Momen (Egypt) beat (2) Ali Farag (Egypt) 3-2: 11-5, 6-11, 8-11, 11-8, 11-6 (68m)
Final (Friday March 9 at 7.30pm):
(1) Mohamed ElShorbagy (Egypt) v (4) Tarek Momen (Egypt)
Rackets Cubed International Women’s Day Challenge:
Sarah-Jane Perry (England) beat Alison Waters (England) 11-9, 7-11, 11-7
Pictures by STEVE LINE (www.squashpics.com) and PATRICK LAUSON (www.patricklausonphotography.co.uk)