By RJ Mitchell
Rod Martin has warned the rest of the PSA World Tour that Mohamed ElShorbagy will be back to his best when the tour resumes with the 2021 CIB PSA Black Ball Squash Open in Cairo next month.
By the time the former World No.1 returns to competitive action, it will have been four months since his last outing on the tour when he suffered a shock third round defeat at the Qatar Classic at the hands of World No.35 Youssef Ibrahim back in November.
That lack of match action is why ElShorbagy has been in Pakistan this week competing in the Balochistan International Squash League.
New York-based Martin, who has remained in video contact with ElShorbagy throughout the early year break from the PSA World Tour, was keen to put the Ibrahim loss in context and underline his confidence that the best of ‘The Beast’ is still to come.
The former World Champion said: “I know Mohamed well enough now to realise that the defeat to Youssef in Qatar has served as a driving and motivational force to get better and respond.
“We’ve talked about that match a few times and although he gave Ibrahim a lot of respect, as, no question, the kid had a lot of talent and hit plenty of winners, maybe Mohamed didn’t have a clear enough plan about what he was going to do against someone like that who he was expected to beat.
“That is the hardest thing for top players, going in against guys who are ranked quite a bit below you and I know this from my own playing career. Subconsciously, you aren’t on it and then things start going against you and in the end, you can’t dig your way out. Every player who has been on a squash court has been through that.
Mohamed ElShorbagy takes on Youssef Ibrahim
“But you have to be careful. You are trying to get better as a tournament goes on and if you are expending to much effort or energy, physical or psychological, you don’t want to use that all up in the first or second round.
“So, you look to get through these rounds comfortably and the best players are good at that. They are efficient at not wasting too much energy on players they should beat. They play their game against the lower ranked players and it is good enough, almost always.
“Against a kid like Ibrahim, with a bit of flamboyance about him, who was on court to take it to Mohamed, well then maybe you’ve got to look at him a wee bit more differently. So, for sure that one has been a motivating factor for Mohamed, and he is determined to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Former British Open champion Miguel Rodriguez, France’s World No. 36 Lucas Serme and US No.1 Todd Harrity, among others, have joined Bristol-based ElShorbagy in Pakistan this week in their pursuit of match action and Martin revealed how important their trip to the Indian subcontinent has been.
He said: “Unlike the Egyptian based players, the other guys have hardly had any match practice to speak of which will help them compete with them. They are trying to train as best they can while under severe restrictions, and I think through this period of lockdowns, isolation and not being able to train like some other groups may well mean you will get funny results when we resume.
“But that doesn’t mean a player has lost it or gone over the hill, you just have to be realistic that at this time there will be upsets and that there are players who haven’t been able to train like others and they will feel the effects of that.
“But that’s where someone like Mohamed needs to be on his game at his next tournament. He must be physically ready and mentally ready for anyone he steps on court with to make these early matches as comfortable as he can.”
However, as he looked forward to arranging future training blocks with the British Open champion, Martin admitted life has been far from easy in the planning department: “For me it has been about seeing how Mohamed’s technique is, he hasn’t played anything meaningful up until this week, so you can’t talk about game plans.
Rod Martin in action
“So it’s more about seeing how he is and making sure he remains motivated to get ready for the first tournament back and plan mid to long term.
“Also getting an understanding of when we can get together again and spend some decent time on court, he has sent me some videos to check on his technique and feedback and that was beneficial and what matters right now.
“It has been a difficult time for everyone and if you are not in Egypt training with a group then you are going to be at a disadvantage. So if someone does have a loss against a lower ranked guy, I don’t think you can read too much into that and you just need to take it on the chin and move on.
“The bottom line is, apart from that small group of guys based in Egypt, it just hasn’t been ideal, and we have to make the best of things.
“That said, Mohamed knows how to train and he is hugely motivated, so I am not worried about all the off-court stuff and what he is doing in the gym. He has Hadrian Stiff around him and a group of people who tick all these boxes.”