INTERVIEW by RJ Mitchell
Mohamed ElShorbagy's reign as undisputed global squash ruler may be coming under increasing threat from great rival Ali Farag but he is still the man to beat reckons World No.8 Paul Coll.
The Beast of Alexandria suffered disappointing defeats when he was ambushed by flame haired Welshman Joel Makin in round two of the Channel VAS Championships and then edged in a five-game epic by Peruvian Puma Diego Elias in the quarter-finals of the Qatar Classic.
But possibly the most damaging blow to ElShorbagy's dominance came in the first week of October, at the Oracle NetSuite Open, where World No.2 Farag defeated his great rival in a tight four-gamer that has taken their head-to-head to just 8-5 in ElShorbagy's favour.
These setbacks have to a certain extent been countered by the World No.1 claiming the season's first Platinum title at the FS Investments U.S. Open 11 days later.
But now, speaking exclusively to PSA World Tour, New Zealand's Commonwealth Games silver medallist Paul Coll says that number one seed ElShorbagy is still top dog at this week's PSA World Tour Platinum event, the Everbright Sun Hung Kai Hong Kong Open.
Coll said: “For me, despite Mohamed's defeats by Diego and Joel and his loss to Ali at the Oracle NetSuite, he is still the man to beat in Hong Kong this week. One of the great parts of Shorbagy's game is his mental strength and I don't see these three defeats scarring him.
“You've got to remember that Mohamed has been World No.1 on and off for nearly four years since he first topped the rankings. During that time he has won pretty much everything, he has suffered form dips and bounced back, so I don't think anything really fazes him.
“He will definitely be good to go in Hong Kong this week. On court, Mohamed is one smart cookie, he is the defending champion and he is a serial title winner. He knows that Ali Farag is starting to breathe down his neck at the top of the rankings and that final loss will needle him, so you can bet your bottom dollar Shorbagy will want to make a statement this week.”
Of course the man that ElShorbagy defeated to win last year's Hong Kong Open was none other than Farag and Coll, who may stand in the Beast's way at the last eight stage in HK, reckons the gap between 'the big two' has definitely closed.
Coll, known on tour as Superman, said: “If you look at the last two tournaments then Ali (Farag) is the form man. He has won in Qatar and lost a real tight five-setter to [Tarek] Momen at the Channel VAS. So he will be rolling up this week full of confidence and despite winning his last match with Mohamed, he will probably be desperate to gain some revenge for that defeat in last year's final.
“Whereas ElShorbagy is so powerful, Farag is very languid and graceful and there is a real difference in styles and that's what makes their matches classics. But you would have to say Ali will be very motivated by his defeat in last year's final and he will know that if he should meet Shorbagy in the final of a Platinum event and beat him it would be a real big deal.”
A lot of squash must be played before Saturday's final and Coll, who is number six seed in HK, is determined to earn himself a shot at redemption by booking a quarter-final berth that could see him once again attempt to tame 'The Beast'. who mauled Superman in four rollercoaster games at last month's U.S. Open.
Coll said: “I've got a real tough quarter with Joel Makin and Declan James, who are both on fire right now, in there. Also I never look beyond my next match which will be against the winner of Leo Au and Edmon Lopez, but I did notice I was in Shorbagy's quarter and yeah I would love another crack at him after losing out in Philly at the semis!”
Coll continued: “But I'm pleased to be back in the top eight in the PSA rankings and seeded number six for the tournament and along with my buddy Diego Elias, we headed over to HK on Friday to make sure we were here nice and early and had plenty of time to get used to the courts and get some decent practise in.
“I've only ever played the Hong Kong Open once and I crashed out at the second round stage last season and that meant I didn't make it onto the main all glass court at the Hong Kong Park Sports Centre which was a disappointment. So my immediate aim is to make sure I go deep in the draw and see where that takes me.”