Thursday, June 13, 2024

British Open Squash 2024: Joel Makin puts Youssef Ibrahim on canvas in classic

Birmingham — Joel Makin uses boxing off-court in his pursuit to be the best in the game. On Tuesday, the teak-tough Welshman also had to get off the squash canvas to win a five-game classic against Youssef Ibrahim, Egypt’s fiercely talented left hander, to reach his first British Open quarter-final.

It has been a fate of the world rankings that Makin had never reached a second round of the sport’s oldest tournament. As a consistent World No.9 in previous seasons, he has been drawn top eight players like Diego Elias, Paul Coll and Mohamed ElShorbagy to no avail. Here, with a run on this stage, he has now set up a last eight showdown – he is the first Welshman to reach the quarters since 2002 and Alex Gough – with world champion Elias after a sweat-filled and entertaining 79 minutes on stage at Birmingham Rep, prevailing 11-5, 10-12, 9-11, 11-8, 11-8. 

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He said: “These are top 16 players, they are all dangerous and everyone is hungry for a scalp. I’m in the top 10 and you are a target for these guys.”

He certainly had to do it the hard way against a player who has little match rhythm but can construct points together through power hitting, flair and creating space for outright winners.

After taking the first, Makin found himself in just this battle. The second saw one rally where Makin launched himself to retrieve the ball, clattering into the side wall in a losing rally cause. When he got off the floor, the two came close to a head lock before Makin laughed it off.

In his first round win over Tarek Momen, Makin’s ball-striking was crisp, his mind focused. Here, he admitted that he went through ups and downs; his drops, for instance, less than tight, while he was “poor” in the long rallies. “It was patchy but you have to get it done,” admitted Makin.

As Ibrahim rallied, so Makin reset and opened up 7-4 and, with a volley kill, 8-7 leads before a roar to the crowd to take it to a fifth.

Ibrahim carved out a slender 3-1 lead in the decider, Makin again too loose on the drop, before cheap errors creeped into the Egyptian’s game. The Briton led 6-3 before both players were wrapped around each other like the 12th round in the ring, following a deceptive Ibrahim boast winner which wrong-footed Makin.

Gifted mistakes to the tin continued from the tiring Egyptian thereafter and Makin crossed the winning line shortly afterwards, buoyed on by a noisy lunchtime crowd. 

Afterwards on the stage sidelines, still high on adrenaline, Makin noted how he has been helped by coach come training partner Miles Jenkins. “I don’t need firing up in between games, I’m wound up enough as it is,” he revealed.

“I just need process. I love being there amongst it, but you have to keep a lid on things to soften up and be able to use height and be subtle with your tactics. He is technique and tactical orientated and keeps me on track.

“You have to be calm in the mess of that match, you have to be controlled in your mindset, up for it and moving fast and competing well. There are parallels with boxing but this is just an intense sport.”

Makin will now aim to reach the weekend finals as a big home hope, but will have to produce a career-high and beat Elias in the quarters first.

“To put Farag away in the worlds semi-final, that was a seriously high quality match,” added the Welshman. “But I’ve had scalps against everyone. I will get over this match, have a rest day and if I am hitting the ball well I can cause him some problems definitely.”

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