All to themselves

Inas Mazhar , Tuesday 11 Jun 2024

In the 2024 British Open, the biggest threat posed to Egyptians was Egyptians, reports Inas Mazhar

Champions Asal and Gohar
Champions Asal and Gohar

 

Egyptian squash players continue to dazzle the world by maintaining their superiority in a sport they share with nobody else.

The 2024 British Open saw an all-Egyptian clash in both finals, men and women, held on foreign soil.

Mustafa Asal and Nouran Gohar dominated the tournament by seizing the titles after they defeated their compatriots Ali Farag and Nour Al-Sherbini who are respectively world No 1, the top seeds in the tournament and the defending champions.

The games were played on a thrilling finals day at the spectacular Birmingham Rep Theatre.

World No 2 Gohar beat the world No 1 Al-Sherbini 3-2 (11-6, 17-15, 3-11, 7-11, 11-4) in a game that took a record 91 minutes, while world No 4 Asal defeated world No 1 Farag, also 3-2 (11-5, 2-11, 13-11, 4-11, 12-10) in just 79 minutes.

It was Asal’s first win of the British Open title and his third crown of the season. At 23 he produced one of the performances of his career.

According to britishopensquash.info, the differing game plans of both players were stark in the early stages of the match, with Farag trying to elongate the rallies and put some work into the legs of Asal, with the latter looking for winners whenever given the briefest window of opportunity. It was Asal whose quality proved too hot to handle though, with ‘The Raging Bull’ stunning the packed house in Birmingham by charging through the first game by an 11-5 scoreline.

“It’s unbelievable. I’m almost running out of words, I’m almost crying,” Asal said after his victory. “To win against Paul and Ali, it’s amazing. I was 6-2 up in the final game and then the emotions came in of winning the match and Ali came back to 9-7, and it was almost going the other way. But what a relief.”

The women’s final saw Gohar beat Al-Sherbini in a five-game thriller for her second British Open title after holding off a late charge from the champion.

Gohar continued her stunning recent form to secure her fourth consecutive title on the PSA World Tour, taking the longest British Open women’s final on record in 91 minutes.

At 2-2, Al-Sherbini forced a deciding game, but didn’t get off to the quick start that she would have wanted, with Gohar regathering her composure and tight lines down both wings. Gohar took an early lead and never let Al-Sherbini get level again. She moved to four match balls up after 90 minutes of action, and clinched the title when a no-let decision was awarded in her favour by the video referee.

Following her victory, Gohar told the media how it felt like a never-ending story although she was 2-0 up. “Nour won her first World Championships title from 2-0 down, so if anyone can come back, it is her. She played better when she was down, and I tried to prepare for that, but it was very difficult to stop.

“I’m just glad that I could keep my nerves in that fifth game and just play it as though it was 0-0 in the first game. I just wanted to end the match being proud of my efforts.

“I feel like I can trust my physicality right now. I can go out there and play for 100 minutes. I’m injury-free, I can hit whatever shot whenever I want, so why not win every single match I can.

“I think after the World Championships, it was a major relief and there was pressure off me,” Gohar said. “This week it was more about enjoying myself, proving to myself before anyone else that I am the best right now.”

 


* A version of this article appears in print in the 13 June, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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