By RJ Mitchell
Nick Matthew believes that next week’s CIB PSA Word Tour Finals may just be the time for Paul Coll to claim his first major title.
The Kiwi has been knocking on the door of a breakthrough success for some time now having made the World Championship final last November only to lose to World No.4 Tarek Momen, while Coll also contended the last Platinum Series Event final, before the Covid-19 Pandemic enforced suspension of the PSA World Tour, at the Windy City Open, Chicago, in March, only to be bested by World No.2 Ali Farag.
Last weekend at the Manchester Open it was Coll who came closest to stopping global squash ruler Mohamed ElShorbagy from marching to victory in the first tournament back after the resumption of elite squash when the Kiwi came up just short in a five-game epic.
Yet a watershed victory over World Champion Momen in the previous round has impressed three-time World Champion Matthew.
Thus, while admitting that every man of the emeritus eight-man field assembling in downtown Cairo next week will have ambitions to claim the title, the absence of ElShorbagy for personal reasons, has now left the door open for Coll to metamorphosise from the game’s supporting cast to leading man in this potentially epic impending Mall of Arabia production.
“You look at the way Paul Coll played in Manchester and you have to say that with Mohamed [ElShorbagy] absent, maybe it is time that Paul Coll won a major title and the World Tour Finals might just be his time to do that,” said Matthew.
“Without doubt if Mohamed had been playing then he would have been the favourite, but obviously he has his reasons for not playing.
“In that respect Paul’s win over Tarek Momen was potentially significant. I think he lost a couple of 3-0s to Tarek last season including the World Championship final and you don’t want that to extend to three or four beatings on the bounce and he has dealt with that by beating Tarek in Manchester and then pushing ElShorbagy all the way and giving him his toughest match there.
“But Paul has proven over the last couple of years or so that he is consistently knocking on the door, he very rarely beats himself, and when the opposition come on a court and know that they can’t afford an off day against a player then they are automatically putting pressure on themselves.
Paul Coll clenches his fist in celebration after beating Momen
“Right now I’d say that there is no one at the top of the game who can afford an off day against Paul Coll and expect to win because he is the guy you have to beat as he will give you nothing.”
“That said you look at the field and you have Ali Farag and Karim Abdel Gawad who are previous World No.1s and World Champions, Tarek Momen is the current World Champion and Simon Rösner has won at ToC.
“Also, you look at the likes of Diego Elias and if he is all good then he could make a real impact although he would have benefitted from a run out at Manchester. But I think every one of these eight guys will be saying to himself I have a chance here of doing something and that is a fantastic prospect for a world tour finals.”
Looking back at Manchester, the three-time British Open champion believes that World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy’s victory was both impressive and significant: “What was really impressive for me was just how adaptable Mohamed was with his game.
“In the past it was all about him going into ‘Beast’ mode and cranking up the power and the pace, getting fired up and really that was his signature. But at Manchester it was like he had a different game plan for every opponent, he was very adaptable, very fluid in his tactical thinking and he played with such maturity for me, that, for the rest of the guys at the top end of the game, must be very worrying.
“Really they say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but I guess at 29, Mohamed doesn’t deserve to be called an old dog, because he certainly showed he’d added some new tricks in Manchester all right.”
As the former World No.1 turned his attention to those who emerged from Manchester with credit in the bank, Matthew reckoned there were two other members of the top-10 who have reasons to be cheerful as they look forward to next week’s CIB World Tour Finals.
“On his day, and when he gets everything right [Karim Abdel] Gawad is a joy to watch and can beat anyone. But the flip side of all that brilliance is that Karim can be sloppy, he is prone to dropping a game or even coming a cropper early in a tournament when he isn’t fully dialled in.
“Yet, to me, at Manchester last week he looked hungry and relaxed and he seemed to be going from strength to strength with every round he played in. So, he has made a very good start to the campaign and of course everyone knows how hard to beat Karim is in Egypt.”
Yet Manchester was also notable for a feisty performance from a clearly stoked Marwan ElShorbagy who pulled off what could, perhaps, be termed the biggest surprise of the first tournament back, when he polished off World No.2 Ali Farag in a rollercoaster five-games that took his head-to-head to 5-4 against the former World Champion.
Marwan ElShorbagy celebrates his win over Ali Farag in Manchester
Matthew, who is acting as a coaching consultant to ElShorbagy junior when he is in the UK, was for one, not surprised by this ‘surprise’: “I think Marwan has dealt with the suspension perfectly. He took time off at the beginning and then gradually got to work with his coach Haitham [Effat] and it looked like he had timed his preparation pretty well in Manchester.
“From my days playing against him, even when he was a young kid on the way up, Marwan was always a very clever player, mentally very strong and he could adapt his game to have the best effect against any given opponent.
“Marwan is very shrewd about how he adjusts his weapons and if he brings it all, he is more than a match for any one and he looked really up for it in Manchester.
“You might say looking at their rankings that Marwan beating Ali [Farag] was a shock but I think if you look at their head to head then Marwan has a pretty strong record there and he played with a lot of belief that is a positive for him going to Cairo next week.
“But overall, it was almost like a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same. There weren’t to many real surprises, if any, and most of the seeded players got through to their appointed places.”
Despite the surreal surroundings of an empty National Squash Centre, Matthew has no doubt in awarding an emphatic gold star to the first top level tournament back in six months.
“I think that the PSA and the National Centre in Manchester as a venue deserve a lot of credit for putting on such a professional event and one that was compliant with all the Covid protocols.
“That can’t have been easy and the attention to detail was very impressive. When you consider the work needed to have a hotel Covid compliant, the testing, the restrictions in place and everything else that went into making Manchester such a well – run and safe tournament, then the PSA can rightly be very satisfied with their work in that respect.”