World #1-to-be Asal Claims Houston Open Title
Egypt’s World No.1-to-be, Mostafa Asal claimed the Houston Open 2023 title at the Houston Squash Club after beating England’s Mohamed ElShorbagy in straight games.
After overcoming third seed Marwan ElShorbagy in controversial circumstances in yesterday’s semi-finals, Asal guaranteed himself the top spot in the next PSA World Rankings but had one more match to play in Houston as he took on the older ElShorbagy brother Mohamed for the title.
Asal ran through to a 9-5 lead in the opening game before hitting two thunderous cross-court nicks to take the lead 11-6.
ElShorbagy, looking to capture his 49th PSA title, came back in the second which was level at 7-all. ElShorbagy then disagreed with his backhand kill being called ‘not good’ by the referees and Asal converted the game 11-7.
The end came quickly as Asal rattled off point after point in the third, racing to a 10-2 lead. A backhand drop from ElShorbagy found the tin to seal the match and the tournament for the 21-year-old, who now has 12 PSA titles to his name.
“I’m so happy for this tournament and for Jahanzeb [Khan, the promoter]. Thanks to all the sponsors and all the guys here that make this event alive. As I said, if we have three or four Jahanzebs, we could be an Olympic sport. He’s doing so many great things for squash, thanks for all he is doing and all his efforts and I want to thank all the community here for coming today.
“I’m so happy to claim top spot. Mohamed knows this spot very well for sure. I’ve always been looking up to him, he was my idol since I was a kid, I would always go to events in Egypt to watch him and cheer for him, so to play with him at any point is a pleasure for me.
“Today, as you could see, nothing [bad] was happening on the court, it’s all about respect. Other players are creating my reputation so it’s tough to play against them but to play against this beast and and this idol is a pleasure and I want to that him for his support. He’s the only player who supports me, he is the only player who was messaging me to tell me that I am right and that I will get there, so I couldn’t thank him more.”
Semis : Top seeds Asal and ElShorbagy through to the final
21-year-old Egyptian Mostafa Asal is guaranteed to become the World #1 in the next PSA World Rankings after overcoming compatriot Marwan ElShorbagy in controversial style in the Houston Open semi-finals.
World #2 Asal was ahead for most of the game with refereeing decisions deciding the majority of the points. Asal managed to close out the game 11-7, winning seven of those points on stroke decisions. The second game followed a similar pattern but from 8-8 it was Asal, who played the big points better and let out a might roar as he doubled his advantage.
ElShorbagy responded in the third game and string points together to breathe more life in the contest. Unfortunately, however, at 10-4 game ball to ElShorbagy, there was contact between the two players in the middle of the court which sent ElShorbagy to the ground, with loud screams of pain coming from the World #6.
ElShorbagy was helped off court and after being given time to treat his injury, he was subsequently unable to return to court and the match was awarded to Mostafa Asal. That win for the top seed ensured his place in the final and that he will become the youngest World #1 since the squash greats Jansher Khan (18y7m in1988) and Jahangir Khan (18y1m in 1982) in the next PSA World Rankings on Monday.
Asal will be up against the older ElShorbagy brother and former World #1 Mohamed ElShorbagy in tomorrow’s final, after ‘The Beast’ needed four games to defeat crowd favourite Mazen Hesham.
“You can never write me off, never ever, you can never write ‘The Beast’ off,” said ElShorbagy. “I was 9-6 up in the first and I had no right to lose that game, but it’s what you do and how you come back after losing a tough first game like that. When I was 6-1 down I had a walk to the towel and told myself to breathe, think, everything is happening too fast, calm down, see what’s going on, where is he getting winners from and try to find a way back.
“I just fought. I was 1-0 & 6-1 down in a semi, it’s not easy to come back, especially against someone like Mazen [Hesham], who can get quick winners. As I said you can never write me off, I came back and won and I’m in another final this season and I can’t wait to be there tomorrow.”
Quarters : Plain sailing for the top seeds
All the top four seeds were in great form on quarter finals night at the Houston Open as they all recorded 3-0 victories to set up a mouth-watering semi-finals day at the PSA World Tour Gold event at the Houston Squash Club.
World #1 chasing Mostafa Asal was first to book his place in the semi-finals after beating France’s Victor Crouin for the fourth successive tournament. The No.1 seed came out to a blistering start to dominate the Frenchman, with Crouin not able to get in front of Asal at any point. The World #2 hit with great pace to pin the French No.1 in the back corners and pick off loose balls that came his way. The No.5 seed was becoming more frustrated during the match, allowing Asal to move forward and take advantage to win 3-0.
“It was a difficult match,” said Asal after his win. “Especially at the end, I think the referee did a great job today. It was an intense match so I want to thank him. Also, everyone is focusing on me this week and every player knows how big this week is for me. So everyone will fight for themselves and it’s an interesting week for me and I’m happy to be through and all the focus on tomorrow.”
Asal will become World #1 if he can defeat his semi-final opponent, third seed Marwan ElShorbagy. He overcame France’s Gregoire Marche in 40 minutes to progress. The movement of Marche is well known to be an outstanding trait of his and it was being tested to the maximum against ElShorbagy, who constantly worked the ball to twist and turn the Frenchman.
ElShorbagy’s consistency has been paramount to his success this season and the sharp concentration from the World No.6 enabled him to close out the match and take his place in the semi-finals.
Marwan’s brother and World #4 Mohamed ElShorbagy closed out day three in Houston with a tough 3-0 victory over Egypt’s Youssef Soliman. The rallies were intense throughout the whole match with both players pushing the pace to gain control. Soliman squandered a game ball in the second game which ElShorbagy took full advantage of to take a crucial 2-0 lead.
The younger player battled back however and played impressive squash to lead 8-4 in the third game, looking sure to be forcing the match into a fourth game. The stubborn ElShorbagy had other ideas however and started to mount his comeback. Once ‘The Beast’ got on a roll, he was never going to be stopped. The second seed was able to physically back up tough rally after tough rally and stole the game away from Soliman to win 14-12 and move into the semi-finals.
“I’m very happy, Youssef is a high-quality player I had to produce my best squash to win,” said ElShorbagy after his win. “He didn’t have a very good start in the first game, I was 6-1 up and I relaxed and he came back to show what a quality player he is. It was tough all the way through, the second game could have gone either way, the third game could have gone either way, just a bit of experience here and there, I played the big points better and I’m glad to win.
“When I was down in the third game I just thought to not let him win it easy. The mentality there is to think about the fourth game and think about if I’m going to lose this game, I need to make it as tough as possible to invest in the fourth game but obviously it was a big bonus to win in three.”
Mohamed will be up against another Egyptian in the semi-finals as fourth seed Mazen Hesham scored a victory over surprise quarter finalist Leonel Cardenas from Mexico. Cardenas had scored impressive victories to reach the last eight but came up short against an on-point Hesham who never allowed his opponent to settle and only needed 28 minutes to advance.
Round Two : Cardenas joins seven seeds in the quarters
Unseeded Mexican Leonel Cardenas scored another upset on day two of the Houston Open 2023 as he overcame seventh seed Nicolas Mueller from Switzerland to reach his first Gold event quarter final.
Elsewhere, all other seeds progressed through to the quarter finals, including French duo Victor Crouin and Gregoire Marche who both came through five-game encounters to beat Omar Mosaad and Auguste Dussourd.
Photos by Collin Poon Kong
Round One : Eleinen and Cardenas gatecrash Round Two as home interest ends
On their PSA World Tour Gold event debuts, Egypt’s Aly Abou Eleinen and Mexico’s Leonel Cardenas beat European duo Sebastien Bonmalais and Dimitri Steinmann to advance to round two.
Home interest ended early as Auguste Dussourd overcame Shahjahan Khan and Todd Harrity lost out to Omar Mosaad.
Photos by Collin Poon Kong