Reigning champion faces a busy schedule in 2020
By SEAN REUTHE – Squash Mad Correspondent
World No.1 Ali Farag will look to make a winning start to the second half of the 2019-20 PSA World Tour season when he returns to New York’s Grand Central Terminal to defend his J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions title, which he won in dramatic circumstances 12 months ago.
Farag mounted a stunning comeback from two games down to defeat fellow Egyptian Mohamed ElShorbagy to claim both the prestigious Platinum title and ElShorbagy’s World No.1 spot and he will be the favourite to retain his crown when he takes to the court in New York between January 9-17.
The 27-year-old has reached the final of all three PSA World Tour events he has competed at so far this season, winning one title, and will look to continue that form when he returns to Grand Central Terminal, where he will be front and centre in the posters draped around the famous venue.
“When I was still in college I used to go to Grand Central and always saw the posters of the defending champions all over the venue,” said Harvard-graduate Farag.
“I dreamt of being up there one day and now I am going to be going back there with the memory of clinching that World No.1 title. There can’t be a better feeling, and it’s probably the one tournament we get most inspired for because it’s the beginning of the year, everybody wants to do well, because of the location as well, so I’m really looking forward to it.
“This year it’s a bit different. Because of the Men’s World Team Championship we didn’t really have much of a break where you can recharge. For me, the first part of the season has been a little shaky. I’ve only played three tournaments when normally I would have played five or six. It means that I will need to play at least eight in the second half [of the season], so I want to kick it off well in New York.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back into the rhythm again, more than being back and defending my title. Thankfully I’ve made the final of all three tournaments so far and won the U.S. Open, but it’s been a while.
“I kick off with either Mazen Hesham or Alan Clyne. Both are very tough opponents. Mazen is the same age as me and very talented, and if I do get to play against him it’s going to be tough. This is what I’m thinking about rather than defending my title.”
Farag looked down and out in last year’s title decider after a rampant ElShorbagy marched ahead to a 2-0 lead. But, under the chandeliers of Grand Central’s Vanderbilt Hall, the Egyptian stormed back to seal the iconic trophy, finally fulfilling a lifelong dream.
“I had a flashback of the past 20 years of my life,” he said. “I remember that after I won the match I went into tears and I could only think of these memories and the road that took me to there. I could always dream of it, but I could never imagine it happening really, so that’s what I remember the most.”
Since bursting onto the scene with a surprise run to the quarter-finals of the 2015 PSA World Championship, Farag has now become one of the pre-eminent figures at the top of the game and has 88 PSA event appearances to his name – with the Tournament of Champions coming out on top as his favourite.
Farag said: “I think it’s my favourite tournament because of the city, I love the vibe of it. I would never live there, but I would go for a visit for sure, you can’t get that vibe anywhere else.
“It’s very cosmopolitan, everyone respects everybody else and it’s very different to any other city we go to. John [Nimick] also does a very good job of bringing in the crowd and getting them very engaged.”
Farag will line up against the world’s best in New York, with the likes of World No.2 Mohamed ElShorbagy, World Champion Tarek Momen, New Zealand’s Paul Coll and 2018 champion Simon Rösner all involved, while 2009 champion Gregory Gaultier will make his highly-anticipated return to the tour after 15 months out of action due to a knee injury.
A women’s event will take place alongside the men’s, with World Champion Nour El Sherbini aiming to become the first woman in history to win four Tournament of Champions titles since the event joined the PSA World Tour in 1992.
Interview by SEAN REUTHE (PSA). Edited by ALAN THATCHER.
Pictures courtesy of PSA