By RJ Mitchell
Former World No.1 Jonathon Power has warned the rest of the PSA World Tour that Diego Elias is still “20% away from being the finished article.”
In the wake of the South American’s breakthrough PSA World Tour Platinum title triumph at the Qatar QTerminals Classic, the super coach, who has been masterminding Elias’ progress from his Toronto base for 10 years, reckons his charge is finally ready to become the game’s big beast.
Yet Power, the former British Open and World Champion is also adamant that there are still areas in Elias’ game that require some extra fine tuning if he is to make the leap from young pretender to undisputed ruler of our game.
While he accepts that his protégé’s triumph in Qatar parallels one of the most famous moments of his own career, Power reckons that is where the similarities end.
Speaking from his Toronto base, Power perhaps the greatest maverick champion of them all, said: “In terms of the finished article I would say that Diego is a good 20% away from that. There is a lot left to develop. There are still so many glaring errors that we can fix.
“Now he has a winning game, and he just needs to round the edges and smooth things out but there are numerous things where guys are taking points from him because he hasn’t got certain aspects quite how we want them.
“So, there are things to work and on and a 10-20% improvement in Diego’s level is what I am aiming for. We are all bout level and process.
“It is about being the dominant player on the tour and not just being No.1 for a month because you had one good win, it is more about Diego wanting to be there and wanting to be the big beast. No.1 will come if you are No.1, so it is just about staying the course and working on the little things Diego needs to improve on.”
Power has no doubt that Elias’ victory in Qatar had a lot to do with some extra fitness and strengthening work the Peruvian has undertaken to combat and sort a hip issue that had been undermining his challenge until recently.
“I think there has been a change in Diego’s fitness and strength and that has leant itself to a change in his attitude,” said the 1998 World Champion.
“For me you only get angry when you know that you’re not 100% there, not ready for the fight and then you get upset with yourself.
“Now Diego has finally got his body, which is a big frame, right up to the level of fitness where he can endure multiple matches at the top level.
“So that lends to a level of confidence and realisation where you can just focus on your squash and you get a little less upset, a little less wound-up. I never got upset when I was winning.
“The hip injury was not career threatening, there was nothing like that, it was just a lack of strength for his size. So, we needed to build up the strength for the pounding it was taking as Diego lunges so big and so powerfully when he does so and that is going to wear it down if you don’t do the strengthening work to combat that.
“But I’m pleased to say Diego did the work and that is done now, and I don’t anticipate too many more issues with the hip if at all. It is certainly not degenerative or anything like that.”
Power’s coaching journey with Elias is one that dates back 10 years to when the Peruvian’s father Jose Manuel brought his gangly son to Toronto for a defining summit: “Diego first came to Toronto at 14-years-old, almost 10 years back. He was just a kid and his dad, Jose Manuel, who is also his coach, sat down with me and made a plan.
“Then we put our heads together got the resources lined up and tried to build a team around him. We gave him a plan and a path to take his 14-year-old level on to being a world class professional and it has taken time for him to mature and go through the stages.
“But Diego has continued to move forward, to progress and develop with the right work and he comes to Toronto for different periods and stuff like that.
“We also have a set up in Florida and he goes there. When there was no opportunity for him to come to Canada because of COVID we set up a training centre for him in Florida and we speak pretty much every day.
“Right now, he has taken a few days to surprise his parents with a visit back to Peru and then we will be going back to Florida and going back to work. No rest!”
Power who between May 1999 and July 2001 was No.1 on three different occasions, continued: “One of our sponsors has been very supportive, Mitch Goldharr at Penguin Pick Up, his shirt sponsor, has been really good in setting Diego up with all he needs and that has been a huge positive. By this I mean not just me but also Diego’s father.
“Mitch has also been invaluable in helping him out with all his trainers and physios and everything else he needs to get to the top level, it isn’t just a team, it is a whole eco system.
“This is the beginning of massive things for Diego, I see exciting times, the confidence is there, and I see big things ahead and it will be interesting to watch in the next six months.
“I certainly have high hopes for him, and I am quietly confident about where he is going to go but I will let Diego determine that. The team is there, his confidence is there, and the processes are all in place and Diego is a very difficult proposition, once he knows what he can do and produce, and he will be very difficult for anyone to beat now and going forward.”
Looking back on Qatar, Power once again warmed to his theme that Elias victory was achieved, despite the fact, he had not been at his best for most of the tournament: “The number one thing for me is that Diego’s baseline squash won him the tournament, not his best squash.
“If Diego can win a tournament like the Qatar Classic not playing well or being at his best, playing poorly to reach the semis and finals, although not playing poorly when he got there, then that means that on a difficult day Diego is still in there.
“So, I feel real good about that and there is a lot of room for winning more tournaments and it is just an exciting time.”
It was in 1997 that Power triumphed at the then titled Qatar International, but he believes Elias is very much a man on his own path to squash destiny.
“In terms of a parallel between me and Diego it has been a little bit different. I came out of nowhere; I came out of qualifying won a tournament and won again and it was more of an explosion, but Diego has been out there for a while and top-10 in the world for a number of years.
“So, there is not a parallel with how it happened, but it is ironic it happened in Qatar where I also had a very big moment! We are also different types of players, but Diego is on his journey now and winning Qatar is a big moment in that.”
When it comes to his own storied career the great Power admits to feelings of what might have been: “I feel like that I never did hit my peak as I just didn’t put the effort in that Diego did, I just got lucky! I had different moments when things were good. In my last year I won six of the eight tournaments I played, and I was at No.1 when I finished and that was pretty good.
“Certainly, at the very beginning when I was coming up and I was full of confidence and had no fear was good but then when you become No.1 it is the worst as you never win again, you only not lose. It is not enjoyable but that moment that Diego is at right now is the fun part.
“I won the Tournament of Champions at 22 and I came through from qualifying and I won the next week and I got a taste for it, won the next week and I got a taste for it and won the World Championships and after that it was just more of the same and less interesting to me.
“So, I wouldn’t say I peaked beyond that, maybe at the end when I decided to do it again and prove to myself I could do it when I wanted to do it and if I got my head down, so I would say there were two periods for me. Around 22-24 and then again 32 to 33.”