INTERVIEW by RJ Mitchell
World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy discusses what keeps him motivated and how he is still hungry for more success.
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Mohamed ElShorbagy may have just claimed a fourth Hong Kong Open title and vanquished his nearest rival, World No.2 Ali Farag, 3-0 in the final. But the bad news for the rest of the PSA World Tour is that the game's global ruler believes his best is still to come.
While the World No.1 and reigning World Champion accepts that at 27 he is close to his physical peak, ElShorbagy cites the examples of Gregory Gaultier, Amr Shabana and Nick Matthew – who all won World Championship titles, with Gaultier and Matthew also claiming the No.1 ranking later in their careers – as instances of great players who got even better going into their 30s.
ElShorbagy also has no doubt that the current 2018 version of himself would have proven too strong for the 2014 ElShorbagy, who first captured the summit of the squash rankings.
Speaking exclusively to PSA World Tour 'The Beast of Alexandria' gave no hint that his appetite for big game hunting has been suppressed.
“I was very happy with how I played in Hong Kong,” said the 27-year-old.
“I felt very good the whole week and when I got to the final I was relaxed and ready to produce my best squash and a big part of that is the experience I now have behind me.
“I feel like at 27 I am not far from my physical peak but mentally I think the minute you say you are there you have put a stop on your progression. Obviously, people mature at different times but if you look at how well Shabana, Gaultier and Matthew played well into their 30s then I feel I still have a way to go.
“What matters most to me is consistency. The ability to keep coming back year after year, keep winning the big tournaments and keep trying to evolve your game. As World No.1 there is nobody ahead of you in the rankings you can only drive yourself but you must do so knowing that the moment you stay still then someone else is closing the gap on you, be that Ali [Farag], Tarek [Momen] or any of the other guys in the top 10.
“I believe I can still get better and still have the hunger to do so.”
Last week's decisive straight-games dispatch of ElShorbagy's nearest rival, Farag, was in contrast to the 3-1 defeat that the World No.1 suffered at his compatriot's hands at the Oracle NetSuite Open final at the beginning of October.
While some may have sensed the gap between the duo closing, there is no doubt that ElShorbagy proved decisively he is still the game's one to beat last weekend.
ElShorbagy's attacking prowess and the sight of errors from Farag was all testament to the Egyptian World No.1's prowess on court and the pressure he put Farag under.
None of which was missed by the shrewd ElShorbagy: “The US open final was the only time he has beaten me in a World Series event. And all our other World Series matches I got the better out of him and I felt I was able to always raise up my game against him when it mattered most.
“But at the same time I know that people like Ali are improving all the time and what I can't afford to do is relax because the day I do I will be in trouble. In this respect I always look at how my game compares with when I first went top of the rankings back in 2014 and I have no doubt if I played that guy today I would win and win well.
“It is my hope and my target that maybe in three years' time I will be able to say the same about how I feel then, in 2021, compared with my 2018 self. So I am determined to continue evolving because although I love playing, love squash, what I love most is winning and the only way to keep doing that is to keep improving.”
Next up for the World No.1 is a trip home to Egypt for the CIB Black Ball Open in Cairo where ElShorbagy has been drawn against Hong Kong's World No.14 Max Lee in round two.
“Right now I look around the top-10 and I am the most experienced player. But once I was the rookie and every time I played Gaultier, Shabana and Matthew I tried to learn, tried to soak up every detail.
“The only way to get to the top is to learn from the guy who is there but I am also still hungry to progress.”