Marwan ElShorbagy has broken the ‘official’ post-match silence that has echoed around squash following his tumultuous Houston Open semi-final against Mostafa Asal.
In another Squash Mad world exclusive, ElShorbagy has opened up on last week’s hugely controversial encounter, which saw the referee award Asal the match against ElShorbagy’s wishes.
The victory was celebrated wildly by Asal as it guaranteed his elevation to world No.1 status, making him the 22nd No.1 of the professional era and the youngest since Jansher Khan ascended to the summit in 1988.
With Asal leading by two games in an increasingly rancorous encounter, ElShorbagy had found a way to break up the rhythm of his younger opponent and surge to a 10-4 lead in the third game, only for Asal to apparently catch him with an elbow in the groin as he cleared to his right flank.
What followed thereafter was pure theatre, with ElShorbagy left writhing on the deck and forced to take a lengthy medical time out. But after signalling his intention to resume, he was overridden by match referee Sheldon Anderson, who then took the unprecedented step of addressing SquashTV cameras to explain why he had ended the contest.
Now, Marwan has given Squash Mad his – necessarily circumspect – version of the match that has got everyone in squash talking. He said: “There’s a lot of things that happened off the court that I’m not going to get into, but what I will say is that every single rule behind the scenes was broken.
“It is just so sad that we have someone [Asal] who is 21 years old who is already bigger than the sport and more powerful than it.
“I hope that squash fans do not believe any of the stuff that they are reading on social media because none of it is true and only a few people who were there witnessed what actually happened off the court.”
Following the incident, ElShorbagy was helped off court for further medical attention before referee Sheldon Anderson took the unprecedented decision to take the microphone and address the stunned crowd and SquashTV viewers. He explained: “The game ended because of an injury, ended on the stroke so the game was over.
“So a contributed injury break was allowed where you are allowed 15 minutes and if they can’t continue you are allowed another 15 minutes.
“My concern is basically 100% for the player. Marwan was recovering and we called for medical attention and it was my decision to end the match and that match is on me.
“Marwan believes he was able to continue and it was my decision for him not to continue and I will live with that decision. So the match was awarded to Asal based on that.”
Yet that version of events is something that ElShorbagy not only disputes but admits left him shell-shocked.
ElShorbagy said: “I have been advised not to discuss this incident in depth for now and I hope people will understand why, but all I can say is that everything that the match referee, Sheldon Anderson, had said on SquashTV was unfortunately not true.
“I’m just still shocked at what happened and what was done against me on that day.”
This latest furore surrounding Asal’s on-court modus operandi has done nothing to quell the acrimony that has increasingly blighted his progress to what should be a glorious and career-defining moment.
Speculation is growing by the day that Asal is the subject of another two-month PSA ban which the new world No.1 has reputedly appealed. PSA have thus far not confirmed this.
The one positive from the Houston furore is that ElShorbagy has pronounced himself fit to take part in the Tournament of Champions in New York later this week where, you’ve guessed it, he is in Asal’s quarter of the draw.
The former world championship runner-up said: “I’m fine physically and it is time to focus on ToC. I start on Thursday and I feel like my game is in a good place.
“I lost a lot of motivation last season and that was obvious, people could see it in my on-court demeanour. But I have been on the PSA World Tour for 12 years and I have had a lot of success. I’ve had 11 good seasons and last season was the bad one.
“But even although it was my worst I still got back to World No.9, so I was still a top-10 player.”
As he reflected on his return to form, ElShorbagy was keen to record his gratitude to Aussie super-coach Rodney Martin who will be in his corner at Grand Central Station.
“Going to Rodney has worked out great and I am so grateful to him for the work he has done with me. He helped me find happiness again on court and has supported me so well,” said Marwan.
“Just getting to know him as a person has been incredible and we have a great chemistry between us. We have made a lot of progress and my ranking is back up at No.6. I still have a lot to learn from him and there is a lot of work still to be done.
“Rodney got to World No.2, he is a former world champion and was the only man to beat both Jahangir and Jansher [Khan] in the same tournament which he did to become world champion. He has lived it all and to be under his guidance is fantastic.”
Marwan added: “The target was first to get my ranking back up and then to try and win majors. At the start it was tricky as I was starting the season with a new coach and a new team and you really don’t know how things will turn out.
“But now my squash is back again, I am playing well, and I feel that I can go to every major and be one of the contenders.
“This is a very strong era and every player has his strengths. It is tough at the top and the players that are behind you in the rankings want to eat you. They are waiting for their opportunity. It is so competitive and we love it.”