Top seed Mohamed Elshorbagy leads 10-6 in the fifth, but Ramy Ashour battles back to win epic El Gouna final
By NATHAN CLARKE in El Gouna
Ramy Ashour saved four match balls as he conjured up an astonishing comeback to beat Mohamed Elshorbagy in an epic, all-Egyptian final of the 2015 El Gouna International.
Top seed Elshorbagy led 10-6 in the fifth game, having saved two match balls himself in the fourth game, but Ashour produced an unstoppable blitzkrieg of a finish to retain the title in this open-air venue next to the Red Sea.
Victory completed a remarkable comeback to competitive action on the PSA World Tour for the maverick superstar Ashour, who is now based in New York.
The 27-year-old hasn’t competed on tour since he won the 2014 World Championship in December, where he beat Elshorbagy in a similarly gripping fashion, and he inflicted heartbreak on the 24-year-old World No.1 once again in front of a raucous crowd.
“It’s such a privilege for me to have played and won in front of this great crowd in this amazing venue here in Egypt,” said Ashour. “It’s something I’m really proud of.”
There was no let-up from either man during what what a blistering 94-minute thriller, playing at a ferocious pace from the off and it was Ashour who had the better of the early exchanges, capitalising to take a commanding two-game lead.
But Elshorbagy responded to take the third game and then saved several championship points to force the match into a decider when he raced out to take a commanding lead before finding himself with championship point in hand.
Then history repeated itself. Five months after Ashour prevented Elshorbagy from winning the World Championship with match ball in hand, the man know as the Artist struck again, taking the game to a tie-break scenario which he clinched to scenes of high emotion.
“I believe that this match was a lot harder than the World Championship final,” said Ashour. “Mohamed and I spoke after the math and we agreed it was a much better match.
“The pace was incredible from the start and we were both very stubborn. Neither of us wanted to let go and we just fought to the last point and that’s what we did.
“It’s always a great battle between us and he really pushes me every time, which is what is so special about this sport. Mohamed is at his most dangerous when he is down in the score and he showed that when I was leading 2-1 and 10-8.
“He was fearless. And when I was match ball down in the fifth I started thinking to myself ‘Why can’t I play like that?’ Why can’t I be carefree and just go for my shots? But there is a big difference between what’s in your head and putting it into practice.”
Elshorbagy later told his fans on Twitter: “I promise everyone that these are the kind of battles we will both give you for the next few years…just hope my body will stay strong.”
Fans bombarded social media sites claiming it was the best squash match in history. For Egypt, a nation wracked by recent troubles, it was a proud moment.
Game by game recap:
Ashour won a tight opening game but dominated the second to open a commanding position in the match. However, Elshorbagy’s power play began to reap dividends as he took the third 11-4.
Ashour turned the tables in the fourth and held two match balls at 10-8 but Elshorbagy buried a succession of winners to take the game 12-10.
A packed crowd were delighted to see the match go to a fifth game and Elshorbagy’s fans must have thought he had the title in his pocket as moved to match ball at 10-6.
But Ashour’s fearless play produced one of the most incredible finishes in squash history as he reeled off six winners without reply to retain his El Gouna title.
2015 El Gouna International, Final:
(4) Ramy Ashour (Egypt) beat (1) Mohamed Elshorbagy (Egypt) 11-9, 11-6, 4-11, 10-12, 12-10 (94 mins)
Match stats from Squash App:
Pictures courtesy of PSA and social media