By RJ Mitchell
Geoff Hunt has compared Diego Elias to the iconic Jansher Khan in the aftermath of the Peruvian’s triumph at the Qatar QTerminals Classic.
The great Aussie, who in 1976 became the game’s first ever professional World Champion, has watched Elias’s blossom from a spindly 15-year-old competing in the Pioneer Junior Cup where the South American regularly played against Hunt’s protégé Abdulla Mohd Al Tamimi.
For Hunt the only surprise is that it has taken Elias until he was 24 years-old to win his first Platinum title, but now with his victory at the Khalifa International Complex, Hunt believes that the game’s greatest titles including a World Championship are firmly within the Peruvian’s reach.
Yet it was fascinating to hear Hunt draw parallels between Elias and the effortless almost ethereal movement of the game’s longest reigning World No.1, Jansher Khan, as he dissected the qualities that he believes may propel the Peruvian to the very top of the game.
“This is a very significant win and not before time. I have been saying for a long time that Diego is one of the best players and I remember seeing him playing as a kid in the Pioneer Cup when he was 15 and I saw his ability back then.
“He had fantastic ability and Diego and Abdulla had some fantastic games and he reminded me of Jansher with the way he moved. He just seemed to glide over the court.
“Really, he was the closest I had seen to a Jansher in that regard and also, he had a toughness about him as a kid and I just thought Diego is going to go all the way and I predicted he would have won a major title earlier, so I am really pleased for him, and it is great for squash.
“Diego brings a lot to the game, he is a lovely mover as I mentioned, has a good squash brain and he is really nice to watch and, in my opinion, he has a lot going for him. Diego Elias, if he can stay injury free, is going to be around at the top of the game for a long time.”
“Diego definitely has a World title or a British Open in him, potentially he can be as good as anyone right now. He has the physical aspects and the technical skills to go all the way and it just depends on him enjoying a sustained period of time without injury.
“Diego has had a few injuries over the last few years and that has side-tracked him a bit and I’ve seen him get pretty upset at some of the smaller tournaments when he has had injury issues.
“But he doesn’t mind working hard and if Diego stays clear of these niggles, then he is going to be really hard to beat.
“If Diego gets that it will be very tough for anyone to stop him winning the majors.”
Yet with Mostafa Asal, another of the game’s young pretenders recently claiming the U.S. Open, the beaten finalist in Qatar, Paul Coll and the emergence of Wales’s European No.1 Joel Makin, there is a feeling that a changing of the guard at the top of the men’s game is taking place.
While Saturday’s final was the first major title match on the PSA World Tour not to feature an Egyptian since 2017. All of which has left the great Hunt to wax lyrical over the future of the men’s game.
“There isn’t much between a few of the players now and there are going to be many great battles ahead.
“Mostafa Asal is good, he is solid, and he is a very tough player to play. He has been around for a while now and he is destined to be very good, and he uses his body very well and has shades of some of the Egyptian players of the past in how difficult he is to play.
“But make no mistake Asal is good too, he can kill the ball well and he brings excitement to the sport.
“Perhaps with Mohamed ElShorbagy starting to have injuries and Ali Farag now in the later stages of his career it is good for the game when you start to see other players emerge.
“Joel Makin is improving, and he is there and at the business end of most major tournaments, but he is not quite at the level of Paul and Diego just yet, but there is still time for that to happen for Joel.
“I don’t think we quite thought Paul would develop to the level he has and become British Open champion, so it is definitely possible, and Joel is a great competitor and a very hard man to beat.
“You can also look at Mohamed Abouelghar and how well he has been playing while I like the young Indian player Ramit Tandon, he has a lot of skill and I love watching that guy play, he is really enjoyable to watch.
“I watched his first round, and he is very hard to read, and he is another with a good future ahead.”
Yet of one thing the seventies squash icon is sure and that is we may be entering an era when such is the competitivity at the top that no one player will dominate as he himself did between 1976 and 1981.
“I still think Paul Coll will be there and so will Diego and of course Asal while Ali Farag isn’t going to be dropping off but I’m not sure about Mohamed [ElShorbagy] as he does seem to be struggling with injuries but if he stays fit and his body is fine, he will always be tough to beat.
“But Mohamed has been around for many years and the way he plays and the attrition on his body that makes is tough to sustain, but if he is physically fine, he should still have time left at the top.
“So, I don’t really see anyone dominating going forward at the major championships and that will make it really exciting.
“You have three or four Egyptians who can win but now with Paul and Diego breaking that stranglehold it is only good for the game as you just don’t want any one country dominating.
“Egypt have been so good for so long now, but it is nice to see some other nationalities emerging and winning these titles, which is fabulous.”