• El Gouna International Squash Open • 21-29 April 2016 • El Gouna, Egypt •


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TODAY at the El Gouna International 2015

10-Apr, FINAL:                              SquashApp Stats
[4] Ramy Ashour
(Egy) 3-2 [1] Mohamed Elshorbagy (Egy)
               11/9, 11/6, 4/11, 10/12, 12/10 (94m)

The Match that redefined the standards

It took me a while to be able to write about what happened in that final. After speaking with Mohamed and Ramy, on and off the record, I had so many information in my head. And I’m a blond female. Takes time to sort it out…

How is your blood pressure, Fram” laughed Nick right after the end. Exactly…

I thought/expecting Mohamed to win tonight. And I believe it would have been only fair. Last year, in the semis, he had a mammoth match against Greg, and beat him for the first time ever, while Ramy had an easy one as Shabana never got into the match. And Mohamed still took a game in the final, giving it everything. It would have been fair for Mohamed to win here, in Egypt as well.

So when poor Nick’s body decided that it had enough beating for a while, I thought, fair enough. The Angels are giving it back. And it should logically go Mohamed’s way. But once again, it wasn’t to be.

If Mohamed was not at his best against Nick in the semis at the start, appearing nervous, he was much more comfortable today apparently anyway. In control from the start, he imposed his pace to a Ramy that hadn’t download the “I shall play at the World Number 1 pace” file. Mohamed not only surprises Ramy with his shots/speed, but also reads the World Champion’s short game beautifully. Ramy is struggling, but once again, doesn't do the unforced errors he can normally in the opening games, only 1.

So Mohamed starts well, leading the opening game 6/4 and 8/5, taking an awful long time between the points compared to his normal routine. Is he really completely recovered from his burn out after Chicago? I wonder… Ramy slowly gets used to the pace again, find his marks, levelling at 8-all, forcing errors from his opponent (5), putting him under tremendous pressure, and taking the lead 11/9, 17m.

As we just start the second, a little funny moment when the waiter from Moods arrives with the coffees, interrupting play, with a very Minister of Sport bless him, who passes the cups to everybody himself to avoid disturbing the players. Only in Egypt!

That second is hard work again, 14m, very close up to 6/7 Mohamed serving. And I can see, how can I say, it’s like Ramy is getting into Mohamed’s head. He is making him doubt, hesitate before making his shot selection, a split 10th of a second. But just enough... Ramy takes the following 4 points, he is now leading 2/0, 11/6, and looking very good indeed. Against all odds...

Basma, Mohamed ‘s mum, is as ever advising him between the games. Intense, with all the passion and love pouring out of her, she pumps up Mohamed again, who comes back on court a different man. Whatever she said, it worked. More aggressive, his length tighter, he takes the game to Ramy, capitalising on a fast start to the third to pull a game back 11/4, 9m, still very low errors counts for both, 1 each in the 2nd and third…

The 4th should be studied in the coaching camps. We had all the dramas you can imagine, and more. It started with “Stroke? We are both laughing” from Mohamed on the first point, “I’m not laughing” giggles Ramy.

Then Ramy’s little finger plaster falling on the floor from a previous match at 3/3 – Mohamed arguing his case that he should be awarded the game, the Central Ref stating that the referees didn’t see it that way, and the decision having been made, he should carry on playing, eventually giving a conduct warning for delaying play to Mohamed that keeps on stating that “rules are rules, and it’s my game”! It was all happening I tell you!

Needless to say that after that, they both update their “I'll play squash continuously at a Ridiculous Pace”! Amazing, truly amazing rallies. 5/5. 6/6. A lot more contact between the players than previously, 9/6 Ramy.

Mohamed offers Ramy his first “championship ball” – yes, that’s the new name for it apparently, what wrong with Match ball? – with an rare tin, 10/8. A volley nick takes care of that one. And after several lets and breathtaking rallies, Ramy tins his second match ball, we are at 10/10.

Like in the Worlds in Qatar, when Ramy was 10/5 up match ball, Mohamed finds his best squash, his best shots, and floats above the ground in the Zone… He looks at his camp. Fist pump. It’s like Time stops and freezes. Another tin from Ramy (his 3rd one of the game), and a sublime backhand drop shot, and we are 2/2. The game has lasted 22m.

The Kids from Ramy’s academy are wailing behind me. Not shouting. Not crying. Wailing. Like their entire family has been killed in a car crash. Incredible atmosphere, while half the crowd – next where Mohamed is taking his rest is chanting Mohamed’s name, the rest is stunned and cannot believe what just happened.

“I will fight until my last breath” had stated Ramy at the end of his semis the night before. Money time, Ramy. Show us. Put your money where your mouth is, seems to say the audience.

We ALL think it was over. And like I said, it’s only fair. I’m thinking how I am going to organise myself to speak to both, should I go first to Mohamed, or Ramy, what I am going to say to Ramy to make him feel better, and I’m thinking what it will mean for Mohamed after the bad time he had to finally beat Ramy in such a manner, thousands of thoughts. As far as I’m concerned, I'm in the gym waiting for the players to write their quotes.

Rallies are getting shorter and shorter. The huge effort defending and retrieving those attacks from Mohamed finally gets to Ramy. Mentally, he cannot focus anymore, and it’s going too fast for him.6/2, 7/3.

And then… well, then… The Artist switched into his Alien Mode.

Relaxing, playing the shots that only he can think/execute, Ramy mirrors Shorbagy at the end of the previous game. Point, after point, after point, Ramy comes back. And again, he gets into Mohamed’s head, making him doubt.

At 6/7, the World number 1 seems lost. He asks for the cleaners, to try and regroup. It works. Those precious seconds allow him to stop the points bleed and gets 3 points, 9/6. These will be the last points he’ll score.

The Alien will not be stopped. He doesn’t feel the pressure anymore. He is not afraid of letting people anymore.. He cannot hear the Demons whispering in his ears anymore, he silenced them. He is the same Alien that won the World Champs not having played a match in 6 months. And he quickly scores 6 points, to take the match 12/10, the last two points being two errors from Mohamed.

“How is your blood pressure, Fram”… What blood pressure…

Three words for you: Watch. Match. SquashTV.

Tough day at the office…

Mohamed is such a fighter, he is stubborn, and I’m stubborn as well. I love his spirit, it pushes and motivates me, his sportsmanship pushes me, and I think we set a good example of how beautiful how game can be played, and the calibre it should be played at. I think we push each other and we raise the bar.

I was just talking with Mohamed, and we both agree that this match was a much better match than the one in the Worlds Final. Everybody talks about that final, but actually today, the match was so much better, the pace was so much better. Neither of us wanted to let go of anything.

Tonight, I just realised he is the most dangerous and the strongest when he is down in the score, because he goes into a relaxed and carefree mode. That’s when he plays incredible shots. He did here in the 4th, when I was up 2/1 and 10/8, where on paper it seems easier to win than when you are 2/2 and 10/5! But that’s on paper. A lot of variable enter in play and can change the direction of the match, of the rallies.

So I tried to stick to my game plan, and figure out what he was up to because he kept changing his game, and he did everything, I mean absolutely everything to try and win tonight, he used all his weapons. And it worked for him.

So when he got to 10/6 match ball, I thought, hey, why can’t I do that. Why can’t I just go carefree and play my best shots. Of course that was in my head, and it was another thing to put it in practice, on court! But I’m glad things went my way….

I’m so proud to be able to perform here in El Gouna, as I said at the start of the week, this is not a perfect place to fight, but hey, all week we have perfect weather, and we ate well, relaxed as well. I really need to give a big hand to the man who put all that together, who has got the responsibility of it all, Promoter Amr Mansi, and his team, Omar El Sherbini and all who have worked, from the court cleaners to all here. I am proud to be here.

But most of all, I’m proud of my come back. Of all my come backs, come back from injuries, again and again, come back from 10/6 down, come back only for my second tournament in the season, I think I start to like the concept of come back actually!!!

I need to thank first and foremost my parents, I will never be able to thank them enough for what they have done to me, my brother as well, my sponsors, Parco Pharmaceutics, Egypt Air, Prince Racquet.

In New York, I need to thank my training partners in my club the NYAC, Pat the manager and Eric Christianson and Clinton. In Egypt, Haitham, my sparring partner for 5 years, and Hossam for his amazing massages. And of course my doctors, Doug Sckendorf, David Altcheck, Brian Shiple.

And to finish, all the people that believe in me, and on the Social Network, those amazing people that believe I can come back, that believe I can be what how they see me, who give me so much energy and support.

I’m smiling so much my cheek muscles hurt…

We continue to set another level of squash. It was another great battle, and once again, I was one point away from beating him. Actually I think that this time I was closer than the last time, because last time, I was too bothered with his injuries, the leg, the shoulder, I lost concentration. Whereas this time it was close all the way. I never lost focus.

Well, maybe there were little drops of focus here and there, and a few too many errors from me, and from him. But I never gave up. I never gave up. And when I got to 10/6, I thought, it’s going to come, soon. This match took everything out of me, and I really gave it all.

You know, when I heard he was in the draw, I changed my training regime completely, because he plays completely differently from anybody else.

To be honest, I didn’t expect to play at that level mentally, I am drained from the mental point of view, I played the finals of each major tournament this year, it took so much out of me, I kept fighting and fighting, and I’ll keep fighting and fighting. Like the last British Open last year, the last place I wanted to be was on court, and I finished very weak that season, much weaker than I am now thank God.

And to be even more honest, I am such a lucky boy I passed Nick yesterday, because I don’t think I had two hard matches in me this week. Actually I did ask Nick, how do you do when you really can’t take anymore, when your body had enough. Nick said, you have to have a clean break, not go anywhere near a squash court for a while.

I would have like the Referees to do their job at 3/4 in that 4th. Ramy got rid of that tape around his finger that fell on the floor very quickly, because he knew the rule, and he knew he would lose the game. And when I asked him “is it your tape” he said “yes, but is this really the way you want to win this game”? And I replied “It’s not up to you to tell me how I should win this game. It should be up to the referees to do their job, to follow and apply the rule, because the rule is the rule. And then, it should/would have been up to me to say if yes or no, I wanted that rule to be applied, or not.”

It’s like yesterday, when Nick got injured, I immediately called Hossam our physio, because I knew that Nick had nobody. I didn’t have to. But of course I did. It’s the same thing. I could have let Nick like that. It was my decision….

I don’t think I ever saw Ramy tired. He is just incredible. I don’t mind the fact he is not tired physically, but I mind the fact he never BREATHE!!! I mean, you never seem Ramy breathing hard ever. And he is incredibly strong, because yes, he gets tired mentally, but never physically. Whereas I get tired physically, and it’s my mental strength that get me back physically. Ramy, he gets tired mentally, and it’s his physicality that gets him back mentally. We are just the opposite. And you know, I don’t know any other athlete that can do that. Maybe Nadal. That’s it. That's talent.

I truly want to thank my Mum, my Dad, my brother, Jonah, they lived the hard time with me, for those two weeks after Chicago. And two weeks before this event, I still didn’t take the decision to do the event or not. And it’s only a week before I said ok, let’s do this.

And to finish, I of course want to thank Amr Mansi for his help training me in Alexandria and coaching me here, and also for organising this tournament, amazing venue, amazing tournament, thank his team too, they did such a great job, and I can’t wait to be back next year.

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