By RJ Mitchell
Coach Rob Owen believes that Paul Coll’s elevation to a career-high World No.4 ranking is concrete proof of the Kiwi’s progress and ongoing journey towards the summit of the PSA World Rankings.
Earlier this week, the 28-year-old became the first New Zealander to nail down a top four world ranking since the great Ross Norman in 1989.
Now, former World No.19 Owen, who has been plotting Coll’s career for the last 18 months, reckons that Coll’s move to World No.4, could prove a crucial moment in his career.
Despite the fact that Coll suffered his 13th straight defeat by world No.1 Ali Farag in the final of the Qatar Classic last time out, Owen has no doubt that his man is closing the gap on the Egyptian. Owen also revealed Coll is relishing a potential second round meeting with Mostafa Asal at the Black Ball Open later this month.
Owen vowed that Coll will be ready to for anything the young Egyptian throws at him after admitting he was “bullied” by the Raging Bull in Doha last month.
“Obviously, it is the first time Paul has made it into the top four and that is proof of real progress given that is now his highest ever ranking,” Owen said.
“Also, when you look at the fact that he has displaced Karim Abdel Gawad, one of the finest players to have played the game, a former World Champion and a player who, when he is on his game can beat anyone, that is all very positive.
Coll (right) takes on Mostafa Asal in the CIB Egyptian Open quarter-finals
“Practically speaking, the benefits are obvious as Paul avoids having to meet the top four players at the quarter-final stage and if he doesn’t draw Karim, who will now be No.5 seed, then he is facing a 6-8 seed and that is better than facing one of the top Egyptians at the quarter-final stage.
“Should Paul then come through his quarter-finals then we would hope there would be a benefit from all of that in terms of freshness when he gets to the semis. But the most pleasing aspect of the number four ranking is that it signifies the undoubted progress Paul is making with his game.”
Owen was also happy to conduct a forensic analysis of Coll’s performance and progress over the four tournaments that have been played since the PSA World Tour resumed in September.
He said: “If we begin at Manchester then I would have to say it was a pretty good start which included a fairly comprehensive victory over [Fares] Dessouky and then I felt Paul outplayed Tarek [Momen] and to be honest I felt he should have beaten Mohamed [ElShorbagy] and he certainly gave him his hardest match of the week.
“The World Tour Finals did not go as we had planned but Paul had personal issues that impacted it, and I am not going to go into these. But the main thing after that was for him to get home and get his head together and spend time with his family and friends.
“Then we come back to the Egyptian Open and obviously that match with Asal. To be frank, I feel that Paul should have had that one done and dusted 3-0, he played the better squash and if he had won the second, which was very tight, I have no doubt it would have been done in straight games.
“But you have to give credit to Asal and in my opinion at times he bullied Paul. The bottom line is he disrupted Paul, got into his head, and from Paul’s point of view that is a disappointment as he has the experience to deal with that.
“We know Asal could be a potential opponent for Paul at the Black Ball and Paul will be ready for that one if it happens but first he has a real tricky one in Raphael Kandra, who is a dangerous lefty and a former British Open semi-finalist, to deal with.
Asal (fore) is predicted to be Coll's opponent in the second round of the upcoming CIB Black Ball Open
“Most recently, the Qatar Classic was a good tournament for Paul. He had an excellent five game win over Marwan [ElShorbagy] in the quarters and then backed it up big time against Dessouky in the semis.
“Obviously, that whole match [against Dessouky] hinged on the first game and after Paul won that it was quite clear that Dessouky didn’t want to know and from a fan’s point of view that was a disappointment. But for Paul to win the next two games zero and zero then that underlines he did not make one mistake against a world-class player.
“Now whether that was down to him winning the first game or not, that is still something that is pretty impressive and is testament to Paul’s professionalism in trying circumstances. To win 24 points on the bounce against Dessouky is nothing short of astounding.”
Turning his attention to Coll’s Qatar Classic final clash with Farag, Owen says it was a case of fine margins and some brilliant play by the Egyptian at the pivotal moments of their epic encounter that saw the World No.1 retain his title.
“Looking at the final then you have to hand it to Ali, he played the big points magnificently and I don’t think Paul did a whole lot wrong,” said Owen.
“At 1-1 and nine points all in the third, Ali looked like he was feeling the pace and I really felt Paul had him where we wanted him and he came up with some great squash and was out of there a relieved man at 11-9.
“Again at 9-9 in the fourth, Paul had turned the heat right up on Ali and again, bang, two great points and Ali is out of the door with the trophy and the cheque in his back pocket and full credit to him for that.
“But all of that just emphasised how close Paul is to Ali, there is nothing in it but fine margins and let’s face it ,squash needs variety, we need these rivalries and Paul is knocking on the door real hard now.”
Owen dismisses the significance of Coll’s run of 13 straight defeats at the hands of Farag, dating back to December 2017. Owen remains bullish that no scar tissue has been accrued.
Coll (fore) takes on Farag during the 2020 Qatar Classic final
“Ali is the best player in the world and when you look at how close Paul is pushing him, I don’t see the losses as a big deal,” he said.
“For a start, quite a few of these happened when Paul was still emerging, but he has been getting closer and closer.
“Last season at ToC, Paul came from two down to take it to five and then at the Windy City he was two up and ran out of gas because of the brutal matches he’d had in beating ElShorbagy & Gawad on the way through.
“Then you factor in the final at the Qatar Classic and, like I say, he is knocking on the door pretty hard. Obviously, Paul is in Ali’s half of the draw at the Black Ball and the way I look at it is you have to beat him sometime and so you’d be better doing it in the semis.
“What I would say is that Paul is relishing the opportunity every time he plays Ali and we firmly believe the gap is closing every time.”
There is no doubt that Farag is someone who Owen rates highly both on and off the court, with the Englishman saying: “There was tremendous respect shown by both players to each other in the final at Qatar and that was really good to see. Ali Farag deserves a lot of credit for the way he goes about his business and he is a worthy World No.1.
“From where I’m sitting, Ali is a credit to squash, he conducts himself very well and competes hard and fair but is always respectful to his opponent and he gives you nothing and that is what you want from a World No.1.
“But he is our target, and he knows it.”