By RJ Mitchell
Geoff Hunt believes Ali Farag’s successful defence of the Qatar Classic is proof that the Egyptian ace, who has just regained the World No.1 slot in the PSA rankings for a second time, could be set to rule the rankings for the foreseeable future.
Since the PSA World Tour resumed Farag has steadily built an increasingly impressive momentum, following up a quarter final appearance at the Manchester Open with a run to the semi-finals at the CIB World Tour Finals before claiming both the CIB Egyptian Open and Qatar Classic titles in emphatic fashion.
With the man he deposed as No.1, Mohamed ElShorbagy unable to compete in Egypt due to personal reasons and 2020’s final tournament the Black Ball Open scheduled for Cairo next month, Farag can’t now be deposed from top spot until next year.
All of which has prompted the great Hunt, who was World No.1 from 1976 to 1980, to praise Farag.
“Ali Farag has been very consistent over the last 12 months and more and he is a talented player with a lot of skill who moves very well,” said Hunt.
“I think he deserves recognition for that consistency because he is always there or thereabouts and of course has now won two of the four tournaments since squash came back.
“I think Ali is a very difficult player to beat, it is tough to get the ball past him, he is quick onto the ball and intercepts well and he controls the middle of the court well and at 28-years-old he is only going to get better, so you would have to say that right now he is the man to beat and it will probably stay that way for a while.
“Regarding Saturday’s final of the Qatar Classic then Paul Coll is obviously in great shape but at the end of the day Ali was able to impose his game on him and get the win in four games and to take his winning run over Coll to 13 matches is impressive by any stretch.
“So, momentum is with Ali and he will be the man to beat in the final tournament of the year in Cairo next month.”
While the Aussie squash legend is backing Mohamed ElShorbagy to bounce back after his shock third round defeat in Qatar at the hands of Egyptian youngster Youssef Ibrahim, Hunt has an interesting take on the impact that the ‘Beast of Alexandria’s’ absence from the competitive arena during the previous two tournaments, the CIB World Tour Finals and Egyptian Open, have had on the reigning British Open champion.
“Obviously, the lack of competitive matches caught up with Mohamed, that said he is just too good a player not to bounce back in the New Year. It is not like he is injured, he is still training and playing practice matches it is just that is not at the same intensity as regular tournament play.
Mohamed ElShorbagy in action against Youssef Ibrahim in Qatar
“When I was playing and I would head over to the UK to play the British Open, I would always have two warm up tournaments before I played it. I just found that was vital to get my game back to the level of sharpness and to get me battle hardened for the main event and that if I didn’t then my play was scratchy.
“So, there is no doubt that if you aren’t getting the regular competitive tournament matches your level drops off. With the last tournament of the year also in Egypt and the fact Mohamed won’t be there playing it, it’s going to be a while before he is getting that good hard tournament game time he needs and that is clearly going to impact.
“While that is the case you are also looking at other young Egyptians coming through like [Youssef] Ibrahim did in Qatar where he beat Mohamed on his way to the quarters.
“But we will get through this pandemic and when we do and Mohamed is playing regularly he will come back to his best, like I said he is just too good not to, he clearly has the hunger and the desire still burning within him and age wise he still has plenty to come.”
The immortal Hunt, who won a total of 12 British Open and World Championship titles, also believes there were plenty positives to take from Qatar from his fellow Antipodean Paul Coll who bounced firmly back to form with his run to the final.
“Paul has had his ups and downs since the tour resumed but you have to say he has now hit his stride again and he will have been pleased to come though against Marwan ElShorbagy in five games in the quarters and then make the final in Qatar.
“There is no doubt that his superb fitness and conditioning make him a threat to the Egyptians and I think that some of Ali’s respectful comments reflect that and underline that they know every time they go on court with Paul they are in for a hard shift.
“But I think if you look at the four tournaments since the PSA Tour resumed then clearly Paul has come onto his game and I think that underlines just how hard it has been for some of the players to maintain their form over the suspension.
“There is no doubt that the Egyptian players have an advantage in that there are several of them who are all world class and they can play and train together in Egypt.
“But Paul pushed Ali all the way in the final and in the fourth game he came right back at him and ultimately there was not a lot in it. So, Paul has given himself a platform going into the final tournament of the year next month at the Black Ball.”