By RJ Mitchell
Former World No.1 Nick Matthew continues his preview of the iconic J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions and who he thinks the men’s title could go to.
– - –
WORLD No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy turns 28 on Saturday and in the second part of his exclusive PSA World Tour preview of next week's J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions, former champion Nick Matthew reckons the 'The Beast' is favourite to celebrate his birthday by claiming a hat-trick of triumphs in New York.
The legendary Matthew knows how tough it is to get the better of ElShorbagy in the Big Apple having lost back-to-back Tournament of Champions finals to the Egyptian in 2015 and 2016 in two epic encounters.
But despite the tough competition from his compatriots and the determination of reigning champion Simon Rosner to defend his title, Matthew says the World No.1 starts as favourite in New York next week.
“For me the favourite in any tournament is Mohamed ElShorbagy,” said the three-time World Champion.
“If you say there are eight major titles in the season then ElShorbagy will win three of them at least.
“For a guy just about to turn 28, Mohamed has tremendous experience and he is the only player who spans the generations from myself, Ramy, Gregory to the new guys coming through like Ali Farag, Gawad and the likes of Rosner, Momen and Paul Coll.
“There's no doubt about it, Mohamed is the ultimate competitor. He turns 28 on Saturday and what really impresses me is his level of consistency. At his age I could have a really good win but then in the next tournament have a howler but with Mohamed he is there or thereabouts in every major tournament and that has been the same since he was 24 years-old and before.
“I also think that the defeat he suffered at the hands of Karim Abdel Gawad in Cairo in the Black Ball Open before Christmas will have been something that will have been rankling with Mohamed over the holiday period.
“I'm expecting the Beast to bare his teeth big time in New York, when it comes to the favourite for ToC you need look no further than Mohamed ElShorbagy.”
Although ElShorbagy has already taken home the U.S. and Hong Kong Open titles, his reign as the game's global ruler will come to an end if he exits from New York at the semi-final stage or earlier and World No.2 Ali Farag wins a first Touranment of Champions title.
“What sets Mohamed apart at the moment is his ability to peak for the majors but Ali Farag's consistency has been impressive and of course when it comes to finals this season he has already beaten ElShorbagy in the Oracle Net Suite final although Mohamed prevailed in the Hong Kong final,” said three-time British Open Champion Matthew.
“When you add in that Gawad is a previous winner in New York back in 2017 and finished 2018 as the form player on tour with back-to-back titles in Pakistan and Cairo, Simon Rosner is the defending champion and now at a career high of No.3, we are looking at a hell of a tournament to open 2019.”
As a six times Tournament of Champions finalist the redoubtable Yorkshireman is acutely aware that the Vanderbilt Hall in Grand Central Station is the PSA World Tour's most distinctive and unique venue.
“Although more and more tournaments erect a glass court and install it in exciting surroundings these days like Hong Kong Harbour, obviously ToC has exceptionally unique conditions,” said Matthew.
“Firstly the front wall is open and you can get your eye line caught by passers-by while at noon if there is sunshine outside it can enfilade through the side windows.
“You also literally have to warm up under the bleachers and that is something that can prove challenging but it's all about your focus, self-discipline and remaining professional.
“That said Grand Central Station is just a tremendous place to play squash and I loved every minute I had on court there. I just wish I had more than one ToC to my name but despite that outside of the British Open it was probably my favourite tournament and one that was just totally unique.”