By RJ Mitchell
Ross Norman has claimed that fellow New Zealander Paul Coll is playing the best squash in the world right now, but believes that his countryman will find it harder to triumph at the upcoming CIB Squash Open Black Ball Open than he did at the recent Canary Wharf Classic.
Coll became the first Kiwi since Norman, back in August 1987, to reach the top two of the PSA Men’s World Rankings when the December list was released last week.
And Norman, who became World Champion in 1986 when he ended Jahangir Khan’s jaw-dropping run of 555 consecutive professional match wins, says victory in Egypt will provide the ultimate proof of whether his compatriot has got what it takes to scale the rankings summit.
Norman, who fought back from a life-threatening parachute jump accident to defy the doctors and become World Champion, has also discussed the challenge that the ‘big two’ of Ali Farag and Mohamed ElShorbay will pose in the coming months.
Norman said: “It will be harder than winning a tournament in London, but the way Paul is going it is more than possible. But there are two reasons that it is going to be a whole lot tougher for Paul to come out on top in Cairo.
“Firstly, it is in Egypt and second that Canary Wharf may have been a wake-up call for Ali Farag and also given him the match practise he was a bit light on having taken a bit of a break by missing Qatar.
“Yet it is very much possible Paul could win the Black Ball, and I would not have said that 12 months ago. That is all down to the progress he has made during the last year.
“Paul has always been getting better and he is keen to get better. He is not satisfied with playing well and winning an occasional title, he is there to win everything he possibly can now, and the help of Robert Owen [Coll’s coach] has been a huge help in this respect in terms of strategy and training.
“I’d say Paul is playing the best squash in the world right now and he proved that in Canary Wharf. If you look at his quarter final with Joel Makin, who is a player Paul has had trouble with in the past, that win just really showed how much Paul has progressed.
“I don’t think Farag will be going into the Black Ball in half-hearted fashion, but if Coll can pull off a win on Egyptian soil then, for me, he has to be considered the best player in the world, whatever the rankings say right now.”
Over the past three and a half years, Farag and ElShorbagy have dominated the top two ranking spots in the men’s game and boasted long unbeaten runs against Coll. However, the Kiwi ended a 13-match run against Farag in August’s Allam British Open – later beating him in the Canary Wharf title decider – while he has won his last two fixtures against ElShorbagy after only winning one of their previous 10 matches.
Norman has cast his eye over the form and fitness of the Egyptian powerhouses and said: “I have a question mark over ElShorbagy and Farag, which is whether their best squash is now behind them? I know that ElShorbagy will be 31 in January and Farag is 29.
“In particular, Mohamed has been on the tour since he was a teenager and he has done the hard, hard miles. I think, perhaps, that he is now physically struggling because of all that wear and tear.
“With Ali, he is obviously a lot fresher but it depends on his appetite. He has won pretty much everything, so how much does he want to keep on doing that?
Last month, on November 11, was the 35th anniversary of Norman’s unforgettable 3-1 victory over Jahangir Khan at the Palais des Sports in Toulouse.
Ross Norman (left) in action against Jahangir Khan (right)
It was a victory which ended the Pakistani’s unbeaten run, which had lasted almost five and a half years, and Norman says it is one he looks back on fondly.
“I do take huge satisfaction from that win. Whether it was against Jahangir or anyone else that would have been the case, but certainly the fact it was against Jahangir just made it even more special to me.
“To become World Champion of any sport is something you never forget and it’s still crystal clear in my mind even 35 years later.
“I was in Miami with my son when it [the anniversary] fell and yes, we did have a celebratory beer, but he also had a few texts from some of his mates saying: ‘Hey, your dad made the headlines again’ and that was really nice.”