Elias repeats as MCO Champion
Nolan Bianchi reports
It’s no wonder that Peru’s Diego Elias loves coming Michigan — he keeps winning trophies from the Motor City Open presented by Sturbridge Capital.
Elias repeated as MCO champion Sunday — taking home $12,600 winner’s purse and a Longines watch from Greenstone’s Jewelers — by defeating Fares Dessouky of Egypt in three games (11-5, 11-8, 11-9) to become the tournament’s first back-to-back winner.
It was Elias’ third-straight championship match appearance at the MCO, and, with the win, he tied his coach Jonathon Power – and former World #1 Mohamed ElShorbagy – for most victories at the MCO (two).
“I’m always feeling great in this tournament,” Elias said. “I like the courts, I like the people here. They make us feel like home. I’m very happy with my performance this week.”
To reach the final Elias survived some tough matches – including a semi-final war with soon-to-be World #1 Paul Coll. But he was never taken to a fifth game, going wire-to-wire as the best squash player on the Birmingham Athletic Club’s challenging courts over a five-day stretch.
“It was a really good event for him. He had his full game on display,” Coach Power said. “He had a few tough matches and yesterday was brutally physical – Coll’s a tough player.”
Three-seed Elias jumped on Dessouky’s mistakes early. The Egyptian smacked three shots into the tin as he quickly fell behind 7-1 in the opening stanza. Elias was able to withstand a push to finish him off, 11-5.
If there’s a game that Dessouky would like to have back, it’s the second. He opened with a 3-1 lead, but once again the #7 seed buried himself with shots into the tin. Two straight shots into the red stripe tied things up at 3-3, and, as he and Elias traded points, Dessouky’s mistakes piled up. Elias won the game, 11-8.
“He’s an attacking player, so I just needed to be patient and keep my lines and try to be smart,” Elias said. “He gave me a few errors every game, so that helped. I knew he could maybe take one (or) two games, but if I keep being patient and hitting the lines, I thought that was a game plan to win.”
The pattern continued on into the third game. Dessouky jumped out to a 6-3 lead, hit two straight shots into the tin, and then misfired on three consecutive balls to put Elias up 8-7 and all but seal his fate.
“I was injured since April. Three doctors told me to stop playing squash, but I didn’t stop, I kept going,” Dessouky said. “I believed in myself so much. I believed in my family, I believed in my coaches, I believe in the process in my doctors, and I’m very happy to be back and competing again.”
Dessouky also earned a Longines watch from Greenstone’s Jewelers in Birmingham.
Semis : top seeds fall as Elias and Dessouky reach final
Nolan Bianchi reports
A pair of upsets has set the stage for the final of the 2022 Motor City Open Presented by Sturbridge Capital. The tournament’s reigning champion Diego Elias will face off against a first-time competitor, Fares Dessouky, at 4 PM on Sunday, as the pair advanced in the semifinals Saturday – knocking off the tournament’s top two seeds in the process.
“I’m happy with the results,” said Elias, who predicted a two-hour match against Coll. “I’m happy with the patience I had and then the game plan I had. He’s a great player and he can stay in there for three hours, so I’m just happy to get it done in an hour and a half.”
Up 2-1 in games, Elias fell behind 7-4 in the fourth before storming back to end the match before Coll had a chance to wear him out.
“If we went into a fifth game, it would have been like 20 or 30 more minutes in there, and I knew that was not going to be to my advantage” Elias said. “So I went for some winners and they went in – I won like four points in one minute. That worked very well for me.”
Like two heavyweights in a title fight, Elias and Coll —good friends and training partners — danced around each other to start their semi-final match, slowly working into a rhythm and gain an edge without burning precious energy.
Elias took a lead after Game 1 by winning long points, normally the fit Coll’s bread and butter. The New Zealander wasn’t as sharp as he needed to be, and it cut into his strategy of outlasting his opponent.
In the second game, Elias played the front-runner, though never by more than a two-point lead. Coll rallied a few times to even the score with long points, but each time the lanky Peruvian would come back with a quick point of his own to to stop Col’s momentum.
“Every time we were playing longer rallies, I thought I had to break up the pace and go for different shot,” said Elias.”I think I did that very well today.”
The stage could not have been more different in the other semi-final match at Birmingham Athletic Club. Five-seed Dessouky and two-seed Momen, both Egyptians, worked fast and furious to start the match. Dessouky quickly jumped out to a 10-1 lead.
Dessouky took the match, 11-7, 9-11, 11-4, 11-5 — and it’s no wonder he’s enjoying his first-ever appearance at the MCO.
“Very nice, very cozy. I like the people, I like the courts, so I’m very happy,” said the 27-year old.
Despite his dominance in the first game and a close win in the second stanza, Dessouky knew that he could be in danger. Momen advanced to the tournament semi-final by overcoming a 3-11 loss in the opening game of his quarter-final matchup before besting Mazen Hesham in four games.
“I had to regroup after the second game, and I was thinking: ‘OK, now do you want to play well, or do you want to win?’” Dessouky said. “If I want to win, I have to play the best squash I could, and make it hard for him on the court, too.”
Pride won’t be the only thing on the line in Sunday’s final. Elias and Dessouky will also be playing for the winner’s purse and a Longines watch from Greenstone’s Jewelers.
Quarters : Coll, Elias, Momen, Dessouky advance
A half-decade ago, Peruvian Diego Elias and New Zealander Paul Coll didn’t have weekends like this.
Fresh on the PSA tour, the good friends and 2022 Motor City Open Presented by Sturbridge Capital semi-finalists would often lose early. In a tour where neither had many countrymen to hang with, they hit it off. Years later, Elias has been to Coll’s country and vice versa. The two train together and are proud to call each other good friends.
“It’s always a great match. He’s one of my closest friends on tour,” said Elias, World #6 and the MCO’s three-seed. “I think it’s going to be a good one here.”
A meeting in this year’s Motor City Open feels particularly special. Elias is the reigning champion, and Coll’s appearance in the semi-final comes before his presumptive World # 1 spot in the next PSA Tour rankings.
“Diego seems to like playing on this court,” said Coll who advanced to the semis with a win over World #17 Eain Yow Ng. “He’s made the final a couple times and is the defending champion, so it’s gonna’ be tough. But I’m looking forward to it.”
Coll’s 11-2, 11-6, 11-5 win over Ng was devastating. He and the Malaysian frequently engaged in long points, with Coll coming out as the winner over and over again.
“It’s tough if you’re not winning those points,” Coll said. “I think I went up 6-1 in the first set and they were all pretty long points. So that’s hard for him to get any momentum on that. … which is something I pride my game on. I really like to win those points.”
He’ll hope to carry that strategy into Saturday. Elias knows what he’s up against.
“The couple of times I’ve beaten him, it’s always been two-hour matches,” Elias said. “I know that if I want to beat him, I’ll have to be in there a long time.”
The dessert course for Saturday’s semi-final doubleheader also features a pair of familiar foes. World # 9 Fares Dessouky of Egypt faces off against fellow countryman, World #4 and two-seed Tarek Momen at 6 PM.
“I wasn’t sharp enough at the beginning,“ Momen said. “I was a bit loose and wasn’t focusing on building rallies. Mazen’s very good at rattling off points very quickly. Toward the end of that game, I tried to just play a few rallies to get myself into rhythm and then get the momentum going in the second.”
Dessouky, meanwhile, had a much different match. He dismantled former MCO champion Marwan ElShorbagy in the first game and didn’t give him any rope in the final two, winning 11-2, 11-7, 12-10.
Like Coll and Elias, Dessouky and Momen will have a lot of prior knowledge of their opponent before stepping into the court.
“I know him very well, obviously. We’ve trained a lot together. We played a lot together, so it’s going to be another tough one,” Momen said. “He’s had a long break because he was recovering from an injury. So he’s back again at his best form and I’m looking forward to it.”
Round Two : Elias fends off Lake challenge
After day two at the Motor City Open Presented by Sturbridge Capital, Diego Elias’ hope of repeating as champion is still alive.
In his opening match World #6 Elias of Peru held off England’s World #38 Nathan Lake Thursday night. Elias took the first game 11-9, Lake the second at 12-10, then Elias cruised through final two games, 11-6 and 11-5.
“It’s my first tournament in a couple months,” said the Peruvian. “It’s always hard to play in a tournament. Sometimes you’re a bit nervous, but I felt pretty good and I’m happy with the win.”
Elias’ third seeding earned him a bye to play Lake in the Round of 16, setting up a rematch of their 2020 MCO matchup which Elias also won. After securing victory, Elias felt good about playing a tightly-contested match to start his title defense.
“Sometimes playing tough matches at the start helps. You get used to playing crucial points,” Elias said.“I was playing way too fast at the start. Then in the last two games, I started playing a bit better and thinking. You have to get used to playing a tournament again. Nathan is a very good player and, if you give him any opportunity, he’s going to take it. I had to focus a lot more.”
Elias faces a tough road ahead – the 2022 touney features eight of the world’s Top 20 – before he can think about a repeat. But the 2020 Motor City Open champion says it feels good to be back.
“I always have good memories from this court, this club,” Elias said. “I love being here and I’m going to enjoy every minute.”
Preceding Elias/Lake on Court 3, top seed Paul Coll dipped his toe in the water and found things to be just fine. The New Zealander’s fitness has earned him the nickname “Superman,” and that fitness should serve him will on the bouncy Birmingham Athletic Club courts that reward fitness. He also received a bye through the first round, but, unlike Elias, he had smooth sailing in defeating Mexico’s Cesar Salazar: 11-4, 11-4, 11-5.
“It’s a different sort of pressure,” Coll said. “You’re the one to beat – instead of chasing someone. It’s nice to be in that spot and be able to enjoy that pressure. I’m having a good week so far.”
Coll, who is projected to be the world’s #1 player when the rankings come out in March, knows that thriving at the top is a whole different story. Which is why he’s refusing to get ahead of himself before Friday’s quarter-final round.
“It’s a strong draw, so there’s going to be tough matches,” Coll said. “I think you’ve just got to play the matches ahead of you and not get too wrapped up in the tournament.”
In a generational battle, Maylasia’s 24-year old Eian Yow Ng took down 39-year old Borja Golan of Spain in three games. Golan won the MCO in 2009.
Countrymen Fares Dessouky of Egypt and big Omar Mosaad had a spirited battle. After winning just 10 points in the first two stanzas, Mosaad imposed his game to take the third, 8-11. His glory was short-lived, however, as the cat-quick Dessouky ran through game four, 11-3.
Round One : Mosaad survives as Lake cruises through
Nolan Bianchi reports
Lake, World #38 in the Professional Squash Association Tour rankings, last came to the Motor City Open Presented by Sturbridge Capital in 2020. He fell to eventual champion Diego Elias of Peru in the second round. After the 2021 Motor City Open was cancelled due to the pandemic, he’s happy to be back.
“They do such a good job here that, every time I come back, I feel relaxed and I play my best squash,” Lake said after cruising past World #34 Shahjahan Khan of the US in three games, 11-2, 11-6, 11-6. Next up: a rematch with Elias, currently ranked World # 6, in Thursday’s Round of 16.
“This is the strongest Motor City Open that I’ve ever been involved in,” Lake added of the $75,000 tourney. “There’s no easy matches, so to win today was great. I felt good out there, felt good to get off in 40 minutes. Couldn’t ask for anything more, really.”
The 6’1” Englishman knows a thing or two about rematches. Wednesday’s opening round at the MCO was his third match with Khan in four weeks (he won them all), which might mean an extra dose of perspective heading into his match with Elias.
But pressure? There won’t be much of that — even if there should be.
“There probably should be a bit of pressure, but I’m trying not to think about it that way,” Lake said. “It’s massive to do well here. Tournaments are few and far between because of COVID, so it feels like tournaments count for double.”
World #75 Cesar Salazar of Mexico also has had a Motor City Open ended by Elias – in 2019. His opening-round upset of French World #33 Lucas Serme is especially meaningful because of time lost that he’s trying to get back – Salazar tumbled down the world rankings after testing positive for COVID just days before the 2021 World Championships.
“It’s a little motivation for me,” Salazar said. “I lost all my ranking. Now I am 75 or 80 or something like that, but I think it doesn’t matter. I’m just trying to be focused in my game, to be training, to be ready to play in more tournaments. The ranking will come back.”
After swiftly going up 2-0 against Serme, Salazar had some trouble putting him away. Serme took a 7-5 lead in the third game before Salazar charged back to end the match: 11-9, 11-5, 11-9.
“The third game was close because he was improving, but he made some big mistakes in the last points. For me, it was great,” Salazar said. “I just tried to be focused in my game. Lucas is a very dangerous player because of his fitness, so I tried to play intelligently, changing the pace.”
Of course, Salazar is playing for a little more than that. With a $75,000 purse and Longines watch from Greenstone’s Jewelers at stake, the 2022 MCO features one of the deepest fields since its inception in 1999.
World #23 Omar Mosaad of Egypt, a fan-favorite at the Motor City Open, nearly had his dreams of finally winning his first MCO ended by Malaysia’s Ivan Yuen. Yuen took the first two games – 11-9, 12-10 – before Mosaad roared back, rattling off three straight games: 11-5, 11-6, 11-5.
The PSA world tour rolls into Birmingham, Michigan January 26-30 for the 22nd Motor City Open Presented by Sturbridge Capital.
Top seed and World #2 Paul Coll of New Zealand leads the strongest field in the tourney’s history featuring eight of the world’s Top 20 squash pros and 19 of the Top 40. With a purse of $70,000 – and a Longines watch presented by Greenstone’s Jewelers – to play for, action will kick off Wednesday evening, January 26, at the Birmingham Athletic Club.
Round of 16 action will be contested Thursday, quarterfinals Friday, semis on Saturday, and the final will be played Sunday afternoon. The tourney returns after a year’s hiatus due to the COVID pandemic.
In addition to Coll (a finalist here in 2018), top seeds include 2020 MCO finalist and World #6 Diego Elias of Peru – and a fleet of top-ranked Egyptians led by World #4 Tarek Momen, World #7 Marwan ElShorbagy, World #9 Fares Dessouky, World #11 Karim Abdel Gawad, and World #13 Mazen Hesham, who was a finalist in this month’s Houston Open. The top-ranked Americans are World #34 Shahjahan Khan and #35 Todd Harrity.
The Birmingham Athletic Club is one of the Midwest’s premier squash clubs and the MCO has played host to some of the world’s finest players over the last four decades including Jonathan Power, John White, Amr Shabana, and Mohamed ElShorbagy.
Contact the BAC for tickets at (248) 646-5050 or Athletic Director Julian Wellings at firstname.lastname@example.org.