Egypt’s World No.1 Ali Farag started the year in the best possible fashion, as he got the better of compatriot Mazen Hesham in four games to claim the first silverware on oView Postffer in 2022, winning the PSA Gold level Houston Open in Texas.
It was the tenth contest between the Egyptian duo on the PSA World Tour, with Farag having won eight of the previous nine, including their last six meetings. Hesham’s only success over his fellow countryman came back in 2015, in the quarter finals of the Qatar Classic.
Farag started strongly, aiming to keep that good run going, and although ‘the Falcon’ was able to level the first at 6-6, a quick burst gave the two-time World Champion the edge, and he took it 11-6 to lead. However, that Hesham fought back in the second, and although he saw the World No.1 save three game balls, he was eventually able to convert it 11-8 to level the match.
It continued to be a struggle for Farag early on in the third, but he weathered the storm, and then managed to get back on the front foot of the middle part of the game and he established his dominance once more.
That continued into the fourth, where the World No.1 was able to run away with it in the end, cruising to victory after 50 minutes of action. Farag secured his 25th title on the PSA World Tour, and the first Gold level title in Houston.
“I don’t think I necessarily started shakily, as much I get edgy playing Mazen because of how skilful he is,” Farag said after the match. You’re always on your toes, you don’t know what to expect in the next shot, I don’t think he knows what to expect it, and that is how skilful he is. It makes you very edgy and as much as I am happy about this win, I am extremely happy for Mazen as well.
“Mazen and I actually started out on Tour together and I was looking up to him when we first started and he made it to the semi-finals of a Platinum event at a very young age and he has been unlucky a lot of niggles, a lot of injuries. He has been battling hard, I see him every day in training, we share a lot of things together and finally, he is where he deserves, and it is only going to get better for him, so I am extremely happy for Mazen, for sure!
“We share the same club, Wadi Degla, as we like to call it, the ‘Community of Champions’. We share the same sponsor, Expression Networks, and most of all, we share a great friendship that I think will last a long time beyond our squash career. I am honoured to share a court with him today and hopefully it is the first of many to come!”
“It’s a week of firsts. I am really happy, it doesn’t look like it, but I am really happy with what I have achieved this week. I have had a few milestones in this tournament, mentally and physically.
“I wish I could have performed better, but my shins didn’t help me in the end. All credit to Ali, he is a champion, he is the World No.1. He deserves to be in his place, he deserves to be in this position and hopefully next time, and one day, I will be in this position, if a few things happen my way!”
Semis : Farag and Hesham through to the final
Ali Farag and Mazen Hesham will face off in the final of the Houston Open after the pair got the better of Mostafa Asal and Gregoire Marche in their last four clashes at the Houston Squash Club.
Farag and Asal were meeting for the 11th time on Tour, and the World No.1 came in to the contest with a 9-1 advantage over the ‘Raging Bull’, but it was the youngster who started the stronger of the two, pinning Farag behind him on court, as he held control.
However, a quick fire second game saw the two-time World Champion tie the match, before then going on to win the third on a tight tie-break, 13-11. Asal fought back once more though, to take the fourth and send the match into a decider.
The fifth game became slightly scrappier, with several stoppages due to refereeing decisions. Farag was able to keep his composure to take the victory, his tenth over Asal, and to move through into the final in Houston.
“It’s never easy playing Mostafa. I think both of us are better squash players than what we produced today,” Farag explained. “Today was very fragmented, with lots of stoppages and I think we enjoy playing more free-flowing squash. The crowd deserves more free-flowing squash, but it is what it is. Some matches you have to get through like this. I’m just glad that I’m through.
“Mostafa’s only 20 years old and we’ve already played over ten times. It’s a testament to how good he is. He’s reaching the latter stages of tournaments from a very young age. I wish I was like that when I was his age! The scary thing is that he’s only going to get better from here.”
Farag will face compatriot Hesham in Sunday’s final after the Egyptian overcame the challenge of France’s Gregoire Marche, winning in straight games to book his place into a Gold final for the first time in his career.
Hesham, who has struggled with injuries throughout most of his career, looks back to his best, and he was able to show that from the off against the Frenchman, with both men having come through five-game battles on quarter finals night.
After ‘the Falcon’ claimed the first game on a tie-break, he was able to carry that momentum through the second game, where he doubled his advantage. However, Marche fought back in the third, and Hesham had to save several game balls. He did, and at the second time of asking, took the victory to secure his place in Sunday’s final.
“First of all, I’m really happy with the way I am at the moment. I’m here playing and enjoying my squash again, showing what I can do and playing the brand of squash I want to play, entertaining people and entertaining myself, hearing people cheering and loving squash every day,” Hesham explained.
“I have mixed feelings to be honest. If you’d told me a week ago that I was going to be in the final, I would say I think I deserve it. Of course, after what God gave me, and with God’s blessing, I did enough hard work. I’ve been working, battling injuries for six or seven years now and even yesterday I was battling injuries.
“Ali Farag and I are good friends. Of course, he’s World No.1 and even though I have [beaten him], the head-to-head record goes to him. So I need to come back for one more day tomorrow, put on a show, match him up and hopefully the crowd will enjoy it. May the best player win!”
Quarters : Hesham and Marche reach first Gold semis
Egypt’s Mazen Hesham and France’s Gregoire Marche have both made it into their first PSA World Tour Gold level semi-finals after they defeated Egypt’s Marwan ElShorbagy and England’s Nathan Lake to reach the last four in Texas.
Hesham caused the only upset of quarter finals day as he defeated compatriot and fourth seed Marwan ElShorbagy. The odds were stacked heavily against Hesham coming into the contest, as he had never beaten ‘the Jackal’ in their previous five meetings, while he also had to come through a five-game battle in his second round match with Nicolas Mueller 24 hours before this contest.
However, ‘the Falcon’ made an electric start, hitting winner after winner as ElShorbagy struggled to find his feet in the first game, but the former World No.3 fought back to win the next two games to take the lead. Hesham did what he does best though and unleashed some scintillating winners in the fourth game to unsettle ElShorbagy and send the match into a decider, where he kept his focus to seal a landmark win for the 27-year-old.
“These are the ones that stick with you forever,” said Hesham. “I always feel that it’s my second home here, as it’s just a 15 minute walk from my house. I think I should have done much better today, but my shins hurt me again. I’m not sure what’s happening, I kept saying to myself that it’s not going to come easy t o me.
“I’ve fought so many things during my career and I’m still fighting every day. Something is always happening with my body as soon as I come close to winning. I’ve come a long way with my mental toughness and I’ve been working on myself.”
Hesham will face Marche in the semi-finals after ‘the Acrobat’ recovered from being two games down to defeat Lake in a gripping five-game contestin the final match of the day. He found himself two games behind in quick fashion, as the Englishman was able to hit perfect line and length throughout the opening exchanges, while Marche struggled to find his rhythm.
However, the momentum swung back in Marche’s favour in the third game, and he was able to ride that wave throughout the rest of the contest. Taking a fourth game tie-break was pivotal, before going on to win the fifth to secure his spot in Saturday’s semi-finals.
“Actually, I can’t believe it for now. I think I thought a bit too much about this semi-final,” Marche said. “I wasn’t moving well in the first two games, I was struggling to see the ball, and all credit to Nathan, he played almost perfectly, controlling every rally, pulling out some amazing shots, so obviously, I just want to see congratulations to him, he deserved to win today. I played with my head today, to play point-by-point and see how it goes, find a little bit of rhythm and find my length.
“It was not the best squash of my career, of course, but I have been working a lot mentally over the last few years and reaching the semis of a Gold event, for me. Of course, the draw was different and helped me a little bit but it is never easy to play these players, they all know how to put the ball away. Every day is a new day and I am just glad I managed to win this one 3-2.”
The other semi-final will see Egypt’s Ali Farag and Mostafa Asal go head-to-head for a place in Sunday’s final at Houston Squash Club, after they defeated Egypt’s Youssef Soliman and Colombia’s Miguel Rodriguez.
Day THREE : Wildcard Lake ends home hopes
England’s Nathan Lake is into a first PSA World Tour Gold level quarter final, after defeating USA’s Shahjahan Khan in the last match of the third day’s play in Texas.
The pair were meeting on Tour for the fourth time, with neither man having reached the last eight of a Gold level tournament before in their career. The Englishman was only featuring in the second round after losing in the first round but being given the ‘Lucky Loser’ spot to fill the gap left by second seed Mohamed ElShorbagy’s withdrawal, and won in straight games.
“Absolute rollercoaster. I didn’t know how to feel, obviously very disappointed to lose so close in the first round,” Lake said after the match. “Then yesterday, I didn’t know whether to feel pressure that I was back in the tournament, guilty that I was back in, whether I should feel upset that I lost the day before. It’s weird, but I am really happy to have taken advantage of it and won in three.”
The closest match of the day’s play saw Egypt’s Mazen Hesham get the better of Switzerland’s Nicolas Mueller in a fifth game tie-break, after both players had their chances to move through to the last eight.
It was a slow start from the Egyptian, as he quickly lost the first game, but he rallied to win the next two games and hold the advantage in the tie, but the Swiss No.1 would not give up. Mueller secured the fourth to send the match into a decider, where eventually, after several match balls, Hesham was finally able to get over the line, with the No.6 seed making it into the quarter finals in Houston.
“It was really tough today and I had to work until the end,” Hesham explained. “To be honest, I’m not happy with the way I performed today, I can perform much better than this. All credit to Nicky, he pushed me really hard and he played the right game plan. Not to take anything away from him, but I expected more from myself. But a win is a win and I’m happy to win in a tournament like this, it’s very close to my heart.”
Hesham will now face fourth seed Marwan ElShorbagy in the quarter finals, after his fellow countryman defeated Mexico’s Cesar Salazar in straight games. Frenchman Gregoire Marche is the other man into the last eight after the third day’s play, where he defeated Egyptian Omar Mosaad in three games.
Day TWO : Rodriguez joins Egyptian trio in the Quarter-Finals
Colombia’s Miguel Rodriguez made sure it was not an Egyptian whitewash on the second day of the Houston Open, as he got the better of Egypt’s Mohamed ElSherbini to reach the quarter finals.
The 2018 British Open champion had only faced off against his Egyptian opponent once before on the Tour, with ElSherbini getting the better Rodriguez in the quarter finals of the Motor City Open in February 2020.
Unlike that encounter in Detroit, this battle between the pair was tight throughout, with neither man holding a large advantage in any of the three games. At all the right times though, the Colombian was able to steer the match in his favour.
“When we played each other the first time, I was injured, but Mohamed is climbing the rankings and is a talented and skilful player,” the Colombian said. “I had to put my balls at the back of the court and work with my speed and move the ball around. It worked, the first game was the key, but I kept it patient, was focused and I had a great performance.”
“Today was way different to yesterday, yesterday I was coping with Nathan’s game plan, today I was coping with my nerves,” Soliman said. “Youssef is up and coming and he’s talented and I tried to contain him. It was a nervy start and a nervy end but I’m glad to be through.”
The other match of Wednesday’s action saw Mostafa Asal beat Switzerland’s Dimitri Steinmann in straight games.
Round Two continues on Day Three with the bottom half of the draw.
Round ONE : Kandra and Khan survive five-game battles as Houston Open begins
Germany’s Raphael Kandra and home hope Shahjahan Khan both had to hold their nerve in their opening matches at the Houston Open, with both men battling through in five to book their spots in the second round at Houston Squash Club in Texas.
USA’s Khan had to wait until the end of the day’s play before getting his chance to show what he could do in front of his home crowd, as he got the better of Frenchman Lucas Serme in an 81-minute battle.
Serme started strongly, coming back from a deficit to win the first game on a tie-break, but Khan took a 2-1 advantage. The Frenchman took the fourth to send the clash into a deciding game, where Khan then had to save match balls to come from 10-8 down in the fifth, taking four straight points to secure his spot in the second round at Houston Squash Club.
“Credit to Lucas, he fought well! I thought he was done in the fourth but again all respect to him as an experienced player. We are good friends, he gave respect. Last time we played four games and it was longer than this so I knew what would happen and I was mentally fit today,” Khan said after the match.
“It was physical, but it was also mental playing a good friend. My coaches, including Ong Beng Hee, he has been really helpful! To be honest, because of lockdown, everyone was in the same boat. I was really depressed, I didn’t know what was going to happen and I had some issues personally, but I feel like I fought well today.”
Earlier in the day, Germany’s Kandra featured in the first match on Tour in 2022, as he came up against Sebastien Bonmalais, and it was the man from France who held the early lead after some pulsating squash.
However, after finding himself two games down, Kandra was able to switch the momentum back in his favour, completing the comeback to book his spot in the second round where he will face top seed Ali Farag.
“I thought I had a plan in the beginning. I wasn’t playing too bad, I was leading 7-1 in the first game but couldn’t control my game plan. I was overwhelmed, he fought back and I had no plan to fight against it so I just let him go in the first game, and the second was similar,” Kandra explained.
“I thought to myself this is not how I want to play or start the new year and I fought back, not sure how and I got into his head a little and experience makes a big difference. I said to him in the end that he played well and gave me a good match but of course he’s not happy losing a match from 2-0 up, but overall I’m pleased with the win.”
Switzerland’s Nicolas Mueller also required a deciding game to make it through his first round clash in Houston, as he got the better USA’s Faraz Khan, while Egypt’s Mohamed ElSherbini went the distance as well, in his battle with USA’s Todd Harrity, eventually coming out the victor.
There was more Swiss success as Dimitri Steinmann upset Declan James in four games, and there were wins for Egypt’s Youssef Soliman and Omar Mosaad, and Mexico’s Cesar Salazar.
Due to the withdrawal the tournament’s No.2 seed Mohamed ElShorbagy in the hour prior to the action beginning, there will be a ‘Lucky Loser’ in the second round, to take the place of the ‘Beast from Alexandria’. That draw will be made early Wednesday morning, ahead of second round action starting.