By RJ Mitchell
Allam British Open champion Paul Coll has admitted that he has taken extra satisfaction from his breakthrough victory from the fact he had to do it the hard way.
The Kiwi became the first New Zealand man to win a major since Ross Norman’s historic victory over Jahangir Khan in the 1986 World Open.
Along the way he had to beat World No.1 and defending British Open champion Mohamed ElShorbagy in the semi-finals after being badly beaten in his last three meetings with ‘The Beast of Alexandria’.
In the final against World Champion Ali Farag, he claimed his first ever victory in a major final over the World No.2 in their third title match meeting while ending a 13-match losing streak against Farag, who was himself bidding to become the first man to do the double of World Open and British Open in one season since the immortal Jansher Khan in 1996.
Coll’s pairing in the opening match against the most dangerous unseeded player in the British Open draw, Youssef Ibrahim, was negotiated in straight games despite the third going to a fraught 12-10 tie -break while the 29 – year-old had to come from 2-1 down against ‘The Black Falcon’ Mazen Hesham in the third round.
In the quarter-finals, Coll’s best friend on tour, Peruvian ace Diego Elias, who arrived at Hull on the back of a career best win at the Manchester Open awaited but was neutralised in straight games despite two of these being tie-break stanzas.
All of which has allowed the 2021 British Open champion a well-earned period of reflection: “I’ve always said that when I win my first major tournament that I wanted to beat the best of the best and Mohamed and Ali are definitely the top two.
“So, I was very happy to take them down back-to-back and it also gave me a lot of confidence in my game, and it was very rewarding to get the win like that. It’s always rewarding to win a title like the British but to take down No.1 and No.2 along the way really added to it.
“The last three tournaments Mohamed has been the guy who has taken me down and of course I haven’t enjoyed it! But I knew what I had to do the whole way through with every match, it was just a matter of executing the game plan.
Coll (black) and ElShorbagy (white) shake hands after their British Open semi-final
“Rob [Owen, Coll’s coach] is probably one of the best at giving game plans and we knew what we had to do, it was just producing the quality of squash to execute that and that is not easy against a guy like Mohamed who has been at the top for as long as he has.
“Then especially with Ali, you have to find a way of keeping him off the volley or you just spend way too much time doing hard work, so it is vital to be in front of him and get the work load down to an even proportion and then that’s when I can bring in the physicality.
“But if your squash isn’t good enough then you can’t get into Ali physically, so it was just really rewarding for most of the final that I was producing the right level of squash. I had three or four game plans throughout the tournament and my squash level reached new heights and that was just very rewarding.
“But they were all tricky opponents, right from the get-go. Ibrahim is very talented with the racket, and I was nervous about that one and then Mazen, when he is rolling these three wall boasts, is a nightmare to be on court with. Then in the quarters I’m playing Diego off the back of his win at Manchester. So, it made it sweeter to come through a tough draw like that to win my first British Open.”
Coll was also candid enough to admit that a seven-day boot camp at coach Rob Owen’s West Warwicks club was crucial to his hopes of claiming his first major and was keen to pay the ebullient Owen the ultimate complement of acclaiming him “the best squash coach in the world”.
“It was very important to have that camp with Rob. For me Rob’s squash brain is second to none and, in my opinion, he is the best squash coach in the world, and I am very lucky to have him in my team and teaching me as he is, all his subtleties,” the Kiwi said.
It is understood that the level of detail involved in that camp included a 45-minute session spent solely on the backhand trickle boast that was to prove pivotal in introducing doubt and an element of second guess to opponents who had in the past read the previously more limited options available to Coll in the front court right flank.
The Kiwi revealed: “That is one shot that was highlighted but it is more about being in the position to play the straight drive or the cross court, having one swing, being in one position, that really helped me as it stopped people being able to read me and it put doubts in their minds.
“But that shot is one of Rob’s favourites and I struggle to read it and I just wanted to add that in and that it makes me even more dangerous from the front and with counter attacking. The whole idea of the trickle boast is to make your opponent go back but keep the ball short.
“The plan to do some damage to Ali was tough to execute, as he is such a great reader of the game and when he puts you in the front he wants that one-two combo, so to be able to add that other shot to make it more difficult for him and to execute it in a British Open final plus to see it come off in the final of the biggest tournaments was just so rewarding.”
Coll (white) in action against Ali Farag (black)
As Coll confirmed he is not about to rest on his laurels: “I am not going to be happy with one result. I am obviously on cloud nine at the moment, but I have already spoken with Rob and our biggest test is the next tournament or next couple and see how we back it up.
“I’m going to do an American leg, play San Francisco and stay for US Open. I need to establish myself in this position and not go away being happy with what I have achieved. It is about resetting and targeting new goals for next season.”
The modest New Zealander has also been clearly moved by the deluge of complements that rained down on him from legends of the game including Jonah Barrington, Geoff Hunt, Dame Susan Devoy and Stuart Davenport.
“It was very nice to read that piece on the PSA website with Geoff [Hunt] and I respect a guy like Geoff massively for what he did in the game. I have had a lot of nice messages and Rob and I spoke to Jonah [Barrington] on the way home after the final and we had a great 40-minute chat with him, and it was great to hear what he had to say, and he was very complimentary about my game and that meant a lot.
“Jonah’s brain just does not miss a beat! The first thing he said was that I put two serves on Ali’s racket, and he rolled them in the nick! So, he is a very special guy to talk to.
“I’ve spoken with Stu Davenport who has had a lot to do with my career and I watched a video that Susan [Devoy] put out and it was very special to me and put a tear in my eye just about how much she cared about myself and my progress – it was great!”
Impressively, Coll was also keen to thank everyone that has helped him on his supreme journey of squash discovery from a spindly kid raised in the small town of Greymouth on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island to British Open champion:
“I just want to thank everyone for supporting my career, there has been countless people over my whole career, not just now, and people have given me the time and put me up free of charge so a massive thanks to everyone who has supported me along the way,” he said.
“It has meant the world to me and hopefully it has all been worth it and this win pays all these people back, so a massive thanks to them all.”