Saturday, July 13, 2024

Sock exchange! Mostafa Asal helps out rival Mohamed ElShorbagy

Mostafa Asal turned from war mode on court to wardrobe provider as opponent Mohamed ElShorbagy ran out of socks in their semi-final match at the El Gouna Squash International.

Over the years we’ve seen players’ shoes overfill with sweat in hot conditions — both Ramy Ashour’s and Nick Matthew’s shoes famously did so at the Saudi 2009 tournament — but this was a rare occurence in a big tournament.

It happened at the start of the fifth game when both players came off court to explain the situation to the referee. “It’s too dangerous,” said ElShorbagy, as the referee gave him 90 seconds for the change. 

It soon dawned on everyone that Asal was actually providing the socks, with his English rival joining him in his corner. Pictures showed Asal rearranging the socks and handing them over, with both players smiling. 

“These pictures say it all really,” said commentator Joey Barrington. “They’ve literally been knocking seven bells out of each other and Mostafa is quite happy to keep Mohamed company as he changes into Mostafa’s socks.”

Back on court, Asal’s title defence remained intact after the defending champion overcame his idol in a 110-minute, often stop-start encounter.

Asal stormed into a two-game lead, with the World No.2 winning both games 11-8.

However ElShorbagy disrupted the rhythm Asal had found to get a foothold back in the contest, edging a tense and scrappy third game 16-14 and then levelling with his superb match play tactics.

But the wear and tear on the Englishman’s body was evident in the early stages of the fifth game, notably after ElShorbagy had sweated through all of his own socks.

The break in play was beneficial to Asal, who marched into an 8-0 lead before closing out the match moments later to crown a monumental battle with ElShorbagy that had finished into the early hours of the morning. 

“It was really difficult conditions,” said Asal.

“It’s all about sportsmanship between me and Mohamed [ElShorbagy], we both lost a bit of control in the third game but I have so much respect for him. I’m playing my idol – I was here years ago, watching him and Greg [Gaultier], his coach, in the final. He’s the Beast for a reason.

“It’s a lot of emotions. I was suspended for two months and now I’m in the final to defend my title. It was not my best season, despite reaching World No.1. Last season was much better but I was trying to get all my momentum for this tournament. It’s not done yet, I have a final tomorrow.”

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