‘I was crying after losing in my first match in the British Open and I thought it could be the end’
EXCLUSIVE by ROD GILMOUR in Doha
The opening Platinum event of the season, the Q Terminals Qatar Classic, ended with a final of firsts; unseeded Victor Crouin becoming the first Frenchman to reach a major final since Gregory Gaultier five years ago before Mohamed ElShorbagy ushered in a first big title win by an Englishman since he himself lost to Nick Matthew in 2017.
The latest chapter in the 31-year-old’s brilliant career was, he revealed, etched by a phone call to his once rival Gaultier after he had crashed out to Raphael Kandra in his first match at this year’s British Open.
“I was crying in my room and the word retirement kept coming out of my mouth,” ElShorbagy said after claiming his fourth Qatar Classic trophy here in Doha. “I thought ‘Is this how it ends?’
“I was driving back and I called Greg and I think he was shocked as we were rivals. I said that I needed some help and he calmed me down.”
After a few weeks working together in Prague, ElShorbagy was in the final of the World Championships before being able to announce the life-changing news that he would switch allegiances from Egypt to England.
“Greg got me through those emotional decisions,” added ElShorbagy. “I was overweight too but after my decision I started to relax and focus on the job in hand.”
This week, ElShorbagy has played several youngsters of the game, coming after a period of time where he consistently praised the likes of Matthew, James Willstrop and Gaultier for their longevity. Now it’s the Englishman’s turn. And having Gaultier as a mentor could be one of his best decisions.
“Greg is the best player I’ve played in the sport in his thirties as world No.1 and a world champion,” he said. “If someone knows how to play in his thirties it’s Gregory Gaultier. He has been giving me so many tips and how to play big matches.”
Against Crouin, the new kid in town on the world tour, he was clinical in movement, pace, direction and shot selection. The Frenchman was unable to dictate and was forced into errors as ElShorbagy forced him deep in the opening two games.
Crouin did well to battle back in the third, finally getting in front of ElShorbagy and securing quick points at both ends of the game. But the big game moment ElShorbagy has so relished arrived in the fourth, as he edged out Crouin 11-8 to seal his 45th tour title in 48 minutes.
“There was only one [bad] season last year and I never went away,” he said. “Winning tournaments is when you start to make a mark.
“England Squash believed in me when no one did. They have given me support and the team. Without them I wouldn’t be here today. The amount of coaches, support staff and physios they have given me, I owe them a lot already.
“A lot of people said I was done, but now I hope I can keep going.”
At a current ranking of five, ElShorbagy has opened the season with renewed vigour in his bid to return to world No.1 and capture big titles.
He has achieved a first step in Doha with the latter and will gain ground on the top three with another payday in Doha.
And, one imagines, this won’t be the final stop. ElShorbagy has his swagger back.
Pictures courtesy of PSA World Tour