EXCLUSIVE by ROD GILMOUR in Doha
The Q Terminals Qatar Classic may be the first tournament back where coaches are allowed in players’ corners, but there has been seemingly little clamour after a two-year hiatus.
Coaches were banned as one of the safety measures introduced by the PSA during the Covid pandemic, designed to reduce contact with players to the barest minimum.
Of the eight quarter-finalists in action today, five had no extra help between games, while Australian Rodney Martin has been the most in-demand coach here, with two players under his wing.
Egypt’s Mostafa Asal has also had a coach in his corner this week in Mahmoud Abdel Kader. The world No.3 mostly kept his counsel on the court and then exuded an air of calm off it as he reached back-to-back semi-finals – last year’s Qatar Classic was his second tournament on tour – with a four-game win over Marwan ElShorbagy.
Asal, who has had regular dialogue with tour referees to better his court movement, was accused several times of pushing and blocking by ElShorbagy, who had legitimate claims for his remonstrations. However, he received short shrift from the referee during mounting traffic problems which wiped away the quality of the opening two games. In the end, ElShorbagy lost his way and there was no way back after two conduct strokes.
ElShorbagy called the mid-court issues a “nightmare” during the match, while Asal simply said that “keeping calm” was his biggest weapon as he set up a semi-final with Marwan’s brother, Mohamed.
“Sometimes that’s the key, not the squash,” Asal told Squash Mad. “It’s not always the matches full of free-flowing squash, it’s a mental game. Marwan is one of the toughest and keeping calm was a weapon today.”
One wonders how Asal would have fared with no coach in his corner today. The 21-year-old had one outburst towards the central referee against his friend ElShorbagy and admitted that he has had his fair share of on-court issues since blazing a trail on the PSA World Tour. But he admitted that having a coach played no extra helping hand. He was, in fact, remarkably calm in the aftermath.
“For some of the players, they can adapt. I’ve dealt with this situation plenty of times. It’s better to have a few words if you are angry to keep calm and that’s what happened today. I didn’t panic.
“At the end of the day we are friends off the court and everyone is hungry to win. It wasn’t the highest quality of squash but mentally at the start of the season it was a big, big win for me and one I’m proud of.”
Earlier, Mohamed Elshorbagy marched into another semi-final by beating Miguel Rodriguez and revealed that the return of the coaching rule was good for the sport.
ElShorbagy has been working with French legend Gregory Gaultier and now has the England Squash high performance team at his disposal, as well as Hadrian Stiff’s Elite team in Bristol, as he adjusts to representing his adopted nation.
“I was with the people that were hoping coaching would come back,” he said. “It’s not an excuse for losing, not having a coach. It’s important for the sport to have a coach as you can market the sport well.
“When I was with David Palmer and seeing me and him between games, it’s something squash could use to market and profile the sport.”
ElShorbagy, who has also been helping other English team-mates like Pat Rooney this week, will now have the England Squash support team at big events upcoming this season, including the US Open, and believes the likes of David Campion will be crucial in his bid to return to world No 1.
Tarek Momen, meanwhile, said it was “business as usual” with the return of coaches. “I would definitely prefer one to help me reset and discuss what’s going on,” he said.
“Sometimes it’s harder when you’re in trouble and you have to think for yourself. It’s kind of interesting but it’s always better when you have someone with fresh eyes watching you.”
Momen’s eight-year relationship with US-bound Haitham Effat recently ended and Momen is set to announce a new coach after the Qatar Classic.
The PSA World Tour is set to see extra hotel rooms at the ready.
Pictures courtesy of PSA World Tour