Stars applaud as Kiwi Coll breaks Egyptian stranglehold on men’s rankings
By ALAN THATCHER – Squash Mad Editor
New Zealand’s Paul Coll, known as the Superman of squash, flies to the top of the world rankings today.
The New Zealander will be keen to keep the lid on his emotions because today is another working day, with a semi-final tonight against Egypt’s Tarek Momen in the Windy City Open.
Greymouth-born Coll has made history as the first New Zealander to reach World No.1. The 29-year-old was in magnificent form throughout 2021 and won three PSA World Tour titles, the Allam British Open, the Canary Wharf Classic and the Black Ball Open.
In all three finals he beat the man he has replaced as World No.1, Egypt’s Ali Farag.
Those wins, coupled with Farag’s ranking points from the 2020 Qatar Classic and CIB Black Ball Squash Open expiring, have sent Coll to No.1 and he becomes the 21st man to climb to the summit of the World Rankings.
It is also the first time since Frenchman Gregory Gaultier topped the rankings in May 2017 that there hasn’t been an Egyptian men’s No.1.
“It’s pretty special and it’s capping off a great season,” said Coll. “It’s something that I didn’t think would come through this soon in the season, so it’s a real special moment and it’s huge for me.
“I’ve always had this goal and it’s always been in the back of my mind that it was what I wanted, so I’ve just kept training and trying to improve to reach that spot.”
Former world champion Ross Norman sent a message of congratulations from back home in New Zealand. He said: “Paul prides himself on his fitness, determination and developing his skills which really poses a lot of problems for his opponents.
“Becoming number one in the world doesn’t necessarily mean you are the best in the world, it means you are the most consistent player in the world. I believe Paul is currently the best player in the world.
“I don’t believe we have seen the best of Paul Coll. His game is constantly evolving and he seems to be getting better all the time.”
Coll’s rise to the summit of world squash, finally breaking Egypt’s monopoly on the top position, has been a catalogue of solid graft, both on the court and in the gym.
The hard-working Kiwi knew that being the fittest guy on tour was never going to be enough, and he teamed up with English coach Robert Owen to add the missing pieces to his game.
Having come so far together, both know there is still plenty more work to be done; life at the top is all about constant tiny adjustments to keep ahead of the pack.
Coll has assembled a solid team around him and coping with the psychological stress of switching from hunting down the top guys to being the hunted target himself is a subtle but incredibly important element of a champion’s mindset.
Fortunately, he has every confidence in Bart Wijnhoven, his mental coach. Coll said: “We work really hard together and have come up with what we think is a good plan for me to compete every tournament: relaxed but also hunting the ball.”
As for Owen’s contribution to his journey of turning steady progress into spectacular success, Coll thanks him for rebuilding large parts of his game. He said: I teamed up with Rob Owen and he’s changed my game, taught me how to play the game, and I’m just so grateful to share his time and his commitment to me and all his players.”
Owen said today: “It’s every player’s dream to be world number one and the next best thing is to coach and mentor the world number one.
“It’s been an incredible journey and it’s a journey we’ve shared together every step of the way.
“It’s been a privilege and an honour to play a part in this achievement and I take great pride in watching the player Paul has now become and even more so when I look back to see the huge improvements he has made in all areas of his game in such a relatively short period of time.
“We have a very special relationship and have complete trust in each other, and I’m excited l to see what the future holds for Paul.”
Diving around the court made Coll famous but it was a clear sign that it was caused by him being out of position and allowing his opponent to hit the ball into empty areas of the court.
Now Coll says: “Diving is definitely something that put me on the map, but as my coach says for the wrong reasons as he hates me diving. Now that’s out my game for the best part.”
Fellow players have shown their admiration for Coll’s honest, hard-working approach to climbing the rankings.
England’s former world number one and three-times Nick Matthew said: “Paul fully deserves it. He’s been consistently the best player this past year and is looking incredibly hard to beat at the moment.”
Daryl Selby, who made his farewell appearance at Canary Wharf in November, added: “Massive congratulations to Paul, a very well deserving person after a lot of hours of blood, sweat and tears to get to the ultimate goal.
“He’s a great guy away from the court and a fantastic role model for so many people in the way he goes about his business as a professional athlete.
“He has been the most consistent player in the last 18 months and it’s great to see a new nation on top of the world rankings. Really intrigued to see how the other top players now respond and how long Paul can stay there.”
Coll earned his nickname as “Superman” during an incredible first-round battle against James Willstrop at Canary Wharf in 2016.
During one famous rally, Coll dived across the court three times to win the point as a clearly distracted Willstrop clipped the tin with an easy drop shot.
The videos went viral and a new squash star was born.
Willstrop recalls that evening with enormous clarity. In an interview for Squash Mad, he said last week: “I remember it well. What people won’t know is that behind the scenes, other players were congratulating him after the match for all the dives and his incredible movement.
“Players came up to him and said ‘You don’t know how big that rally was’ but Paul was quite down on himself. Everyone else was excited by the dives but he said ‘Yes, but that won’t win me many matches’.
“People watched it over and over again and fans still come up to me today and talk about it. But Paul knew that was not the way he wanted to be identified. He is now diving less and the end result is not the diving and the entertainment but the winning of tournaments.
“Season by season you could see things that were leading him in the right direction and I am so pleased for him to reach number one. He is a great champion and a good person.
“It’s great to see people like him coming through. He plays hard, aggressive squash but with a level of honesty and respect. He’s an honest guy and he has a certain way about him. He carries it well.
“I’m happy for him and he is a great champion for the sport and for New Zealand.
“His commitment and dedication are phenomenal. He has taken it to new levels and reminds me of Jonah Barrington in his prime.
“In a game like squash, none of the top players has ever scrimped on their fitness work but he has eclipsed them all with his obsession and intensity. From that workload he has emerged to be the world No.1 and British Open champion.”
On a personal level, I am pleased to be welcoming Paul back on court at Canary Wharf in just under a fortnight’s time as he defends the title he won in dramatic style in November against Ali Farag, the man he replaces at the top of the rankings.
This time, I can introduce Paul as our reigning champion, our top seed, and the world number one.
Farag’s six-month reign as World No.1 comes to an end as he drops to No.2 ahead of World No.3 Mohamed ElShorbagy – who returned to action with a title win at the Squash on Fire Open last month. Mostafa Asal (No.4) and Tarek Momen (No.5) complete the top five.
Diego Elias (No.6), Marwan ElShorbagy (No.7) and Squash on Fire Open runner-up Joel Makin (No.8) retain their places, while Mazen Hesham rises a place to a career-high ranking of No.9 at the expense of Fares Dessouky, who drops to No.10.
Frenchman Gregoire Marche moves up to a career-high ranking of No.11, with Colombia’s Miguel Rodriguez falling to No.12. Karim Abdel Gawad and Mohamed Abouelghar stay at No.13 and No.14, respectively. Youssef Soliman takes the last spot in the top 15, switching places with India’s Saurav Ghosal to record a career-high ranking.
Next comes Youssef Ibrahim at No.17, while Eain Yow Ng and Raphael Kandra share the No.18 spot. Baptiste Masotti rounds off the top 20.
Australia’s Josh Larkin is the biggest mover on the men’s tour after a runner-up finish at the Roberts and Morrow North Coast Open saw him move up 398 places to No.321. India’s Karan Malik also enjoyed a big rise in his ranking, moving up 234 spots to No.577 after appearing in the last 24 of the Squash on Fire Open.
PSA Men’s World Rankings Top 20 – March 2022.
Pictures and graphic courtesy of PSA and Steve Line (squashpics.com)