World No.1 Ali Farag got his J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions title defence off to a winning start with a hard-fought five-game victory over compatriot Mazen Hesham on the glass court inside New York’s Grand Central Station.
Farag enjoyed one of the moments of the year in 2019 when he defeated Mohamed ElShorbagy in the final to be crowned the Tournament of Champions winner and also take the World No.1 spot for the first time in his career. And the Egyptian made sure he avoided a scare in his first fixture this time around as he battled from 2-1 down to beat Hesham.
Farag started the match in full confidence to take the first game by a very convincing 11-3 scoreline. Hesham soon began to hit his stride though as his artillery of shots came to the fore to trouble the World No.1 as Hesham drew level.
The third went the same way, with Hesham yet again causing problems for Farag as the World No.1 struggled to settle into his game plan as the World No.17 crept ahead to a 2-1 lead.
The fourth again proved to be a tight affair with Farag able to close out as he dug in deep mentally, before Hesham succumbed to fatigue in the fifth with Farag powering towards the finish line and claiming an 11-3, 6-11, 8-11, 11-8, 11-3 victory in 74 minutes.
Another Egyptian awaits Farag in the third round in the form of Youssef Soliman after he defeated France’s Baptiste Masotti earlier in the day.
“Some days when you come up against such talented players, I know Mazen well, he was No.13 in the world at the age of 21,” said Farag afterwards.
“With some unfortunate injuries he fell back a little bit in the rankings, but he is climbing his way back up. Everybody knows his calibre and today I did see myself flying home. I said at 2-1, 8-8 it’s definitely at a flip of a coin but if I can get it then maybe I have the physical advantage here, so just give it a push. You want to think with your head and I kept it tight and it paid off somehow.
“On the day he was the better squash player and so I have to make it physical, but with physical you don’t want to turn into a machine. At the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth I was forcing it rather than thinking it. I’m really glad I’m through because I could have been the loser today for sure.”
 Ali Farag (EGY) bt Mazen Hesham (EGY) 3-2: 11-3, 6-11, 8-11, 11-8, 11-3 (74m)