By RJ Mitchell
Geoff Hunt believes that Paul Coll can use his first British Open title triumph as the stepping stone to greatness.
The Aussie squash legend was an eight-time British Open winner between 1969 and 1981 when he broke a Pakistani stranglehold on the game’s most storied title. But after watching Coll’s four game dispatch of world champion Ali Farag, Hunt says he has no doubt that the Kiwi and coach Rob Owen will already be planning how they can make sure that Coll’s first major is by no means his last.
Hunt, who in 1976 became the game’s first professional world champion, also believes that Coll’s victories over Mohamed ElShorbagy in the semi-final and his first success against Farag in a major final, will have given him a huge shot of belief that he can wrest supremacy of the game’s summit away from the Egyptians.
While the Australian great has no doubt that winning his maiden major will ultimately mean more to Coll than any future pursuit of World No.1 status.
Hunt said: “Paul will know this British Open win is only a stepping stone, this is what he has been aiming for and now he has to ask: ‘How can I win again and stay on top?’
“There is no way he will say: ‘I’ve got there!’ but it will give him the confidence that he has worked to make the improvements and they have really paid off. I’m sure this victory will drive him on again and he will be hungry for more.
“So mentally it will have been a huge boost for Paul and I’m sure he will build on it. But at this stage as much as I think it is an unbelievable effort and it’s really good that Paul has broken the Egyptian dominance, I don’t see it as the beginning of a new era.
“It was a fantastic effort on Paul’s behalf as he has been knocking on the door for a while and the fact that Paul has beaten [Mohamed] ElShorbagy in the semi will have given him a huge lift, he knows that if he hangs in and makes it tough enough and the same with Ali, then he knows he can beat them now when it really matters.
“All of that will make things very interesting next season but I don’t expect these guys to be going anywhere soon!”
Hunt also has no doubt that Coll’s seminal success can have a huge impact on the game down under: “With someone like Paul from another country winning the British it makes a huge difference to squash. As an Aussie it’s nice that someone from across the Tasmin Sea has done it and for Australasia it’s great to have Paul make that breakthrough.
“Personally speaking I’m not sure that the ranking comes above winning the majors. The British Open was the major event in my day and being World No.1 isn’t as important, in my opinion, as winning a major like the British or the world title. For me you always would rather win the titles.”
Between 1976 and 1980 Hunt was to do the double of British and World titles four times and his insight of what it takes to enjoy longevity at the top is fascinating:
“My goal was always to win the major titles and although when I made the breakthrough, in ’76, I was elated, that was what I had trained for, and I expected to make that breakthrough, but I had worked for it,” he said.
“When I lost, I couldn’t sleep at night, I spent the whole night going over the match and what I should have done or could have done to get the win.
“Right through the time I was No.1 I knew it would be bloody hard to stay there as the guys chasing me were working hard to improve and catch me and so I asked myself: ‘What can I do to get better?’
“So, I challenged myself to keep improving and that excited me. Even when Jahangir [Khan] arrived, and I started to struggle with injury I had worked out plans of how I would get on top of him but just because he was a young bloke that wasn’t it.
“I knew that he would beat me but just because he was a young bloke, I never thought that was it and I worked out ways and means to get back on top but ultimately the injuries stopped me following through on that.”
Of course, Sunday’s final defeat was a bitter pill for the man Coll defeated, world champion Ali Farag. Not only was the Egyptian striving to become the first player since Jansher Khan back in in 1996 to do the double, but he was also attempting to claim his first British Open title in what was his second final.
Again, Hunt’s insight into the post mortem that may have followed inside Team Farag’s camp is educational: “It will have been disappointing for Ali as obviously no one has done the double since Jansher in ’96 but also, when you lose there is always something you could have done to stop yourself losing.
“Personally, I always blamed myself and said: ‘I could have done this better.’ So, Ali will be smarting, and he will be asking: ‘How come I lost? Was I tired from the lead up matches? Was it what Paul was doing?’
“He may also be questioning his tactics but I’m sure Ali will respond to this. He won’t be happy with coming second and of course the British is the one major that has still eluded him.
“But Ali has been tremendous for the sport, he is an exciting and skilful player as well and showed class in defeat and he will come again.”
A gruelling run of matches including two epic five game encounters with Joel Makin and Youssef Soliman clearly drained World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy for his semi-final with Coll, yet the Kiwi must be lauded for taking full advantage.
Hunt reckons that motivation will be the key for ‘The Beast of Alexandria’ when he picks up the scent of glory once again next season: “The semi with Mohamed ElShorbagy only lasted 30 minutes and that is not normal, but I know Mohamed had a really tough run through to the semis.”
“The fact that ElShorbagy has been on the tour for 15 years means nothing much. He is still just 30 and that’s young, so unless there was an underlying injury that stopped him training hard then I don’t see that as an issue as the body does recover.
“The fact that he lost the semi also doesn’t mean he will be going down hill all of a sudden but that will depend on his motivation. If he is not motivated to train as hard that may be an issue, but I don’t think that will be the case, but we will have to wait and see how Mohamed is when he comes back for the new season before we know for sure.”
In his epic five game quarter-final with Farag the game’s newest star Mostafa Asal served notice that he will be a huge threat next season and Hunt reckons he will add further value to the major scene.
“Mostafa is very quick, and he is an exciting player and feisty with it maybe similar going back to Ahmed Barada who was also feisty! But it is great for the sport that we have different characters who all play slightly different.
“For example, Ramy [Ashour] was different, [Amr] Shabana was a beautiful technician.”