By RJ Mitchell
Joel Makin says that he is targeting a deep run into the Canary Wharf Classic ahead of his round two fixture with India’s Saurav Ghosal.
The ‘Golden Tiger’ has never been past the quarter-final stage at the East Wintergarden and last time out suffered a frustrating first round defeat at the hands of veteran Daryl Selby.
With Ghosal impressive as he dispatched Scotland’s Greg Lobban in straight games last night, Makin says he has nothing but respect for the 35-year-old, who he reckons has not had the breaks his performances have merited in recent tournaments.
And with back-to-back semi-final appearances at the U.S. Open and Qatar Classic in his last two outings, the Welshman desires to mount a real challenge for a title that he rates highly at a venue he loves playing in.
Makin said: “Saurav has been top 16 for 10 years. I’ve made the mistake of looking past players before and you have to remember in these matches you have no right to go through the lower ranked players and that there is a process you have to go through to break them down.
“You have to play your squash to give yourself the right to beat these guys. Recently, Saurav played me, played Ali Farag and he has had other tough draws, so he is down a little bit but that is not a reflection of his form.
“The depth seems to be getting stronger and Marwan [ElShorbagy] pulls out and then James [Willstrop] comes in at No.24 in the world and that is just ridiculous that he can be ranked down there. But it’s best of three and these older guys are dangerous with the quality of their squash over the shorter format, as James fully demonstrated against Mohamed Abouelghar.
Joel Makin takes on Karim Abdel Gawad at the U.S. Open
“So, already there have been upsets early on.”
When it comes to the passionate atmosphere caused by the East Wintergarden spectators, it is clear that the close proximity of the sell-out crowds really get Makin’s competitive juices flowing.
“It is very exciting and an example of what squash needs,” said Makin.
“The tickets sell out months in advance, which is great as some of the venues have been quiet early on with the COVID issues and limited spacing, and it hasn’t been the atmosphere that anyone wants. Canary Wharf always sells out and they always get that packed crowd which is great.
“The first round they have eight matches on glass and 600-800 people there and people enjoy a few beers, get involved in the games and are vocal and they see how exciting the matches are and it just all really works.
“The more we can get to that the better and it is a venue you want to come to and it’s great to play in.
“But for me personally, I played Paul Coll in the quarters in the last couple of years, and I haven’t got to the later stages and that is the target this time.”
Makin is now repeatedly knocking on the door when it comes to finally making the breakthrough that will bring him a major title.
Joel Makin celebrates beating Mazen Hesham at the 2021 Manchester Open
Greater accuracy in his front court game as well as the development of his tactical appreciation and his defensive game have made the World No.9 a tricky opponent for anyone.
On the back of his successive semi-finals, Makin is satisfied with how his game is progressing, saying: “It’s been gradual over the last couple of months and things that I’m happy with are the consistencies. I have rarely had an early loss for a long time now which is really positive, as it means that my squash is in a very solid place and that my conditioning is where it should be.
“Especially beating someone of [Ali] Farag’s quality is very pleasing as I know how good he is being World No.1, World Champion and being at the top for a number of years now, so winning a match like that in the U.S. Open quarters is big.
“But although getting to the semi-finals is great, I’m aiming to win one of these big ones. I wouldn’t be doing the work I’m doing if that wasn’t the aim. I have been close a few times, but I still don’t think I’ve played my best stuff and I am still trying to add to my squash and continue my progression.
“The target is to keep making the later stages over the next couple of years and to turn over one of these runs and make into a victory at one of the big tournaments.”
The 27-year-old continued: “Any win against the best guys is massive, whether it be Farag or Mohamed [ElShorbagy]. Because of what they have done, it is really satisfying, but the victory over Ali at the U.S. Open was right up there as my squash was where it needed to be and I was able to disrupt him as I had planned.
“You can put game plans together and it doesn’t work out as you hope. I had a clear idea of what I needed to do and no matter how good these guys are they have patterns of play that they like to work with, and you can disrupt these as long as your squash is really sharp.
“That was a performance I was really happy with as Ali was in good form and coming off the back of a World Championship win, so for sure it was very satisfying to beat him.”
Makin was unable to build on that victory and succumbed in the last four to Tarek Momen.
Joel Makin celebrates his 2021 U.S. Open semi final victory over Ali Farag
“There is a realisation of what these guys can do and although I have had some good wins against Tarek, and I’ve been able to implement my game on him, that wasn’t one of these days and I didn’t manage to put it together quite how I wanted to.
“But the other side of that is people forget just quite how good Tarek has been. He has been at No.3 in the world for the last five or six years and he never loses early or to players he should beat and that is forgotten, Tarek is just so consistent.
“When he is not making mistakes, Tarek’s squash can be really high quality and that isn’t taken into account. Of course I wasn’t happy I didn’t turn him over and really they are all opportunities now.”
With Paul Coll’s British Open victory and Diego Elias’ triumph in Qatar, Makin says there is plenty of encouragement abroad for him nurture the belief that his moment in the sun is not far away.
The men’s European No.1 said: “Definitely that is an encouragement, but I have thought that regardless that these tournaments are winnable now. The quality may be incredibly high, but there are gaps and opportunities for a few of us to win the big tournaments for the next few years.
“Paul (Coll) has been working hard consistently for a number of years, he wasn’t a standout junior, but he has just worked and worked, and it is great to see that come together for him. He has been in the latter stages for years now and you want to see someone like Paul coming through and winning.
“But I do see myself as being capable of winning one of these, but the last four tournaments have all been won by different guys from different countries and that is a positive for the game.
“It is a bit of a changing of the times now and there is no one really separating themselves from the rest of the guys. You have Paul Coll winning the British, which was the first time a non-Egyptian has won a major title for a long time, and that is very good for the game.
“But then you have [Mostafa] Asal coming through and winning the U.S. Open out of nowhere in a victory that is really impressive for his age, and then you have Diego [Elias] not being in great form early on but winning in Qatar.
“So, we are getting different winners now at the major tournaments, and with the ranking points that were frozen from the COVID period coming off, that all adds to the feel that things are changing.”
Should Makin prevail against Ghosal, there is the likelihood of a quarter final clash with Coll, which would be something the Welshman would relish.
“I can’t wait for that if it happens. We have played a couple of times this season and they have all been best of three. This will be the third one and I’ve had a couple of wins and so has he.
“I know the form he is in and also I’m really happy with the work I have done on the way in to Canary Wharf and it will be close if it happens.
“I have consistently been getting wins over higher ranked players, and if I meet Paul I will look forward to that match for sure.”