By RJ Mitchell
Rob Owen believes that nobody can beat World No.1 Paul Coll to the men’s PSA World Championships title if he continues his red hot form this week in Cairo.
Coll has already captured major titles at the Allam British Open and Windy City Open presented by the Walter Family this year, and Owen believes the former of those victories was the greatest since Jahangir Khan’s heyday, when the Pakistani legend picked up 10 titles in a row between 1982-1991.
Owen, who has played a major role in Coll’s metamorphosis from a member of the chasing pack to an assured major winner and undisputed World No.1, has no doubt that the Kiwi’s triumph in Hull, which saw him fail to drop a single game en route to the prestigious title, has provided concrete proof that at his best his charge is now operating at a level above his competitors.
Coll continues his title challenge tonight against Egypt’s Mazen Hesham in round three and Owen said: “In my opinion, Paul’s performance at the British Open was the greatest since Jahangir Khan was winning it and what that means in terms of the Worlds is very simple. If Paul Coll plays well, he will win it. In my opinion, no one can beat him playing well.
“Yes, if he plays averagely there are three or four players who can beat him and if he plays poorly there may be up to 15 players who can beat him, as Victor Crouin recently proved.
“But if Paul plays well, and there is no reason why he won’t play well, Paul Coll will be World Champion, it is as simple as that. He is the best player in the world by a margin and the others have got to do something special to combat that, yet even if they do that and Paul is playing well they won’t beat him.
“We are always looking at areas to improve, to me Paul is just about the finished article, but what I would say is that Paul is going to keep getting better at what he is doing.
Victor Crouin (right) is one of the few players to have beaten Coll this season
“The technical changes have been implemented and they are there now and are solid, and I won’t be doing much more there going forward. No one has ever been perfect, but in theory Paul could play a match where he doesn’t make one mistake, so there is always room for improvement, but I am not changing anything at this stage.
“There is nothing I see in Paul’s game at present that isn’t right, I just can see slight improvements we can make.”
“Of course, Paul is not unbeatable. It is just that no one has worked out a plan how to beat him. It was the same with Ali Farag before I arrived as no one had worked out how to get the better of Ali.
“Nobody had looked at the weaknesses, and I felt there were weaknesses at top four in the world level and they hadn’t worked out how to exploit these weaknesses. But I could see clearly there were three areas that were weaknesses in Ali’s game and Paul has exploited all of these.
“For example, Paul served to his forehand in the first point in the British Open final. I don’t think that a player has done that before against Ali Farag and I’m pretty confident other coaches haven’t thought about implementing this sort of tactic before.
“So I think about the game on a different level to most coaches and that is, I believe, obvious.”
When it came to dissecting just why the 29-year-old from Greymouth has risen to such prominence, Owen said: “There are no obvious weaknesses. Physically, mentally, and technically Paul is the best he has looked and he has more and more variety and quality of shot, and unless the others improve they will not beat him.
“But I don’t see them putting in that work as Paul is beating them easier than he was before. Now we are at a stage that these guys have lost to him several times in a row and that just makes things easier for him from a mental aspect.
Paul Coll (left) takes on Ali Farag (right) during the 2022 Allam British Open final
“In terms of the British Open, Paul got better and better throughout the tournament. In the quarters, his match with Diego [Elias] was a fantastic squash game and that would have been the case in any era. The first two games were of the highest standard, but physically Diego couldn’t keep it going and was broken.
“The semi-final with Mostafa Asal was 3-0 and he stopped Asal playing, negated everything he did and I thought made Asal look pretty ordinary. We had a game plan that worked and he couldn’t handle it mentally or physically and Paul’s accuracy was pinpoint, his use of height was first class and he followed the game plan to the absolute letter.
“In the final, I thought the first game was critical, it was tough and high level and once Paul won that, mentally Ali [Farag] struggled, but in any case I think if Paul had lost the first game he would still have won 3-1.
“I was just very confident that if he played his best, Paul would win. I didn’t expect him to win every match 3-0, but he looked the complete squash player.”
Coll is aiming to become only the second male Kiwi to be hailed World Champion, after Ross Norman’s unforgettable triumph over Jahangir Khan in 1986 at the Palais des Sports in Toulouse, and Owen gave his thoughts on his biggest challengers this week in Cairo.
“Ali is a great squash player and I will always respect him. He has been a gift to the game and a fine role model to many young players and I love watching him play squash, but he now has to improve.
“There are a couple of things he can improve quickly but he needs to talk to his coaches about that. Ali is a very bright guy and he will know what he needs to do right now but it is a question of whether he wants to do that.
“He also has a lot going on his life right now. He has a young child, his wife is back on tour and it is a juggling act for him. Ali has been very gracious in defeat and I have huge respect for Ali.
“In terms of Mohamed [ElShorbagy], he could come out and have a brilliant day, but I don’t see it. To win a World Championship you are going to need to win four matches in a row and the way he is playing I don’t see him doing that as I just feel his level has dropped.
Mohamed ElShorbagy (left) got the better of Coll when they met in last season's PSA World Championships semi finals
“Mohamed has made some mistakes in the last couple of years in terms of where he has gone and I think his movement has deteriorated. Personally, I think he has put too much emphasis on getting fitter rather than working on his technique and strategy while also making his movement smoother like I did with Paul.
“[Mostafa] Asal is young and he has got to improve but there are glaring weaknesses in his game. For example, the technical aspects and the way he hits the ball. I also don’t think he is particularly deceptive or has great touch.
“But he is a ferocious competitor and he has immense strength and power, although his movement needs to improve, as he is a strong mover but not a smooth one.
“Asal is young and he will improve but for me he needs to change his approach to the game. He is almost certainly a future World Champion, but he has to get Paul Coll out of the way first.
“Paul could still be playing this level at 36, and by then Asal will be in his mid-twenties, who knows how things will pan out.
“For me, Diego [Elias] is a threat but he must get himself fitter and he needs to put a lot of work in, maybe up to six months. Is he prepared to do that? Well, he hasn’t done in it the last four years, so we will find out if he will do it in the next couple of years. The jury is out.
“As far as the other guys, well anyone can have a brilliant day, but right now I don’t see anyone coming through to frighten us.”