By RJ Mitchell
CIB PSA World Tour Finals debutant Joel Makin has warned his rivals that he isn’t going to Cairo just to make the numbers up.
The flame-haired Welshman enjoyed an impressive return to elite action at the Manchester Open last week where he notched successive straight games victories over Tom Richards and Greg Lobban before extending eventual champion and World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy to four games.
But Makin has vowed that there will be more to come from him when he takes to the court next week in Cairo, in his opening Group B encounter with World Champion Tarek Momen on Monday night, as he flies the flag for Wales and also the UK, for whom he is the lone male representative.
Makin will be only the second Welshman to compete in the World Tour Finals as he follows in the footsteps of former British Open champion David Evans and he is determined to do his country proud.
Despite facing the daunting prospect of a group which also includes World No.5 Paul Coll and World No.7 Marwan ElShorbagy, the ‘Golden Tiger’ is travelling to the land of the Pharaohs determined to bare his teeth.
Makin said: “It’s funny that there used to be so many top British players at the top of the game and now there will be just myself in the guys’ event and SJ [Perry] in the ladies’ but I’m a proud Welshman and I will be doing my very best to make my country proud of me.
“I start against Tarek Momen on Monday night and there is no question that will be anything other than a tough game but when you are playing in the World Tour Finals there is never going to be an easy match. The big positive for me is that I beat him the last time I played him, and I feel like my game does stack up well.
Makin in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza
“That said, Tarek is so quick and he takes it in short so well and can make these last minute changes in direction that make him so deceptive and I know that I am going to have to produce my best and nothing less. But it is the opening match and I really want to make sure that I am producing my best squash and giving myself every chance of a good start.
“When you are talking Marwan ElShorbagy and Paul Coll then that is a real tough group but then you can look at Group A, with [Ali] Farag, [Karim Abdel] Gawad, [Diego] Elias and [Simon] Rösner and that is every bit as hard so I don’t know you can say one is harder than the other.
“In terms of Manchester last week then you would have to say that both Marwan and Paul would be pretty happy with their work. Looking at Marwan, I thought you could see he had worked hard during the suspension, there were definitely changes to his movement patterns and his tactical game and he had that great win over Ali, so his confidence will be high.
“In terms of Paul, he was the only one to take Mohamed to five last week and he looks like he has started where he left off from last season so, just as with Tarek, I will have to lift my level from Manchester and make sure I execute my game plan to the best of my ability.
“But I am not one for setting myself targets like I need a minimum of one win or to make a semi. For me, you take care of your performance, hit your spots, execute your game plan and the rest will take care of itself.”
While Makin admits it will be slightly surreal competing in an event which he has watched on SQUASHTV over the years, he reckons that the quick-fire best of three game format is perfect for the event which is being held in the multi-million pound Mall of Arabia.
The World No.10 said: “To be going to my first World Tour Finals is obviously something I am really pleased about but I am going there determined to improve my quality from Manchester.
“I’ve watched the World Tour Finals over the years and I guess it will be a bit surreal being there and competing with the best as I feel I have only been in and around the top events now for maybe two seasons. But like I say, I am determined to do the best I can and make Wales proud.
“I think the format being best of three and ensuring you get everyone on the glass court on the same night is really exciting, I’ve played at Canary Wharf and it certainly helps to build excitement as does the quick-fire nature of best of three games.
“Personally speaking, I prefer best of five as that gives a truer reflection of endurance and mental toughness but in terms of the World Tour Finals, I think best of three really works and I’m looking forward to it.”
Wih the absence of World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy, 25 year-old Makin admits that the Egyptian would have started favourite after his hugely impressive victory at the Manchester Open earlier this week.
Reflecting on Manchester, where he was beaten 3-1 by ElShorbagy in the last eight, Makin said: “Playing Mohamed was tough, and I thought that he was exceptional in the way he adjusted to his opponent from round to round. When he played James [Willstrop], who is one of the most accurate players on tour, he really nullified that and when I saw his first five minutes, I realised he was using height a lot more.
“When we played in the quarters he put the first game to bed pretty quick and I felt that maybe I did not make the adjustment to what he was doing as quickly as I would have liked but after that I felt once I started hitting my spots I competed well.
“I was happy to take the third game and I felt I was competitive with him over the last three games, but you have to say that Mohamed was really impressive and he deserves an awful lot of credit for that.
“As far as Manchester goes, well you forget how much you just enjoy competing and it was great to get back out there and get these three matches under my belt again. Yeah it was a bit strange without the fans, but like I say, making it back out on the match court was massive.
“So, I was pleased to get through the first two rounds with straight games wins as in the past I’ve dropped games early and this time I was that bit more clinical when it mattered.”
Having previously worked with Rob Owen, Makin is now adopting a more self-determined approach to his development: “I am pleased with the work I have done over the suspension. I train a lot with Miles Jenkins, who is an English pro, and we do a lot of video analysis together and I also did a lot of work with Jon Tate in terms of coaching.
“But I was also lucky enough to share the practice court with Mohamed as soon as it was possible and we played a lot of practice matches and when you are on court with him you need to come up to the mark straight away, even in a training environment.
“Conditioning wise, I would have to say that the extra time that the suspension has given me to focus on that means that I have never been in better shape, my conditioning is definitely the best it has been but at 25 my game still has plenty to evolve.
“Also, I feel like I am the new kid on the block with these guys. They have all been playing and competing against each other for a few years and this is maybe my second at this level. So, I am still learning from playing against them and the prospect of continuing that process in Cairo next week is one that really excites me.”