Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) def  Ali Farag (EGY) 11-7 11-4 9-11 16-18 11-8 (93-min)
The Qatar Classic 2017 is the first PSA World Series event I’ve emceed. I say this with all sincerity – I was incredibly fortunate to witness the longest, most entertaining battle of ElShorbagy and Farag’s burgeoning rivalry.
THIS will be the match I'll be talking about for years when people ask: 'When did you first fall in love with squash?'
Let’s give the match some perspective…
Mohamed ElShorbagy. Back in top form
Mohamed ElShorbagy won the season-ending World Series Finals for the first time back in June. It was a significant victory for “The Beast of Alexandria.” Toward the end of last season, ElShorbagy’s confidence cracked. He proved that he was human, relinquishing the sport’s top-ranking – after holding the #1 spot for a remarkable 28 out of 29 consecutive months. While Gregory Gaultier went on a 27-match win streak, earning 6 successive titles; Mohamed endured two disappointing Quarterfinal losses at the World Series events in Chicago and El Gouna. He dropped to World #3.
Winning the World Series Finals was just what the doctor ordered.
In fact, The Beast has lost only one match since: The US Open Final to Ali Farag. He is 19-1 after winning Dubai in June. In September, he launched the 2017-18 season by winning the title at the NetSuite Open in San Francisco, reaching the final after an epic 14-12 deciding-game victory over James Willstrop. It was a clutch performance, fueling his confidence even further. Though he fell to Farag in the championship match of the US Open, he avenged the loss a week later in the Final of the St. George’s Hill Classic.
With three finals and two titles in his first three events, ElShorbagy is on-pace to match his most dominant season. Two-years-ago, he won six of the seven World Series events before the year-end championship.
Ali Farag. Consistency on Court
Farag’s victory at the US Open was historic. It was his first PSA World Series title, and with his wife’s victory just an hour earlier, he and Nour El Tayeb became the first married couple in sports history to earn the same major title on the same day. The Harvard grad’s consistency and focus has earned him a career-high ranking of World #4, and like ElShorbagy – three consecutive Finals appearances to start the season.
Before the US Open, Ali launched into 2017-18 by reaching the championship match at the China Open. Down 2-games to love, he came back to force a decider against the legend, Ramy Ashour. While Ashour won the match, Farag carried an emboldened determination into Philadelphia. After two tough deciding-game battles with Mazen Hesham and Fares Dessouky, he plowed through Omar Mosaad and Mohamed ElShorbagy to win the title, earning both victories in three straight. At St. George’s Hill, he was up early in the championship match with ElShorbagy, but Mohamed found another gear, and earned the title in four.
Last season, from September to June, Ali Farag reached 4 PSA Tour Finals and qualified for the World Series Finals for the first time. The new season is only two months old and he’s already reached three Finals and earned his premier World Series title. His forward momentum is undeniable.
10th career meeting. 3rd of the new season
With Gaultier’s return to the sport in Doha, sadly Farag and ElShorbagy found themselves in the same half of the draw, forced to meet in the Quarterfinals of the Qatar Classic 2017. Of their 9 previous meetings on tour, ElShorbagy owned five victories. Farag four. This was Ali’s chance to level their head-to-head.
With Farag’s victory at the US Open and ElShorbagy’s win last week at the St. George’s Hill Classic, it was destined to be one of the best matches of the tournament. The billing lived up to the hype.
Mohamed ElShorbagy’s Road to the Quarterfinals
- R2:  Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) def Fares Dessouky (EGY) 11-9 14-12 11-8 (51-min)
- R1:  Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) def [Q] Chris Simpson (ENG) 11-7 11-9 11-5 (36-min)
Ali Farag’s Road to the Quarterfinals
- R2:  Ali Farag (EGY) def [Q] Leo Au (HKG) 11-2 11-6 11-6 (26-min)
- R1:  Ali Farag (EGY) def [Q] Karim Ali Fathi (EGY) 11-7 11-5 11-1 (26-min)
The Quarterfinal. Remarkable Saves. Tremendous Squash
Game-1 saw an even, steady battle through 5-all, before ElShorbagy tore through 5 straight points to earn game ball. Farag managed to save only two. In the second, Ali jumped ahead 3-0. But at 4-all, ElShorbagy made another run, snatching a quick seven points to gain a 2-love lead.
The match was going entirely too fast. Farag felt flat. He needed a boost, so he called his wife. Whatever Nour El Tayeb said flipped a switch. Ali’s front-court aggression returned, and from 8-all, he blasted through 3 determined points to put a game on the board.
The fourth was perseverence defined. Farag was up 4-0 early. ElShorbagy leveled it at 7-all. Farag then won 3 straight, but couldn’t convert. Remarkably, ElShorbagy saved three game balls to force extended play.
From there, the two put on an incredible show. Exhaustion setting-in, both were relentless. The rallies were painfully long, action-packed, intense and exquisite. Farag saved THREE match balls, and somehow forced the decider on game ball #7. This was clearly a match for the ages. The two even shook hands before hitting their respective benches, knowing full-well they were delivering a top-shelf show for all who were watching.
Game-5 was all about stamina. Mentally, both were on-point. Physically, Mohamed held the edge. Neck and neck through 4-all, ElShorbagy broke away and earned the win in 93-minutes, 11-8 in the fifth. Farag was simply out of fuel. (FULL MATCH RECAP)
Breathtaking match. Remarkable Respect
No doubt thrilled with the victory, Mohamed is equally as thrilled with Ali Farag’s level of play and success this season. For ElShorbagy, it’s as much about the QUALITY of competition as it is the win. Victory will always be sweet. Pushing equally motivated talent – and BEING PUSHED to new performance heights – even sweeter. (POST MATCH QUOTES)
Mohamed ElShorbagy: “Really enjoyed the match. It’s those kind of matches I live for and I really look forward to more battles with him. It’s going to be a great and respective rivalry between us. We try to beat each other every time but at the same time we are learning from each other and improving each other game. Neither of us deserve to be out of the draw…”
Ali Farag: “One of those matches you can only be proud to have been part of. But so very very disappointed. Still, if anything, it will make me work even harder for next time.”