Monday, June 5, 2023

Optasia Championship: Squash greats jostle for SW19 glory

Event organiser Danny Lee previews this week’s 2023 Optasia Squash Championship at The Wimbledon Club, London.

Fittingly, the second-biggest sport event to take place in SW19 – the Optasia Squash Championship at the Wimbledon Club – is staged on a tennis court. 

The court is covered with black carpet with a bar, TV studio, large grandstand and an all-glass squash court. 

We know plenty of things already about the cast of characters who will assemble just a stone’s throw from the All England Lawn Tennis Club. 

Mostafa Asal the wonder kid is World No.1 at the age of 21. A ‘Marmite’ character who divides opinion like no other player in the game’s history, he is an amazing player and as promoter I hope he lets his squash do the talking. 

I haven’t seen him play live so I have no firm opinion on whether he’s victim or aggressor. I know that he can really play and to have him competing here is an enthralling prospect.

Three pretenders are breathing fire down Asal’s neck hoping to make Wimbledon history of their own. 

Last year’s champion, the likeable, eloquent Ali Farag has supreme movement and court craft. He carries his world champion status fittingly as one of squash’s finest ambassadors. 

Diego Elias, the best player to come out of South America, has shifted his play up a level and is in a rich vein of form having participated in a free-flowing squash extravaganza at the Black Ball Open which restored the cognoscenti’s faith in our beautiful, but recently tarnished, game. 

Elias inches ever closer to the summit of the world squash rankings , jostling with Farah and Mohamed ElShorbagy, hoping to plant his Peruvian flag on the top. 

Mohamed may have thought his star was waning but wisely sought the counsel of another recent world champion, Greg Gaultier. The partnership has proved to be invigorating as ElShorbagy has regained both his passion for matches and his winning formula. 

Such is the depth of the PSA World Tour that there are a host of characters ready to pounce on the slightest show of weakness from any of the glittering top four. 

Marwan El Shorbagy has the squash intelligence and pedigree to hijack the ambitions of those even more loftily perched. He’s in fine form too but has he quite got the physicality to win four brutal matches in successive days? Like his brother, he is forging a strong pupil/coach allegiance with an ex-world champion, exquisite shot maker and Khan conqueror, Rodney Martin. 

The mere mention of the word ‘physicality’ conjures up images of Joel Makin’s brutal capacity to tolerate and absorb intense pressure. The Welshman’s durability compares with former world No.2 Peter Marshall (now a Wimbledon club member) but he has added dynamism to his game of late – as seen at Canary Wharf where he reached the final before losing out to Paul Coll.

A Harvard graduate like Ali Farag, Amanda Sobhy and Gina Kennedy before him, Victor Crouin has quietly slipped up the rankings to a career high of No.7 . He won recently in Washington DC and leads a quartet of sqwashbuckling French musketeers breezing into town in the footsteps of their racket-wielding forbearers Jean Borotra, René Lacoste, Henri Cochet and Jacques Brugnon performing magic across the road on Centre Court a century ago. 

Mazen Hesham has been a major highlight of previous Optasia (previously Channel VAS) tournaments. With shotmaking as flamboyant as his former ‘corkscrew’ hairstyle, Hesham captures the hearts of audiences worldwide. 

One of three former world champions and four World No.1s in the draw is Karim Abdul Gawad. He had lines of pain etched on his cherubic features when he suffered an injury which kept him out of squash for eight months, a period of convalescence and intense rehabilitation with only a 50% chance of him returning to the big stage.

The fans flocking to Wimbledon will delight once again at his majestic skills. If he can get past Raphael Kandra, a Wednesday encounter with Mostafa really whets the appetite for a battle royale. 

A ticket for Tuesday’s first round, which starts at 1pm, costs £20 for eight matches. 

In addition to the Gawad v Kandra clash at 6.30pm, the late-blossoming local boy Charlie Lee pitches his skills against Qatar’s entertaining Abdulla Al-Tamimi at 7.30pm. 

England’s Patrick Rooney, who flies the home flag with Charlie and Mohamed, clashes with former World Junior champion Eain Yow Ng at 5.30pm. 

We welcome another popular veteran of many epic Optasia matches Saurav Ghosal who plays August Dussourd, a late replacement in the draw.  

Last season’s surprise semi-finalist Nicolas Mueller, who enjoyed the vibe of being so close to where Swiss sporting history was made by Roger Federer, meets fellow countryman Dimitri Steinmann at 3pm. 

The evening session concludes at 8.30pm with French rivals Gregoire Marche, world No.15, and Baptiste Masotti who will be looking to upset his higher ranked compatriot. 

On Sunday 26 March at 3pm, a Pro Squash Challenge featuring world No.10 Gina Kennedy and World No.20 Jasmine Hutton precedes the final at 4.15pm. 

This is no exhibition and Gina will be keen to keep the title which helped her spring to prominence in 2021 with wins over Hutton, Tesni Evans and Sarah Jane Perry. 

Sponsor Bassim Haidar remains an ardent supporter of squash and the sport owes him a great debt for his passionate involvement over seven seasons.  

With an enlarged arena built to cope with demand, tickets and hospitality are still available from  

For hospitality packages contact Stacey Ross at The Wimbledon Club [email protected] 

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