Day 5. Semifinals. Mohamed ElShorbagy

Andy Taylor. Sports Announcer. Qatar Classic Squash Championship. Day 5. Semifinals. Mohamed ElShorbagy

Sports Announcer. Andy Taylor. Qatar Classic 2017

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[3] Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) def [1] Gregory Gaultier (FRA) 14-12 11-9 11-1 (55-min)

Welcome to the 21st career clash between Mohamed ElShorbagy and Gregory Gaultier. The two have a history…a history absent of back-slaps and brotherly love.

Both are type-A competitors. Both know they belong at the top of the sport. While there is respect between the two, it’s a respect salted with resentment. That’s completely understandable. These two Alpha-males have shared squash’s pinnacle four years running. Success for one always comes at the expense of the other. The cloudy relationship defines what it’s like when two great champions co-exist in the same era: Heated, but healthy for the game.

A Dominant Beast. Gaultier’s Patience.

For two full seasons, Mohamed ElShorbagy was nearly unbeatable. After a strong finish to the 2013-14 season, he first claimed the World #1 ranking in November of 2014, and held onto the sport’s top-position for 28 out of the next 29 months. Insane. During the 2015-16 season, he won six of the seven World Series events before the season finale in Dubai. The man truly lived up to his nickname. He was an absolute Beast.

During this time, Gregory Gaultier was still posting tremendous results. The French General was a steady presence, consistently World #2 or #3, playing deep into every tournament. Unfortunately for Gaultier, that always meant butting-heads with ElShorbagy in the Semi’s or Finals. Between April of 2014 and March of 2017, the two faced each other in 5 Semifinals and 5 Finals. Greg was only able to win two of those matches: the 2015 US Open Semifinal and a Semifinal at the 2017 Tournament of the Champions [vector_icon icon=”bomb”].

[vector_icon icon=”bomb”] Tournament of Champions Semifinal. A Defining Match

That last Gaultier victory, in the halls of New York’s Grand Central Terminal, completely flipped the dynamic. Greg went on to win 6 successive tournaments, including three World Series titles at the Windy City Open, the British Open and El Gouna International. The man won an unheard-of 27 matches in-a-row, reclaiming the World #1 ranking by season’s end. Pure domination.

Meanwhile, the Tournament of Champions Semifinal had a reverse-effect on ElShorbagy. The Beast lost to Cesar Salazar in the 1st-Round of the Motor City Open. Little brother Marwan bested Mohamed in a pair of Quarterfinals in Chicago and El Gouna. And Nick Matthew knocked him out of the Semifinals at the British Open. By April, he dropped to World #3.

Mohamed Rediscovers his rhythm. Gaultier injury

At season’s end, Mohamed won his first Egyptian National Championship, then crushed Gaultier in the early rounds of the PSA World Series Final in Dubai. At the time, Greg was clearly injured after his phenomenal run. ElShorbagy went on to win his maiden World Series Championship, but the 2016-17 season still ended with Gaultier on top and ElShorbagy as World #3.

The mid-season hiccup didn’t sit well with the Beast of Alexandria. Throughout the off-season, he obsessed over that Semifinal loss to Gaultier at the Tournament of Champions.

Fast forward to September…

While Gaultier continued his recovery at home, Elshorbagy launched into the 2017-18 season with renewed determination. He opened his campaign by winning the NetSuite Open in San Francisco, reached the Final of the US Open, then earned the title at the St. George’s Hill Classic. Three events. Three Finals. Two titles.

Here in Doha, ElShorbagy blasted through Chris Simpson, Fares Dessouky, and won an epic 5-game battle over Ali Farag to reach tonight’s Semifinal. He is 20-1 since the start of the World Series Finals last June in Dubai.

After four months away, Gregory Gaultier is making his comeback at this year’s Qatar Classic. The World #1 has been sluggish, but still managed to reach tonight’s Semifinal without losing a single game, defeating Cesar Salazar, Zahed Mohamed and good friend Diego Elias.

Gregory Gaultier’s Road to the Semifinals
Mohamed ElShorbagy’s Road to the Semifinals
Mohamed ElShorbagy. A Need for Vengeance

[vector_icon icon=”bomb”] Last January’s Semifinal at the Tournament of Champions weighed heavy on ElShorbagy before tonight’s match. Not in a foreboding way, mind you. It was more like a fuming need for vengeance. In the Qatar Classic blog, Framboise Gommende writes about seeing ElShorbagy at breakfast and lunch, completely zeroed-in on the upcoming match.

Simply put, Mohamed isn’t obsessing over the loss at the Tournament of Champions – he’s obsessing over HOW he lost.

Gaultier was up 2-games and struggling through a left glute injury that he picked-up early in the third. He knew he needed to end the match quickly. Up 8-7, Greg was denied a stroke by the video referee, and the Frenchman was livid. ElShorbagy won the game, and the next, to force a decider. Momentum’s pendulum swung back to The Beast.

In the fifth, Gaultier barely made an effort during the first two points. It looked like he might call it quits. But as the game progessed, Greg made some runs and kept on Mohamed’s heels.

Then, halfway through the game, Gaultier claimed he’d been hit in the head and took an injury time-out. Out of referee John Massarella’s sight, Greg’s physio went to work on his glute. Loosened up, when play resumed Gaultier went on a tear, and won the match: 12-10, 11-9, 9-11, 4-11, 11-7.

ElShorbagy called Gaultier “one of the cheekiest players I’ve ever seen.”

Mohamed ElShorbagy. An Emphatic, Personal Victory

The opening game of tonight’s Semifinal was intense. Neck and neck the whole way, Gaultier saved a game ball to force the tie-break, then again to reach 11-all. Finally Gaultier had a game ball of his own at 12-11, but ElShorbagy would win three in-a-row to take the early lead.

The second was competitive as well. Down 8-10, Greg saved his third game ball of the match, but Mohamed won the next point to gain a 2-0 lead.

In the third, Gaultier could only manage a single point against the surging Beast. The French General had come to the end of his rope, up against a far-fitter, match-ready opponent in the first event of his comeback. (FULL MATCH RECAP)

Gregory Gaultier. Post Match Comments
    I gave everything I could today, but I could see how far off I was, missing the ball, my first step not as fast as it normally is. I cannot expect playing as well as I did three months ago. Today, Mohamed played well, he is match fit and has got good pace in the legs. Well done to him. Let’s see in a few weeks when I’m back in fitness.
Mohamed ElShorbagy. Post Match Comments

During the post match interview on court, Mohamed ElShorbagy spared no punches. He delivered on what he set out to do, and relishes future opportunities to “embarrass” Greg the way Gaultier embarrassed him at the Tournament of Champions.

    Yesterday I had a tough match, and of course I was tired today. But if I want to be back where I belong at the top spot, I have to accept bad draws, I have to accept long matches, I have to accept tough conditions, I have to accept to hurt. So I made sure I was focused the whole time.

    His Oscar performance at TOC hurt me – he made a fool of me in that match, but I need to thank him, as he gave me the hunger to come back on track. He got me back and hungry because I thought about it all summer.

    I wanted to go out there and beat him 3-0. I thought about about it a lot in training and I’m focused.

    Greg or Ramy or Nick haven’t been at World #1 for 28 months. I’ve done something not many people have done. It’s great to have someone from my generation like Ali challenging me at my level – like Ramy and I. We enjoy pushing each other past our limits.

Mohamed ElShorbagy. Shattering Records in Qatar

Should he win tomorrow, the Beast will earn his third Qatar Classic title. The match will be his fourth consecutive Qatar Classic Final, and 6th successive Final in Qatar. In 2012 and 2014, the PSA World Championship was held in Doha, replacing the Qatar Classic. ElShorbagy was a finalist in both. Six consecutive Qatar Finals puts him in the conversation with the greatest squash player of all time, Jansher Khan, who made five successive Qatar Finals in the 1990’s

  • 2017 Qatar Classic: ???
  • 2016 Qatar Classic: Finalist
  • 2015 Qatar Classic: Champion
  • 2014 World Championship: Finalist
  • 2013 Qatar Classic: Champion
  • 2012 World Championship: Finalist
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