By RJ Mitchell
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Saurav Ghosal believes that when squash finally restarts each of ‘the big four’ at the top of the PSA World Tour rankings will have a point to prove.
Mohamed ElShorbagy will return as the one to beat, currently sitting at World No.1, and Ghosal believes that ‘The Beast of Alexandria’ may be fired by a belief that while he has reclaimed World No.1 status for a record fourth time, his achievements are underrated.
Hot on the ElShorbagy’s heels will be Ali Farag, the man whom he deposed from the global summit and who will be determined to continue the impressive squash he was playing just before the tour was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet the Indian ace believes that on his day World No.3 Karim Abdel Gawad is the most complete player and that if ‘The Baby Faced Assassin’ can add consistency to his game he could yet recapture the status achieved when he claimed the World Championship and a few months later, the World No.1 ranking, over three years ago.
But Ghosal admits that current World Champion, Tarek Momen, the World No.4, will be highly motivated by a desire to prove that his seminal success in Qatar at the World Championship last November was no one hit wonder.
Of one thing there is no doubt, given that Ghosal has played the big four in a combined total of 32 matches, enjoying success on seven occasions, the Indian is more than qualified to pass judgement.
“I think you have to make Mohamed [ElShorbagy] top dog when it comes to looking forward to the new season,” said the World No.13.
“If you look at his consistency over the past decade then it is outstanding and the fact that he regained the World No.1 spot for the fourth time earlier this year only underlines that.
“For me I think Mohamed does not get the credit he deserves and if anything, his achievements are underrated and that could be a real driver for him. He has three British Open titles and is the reigning British champion and has won a World Championship and been in two other finals and when it comes to the Platinum events you know that if you are going to win one or go deep, then at some stage you must beat Mohamed.
“So his consistency is frightening and the fact that last year he added Rod Martin to his coaching team to make some adjustments to help him reclaim the No.1 slot from Ali [Farag] showed how determined he was to get the top ranking back for that fourth time.
Mohamed ElShorbagy in action against Saurav Ghosal at the 2019 Channel VAS Championships
“It also underlined that even at 29, Mohamed is very hungry for squash and that he still believes there are things he can do better and that is a worry for the rest of us. But Mohamed finished last season by beating Ali at Canary Wharf in a really entertaining final and he ended the season on top and I expect him to come back determined to stay there.”
Yet the threat in ElShorbagy’s rear view mirror has never been more ominous and Ghosal has no doubt that the World No.1 will have to bring all his experience to bear to hold off the challenge of Ali Farag.
“I would say that Ali is remarkably close to Mohamed and obviously he had the No.1 ranking before Mohamed got it back. Clearly last season Ali’s campaign was disrupted by a personal tragedy in his family and that is a great shame. At the US Open when he beat Mohamed in the final 3-0, he was very impressive in that one.
“It was a unfortunate that Ali was unable to build on that at the Worlds after having to pull out but when he did come back he came back strongly and I think he made the final in five of the six tournaments he played last season which is tremendous consistency.
“He also finished last season very strongly winning the Windy City Open and then pushing Mohamed all the way in that final at Canary Wharf. So, I think you can expect Ali to start very strongly, he will be very motivated, for sure.”
But while Ghosal accepts that a slight gap, in terms of consistency, may have opened up between ElShorbagy and Farag and the rest of the field, he has no doubt that if he can add consistency to his game then Karim Abdel Gawad possesses the squash weapons of mass destruction that can eliminate his illustrious rivals.
“At present, while I do think that Mohamed and Ali have the edge over everyone else, I have to say that on his day I believe Karim [Abdel Gawad] is the most complete player in the world.
“Obviously Karim is a prodigy of Amr Shabana and as you would expect because of that he has tremendous flare, to have trained with Shabana when he was a teenager must have been a fantastic education and without doubt Karim is the player that we players all love to watch most.
“The big challenge for Karim is to become more consistent. But he has a tremendous record on Egyptian soil, and he will have a smile on his face knowing that four of the seven tournaments on the provisional schedule are in his homeland.
“But Karim is one of those guys that you just don’t realise how good he is until you are on the court with him. We have played five times and I have beaten him, but he just has so many ways to hurt you and has an innate ability to select the right shot to finish things.
“The other thing is that Karim makes it look all so easy, so without doubt he is the most naturally gifted of all the players at the top. His squash has the best structure and when he is on and producing his best squash, he can make it look easy even against Mohamed and Ali, the big difference is they are more consistent.
“So, for him that will be the big challenge this season to find that consistency and make sure he is in finals rather than semi-finals.”
When it comes to reigning world champion Tarek Momen, Ghosal has no doubt that The Viper will be desperate to prove he can still inject the venom against his big game rivals: “For Tarek to have won the World Championships last year will have been massive. I was really happy for him. He now has that in his locker, and he will be coming back incredibly determined to prove he can do it all over again.
“Maybe he had a bit of a drop off after the Worlds but when you have been chasing a dream like that then it can take time to refocus. That said, again he finished last season very strongly winning in Canada at the Troilus Cup against Paul Coll and then making semis at both Chicago and Canary Wharf.
“He’s definitely upped his game over the last two seasons. His ability to take the ball in short is second to none. He’s always been a nightmare to play when he’s playing well but errors always crept into his game. However, he’s managed to deal with that side of things better and that means it is tougher to break him down.”
Tarek Momen holds up the World Championship trophy in Qatar
Ghosal has no doubt why the ‘big four’ are dominant: “These guys are the top for a reason, but they are all beatable. It’s about executing the right plan consistently. It’s an exciting time on the PSA World Tour because the depth in the game is so good and the quality keeps getting better. Hopefully, the work I’m putting in will stand me in good stead to be in the group challenging these top guys.”
When it comes to the tour’s opening provisionally planned tournament at Manchester, on September 16, the Indian ace admits his participation is not guaranteed just yet: “It’s great to see the PSA World Tour coming back and that Manchester is the first stop. There are still a few issues to be ironed out, but I think the PSA will get over those hurdles in time.
“Personally, I would love to play the event but travel to the UK doesn’t seem to be too easy at the moment. I’m still weighing up my option and will take a call closer to the event date.”