By RJ Mitchell
Marwan ElShorbagy is hoping his triumph at the Platinum level CIB PSA Black Ball Squash can act as the launchpad to an unforgettable summer.
The 27-year-old has revealed that his success in Cairo last week has given him the self-belief to set a triple target comprising the British Open, the World Championships and ultimately the World No.1 ranking.
The Egyptian’s stunning success in his homeland has already guaranteed him a place at the 2020-2021 CIB World Tour Finals where he will be the defending champion.
ElShorbagy’s glory run in Cairo included an epic 96-minute five-game victory over World No.4 Paul Coll in the quarters, which he impressively backed-up by defeating Welshman Joel Makin in a tight semi-final clash.
In the final, the younger of the ElShorbagy brothers had to play through the pain barrier as he dethroned reigning Black Ball champion Fares Dessouky in four rollercoaster games culminating in a tie-break win in the fourth.
All of which has caused ‘The Jackal’ to cast his ravenous gaze upon squash’s greatest titles, which are set to provide an unprecedented summer of squash memories, as he made the valid point that he is now one of the serious contenders for the game’s majors:
“So, I believe I am one of the contenders in every single event and my plan and my main target is to win the British Open and the World Championship this summer,” the Black Ball Open champ said.
“It’s a huge motivation to have the British and the Worlds on the schedule. These are the biggest tournaments in our calendar, and it gives me a real buzz to look forward to them and I am determined to go and win both of them.
“I have been working really hard to improve as a squash player on a daily basis and these tournaments are the biggest in squash, they are the ones you really look forward to in the calendar and I am really excited about what comes next.
“So far, I like the progress I have made but I still think I can do better, can play better and I want to be better. I want more from myself and hopefully winning the Black Ball will give me the confidence to do that.
“But the Black Ball is just one event and my targets are to win the British, the World Championship and to get to No.1.”
Yet as he surveyed the summit of the PSA World Rankings currently occupied by Ali Farag, Marwan admitted that he still has plenty of hard work ahead to dislodge the game’s established big two of Farag and his elder brother Mohamed ElShorbagy.
“My ranking is still No.6 and I am still a player who is trying to improve his ranking. Yes, at the Black Ball I played like the best player in the world, but it does not mean I am the best player in the world yet,” he explained.
“Looking at Ali and at my brother they are World No.1 and No.2, and they are the most experienced players at the moment and although I won Black Ball, Ali won Qatar and we have played three majors since we came back, and Ali won two of them and I won one.
“So, with Ali, I wouldn’t judge one disappointing loss to [Fares] Dessouky as that was not a bad result with the way Dessouky is playing. It was not what he wanted but it was not a bad result.
“So, I look at Ali and my brother and they are still the world’s best players when it comes to big matches and I am trying to take that away from them, but I must say that the rankings never lie.”
Marwan ElShorbagy with the 2019-20 CIB PSA World Tour Finals trophy
Having won the CIB World Tour Finals in the first-half of the season ElShorbagy made the semis at the Egyptian Open and the quarters of the Qatar Classic before sitting out the 2020 Black Ball Open.
It is clear that this time round the Alexandrian is determined to elevate his level of consistency as he projects forward to next month’s Manchester Open:
“After the World Tour Finals, I made the semis at the Egyptian and I felt that like squash wise I did back it up,” said Marwan.
“Maybe things did not go as planned in other respects in this event, as you know, but then I made the quarters in Qatar and obviously I missed the Black Ball in December.
“So, this is the first tournament for me after Qatar and the first of the second-half of the season and I won it. If you look at it that way, I have been consistent, maybe not in winning each event, but in terms of the squash I have been producing.
“Also, since the beginning of September, Ali [Farag] has started as the best player so far but then I am after him. But I demand better, and I will go into the next tournament in Manchester wanting to win it and then in every tournament I want to challenge for the title.”
With both top seeds, Ali Farag and Mohamed ElShorbagy, toppled at the quarter-final stage of last week’s Platinum event, three of the last eight encounters going five games and the duration of the quarters ranging from 67 to 96 minutes, it is clear that competition at the top of the men’s game has never been so intense.
Something the eloquent ElShorbagy was keen to elaborate on: “For me I think the Tour has become more difficult. If you look at the Black Ball as the most recent tournament and the standard of squash that was produced there, then you have to say everyone is playing at their peak right now.
“Myself, Dessouky, Paul Coll, Joel Makin, Ali and my brother, we are all at our peaks and so the matches are becoming harder.
Marwan ElShorbagy (fore) and Fares Dessouky in action in the Black Ball Open final
“You look at my draw and for example I could be playing someone like Youssef Ibrahim in the first round or [Mohamed] Abouelghar or [Mostafa] Asal.
“So, the tour is harder even since we came back in September and I think that makes it more exciting for the fans and for us as players. Really, this generation is shaping up to be one the best generations that has played our sport.
“Especially with how hungry the Egyptians are and then the other guys from other countries taking it to us. It is just great for the game.”
Mohamed ElShorbagy’s five-game quarter-final defeat by Joel Makin means that the British Open champion has not made a final since last September’s Manchester Open, but his younger brother is adamant that ‘The Beast’ will bounce back.
“Maybe Mohamed is not playing the best squash of his career at the moment, but I know he will come back. He is just that driven, and we all know it. He hates to lose and when he does not see himself lifting a trophy, I know how angry he gets!” said Marwan with a hint of brotherly mischief.
But the World No.6 soon continued with an ominous warning: “Even if my brother’s ranking dropped to No.5, No.6 or No.7, when you play him and step on the court you know who you are stepping on court with and that will never change until the day he retires.
“So, in that respect it doesn’t matter what his ranking is. He is the most experienced player on the Tour, he has proved people wrong again and again and will continue to do so.”
Reflecting on what pleased him the most about last week’s triumph the new Black Ball champion said:
“It was a tough event for me physically, mentally, emotionally. Even the first two matches against [Karim El] Hammamy and [Youssef] Ibrahim were hard. The way I did it, the hard way, it makes the win more satisfying for me, it just means that all the hard work that I have put in during training has paid off,”
“But it is not just me who deserves the credit it is my team for pushing me during training. For me to be able to back it up squash wise, tactically speaking, mentally and physically they deserve great credit.
“Basically, it means that I am going in the right direction.”