New Zealand squash icon Ross Norman has backed fellow Kiwi Paul Coll to bounce back from his harrowing straight game defeat by a resurgent Mohamed ElShorbagy in the final of the El Gouna International Squash Open.
With Coll having lost out at the Commonwealth Games, Windy City Open presented by the Walter Family, Qatar Classic and the 2019 PSA World Championships, the 28-year-old’s defeat at El Gouna was his fifth major title defeat in a final.
The great Norman also had to suffer the bitter taste of defeat in finals on many occasions at the hands of the immortal Jahangir Khan before he finally triumphed in the most famous squash match of the lot when he defeated ‘JK’ in the final of the 1986 World Open and so ended Khan’s unparalleled 555 match winning streak.
So, it’s no surprise that the former World Champion has urged his compatriot to hang tough while also citing the case of tennis great Andy Murray as the perfect example of the benefits of the mantra: ‘try, try and try again.’
“Looking back at my own career over a 12 or 15-month period either Jahangir won the tournament or if he wasn’t playing, I won, and it was pretty frustrating, but I know that Paul has a similar tenacity to that which I had, and he has just got to stay in there and hang in,” urged Ross.
“Also if you look at Andy Murray and he made, what was it, four or so Grand Slam Finals before he made his breakthrough so in respect of Paul, he just needs to translate these finals into titles.
“The other thing is that he hasn’t got time on his side if he is going to get the job done, he needs to start winning these big matches, because with every final he loses the next becomes even bigger. But he is not 21 or 22, so he just needs to stay tenacious, and he will. From what I know of him Paul doesn’t take set-backs or losses to hard and he will just keep fighting.
“If he ends up in his career not winning a major like a World Championship or British Open it won’t be for the lack of trying that’s for sure.”
Despite the nature of a defeat that was Coll’s heaviest in a major final, Norman has no doubts about the positives from the World No.4’s run to the El Gouna title match.
“The big positive Paul can take away is that he got to the final and that he now has had some real match practise. I don’t think he had much of that leading up to El Gouna and now he has these games in the bank that will be invaluable to him.
“Paul’s goal is to climb up the rankings and although the final was disappointing, he did make the final and that will be positive in terms of climbing the rankings and so that is huge.
“There is not a lot of difference between the No.3 and No.4 seedings in a tournament, but Paul did beat Tarek Momen fairly comfortably in his semi and for him to get to No.3 in the world would be an absolute dream for him.
“I know he wants to get higher and it’s small steps but with Paul making the final and beating Momen in the semi then there will be a two-way shift in terms of ranking points. I think there are now just 3,000 ranking points between them, so the gap is narrowing, no question.”
When it came to his post mortem of the 47-minute final, Norman has a typically shrewd take on why the Kiwi fell flat in the final after an increasingly emphatic run through the earlier rounds at El Gouna in which he dispatched two former world champions in Karem Abdel Gawad and Tarek Momen for the loss of just one game between them.
Indeed, Coll’s semi-final defeat of reigning World Champion Momen was so compelling that all seemed to be set fair for a Coll conquest in the land of the Pharaohs.
Coll (right) in action against Momen (left)
Norman said: “From Paul’s point of view, he flew through the rounds and won his matches dropping just one game and that seemed to impact on his performance in the final.
“In my day I much preferred at least one tough five-setter in there or a couple of tough four-game matches just to play me in and get me battle hardened mentally and physically by the time I made the final.
“It just seems that there is always one Egyptian left and if Paul beats one then there is another and another in the way stopping him winning these big titles. My thoughts were that Paul would be better prepared than any of the other players, but it seems to me that he may need a lot of match practise to play his best.
“By contrast Mohamed’s road to the final was probably exactly what he wanted. He had a tough five-setter with a few tricky moments, dropped some games here and there and that’s obviously played him into form which is, from his point of view, exactly what he would have wanted.
“Those sort of matches shouldn’t detract from your fitness as these boys should be in the type of shape that means that is not an issue. Clearly that’s what Mo had, and it proved a big advantage.
“I know that Mohamed also had been getting match practise in England and I saw him play Joel Makin at St George’s and that was a tough five game match, and he had a few of these semi-exhibition matches to get game time under his belt before El Gouna.”
But Norman admitted, what all this tells us about finding a favourite for the game’s major titles the World Open and British Open, which will be held in July and August respectively, is hard to decipher.
“It’s hard to project forward to the worlds and the British and make forecasts as there are so many things that can impact on a tournament,” the Kiwi said.
At El Gouna, Ali decided not to play, Tarek didn’t play that well and going forward then maybe ElShorbagy has an injury, so you just don’t know how the cards will fall and when they do will they fall in Paul’s favour or not?
“But not many people go into a World Open a little bit under cooked, not prepared or for that matter jaded. They are all up for it, everyone is going for it, believe me a World Open gets everyone’s juices flowing.”