Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1294, (5 - 11 May 2016)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1294, (5 - 11 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Al-Shorbagi smashes ahead

Egypt’s top ranked player maintained his winning streak by triumphing at the 5th El Gouna International Squash Tournament. Heidi El-Hakeem was there

Al-Ahram Weekly

In front of a high spectator turn-out, the world’s number one squash champion Mohamed Al-Shorbagi entertained spectators as he brought a win home by defeating the world’s number two Gregory Gaultier of France 3-2, in a tough-fought final match. Al-Shorbagi, 25, beat Gaultier, 33, six times before and this victory adds to his winning streak. He won the last five Professional Squash Association (PSA) World Series consecutively, and reached a breaking record of highest PSA ranking points average.

“I play each match hoping to win and I am very grateful I was able to win six PSA tours,” Al-Shorbagi told Al-Ahram Weekly following his victory on Friday.

This year’s triumph feels like a dream to him, and he owes it to his fans and supporters whom he addressed after the match saying that he was glad to have played in his homeland. “In between rounds, my mother was motivating me, telling me that all these people came to cheer me on and I have to win for them and for Egypt,” he said emotionally.

Opponent Gaultier looked disappointed after his loss, but felt he did his best. “I was the world’s number one before, and I want to go back to that,” he had told the Weekly before the final match.

Al-Shorbagi, coached by Britain’s most successful squash player, Jonah Barrington, was proud to accept his trophy and prize money. The top prize for the tournament was originally set at $150,000, but sponsor Naguib Sawiris raised it by $25,000. With this year’s El Gouna International smash, Al-Shorbagi will be leading the world’s best eight qualified players list in the upcoming PSA World Series finals 2015-2016 on 24-28 May in Dubai.

Egypt dominated this year’s international squash scene with five players qualifying for quarter-finals and two for semi-finals. Three-time World Champion Rami Ashour, 28, who won last year’s El Gouna International, retired in his match with Marwan Al-Shorbagi, 22. The match ended shortly, after about 20 minutes.

Ashour’s prior recurrent hamstring muscle injury held him back. Having gone through an Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) operation as a teenager, when a hamstring muscle was taken out to fix a torn knee never grew back. Since, Ashour hasn’t been able to regain full strength of his hamstring muscle.

The younger Al-Shorbagi routed Egypt’s Omar Abdel Maguid and qualified for the quarter-finals, then was defeated by promising up-and-comer Fares Dessouki. The 21-year-old Dessouki from Alexandria made his first noticeable mark when he reached the quarter-finals at the 2014 British Open after beating Karim Abdel-Gawad and Karim Darwish.

Dessouki qualified for the first time ever to the semi-finals, then lost to Gaultier 3-1. “[Dessouki] was on fire at the beginning of the match,” said Gaultier. Dessouki agreed: “The game was tiresome for me, especially at the end, but I was able to win one round. This is an achievement for me.”

After Dessouki won the match qualifying him to the semi-finals, he rushed out of the court to hug his father. “My dad has a huge influence on me, and I could hear him cheering during my game. I am glad I always have his support,” said an excited Dessouki. His father, Mohamed, told the Weekly he is very proud of his son’s progress. “Ever since he was a little boy, I knew Fares was talented,” he said. “I have overcome many obstacles just to keep him playing.”

Parents have a huge influence on their children. They support them from the very beginning, financially and emotionally. Even when they turn professional, their parents are always by their side. The mother of Al-Shorbagi brothers is always there for both of her sons during matches, and in between rounds is courtside encouraging and motivating them.

Parents of aspiring young squash players brought their children to the tournament to watch the professionals and learn. Youssef and Omar Bastawi, aged 12 and 9, respectively, came to support their squash role-models and made sure to take pictures with their favourite squash heroes after games.

Yasser Eissa came with his family so his 10-year-old son Ammar can watch the masters in action. Eissa hoped the tournament was publicised better in the Egyptian media and by the Ministry of Tourism. “This event is an opportunity for Egypt to revive its tourism,” he said on the day of the quarter finals. “There aren’t as many people here as should be.”

At the end of the tournament, Minister of Youth and Sports Khaled Abdel-Aziz spoke about the importance of this tournament for tourism, especially in light of the recent decline in tourism. ”Egypt is prominent in squash, and it is essential to have this international tournament in a touristic destination like El Gouna, and to bring the world’s top squash players to participate in it,” noted Abdel-Aziz.

“During the semi-finals and finals, it’s usually a full-house”, according to Amr Mansi, the founder and organiser of the Gouna Tournament. Indeed, an estimated 1,000 seats – according to Mansi – were fully occupied by the semi-finals, and some spectators had to watch the matches standing up. The finals had the biggest turnout. Fans who couldn’t find seats, sat on the bleacher stairs and the rest stood in any available spot. Others sat in a nearby restaurant and warily watched the live broadcast on a small television screen.

Some fans came from far away, traveling from overseas to watch the tournament. Soleil Argh came from France for the tournament – although ironically she wasn’t cheering for Gaultier. “I was cheering for Fares because I am not a fan of Gaultier. It’s always nice to see new talents coming out of Egypt” said Argh.

Unlike Argh, Guillaume Chapu came to support countryman Gaultier. “I came to support France’s player,” said Chapu. “He played a good game.”

The stadium built in El Gouna’s Marina accommodated two VIP seating sections which flanked tall bleachers facing the glass court. Two courts were built for the tournament, one indoors for afternoon matches, and a glass court that was built in ten days.

Spectator seats were made of flimsy plastic, many of which broke during the tournament and were never repaired. Items fell through the gaps between the bleacher seats, including handbags and cell phones, and could not be retrieved until the end of the game. “It’s stupid to have seats like this,” said one parent whose son dropped his phone. Chapu agreed that although hosting the tournament in Gouna is a great idea, “the bleacher seats are a problem.”

Mansi countered that Egypt does not have the necessary materials needed to build bleachers. But surely that is no excuse since the seats were a safety hazard, especially for young children could have fallen through the gaps if left unattended.

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