Top-seed Elias dominates
By Matt Schoch
If the World #6 ever makes it to the top, his win at the 21st annual 21st annual Motor City Open presented by Sturbridge Capital will be one to look back on that kicked his career kicked into high gear.
The 23-year-old finished off his dominant run to the finals with a convincing 11-4, 11-5, 11-4 victory over Mohamed ElSherbini of Egypt Sunday, winning his first MCO title on his sixth try at the Birmingham Athletic Club.
Elias lost as a qualifier in 2015 and dropped first-round matches in ’16 and ’18 – sandwiched around a semifinal appearance in 2017. Last year, Elias lost an epic five-game final to Egyptian Mohamed Abouelghar.
In so doing Abouelghar became the seventh Egyptian to win the event in 10 years, a run ElSherbini hoped to continue in this year’s $70,000 event. But at 6-foot-2, Elias’ length and power provides a unique challenge, as he proved this week in Michigan.
After needing five games to knock off England’s Nathan Lake in his first match, Elias won his final three matches without losing a game.
“You saw the upsets this week,” Elias said. “They are all playing really, really good. The level of the 40th in the world is getting closer and closer to the level of the top guys.”
Elias had an important ally this week in former MCO champion Jonathon Power of Canada, who won at Birmingham Athletic Club in 2003 and ’05. Power has helped coach the Peruvian since he was 14 and assumed a larger presence with Elias after a disappointing finish last month at the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions in New York City.
“He sort of was getting stuck, and I felt like getting from 6 to 1 is a long ways,” said Power, who retired at No. 1 in 2007. “He needs it, and squash needs a different face up there. He made the commitment to work a little harder and put more time into it, and I said I’ll put more time into it if he does.”
So far, so good as evidenced in Michigan this week.
“His adaptability and intelligence is very high, and I think it’s going to pay off very quickly,” Power said. “This type of event is a good momentum builder. It’ll continue.”
Added Elias: “I can and I want to get to the top of the rankings really soon.”
On Sunday, ElSherbini came out strong in the first two games, winning the first two points in each. Elias responded with long, powerful strokes to keep ElSherbini moving.
Elias broke a racquet string with a winner in the second game. A winner near the front corner of the court while Elias was moving backward also drew a thunderous applause in the third as his win became inevitable.
The length of the “Peruvian Puma” proved difficult for ElSherbini to maneuver around, especially after four tough matches in previous four days.
“My fitness level was a dropping at the end, I was bit heavy to the front,” ElSherbini said. “I’m going to learn from that, and I’m going to learn from my lesson. It’s just a setback, I will come back stronger and I will pull through next time.”
“I came here and I thought I might get knocked out in the first round,” a modest ElSherbini told the crowd after the match. “I didn’t have more than three shorts or three shirts on me.”
ElSherbini was self-assured in an interview later, as he said he expects his post-MCO career to take off in his first season as a full-time pro.
Like Elias, ElSherbini’s career will receive a boost from his MCO finals run. Ranked World #47, ElSherbini knocked off the 14th, 10th and 22nd ranked players en route to the finals berth.
“I wanted to play well in the last match, but Diego was too solid,” ElSherbini said. “I’m not at his level yet, but I will be soon.”
ElSherbini said he hopes his success will gain him more funding in Egypt, a bastion of many of the sport’s greats.
“The main problem in my country is there are too many good players,” ElSherbini said, referencing other Egyptian pros who fall short on exposure and funding. “We will just prove ourselves with our racquet and they will run after us after that.”
ElSherbini said he will be back at the MCO next season, and Elias said he hopes to be back for a seventh straight appearance.
In addition to their share of prize money, Elias and ElSherbini won watches from Greenstone’s Jewelers.
MCO organizers announced $12,000 was raised for the Racquet Up Detroit program, a youth development non-profit that combines squash, mentoring and community service. Through the years, the event has raised $250,000 for the program, tournament co-chair Derrick J. Glencer said.
Semis : Top-seed Elias and unseeded ElSherbini advance to final
By Matt Schoch
In his sixth trip to the Birmingham Athletic Club, Diego Elias is one win away from his first title at the Motor City Open presented by Sturbridge Capital. Only unseeded Mohmaed ElSherbini stands in the top-seeded Peruvian’s way.
After Aubert won a 100-minute quarterfinal match against Qatar’s Abdulla Al Tamimi, the 22-year old lasted just 34 minutes against 23-year-old Elias who rolled, 11-4, 11-6, 11-3.
“He’s a good player and good mover,” Elias said. “He’s coming to the top really strong, and I think he’s going to keep doing well.”
The 6-foot-2 Elias never trailed in any of the three games. Meanwhile Aubert’s hands went to his knees between points, hunching over on his fourth straight match day.
After Aubert’s final shot found the tin, Elias was off to the final for the second straight year. Egypt’s Mohamed Abouelghar defeated him last year in five games.
While three former MCO champions went down earlier this week at the MCO, Elias is trying to join his coach, ex-World #1 Jonathon Power of Canada, as an event champion. Power took the title in 2003 and 2005.
“I’m feeling great, and hopefully I can play the same (Sunday),” Elias said. “I’ve always wanted to win this tournament. I think this is a good opportunity, and hopefully I can play my best squash.”
In Saturday’s second semi, ElSherbini took out seventh-seeded Leo Au of Hong Kong 11-8, 11-4, 11-9 in 49 minutes.
Down 9-6 in the third game, ElSherbini turned the tide by winning five straight points to close the match.
He quickly found local Egyptian-American businessman Magdy Talaat and his wife, Azza, after the match to accept congratulations. He gave thanks to the ex-Egyptian squash player for the hospitality Talaat gives his countrymen.
Sunday’s finals will be the first career meeting between Elias and ElSherbini.
“I will give my best performance of the tournament,” the confident ElSherbini said. “I think my curve is going up and slowly I’m peaking into my best performance.”
“I’ve made a lot of sacrifices that I’m not used to,” said ElSherbini, who has lived in Boston for three years. “I hope it pays off. I’m just doing my best, putting in the effort and the work and the results are going to happen regardless.”
History will be on the line for ElSherbini, who is trying to join Peter Marshall in 1999 and Ong Beng Heein 2012 as unseeded champions at the MCO.
“I really like it, it’s such a good tournament with a lot of history,” ElSherbini said. “I’m so glad to be part of it. I hope I can make history.”
ElSherbini will try to be the eighth Egyptian to win the Motor City Open in the past 11 years – and the third unseeded player to ever win the 21st annual event when he meets Elias at 5:30 p.m. Sunday.
“If he’s the Peruvian Puma, I’m the wild shark,” said ElSherbini, with a wink. “I want to prove myself that I am one of the top players, and it’s just a matter of time until I make it to the top 10. Diego hasn’t been tested in the tournament at all. Nobody’s played good attacking squash on him. So he’s been very comfortable until the final. (Sunday) is going to be a real test, so let’s see what happens.”
Quarters drama: Au outguns ElShorbagy, ElSherbini upsets Rodriguez
Matt Schoch reports
There will be a new champion at the 21st annual Motor City Open presented by Sturbridge Capital this weekend at Birmingham Athletic Club.
Two more former champs, #2 seed Marwan ElShorbagy and #4 seed Miguel Rodriguez, went down in upsets Friday courtesy of, respectively, #7 seed Leo Au and Mohamed ElSherbini. The latter will join France’s Benjamin Aubert as unseeded players in the final four Saturday. Meanwhile, top seed Diego Elias of Peru cruised.
There was little drama for World #6 Elias as he easily downed eight-seed Cesar Salazar of Mexico, 11-8, 11-2, 11-3 in 29 minutes.
“We’ve played so many times and I know he’s always a tough player, he had a tough match yesterday,” said Elias, who is being coached this week by his father, Jose, and two-time MCO champion Jonathon Power. “I just wanted to play smart and with a lot of pace, and I think it worked.”
Aubert won the first two sets 13-11 and 11-5 and fought off a game ball in the third in dramatic fashion – the Frenchman going behind the back to keep a ball alive while Al Tamimi pulled a full-out dive in a point that Aubert eventually won. Al Tamimi would take the game 14-12, then the next, 15-13, in another nail-biter.
“I am very happy,” said Aubert, after making three calls home to France to his parents, grandparents, and girlfriend after the match. “I felt bad for him after the injury.
“It was a very tough match. I’m shaking. We’re both athletic players, so I had to make him work harder physically. In the front, he was so talented … it worked at the end because I was more focused and more fresh physically.”
Unseeded ElSherbini of Egypt provided perhaps the tourney’s biggest surprise as he easily dispatched 2015 MCO champion and #4 seed Rodriguez of Colombia, 11-3, 11-4, 11-8.
Seven-seed Leo Au of Hong Kong took out the 2018 MCO champion ElShorbagy of Egypt in 86 minutes, 8-11, 11-6, 11-5, 7-11, 13-11.
In a tense game five, Au and world #8 ElShorbagy were tied – 8-8, 9-9, 10-10, 11-11 – before Au earned the win. He said was one of the best wins of his career.
“I’m really happy for my result,” Au said. “I think because I don’t have pressure because he’s the higher seed – I just relaxed and play,” Au said. “At the end it was 50/50. It was very close.”
“Now I have to get myself prepared, recover well, and stay focused.”
In Saturday’s semis Elias will play Aubert, while ElSherbini takes on Au. Based on the way things have been going, it’s anyone’s guess who will claim the championship – although we know it’ll be a new man gaining first-time MCO glory.
“You never know, on the court it’s one man against one man,” Aubert said. “Everything can happen.”
Round Two : Seeds fall, Al Tamimi downs defending champ Abouelghar
By Matt Schoch
Three former champions moved on to the quarterfinals of the The Motor City Open presented by Sturbridge Capital on Thursday. But not the defending champion.
Third-seed Mohamed Abouelghar was upset by Qatar’s Abdulla Al Tamimi 9-11, 13-11, 11-9, 6-11, 11-7 score at the Birmingham Athletic Club. The Egyptian was one of three seeded players to go down in Round Two play.
Al Tamimi, who missed five months of action last season after compartment syndrome surgery in both his legs, said taking down World #9 Abouelghar was one of the biggest wins of his career.
“I have massive, massive respect for this guy,” Al Tamimi said. “He’s one of the nicest guys on tour and most skillful, so I always like to play those people. It’s always fair and he’s one of my favorite players on tour.”
Al Tamimi, who came into the tournament ranked #39, said he’s been training in Greenwich, Connecticut with coach Rodney Martin to get back in form and prepare for a Detroit run.
“I think the hard work paid off,” Al Tamimi said. “And I kept pushing and pushing until the fifth.”
Upsets were also pulled off by Benjamin Aubert of France, who downed sixth-seeded Zahed Salem of Egypt, and Mohamed ElSherbini of Egypt, who took down fifth-seeded Gregoire Marche of France.
The event’s two other former champs – second-seeded Marwan ElShorbagy of Egypt and fourth-seeded Miguel Rodriguez of Colombia – advanced. Top seed Diego Elias of Peru, a finalist last year, was taken to the limit by Nathan Lake.
Elias alternating games with the Englishman, who won the E.M. Noll Classic in Philadelphia on Sunday. Elias lost to Abouelghar in last year’s MCO finals and has competed in metro Detroit a handful of times.
“I’ve done well most of the time,” Elias said. “The people here are great, and I’m really happy to be here again. There are some good players in the tournament, so I have to stay at my best to try to win.”
El Shorbagy, the 2018 MCO winner, downed England’s 6-foot-1 George Parker in four tense games to close the night.
“The first match of the tournament is always one of the toughest,” ElShorbagy said. “George is a great player, it wasn’t really easy playing him. He’s a big guy and you have to find a way to move around.”
Rodriguez, the 2015 champion, also had a big opponent in England’s 6-foot-2 Richie Fallows. He won the final three games after dropping the first. It’s the Columbian’s first event of the year after missing time with knee tendonitis.
“This is a test for me,” Rodriguez said. “I’m glad I was able to play without pain. It was a great performance, and I’m very happy to be back on tour.”
It was a battle of great showmen. Fallows hit one shot between his legs, delighting the crowd, while Rodriguez jumped over a ball on another point.
Mexico’s Cesar Salazar needed five games to take out France’s Sebastien Bonmalais. The dramatic, 72-minute match ended with Salazar winning the fifth game 12-10. Bonmalais threw his racquet then gave his conqueror a hug.
Hong Kong’s Leo Au, seeded seventh, topped India’s Vikram Malhotra in three.
Quarterfinal play begins at 6 p.m. Friday with a pair of matches before the nightcaps begin at 7 p.m. Elias will meet Salazar, and Aubert faces Al Tamimi in the early matches, with Rodriguez facing ElSherbini and Au meeting ElShorbagy later.
Round 1: Europeans go 5-0, all three Americans fall
It was an opening day to remember for the French and English Wednesday as they dominated Round One of The Motor City Open presented by Sturbridge Capital.
Seven of the last 10 champions in the 21st annual Birmingham Athletic Club event have come from Egypt, but Europeans went 5-0 with three Englishmen earning wins, along with two Frenchmen.
Egypt’s Mohamed ElSherbini, India’s Vikram Malhotra and Qatar’s Abdulla Al Tamimi also earned wins while the event’s three Americans were all eliminated.
Americans Todd Harrity and Shahjahan Khan were shown the exit in late matches with England’s George Parker topping Harrity, 11-8, 11-9, 11-9, and Malhotra closing out Khan, 14-12. 11-9, 11-5.
Parker came up with big shots when he needed to against Harrity to win all three games.
“I think I was probably a bit clever on crucial points,” Parker said. “It was pretty much 50/50 squash, I just think he made three or four errors a game.”
Khan, who was born in Pakistan but lives in Boston, battled a shin injury during his loss.
England’s Richie Fallows opened the sweep of the Yankees by topping Chris Hanson, 11-8, 11-6, 9-11, 11-7. Fallows battled a back injury throughout, but came through in the physical match after taking an injury timeout late in the third.
“It’s a court that’s quite quick and it’s a bit of a leveler,” said Fallows, who is playing in the MCO for the third year. He gave a shout-out to his host family, the Barrs, who make him feel right at home in metro Detroit.
“So I knew that I was going to have to play some good squash, hit some winners. I just kind of dug in today, waited for my opportunity, and luckily it came up.”
Still, despite quick exits for the Americans, Parker said squash in the MCO’s home country is on the rise.
“Definitely, the younger generation I can see coming up, I’ve heard there’s quite a lot of young 13, 14, 15 year-old lads coming who are going to be testing us,” mused the Englishman. “You’re always going to because (US has) the massive players, and now you’ve got the funding involved in the college squash. It’s bound to come through in the end. Numbers work, it’s what Egypt shows, they’ve got numbers, and you’ll have some that can play.”
Lake is coming off a tournament championship at the E.M. Noll Classic in Philadelphia on Sunday and is looking to continue his solid form.
“I’ve got miles on my legs, so I wanted to come out a bit intense,” said Lake, back in Michigan for the third time in four years. “It’s good to be sticking around for at least a few more days.”
France’s Benjamin Aubert did ix minutes better than Lake, beating India’s Ramit Tandon in 27 minutes, 11-4, 11-2, 11-4.
“It was a strange match, I think my opponent was a bit injured,” Aubert said. “I tried not to focus on him because he was hurt. I played my game, and tried to play as early as possible.”
Al Tamimi fought from 10-8 down in the first game to win it 12-10, taking the next two games much easier by 11-5 counts. El Sherbini topped Michael McCue, who lives in nearby Toronto.
Action continues Thursday with second round matches beginning at 5 p.m. Seeded players will make their MCO debuts in the second round against the eight players who advanced through Wednesday’s opening day.
Preview: Elias & ElShorbagy head Motor City Open draw
Peru’s World No.6 Diego Elias and Egypt’s World No.8 Marwan ElShorbagy are seeded to meet in the final of the Motor City Open when the tournament takes place in Detroit from 5th to 9th February .
Top seed Elias will face either England’s Nathan Lake or Indian Aditya Jagtap in the second round, and could then face fellow Latin American Cesar Salazar in the quarter finals, before a possible meeting with defending Motor City Open champion Mohamed Abouelghar in the semis, ahead of a clash with 2018 winner ElShorbagy in the final.
To reach the final, ‘the Jackal’ could have to beat another former Motor City Open champion, 2015 winner Miguel Rodriguez, in the semi-finals. His first match of the event will be against either George Parker or Todd Harrity, before a potential clash with Hong Kong No.1 Leo Au.
Reigning champion Abouelghar will start his week against either Abdulla Al Tamimi or Karim El Hammamy in the second round, before a possible meeting with compatriot Zahed Salem in the quarter-finals.
No.4 seed, and 2015 champion, Rodriguez will play either Chris Hanson or Mohamed ElSherbini in the second round, ahead of a potential meeting with French No.1 Gregoire Marche in the last eight.