For World No.1 Ali Farag, the Oracle NetSuite Open represents one of the toughest challenges in squash.
Even after winning the tournament – which utilises best-of-three scoring until the final – when he last entered, in 2018, Farag admits that the tournament’s unique scoring is something that he has struggled with in the past.
“Best of three has never been my strength,” the tournament’s No.2 seed says. He adds: “Because you have to be ready from the get-go, and you don’t really have time to get into the groove and especially since it is the top-16 players, you know that every match will be a test.”
Despite the challenges of the shorter matches, Farag is confident and says he is looking forward to tomorrow’s first round match with Egyptian compatriot Omar Mosaad. He explains: “I am excited to be making the adjustment and seeing how I handle the shorter format. It is a different challenge!”
Although the Oracle NetSuite’s status as a Gold, rather than Platinum, event has led to some suggestions that it is a lesser tournament, Farag feels it is worthy of the same respect as any of the elite competitions. “I view the Oracle NetSuite Open as important a tournament as any of the major tournaments we play, so there is no way I am going into it viewing it as just preparation for the US Open,” he says.
Farag beat ElShorbagy 3-1 in the final of the 2018 tournament.
In winning the 2018 edition, courtesy of a 3-1 win over this year’s top seed and fellow Egyptian Mohamed ElShorbagy, Farag proved as much to himself as to the world that he could handle the tournament's frenetic pace.
Since then, the 29-year-old has been in excellent form, recapturing the World No.1 ranking from ElShorbagy with a World Championship victory and a British Open final at the end of last season, and adding an Egyptian Open title at the beginning of this one.
Reflecting on last week’s Egyptian Open final, in which he came from two games down to beat ElShorbagy in a rollercoaster 74-minute match, Farag says he is generally satisfied with the way he played, despite it not representing his best squash.
He adds: “Mohamed came out with a brilliant tactical move of not giving me much pace and slowing everything down. In the second game, I thought I got into the groove a little bit, but he was very smart to change that one and I felt it was going to run away from me but in the third I started to feel he was getting tired.
“From mid-game Mohamed did drop off a bit and then in the fourth it was really competitive until the mid-section and then I ran away with it a bit and I knew I had a good chance in the fifth with just how fatigued Mohamed was.
“To win the Egyptian Open again for the second time, in front of my family and friends, well it was just a real treat, and I can’t put what it meant to me into words.”
Farag and ElShorbagy met once more in this year's Egyptian Open final, in which Farag came from two games down to win the title.
Farag explains his excellent recent form as being due to a break he took after the draining impact of playing back-to-back majors in consecutive months. This allowed him to recuperate with his family before hitting the practice court with his long-term coach, former World No.1 Karim Darwish, to retune for his home tournament.
He says: “I took a week off after playing the Worlds and then going to Germany to prepare for the British and of course making the final there, so it was just really hectic. I needed time with the family and that recharged me again and allowed me to be hungry once more.
“Then after that I had maybe 10-days of proper training with Karim and also match play and that served me very well. Now I just want to get going in San Francisco and am delighted to be here again.”
You can also keep up with the live scores from the event here.