Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Beast is back to his best: Mohamed ElShorbagy topples top seed Paul Coll to reach World final against Ali Farag

Nour El Sherbini reaches her eighth world final as Nouran Gohar bids for first title

All the hard work that Mohamed ElShorbagy has put in over the past nine months paid off last night as he toppled top seed Paul Coll to reach the final of the 2022 CIB PSA World Championships.

Egypt’s World No.3 has rebuilt his game, honed his fitness and spent time with Gregory Gaultier to rethink his strategy.

Perhaps, most of all, he has rekindled his appetite for the game and the ability to perform at the highest level, as he showed in this dramatic and thrilling five-game clash against New Zealand’s world No.1 Coll lasting 109 minutes at the Egyptian National Museum of Civilization.

In the final he faces defending champion Ali Farag, who overcame Mostafa Asal in another five-game battle lasting 97 minutes. Farag, too, has the hunger to retain the title and victory tonight will propel him back above Coll to the No.1 spot he relinquished in March.

According to Howard Harding of Squashinfo.com their appearance in the final will mark their 25th meeting since contesting the British Junior Open under-19 quarter-finals in 2010.

The packed crowd lapped up the drama on a brilliant night of squash and it will be another all-Egyptian contest in the women’s final with the top two seeds, Nouran Gohar and Nour El Sherbini, overcoming Amanda Sobhy and Nour El Tayeb.

The 2017 world champion ElShorbagy, who in December 2021 dropped to his lowest ranking in four years following a string of disappointing results, rekindled the form that saw him dominate the sport to reach his fifth World Championship final. And meeting Farag will be a repeat of the 2020-21 final in Chicago.

Going into the match, ElShorbagy had looked in deadly form against fellow Alexandrian and world No.10 Fares Dessouky in his quarter-final. Coll, meanwhile, had come through an exhausting 122-minute clash with Tarek Momen.

There were worrying signs for Coll early on as a confident ElShorbagy caught him out of position a number of times with the Kiwi, who sported strapping on his right knee, struggling to react to shots at the front.

Mohamed ElShorbagy on the attack against Paul Coll

After taking the opening game 11-4, ElShorbagy continued to play immaculate squash early in the second before Coll began to dominate after a number of lengthy rallies, which he loves.

Coll took the second game 11-8 and more long rallies came in the third, which was even until a fiery ElShorbagy pulled clear to have three game balls. Incredibly, Coll was able to pick each one off to level and then take a 2-1 lead with a 12-10 win.

At the beginning of the fourth, errors began to creep into ElShorbagy’s game. The former World No.1, though, showed impressive resilience to battle through a difficult spell and then go on the attack to take it 11-8 and force the match into a fifth game.

The dramatic change of fortunes seemed to give ElShorbagy a huge lift and the 31-year-old stepped up the court to take a commanding 5-0 lead.

Now brimming with confidence, ElShorbagy continued to balance watchful rallies with his signature brutal attacking squash, timing his attacks to perfection to seal a memorable victory with an 11-7 win, to the thunderous applause of the Cairo crowd.

Afterwards, a delighted ElShorbagy said: “I’ve been in this situation so many times in my career. I think we have a habit as human beings to have a short memory, so I needed to remind everyone who I am.

“I went to Gregory (Gaultier) two months ago and told him I want to come back to who I am again and we put together a plan.

“I don’t want to get too excited, of course. I have the final tomorrow, my fifth World Championship final.

“I’m really happy to be in the final. Just a few words regarding Paul: Paul is an amazing athlete, he inspires me so much. The guys has been unbelievable for the past six months. Since he won the British Open last year, he went to another level, and I went to another level, but the wrong way!

“We haven’t played for such a long time and I’ve been waiting for a long time to get on court with him. He inspires me so much, his journey is inspirational and I hope he’s not going to be too hard on himself.

“I’ve been World No.1 and seeded No.1 at a World Championship and have never done it before. It’s so tough, there’s so much pressure on you when you’re seeded No.1.

“He had so much on his plate this week, and no-one understands how much he had on his plate this week except for the people who were in that position before.

“So I want to thank someone, to be honest. I want to thank his coach, Rob Owen, for such a stupid article he posted two or three days ago (on the PSA website). That was one of the most foolish things to do.

“His player had so much pressure on himself this week and when I read this article, me and my team just laughed! Because we knew that he’d just put double the pressure on his player.

“I felt bad for Paul, because you don’t do that to your own player when he has so much on his plate this week.

“That was one of the most stupid articles I’ve ever read and as good as he is, as a great coach, he showed that he has no experience with his player being seeded No.1 in a World Championship.

“So thanks to him, he gave me such an advantage in winning that fifth game, because Paul had so much in his mind in that fifth game today. So thanks Rob for the article, thanks so much for that.

“When I reached my first World Championship final, I had nothing to lose. I was so excited, I was just a kid with big dreams. That’s what we have with Mostafa Asal. The exciting thing with him is that he has nothing to lose.

“And then you have Ali, who is so experienced. He’s probably the longest rival I’ve had in my career. We have played so many great finals together, on all the big stages.”

Ali Farag is overjoyed after beating Mostafa Asal

Farag secured his place in a third PSA World Championship final in four years after an intense 8-11, 11-8, 11-8, 6-11, 11-9 victory over 21-year-old Asal, who was appearing in his first World Championship semi-final.

Asal raced into a 6-0 lead in the opening game and defied a fightback from Farag to take it 11-8.

Farag hit back in the second and went 5-1 up, before Asal narrowed the lead to 8-7. The experienced Farag, though, held on to take an 11-8 win of his own.

While the first two games were free flowing, the third was tight and attritional, with a number of video reviews making it a stop-start affair.

In a bid to disrupt the pattern of play, Asal came to the front more frequently but Farag found an answer every time to win 11-8.

After a blood injury to Asal was treated between games, it was the world No.4 who came out stronger and he forced the match into a fifth game with an 11-6 win.

Farag increased the intensity in the fifth game as Asal made a number of errors. At 8-3 down, Asal battled his way back only for Farag to hold his nerve to seal an 11-9 win.

Reacting after this epic clash, Farag said: “I felt this was going to go on forever. Mostafa is a brilliant player, and he has everything in the book at the age of 21.

“I’m sure we would both like to play more free-flowing squash. It was too stop-start. It’s not what we want to play and I think it’s not what the crowd wants to see.

“It was not enjoyable to watch, to be fair, it was too much out of rhythm and it was tough to concentrate. That’s why I felt edgy at the end. I couldn’t get into momentum and all credit to him, he never gave up. He got me edgy and I’m very relieved to see that one go into the tin.”

Looking ahead to the final, he added: “Mohamed’s never gone anywhere. I was watching and learning how he was playing. It was a master class of tactics. I told him that after his match and I told him he was a bit annoying in the middle of the match as well.

“To be fair, for tomorrow, I don’t care too much about the No.1 for now. It’s the final of the World Championships. I think Mohamed and I said last year that we owe it to each other to play in the final of the World Championships and now two, to make it even better.”

Nour El Sherbini reaches her eighth world final as Nour El Tayeb leaves everything on the court

The women’s final will also be a repeat of the 2021 final in Chicago between World No.1 Nouran Gohar and World No.2 Nour El Sherbini after they defeated the USA’s Amanda Sobhy and Egypt’s Nour El Tayeb, respectively.

El Sherbini will be competing in her eighth World Championship final, matching the record of Malaysian icon Nicol David, where victory over Gohar tomorrow would see her clinch a sixth crown.

“Seeing Nour play yesterday, it was unbelievable squash,” said five-time world champion El Sherbini. “She showed everyone what a fighter she is. I’ve known her for a long time and I knew how her life had changed and what a struggle and challenge it is.

“Seeing her play like this is unbelievable. Every time I see her on court, I’m really proud to see her playing like this.

“I know what this tournament means to each of us. It means a lot to me and it definitely means a lot to her (Gohar), so I’m sure it’s going to get the best out of us tomorrow.”

Nouran Gohar in action against Amanda Sobhy

Gohar, the World No.1, booked her place in a second consecutive final after a high-quality match with World No.4 Sobhy and now aims to get her hands on the World Championship trophy for the first time.

The American had failed to take a game off Gohar in their last six matches, but she stormed out of the blocks to catch the Egyptian by surprise to take the first. Gohar worked her way back into the match, however, to close out the next three, including a tight decider to win 5-11, 11-3, 11-6, 15-13.

“It wasn’t easy for sure. I’ve played Amanda at every tournament, it has been a habit,” said Gohar. “I think she kept her best to the last and most important tournament.

“It was a very tough match, but it’s good to have a match like this, just before tomorrow, to get some nerves out.

“It’s the biggest occasion you can play in, and it comes with a bit of pressure, but I’m just glad about the way I dealt with it.”

The finals of the CIB PSA World Championships Cairo take place today (May 22) and play from the Egyptian National Museum of Civilization will start at 8pm local time (GMT+2) and will be broadcast live on SQUASHTV and multiple broadcasters around the world.

CIB PSA World Championships, Egyptian National Museum of Civilization, Cairo.

Men’s Semi-Finals:
[3] Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) bt [1] Paul Coll (NZL) 3-2: 11-4, 8-11, 10-12, 11-8, 11-7 (109m)
[2] Ali Farag (EGY) bt [4] Mostafa Asal (EGY) 3-2: 8-11, 11-8, 11-8, 6-11, 11-9 (97m)

Men’s Final (May 22):
[3] Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) v [2] Ali Farag (EGY)

Women’s Semi-Finals:
[1] Nouran Gohar (EGY) bt [4] Amanda Sobhy (USA) 3-1: 5-11, 11-3, 11-6, 15-13 (49m)
[2] Nour El Sherbini (EGY) bt Nour El Tayeb (EGY) 3-1: 11-6, 11-8, 9-11, 11-3 (51m)

Women’s Final (May 22):
[1] Nouran Gohar (EGY) v [2] Nour El Sherbini (EGY)

Pictures courtesy of PSA World Tour 


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