Two-time British Open winner Mohamed ElShorbagy has opened up about what it takes to become the British Open champion.
The Egyptian, who won the sport’s longest-running tournament in 2015 and 2016, will be looking to secure a third British crown next week at the University of Hull’s brand new Sports and Fitness Centre.
We spoke to ‘The Beast’ ahead of the event, and he looked back to his previous two victories, and how he managed to battle through adversity in both of those title-winning weeks.
“When you win it, you feel like you are part of the history of the game, and that is going to stay forever. It is definitely a tournament that is very unique compared to the other tournaments over the course of a season,” ElShorbagy said.
“Of course, being coached by Jonah [Barrington] after I arrived in England, he won it [the British Open] six times. He always spoke to me about the finals he had with Geoff Hunt, and I remember when I won it the first time in 2015, I spoke to him on the phone before I got the trophy and he said to me: ‘You still have five more to go’.
Jonah Barrington and Geoff Hunt in action
“Now I am with [David] Palmer as well, he won it four times, so I cannot hide from the fact that two of my main coaches won it ten times between them. I have done it twice now, and I am hoping to get a bit closer.
“It is a tournament that has so much history, and when you do win it, you become part of the history of the tournament forever.”
ElShorbagy could hardly have feared a more difficult draw en route to his maiden triumph four years ago, with all five of his opponents throughout the tournament ranked inside the world’s top 15 at the time.
“The first one, I won in 2015, I had a bit of a tricky draw. I had to play James [Willstrop], who was just coming back from injury, and then I had to play Borja [Golan], [Simon] Rösner and Nick [Matthew] in the semi finals, before Greg [Gaultier] in the final,” he explained.
”I remember it was the season when I got to No.1 for the first time. It was the first season where I reached the final of every tournament, I played the finals of all the big tournaments that season, including the World Championships, and it was the last tournament of the season.”
As well as the tough draw, the Egyptian was not feeling himself throughout, and was having to battle through injuries and exhaustion.
“I remember I was going through exhaustion at the end of the season, and I had to keep that behind the scenes, keep it hidden. I remember I was finishing the match, running back to the hotel, and I was quite emotional in my room,” he admitted.
“I had something that happened in my first round match with James, where I had a bad slip, and when I had Borja in the second round, I was quite shaky going into the shots he was making me play, and I only just won 3-2.”
Despite the issues, ElShorbagy made it all the way to the final, where he came up against an in-form Gregory Gaultier, who took him all the way.
ElShorbagy had to beat Gregory Gaultier (right) in the final
“When I was playing the final against Greg, he was playing unbelievable squash. I won the first, but then I got chopped in both the second and the third. When I got off court after the third, I got straight on the phone to Jonah and I told him that I didn’t know what to do,” the current World No.2 explained.
“Everything I was doing, Greg had an answer for. I had no solution and I had no idea how to beat him. He told me to think of it like a boxing match, just hit the ball hard and keep running to get everything back.
“If he is going to win a point from you, then has has to die for it. So from then on, I had the mentality of whatever happens, happens. I literally fought for my life. That fourth game, I was not even using my brain, I was just using all my strength to try and win every point.
“I got the fourth and I felt physically better than him in the fifth, which helped me win the tournament. A lot of emotion came out. It was one of the toughest tournaments I have won in my life.
“There are very few athletes who can have a very good season, but then finish it on a high as well, pushing themselves over the limit. It says a lot about them as a character, to stay strong, because these the players who have had more matches than anybody else, and they have played more finals. Their body is going through a lot of niggles.”
Unlike his amazing 2014-15 season, 2015-16 did not start well for the Egyptian, as he failed to reach the final of the U.S. Open or the World Championships. However, from there, he reached six straight PSA World Tour Platinum finals, winning all six.
That red hot streak catapulted him back to World No.1, after Karim Abdel Gawad had taken it from him by winning the World Championships.
ElShorbagy’s run of six titles included a successful defence of the British Open crown he had claimed the year before as he went on to beat Ramy Ashour in the final.
“The year after, 2016, was another big one for me because I did not start the season very well. I lost the US Open, I lost the World Championships, I lost the World No.1 for a month, but then I won six straight PSA World Series events,” he said.
“The British Open was, I think, the fifth, as it was in March, with El Gouna after it. Going into the British, the draw was not as tough as the year before, but even so, mentally it is not that easy.
“You have played more matches than most, so you have more fatigue than most, but at the same time, it is what it takes. You don’t give these things as an excuse. You always tell yourself that this is what you live for. You dream to be in that position, because I am supposed to be fatigued and playing more matches than everyone else.
“It was a huge tournament for me to try and win back-to-back. It has the most history in our sport. It has been won by all the greats of squash, and all the greats have won it more than once. To be able to win that trophy is something that no-one can ever take away from me. It stays there forever.”
The 'Beast' in action during the 2018 British Open
ElShorbagy will be looking to secure a third British Open crown next week in Hull. The tournament runs from May 20-26, and will be played at the University of Hull Sports and Fitness Centre.
A prize purse of $324,000 is split evenly between the men’s and women’s draws, while matches from the glass court will be shown live on SQUASHTV (rest of world), Eurosport Player (Europe only) and the official Facebook page of the PSA World Tour (excluding Europe and Japan).
The semi-finals and finals will be shown live by broadcasters such as BT Sport, Fox Sports Australia, Astro and more. Stay up to date with action from the 2019 Allam British Open by following the tournament on Twitter, or visit the event’s website.
Tickets are available via Ticketmaster.