By RJ Mitchell
Jonah Barrington believes that Ali Farag’s capture of the 20-2021 PSA World Championships presented by the Walter Family in Chicago last week, saw the Egyptian produce the best squash of his career.
In overturning a one game and 7-0 second game deficit against a dominant Mohamed ElShorbagy to eventually post a four – game victory, which was completed in 67 enthralling minutes, the 29 year-old claimed his second World title and the 22nd PSA title of his already glittering career.
But it was the quality of squash Farag produced towards the end of the second game and then for the remainder of the match, in what was the 22nd encounter between the duo, that left the great Barrington to acclaim the newly crowned World Champion as having delivered a lifetime best performance when it mattered most.
Barrington, the six-time British Open champion who bestrode the game colossus like in the late sixties and early seventies, was hypnotised by the touch, dexterity, and athleticism of Farag’s performance.
Yet even although Farag’s finest moment came at the expense of Barrington’s former protégé -ElShorbagy – he believes there were still plenty of positives to take despite ‘The Beast of Alexandria’ being force fed the bitter pill of defeat.
“The rallies were extraordinary whomever you supported,” said Barrington. “But if you loved squash then you were seeing something special and Ali, during that period (2nd,3rd,4th games), was almost flawless and I just felt that during that phase I had never seen Ali play that well.
“Indeed, quite probably this was the best squash that Ali Farag has produced yet in his career, it was that good. He made scarcely any unforced errors, he was constantly moving the ball around the court and the touch he had in all areas in the court was sublime.
“Yet it was being matched by a monstrous effort from Mohamed and that incredible fighting spirit and determination he has but when it went into the last game there was a question mark: ‘Could Ali sustain it?’
“He had been that good, but ultimately Mohamed just could not maintain his effort and Ali’s game was right at the top end again and it was simply impossible for Mohamed to respond.
“I say this when I rate Mohamed as a true world class performer but Ali Farag in that match, let alone winning his second world title, which is relevant but not that relevant, knocked on the door and forced me to recognise I was watching a truly world class player.
“So, the final was absolutely brilliant to watch as was the women’s final and to be denied a place in the Olympics after that night of squash is even more unbelievable.”
With momentum seemingly irreversibly in ElShorbagy’s favour Barrington’s shrewd analysis of this final for the ages saw the squash icon pinpoint a key turning point: “There was a decision, a no let in the front of the court which would have taken Mohamed to 8-0 and made it seem the second game was also in the bag, but Ali appealed that decision, and it was turned from a no let into a stroke for him.
“This seemed harsh, as all three SquashTV commentators suggested, and I think this moment was very significant. It was almost like this was the catalyst to trigger something in Ali’s head and his mood was lifted.
“Then at 7-3, Mohamed went for a cross court volley nick from high on the forehand and crashed it into the tin and for me that was the first sign of stress coming into his head and an impatience.
“He really wanted to reimpose himself but there was more tension building, and he then followed up with another really bad error on return of service and then Ali was right back in the battle again.”
Yet as Barrington admitted it was this change of fortune that led to what he believes was the best squash played on the PSA World Tour in the last three years: “I have to say that from there the squash through the next game and a half was monstrous and into the fourth game, but that span of squash was the best world class squash I have seen in the last three years.
“The quality of the squash, the pace of the game and the movement and the ability of both to get balls back was absolutely extraordinary but Mohamed is obviously not as economical a mover as Ali and the astonishing demand on their bodies during that remarkable phase had more of an impact on him, it really told on Mohamed.”
Despite his admiration for the almost flawless Farag, the great Barrington had plenty of words of encouragement for his former pupil ElShorbagy.
Barrington said: “I thought that Mohamed had played the tournament very responsibly, paid attention to detail and knew exactly what he was doing, and I could see that, in the final in the light of Ali’s disappointing form in the World Tour Finals and also how he had been playing compared to his level two years back, Mohamed might be able to extend that control.
“Around three years ago, we saw a world class performer, in Ali, emerge, with a sophisticated game who looked like he would be at the top end and winning decidedly more than he would lose over an extended period.
“To be honest what I hoped would be a gripping final did not look on the cards after a tight first game and Mohamed was very concentrated while at one game down and 7-0 down in the second, Ali’s tail seemed to be going down. Yet in the end we were treated to a truly memorable encounter by the end and both men deserve enormous credit for that.”
Yet for Barrington there was one disappointment in Chicago last week and that was the no-show, caused by a visa issue, of recent CIB PSA World Tour Finals champion Mostafa Asal: “The Worlds missed Mostafa Asal, big time! He is the one younger player from a different generation to Mohamed, Ali, Gawad and co. He is the new generation just as Hania El Hammamy is in the women’s game and Mostafa was sorely missed.
“Asal is very important to the sport regardless of the criticism he may have had from one or two dinosaurs. We can see that he is going to develop very rapidly in the next few months let alone the next couple of years.
“Already he has considerable physical strength, which is only going to increase, and his growing experience will also increase his development exponentially and really it was a shame he wasn’t present.
“Mostafa has an X-factor!”
For more information on the rerelease of Jonah’s fascinating three books: “Murder in the Squash Court’, ‘The Life of Jonah’ and ‘Jonah: The Official Autobiography’ please visit wwwjonahbarrington.com.