World No.2 Ali Farag has admitted that World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy was one of his “least favourite people in the world” in the aftermath of their tempestuous encounter at the Wadi Degla PSA World Championship back in 2016.
Farag and ElShorbagy have dominated the top two PSA World Ranking spots over the past two years with their rivalry captivating squash fans around the world. ElShorbagy triumphed in their most recent meeting, a four-game battle at the St. James’s Place Canary Wharf Classic, in what was the last men’s PSA World Tour match to take place before the suspension of the tour due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
The respect between the two was evident as they shared an embrace after match ball but, speaking on an Instagram Live chat hosted by ElShorbagy on the PSA World Tour channel, Farag revealed there had been a point in the past when the relationship between the pair was frosty.
“Hate is a very strong word, but you were definitely one of my least favourite people on planet earth after the World Champs in Wadi Degla,” said Farag.
“Let’s recall this incident, because both of us were at fault. For people that don’t know, at the Pyramids [the Al Ahram Open in 2016], I played a match against Mohamed and it was 1-1 and there was a clear double bounce and I didn’t call it myself.
“I ended up winning that game and I remember Mohamed losing his focus because of it and I ran away with the match. Then what frustrated Mohamed big time is that I wrote a very big poem or whatever you call it on Instagram saying that I was playing a fast-paced game – and I shouldn’t have done this.
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Overcame a tough battle last night against a player that I have the utmost respect to. A bit of controversy in the mid stage of the 3rd game, but one thing I can say for sure is that I value sportsmanship way more than any win. I came back and watched the match, and yes now that I have seen it on TV, I have to admit it was a double bounce. Now that the match is over, there isn't much I can do but to apologize. And as always, I would never take a double bounce intentionally – never did and never will. We play an extremely brutal sport with a blistering pace that it gets tough to judge the ball at some points. Now onwards and forwards to the final of the dream tournament for any Egyptian player, Al Ahram Squash Open. Playing my lifelong rival and friend Karim Abdel Gawad for the title match at 8:30pm local time. Unfortunately all tickets are sold out, but you can watch live on BEIN Sports 10, PSASQUASHTV, or DMC Sports Channel. #SquashByThePyramids#Egypt #ExperienceEgypt #Harvard #HeliopolisClub #DunlopSport #SquashApp
“To be fair, I wasn’t 100 per cent sure it was a double bounce. I was more inclined towards it, but I thought I should just go away with it, which is something I’m not happy with. If I went back in time, I probably wouldn’t write this on Instagram.
“Everybody who knows me knows I care a little too much about how people perceive me, people around me, around the world, squash fans, whoever they may be.
“I don’t think I dealt with it in the best way, and it actually affected me the next day in the final. I wouldn’t have stood a chance anyway against Karim (Gawad), he was on fire at this point in time, but it didn’t help me play my best squash.
“Mohamed was dealing with me fine until two months later. We would hug every time we saw each other and he didn’t show he was angry one bit. Then we stepped on court at the World Champs at Wadi Degla and he crushed me in three, but what happened on court and in the interview post-match was ugly.”
ElShorbagy was out for revenge in that 2016 World Championship clash at Cairo’s Wadi Degla Club and stormed to a 3-0 win in a feisty affair that threatened to reach boiling point, with both players showing their frustration with each other, and the referee, throughout the match.
The older Egyptian emitted an almighty roar as he closed out the match to book his place in the semi-finals, but the emotions of the match spilled over afterwards, with the pair exchanging stern words.
ElShorbagy admitted that both players have learned from the situation, saying: “If we could go back in time, we would probably have changed a lot of things that happened. But all these things created a story, and I think things changed after that.
“That season, we played at the British Open, the one you [Farag] should have won. It was a tough, tough match, a five gamer, and from that time our relationship changed I felt.
“I feel we are both different characters, but we’re similar at the same time in terms of how disciplined we are with training, how we always have a goal to achieve and how we go after it and want to improve.
“It’s always interesting, we’re different characters but similar at the same time.”
Farag echoed his compatriot’s words and said that while they are different characters, the respect between the two is the lasting legacy from 20 exciting battles on the PSA World Tour in recent years.
Mohamed ElShorbagy (right) lifts Ali Farag (left) off the floor during the 2020 Canary Wharf Classic
“We still go about things very differently in life, the way we see things in life are different but we’ve not had a problem since. There is a lot of respect there and we would go out for dinner or lunch,” the Harvard-graduate said.
“I wouldn’t say we’re the best of friends, but we’ve never had any issues ever since.”
ElShorbagy will take over the PSA World Tour’s Instagram channel once again on Sunday April 26 at 12:00 (GMT+1) when he will be joined by Kiwi World No.5 Paul Coll to talk about their recent battles, what they have been up to during lockdown and more.