By RJ Mitchell
Marwan ElShorbagy has revealed that he hopes his impressive victory in the CIB PSA World Tour Finals can act as a launchpad to help him achieve his eventual dream of becoming World No.1.
ElShorbagy’s straight game trouncing of World No.3 Karim Abdel Gawad, in a staggering 47 minutes, helped him pocket a career best cheque of $49,875, which was also the most lucrative in the event’s history.
‘The Jackal’s’ triumph in the Mall of Arabia has the feel of a breakthrough moment, coming as it did on the back of a second successive victory over World No.2 Ali Farag in the semi-final, while his dispatch of Gawad handed the defending champion his heaviest defeat on home soil.
Yet as ElShorbagy admitted he will only be able to realise his dream if he can get the better of the man who stands at the summit of the PSA World Rankings, his brother Mohamed, on a regular basis.
While the World No.7 realises that ahead of this weekend’s CIB Egyptian Open the hunter is about to become the hunted as he will return to Cairo cast in the lead role as favourite after his seminal World Tour Finals triumph.
ElShorbagy said: “My aim is to get to World No.1 and to do that I need to start winning these titles. It was massive to win the World Tour Finals but now I need to build on that. I celebrated on Saturday night but by Sunday I was back focussed on the Egyptian Open and my next challenge.
“Obviously, I have Gawad again in my quarter but given I am seeded lower it was always going to be tough at that stage whether it was him, Ali [Farag], [Tarek] Momen or Paul Coll. It goes with the territory and if you want to get to the very top you must beat these guys at some stage.
ElShorbagy (left) alongside Hania El Hammamy (right) with the World Tour Finals trophies
“I don’t know whether people will say I am favourite or not for the Egyptian Open, but I am doing this for myself. I will be walking back out onto the court on Sunday knowing that this is going to be tough, that it will be a real challenge and because of my success at the World Tour Finals a lot of players will want to beat me.
“So, I expect it to be tough, but I don’t want it to be easy, it shouldn’t be, and I will be going with a strong and positive mentality.”
Candid and refreshingly straight to the point, ‘the Jackal’ admits that only an ability to better his brother, Mohamed ElShorbagy, who beat him in an epic five-game World Championship final in 2017, will help him claim the No.1 ranking.
“Mohamed is, in my opinion, the greatest player of our generation. He has managed to be No.1 for so long and reclaimed the top ranking on four occasions to do that, he has won the British and the World titles and every title that matters and he has done so much more than I could ever mention.
“But this season I want to compete with him. Obviously I know that he did not play the World Tour Finals and that to be No.1, I have to be competing against him in every tournament and that it will not be good enough to beat Mohamed just once, I will need to beat him consistently if I am to be No.1.
“But while this generation is unbelievably strong with so many great players like Gawad, Farag, Momen and Coll, in my opinion, my brother is on a different level and he is always pushing himself to improve. My problem is that I have to find a way to match him!”
Such was the emphatic nature of ElShorbagy’s defeat of Karim Abdel Gawad, a player who had previously been almost invincible on his home boards, in what was Marwan’s first major victory since the El Gouna International in 2018, it seemed reasonable to enquire was it the best performance of his nine year professional career.
“Some people would say the final with Karim was the best match I have played so far in my career but that is for them to say, what I would say is that it is certainly the best I have played in quite a while,” admitted Marwan.
“It was funny that throughout the World Tour Finals I felt that although I was playing well I had better in me. So although I was really happy to get the wins over Paul, Joel [Makin] and Ali I just felt I had more to come and to be fair to beat Karim, in Egypt in a final, then I knew I was going to have to produce it.
“Gawad has the best record in Cairo, I don’t even know if he had lost there and I can’t remember the last time he did but I went into the final looking at it as an opportunity. An opportunity that was exciting and a real challenge and I just focussed on my tactics.
“I felt that when I played Karim in Manchester I got my tactics wrong and then around the halfway mark I changed them but unfortunately it was too late, this was a great help when it came to the final in Cairo.
“But the World Tour Finals are a great tournament and obviously I am delighted to have won it because to come out on top you need to beat the best. It wouldn’t matter who I played in the final, it could have been Ali Farag, Paul Coll, it didn’t matter who was going to be in the final it was going to be really tough.
Marwan ElShorbagy in action at the Manchester Open last month
“On top of that there is the best of three format in the group stages through to the semis and that makes concentration and focus particularly important. Really every point is crucial in best of three. But I had a very good preparation at Manchester the week before and took a lot of confidence from beating Ali and losing a really tight one with Gawad and I knew I had a platform.
The evidence of ElShorbagy’s impressive performances at the Manchester Open and the World Tour Finals point to a suspension well spent. The greater dynamism in his movement, the clever use of height and an in your face mentality that clearly got in the heads of several of his rivals also made the Egyptian the must watch act of the resumption’s first two tournaments back.
“Haitham [Effat] is the reason I am playing at the level I am. I started work with him three years back and last season Haitham decided that we should change certain technical things in my game,” revealed Marwan.
“That was at the half way stage in the season but we knew we had to do it, that although maybe the results in the second-half of the season may not be as good as we hoped, it would start to come good this season.
“Over the suspension and the summer we continued to work hard on adapting, refining and changing my game in the way Haitham wanted to shape it and in Manchester all that work started to come good and then in Cairo we got the payback on it.
“Obviously I have also hooked up with Nick [Matthew] and I talk to him before every game and that has been a great help because he knows these guys, he has played against them, been in there with them and knows what makes them tick.
“But I have also worked extremely hard with my physical trainer Mark Campbell, who also used to work with Nick. In the past a lot of players have been able to expose my game physically but because of the work I have done with Mark that is no longer the case.
“I trusted completely in Mark’s vision for me and the improvements have been massive and now I can play a hard five game match and wake up the next day good to go again in another tough one. When you consider the depth and quality at the top of the men’s game now that is vital, and it has been really important improvement for me.
“Also, my two role models coming up were Amr Shabana and James Willstrop and that was because of their fantastic accuracy. They were so accurate they would just glue the ball to the wall and that is what I wanted, that incredible accuracy. But I know there is more needed than that to beat this extraordinary generation and I hope that the work I have done over the summer will help me to achieve that.”