By RJ Mitchell
Paul Coll has admitted that with five of the seven tournaments announced for the provisional resumption of the PSA World Tour scheduled for Egypt, the sizeable contingent of star players from the Middle Eastern state dominating the top-10 of the men’s and women’s rankings will enjoy a home soil advantage.
While the resumption will get underway in Manchester on September 16, the CIB PSA World Tour Finals are expected to start in Cairo on September 28, the Egyptian Open runs from October 10, the El Gouna International is inked in for a November 14 commencement and the curtain comes down on the pre-Christmas schedule with the CIB Black Ball Open on December 12, again in the Egyptian capital.
Yet New Zealand’s World No.5, who had been increasingly threatening the Egyptian hierarchy at the top of the men’s game before the tour was suspended, says that his overwhelming emotions are a mixture of joy and relief that he once again has the focus of competitive squash to focus on.
While Coll readily accepts that no matter where battle is re-joined with the phalanx of players from the land of the Pharaohs dominating the PSA rankings, all of the top-four spots in the men’s game are occupied by Egyptian stars, are at present going to be the performers to beat, no matter where the game’s biggest titles are located.
“The most important thing is that the tour is back up and that we have these provisional dates, that is a massive positive for every player but for sure you have to be honest and say that with five events scheduled for Egypt then it goes without saying the Egyptian players will have an advantage,” said Coll.
“Obviously they are dominating the sport right now in both the men’s and women’s games and they are the players to beat but when you have a tournament on your own soil it is a plus. That said what really matters most is that we are talking about playing competitive squash again.
“Personally speaking I have good memories of my last visit to Qatar having made the World Championship final there last November, so it’s good to be looking at going back there again, almost a year on. Manchester is as good a place as any to start the schedule but obviously I am just delighted to have a date for the resumption of the tour.
Paul Coll at the World Championship in Qatar
“It is something we have been waiting for and without it you maybe lack that bit of focus but now we have it we can tailor everything accordingly. First and foremost, I think the PSA deserve tremendous credit for getting the tour up again in these real challenging times while the sponsors behind these events also deserve a massive shout out.”
Prior to the COVID-19 enforced suspension of the Tour, “Superman” had begun to look increasingly like the player most likely to break the Egyptian stranglehold on the game’s greatest titles and top rankings.
In Chicago at the Windy City Open, Coll recorded his first victory over World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy with a comprehensive straight sets victory in the last eight, then dispatched Karim Abdel Gawad in four sets in the semis before taking a two game lead over Ali Farag in the final only for the Egyptian to produce a formidable comeback.
That red hot form surge was ample proof of the positive effects of Coll’s hook up with Solihull squash Svengali Rob Owen and the Kiwi has admitted he is determined to make a flying start when the tour resumes next month.
“I am really hungry to kick on and build on the improvements and the progression I made towards the end of last season before the tour was suspended and the target is to come out the blocks as fast and hard as I can.
“I have worked extremely hard during the lockdown to make sure I would be ready for the resumption and we now have around five weeks to bring everything to a peak. I now have everything set with my personal trainer and all of my programmes incorporating physical work, technical and court work are tailored to peaking for mid -September but having that date of the 16th just gives you so much focus.
“My target is absolutely to break the top-4 as soon as possible and in that respect the first event for me will be absolutely vital. But one thing is for sure and that is I don’t expect any of the top guys to have dropped off it during the suspension.
“I don’t think it will have affected the older players adversely. If you look at Mohamed ElShorbagy, then he has been at the top of the pile for the last six to eight years and regained the World No.1 ranking four times and that shows you how strong he is mentally, so this will not have impacted on him, I’m sure.
“The bottom line is that no one wants to stop playing and whatever way you look at it you could say that the suspension will have impacted negatively or positively on a player. But we are all competitors and I think that will be reflected on how things will pick up again.
“In fact, if anything I expect everyone to come back stronger. I know I was carrying some niggles just before the suspension and I wasn’t the only one, so the first thing was to let the body rest and recuperate and then once you had recharged the batteries mentally to start tapering the workload accordingly.
“In most summers we only really get around two months of pre-season work, so if anything, this period of the suspension has given us all vital time to do extra work on things that may have needed done.
“I am lucky in that I am based in Holland and early on I was able to use courts in Belgium before getting going at my base which is the MeerSquash (club) in Hooffddorp, it is just a brilliant place to play your squash and train, with a really friendly atmosphere and I have made a lot of friends there.
“But the top 10 is just so competitive that all of the guys will have been looking at it the same way and I expect the standard to be really high when we get going again in Manchester.”
When it comes to the technical refinements carried out by Owen, in particular on Coll’s forehand front court attack, the 28-year-old admitted that Chicago was the moment it all started to feel second nature.
“I wasn’t that surprised that all the technical work and adjustments I made with Rob [Owen] paid off as quickly as they did, no. I think what was really pleasing was the way it just all started to feel so natural in Chicago, it just all seemed to come together.
Coll celebrates at Chicago's Windy City Open
“That said, I am a bit picky and while I was happy with all the improvements in my game and the way they kicked in over the second-half of the season the final in Chicago with Ali [Farag] was one that frustrated me and one in which I should have gotten over the line.
“Mentally if I’m fine I can push through most things as I put so much into my preparation work to make sure that no matter how hard a match is, my training is more severe and looking back at the Windy City final, I think mentally I could have been more proactive and changed things up when Ali was coming back at me.
“But obviously there were huge positives to take from that in that I got my first win over Mohamed [ElShorbagy] and backed it up with the victory over [Karim Abdel] Gawad and put myself in a winning position against Ali in the final and although I didn’t take it, I learned a lot from the experience and that will all be put to good use when we get back believe me.
“But throughout the suspension Rob and I have stayed in touch on video call and I have stayed on it and if anything the suspension period has allowed me to reinforce the changes, give them an extra grooving and I am really pleased with where my game is at and also hungry to get back out there and test it.
“Although a big positive of the suspension was the time that Nele [Gilis] and I got to spend together at home. That is time together we would never have had if the tour had been up and running and that was enjoyable but at the end of the day I am a professional squash player and I just want to get back out there and compete and now, at last, we have that all important date.”