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Friday, December 2, 2022

How top coach Rodney Martin has made Marwan ElShorbagy hungry for success once again

RJ Mitchell
RJ Mitchellhttp://www.spitfiremediascotland.co.uk
RJ MITCHELL has been writing about squash for 24 years and has played the sport all his adult life. Former captain of the West of Scotland county team, he became a professional journalist and has written for the Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser, the Glasgow Evening Times, The Herald and The Scotsman. Mitchell has also become a regular contributor for the PSA World Tour website. He is also the author of the DS Thoroughgood crime fiction series based on his career as a Glasgow cop between 1989 and 2001.

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Aussie ace’s tiny tweaks in technique have seen Marwan hitting the ball cleaner and building belief and confidence 

WHEN Marwan El Shorbagy claimed the CIB Black Ball Open PSA Platinum Series title in early 2021 it seemed then that, at 27, his triple target of annexing a British Open, the World Championship and ultimately claiming the world No.1 ranking were all within his compass.

Yet what was to follow was an uncharted course into troubled waters that saw ‘The Jackal’ fall out of love with squash as his ranking and form plummeted and his hunger for the black ball game flatlined.

Waiting in the wings was one man who believed he could reinvigorate Marwan’s appetite, restore his confidence, and make the technical tinkerings that could once again put the younger El Shorbagy on the road to emulating his more celebrated brother Mohamed and make him a live contender and firmly back on course to achieve that triple target which was set a tortured 20 months back.

Yet before Aussie squash super coach Rodney Martin (pictured) could take over as El Shorbagy’s mentor there was a further complication – the former World Champion was at the time coaching his brother.

Now in an exclusive interview with Squash Mad, Martin, the only man to have defeated both Jahangir and Jansher Khan in the same tournament when he claimed that 1991 world title, has underlined his belief that the work he has done with the Alexandrian has seen a readjusting of his sights as the Jackal once again becomes a big game hunter.

Martin said: “In Chicago last year we had a conversation, which was through Mohamed helping us connect, it was only a brief conversation and I basically said to Marwan: ‘If you give me a couple of weeks I am positive I can get you hitting the ball better and feeling a whole lot more confident about the way you are playing.’

“He opened up that he had wanted to work with for me for quite a while but because Mohamed had been training with me he didn’t feel comfortable with that although it wouldn’t have bothered me.

“So we stayed in touch from then over a few months and tried to work out a period of time he could come over and start the process and we finally managed that this summer, around July, and Marwan spent almost three weeks here in Connecticut and in that time I changed a lot of things.

Marwan (left) hugs elder brother Mohamed after the San Francisco final, where Marwan took the opening game

“Some of these were basics like swing technique and his movement in getting him in a better position to play the ball and understanding how his technique had in a sense gone backward over the last season and a half.

“So it wasn’t like I was trying to reinvent the wheel it was just getting Marwan to understand there were some basic things that were causing his technique to break things down.

“We fixed that within a couple of weeks and really he was hitting the ball better within three or four days and Marwan could feel that difference and started hitting the ball better with more confidence and his belief that he could go forward with his game grew as a result.”

While the early results may have been promising, the resurrection of Marwan El Shorbagy has gone off the Richter scale this season with finals reached in the Open De France, Oracle NetSuite Open and Grasshopper Cup, while he has also reached the semi-final of the US Open and a quarter-final at the QTerminals Qatar Classic and Egyptian Open.

By any stretch of the imagination it is a run of form that has provided a remarkable level of consistency and with Marwan, now 29, Martin believes his man has now reached the golden years of his career with increasing belief that this can be his time.

Another final notched up in Nantes as Marwan meets Victor Crouin

The great Australian said: “Marwan is very hungry again and has excellent belief in himself once more and all these things (winning a major and making No.1) are what he wants to achieve and at 29 there is still plenty of time for him to do what he wants in the game.

“There have been plenty of players who haven’t achieved what they want until between 28 and 33 and for whatever reason Marwan has gone through a stagnant time where he perhaps went backwards and he was pretty negative about playing.

“You could actually see in certain points in matches that he would almost give up. In fact it looked to me, watching him back in Chicago last year, that he had lost sight of how he was trying to win a point and it was all so frustrating and put him in a bad place.

“So a lot of it has been about getting Marwan back to quality basic hitting and giving him game plans and information about how he should play his opponent and just providing a basic game plan for him.

“So Marwan came over in that one block I mentioned in the summer and I saw him in Qatar and Egypt, though he has only been with me for one intensive block. Thankfully I am able to speak with Marwan in between games at tournaments now and that has made a big difference to helping him understand what we are trying to do and towards continual improvement week on week.”

While defeats in the Open de France final to the Gallic genius of Victor Crouin and an epic five game loss at the hands of Diego Elias in the last eight of the Egyptian Open have been frustrating they have also been avenged at the first opportunity which reaffirms the hardening of Marwan’s resolve.

Marwan in action against Mostafa Asal in the Grasshopper Cup final

None of which was lost on Martin as he reflected on all of this before his charge returns to the competitive fray next week at the Eyebright Securities International Hong Kong Open, where he is seeded six.

The super-coach said: “In the matches he has lost I think it has mainly been on Marwan’s racket and I think he has been playing well enough to have won, even though he lost.

“He had Victor in a difficult position in the final of the Open de France and Diego struggling in Egypt before losing in five so he has had opportunities he has let slip, but that is a product of the previous 18 months and the loss of confidence he suffered during that spell.

“People always used to say about Marwan that when it was tight he knew how to win the points that mattered, and over the previous period he had not been doing that. But now he is, although he still has things to improve in this area to take advantage of the positions he is putting himself in.

“So it is still a building process of getting his confidence to the level we want. I spoke with him after he lost the NetSuite final to Mohamed and he said that he felt like every week he was playing better. tThat continued in the Grasshopper Cup and what we want to do now is to continue along that road and ultimately see where that takes us.

“But if Marwan’s basic game is in good shape and he has the clarity of thought we want then I have no doubt his goals will be achievable.”

Rodney Martin on Mostafa Asal:

‘I’ve got no sympathy for him because he’s been getting away with this stuff since day one on Tour,’ says top coach during InSquash Podcast: Mike Dale’s report here

Pictures courtesy of PSA World Tour 


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