Elias claims third Motor City Open title
By Andrew Graham, The Motor City Open
The Motor City Open Presented by Sturbridge Capital crowned Peru’s Diego Elias its champion on Sunday. Again.
The second-seed and World #4 completed a hat trick of titles — the first player ever to achieve that distinction in the tourney’s 22-year history — with a 3-1 win over Egypt’s Mazen Hesham. It was a fourth consecutive appearance in the Motor City Open final for Elias and the third in a row. As the records fell, Elias also eclipsed his coach – and squash legend – Jonathon Power in winning the title more than twice.
With a title on the line, Elias came out strong. Arguably in the best form of any player in the world at the moment following his romp through the field at New York’s Tournament of Champions last week, the 6’2” Peruvian played crisp, clean squash for the first two games, giving Hesham no quarter.
In game one, Elias dispatched Hesham, 11-3. He was similarly dominant in the second, 11-4.
Fourth seed Hesham sent shots into the tin, frustrating himself in the process. After another miscue in game one, Hesham let out a yell. When he launched a ball into the tin to lose the second, he flung down his racket and trudged from the court.
But despite momentum and a crowd ready to celebrate his win, Elias couldn’t close in game three.
“He played very well the third game and I didn’t know what to do,” said Elias afterwards. “I lost my game a little bit.”
With no margin for error, Hesham dug deep and gave everything he had to catch Elias. After mistakes plagued his first two games, Hesham seized the initiative and willed an 11-6 third game decision. But everything Hesham poured into winning the third seemed to cost him in the fourth. The Egyptian just didn’t have the juice left to complete a comeback.
“I knew the start of the fourth was going to be very important,” said Elias. “And I’m just happy I got the lead at the start.”
Elias jumped ahead 6-1, and Hesham again yelled at himself before pulling up the bottom of his shirt to cover his head. Doubled over, he thumped his racket into the court for good measure.
After his semifinal win over Faris Dessouky, Hesham complained of tight, sore shins. As the final wore on, his movement became labored. It was a hard-fought performance, but the reigning champion wasn’t to be denied.
“Just very happy with my performance this week. After New York, I knew it was going to be tough playing like this, this week,” Elias said. “I’m just very proud of myself for doing it.”
Though the path to the final certainly wasn’t an easy one for Elias, the ease with which he chewed through his opponents in the round of 16, quarterfinal and semifinal showed his talents.
After a first round bye, Elias dispatched Egyptian Mohamed Abouelghar, 3-1, in the round of 16. He then cruised to a straight-set win over France’s Gregoire Marche in the quarters setting up a showdown with the hot-handed Tarek Momen of Egypt in the semifinals.
Momen pushed Elias in the first game, but the Peruvian won out with his blend of size, length and power, 3-0. Whether it was championship mettle from prior MCO finals or his world-class form, Elias looked comfortable again on Sunday.
When Hesham sent one final shot into the tin, sealing Elias’ third championship, all he could do was toss his racket aside and congratulate the Perivian.
“It’s almost like a home tournament for me,” Elias said to the appreciative crowd in the post-match ceremony, his arms full of the MCO trophy and a Longines watch from Greenstone’s Jewelers.
Semis : Hesham and Elias through in contrasting semis
By Andrew Graham, The Motor City Open
Reigning-champion and second seed Diego Elias will go for a hat trick – three straight finals victories – Sunday against fourth seed Mazen Hesham in the Motor City Open Presented by Sturbridge Capital. Both advanced Saturday evening with straight-set semifinal wins, but their matches couldn’t have been more different.
Elias took on hot-handed Tarek Momen of Egypt, the third seed. A former world champion and 2022 Motor City Open semifinalist, this was Momen’s chance to topple the in-form Elias and reach his first MCO final.
In the first game Momen took it to the defending champion, playing in front and forcing Elias into a reactive game plan. “I think in the first one he was up most of the game and I was just coming from behind so I couldn’t make many risky shots and I just had to play more defensive,” Elias said.
In particular Momen favored a backhand shot down the wall forcing Elias on his back foot. After a number of let calls, Elias became visibly frustrated with the official. At 8-8 in the first game — Momen had a moment to seize early momentum. But despite saving a game ball point at 10-9 and pushing the set to a tiebreak, Momen was done in by a called stroke, giving Elias an 11-10 lead. On the next rally, Elias buried a shot into the back right corner – just out of reach of Momen – to take the first set.
All of the initiative Momen took in the first stanza evaporated in the second as Elias took an early 5-1 lead. Playing from the lead and serving, Elias dictated play. Using his easy power and lanky frame, Elias covered the court deftly and often had Momen on a string. As the game wore on, Momen began favoring his right ankle, trying to shake it loose between points.
After losing game two, Momen was tardy getting to the court for the third as he worked on his right ankle. Elias closed him out in the third, 11-7.
“I was I was able to attack a bit more. . . play more offensive,” Elias said. “And, of course, I was up after winning the first. That made a huge difference.”
With a return to the final, Elias is on the precipice of Motor City open history.
“I try to not think about it,” said Elias afterwards. “Every year it’s different players, I’m playing with different motivations. Right now I’m just thinking about improving my game, getting to the World #1 spot.”
In Sunday’s final Elias will face Hesham. Facing worn-out fifth seed Fares Dessouky – who was coming off a five-set marathon upset over top-seed Paul Coll in the quarterfinals – Hesham made quick, clinical work of his fellow Egyptian. He won, 3-0, in about 30 minutes, with Dessouky visibly out of gas in the third set.
Hesham seized the match from the opening points and never surrendered his death grip. Between the physical exertion and mental taxation of his win over Coll, Dessouky did not look a worthy challenger on Saturday. Unforced errors into the tin were an early indicator that Dessouky was hurting.
“To be honest, you could see in the beginning, Fares was not sure of his movement,” said Hesham after the match. “But I had to keep my head down and try to keep going in the match because he can come back at any time. I hope he’s not injured. I asked him after the match — it seems like he’s sore and hopefully everything will be good.”
By the third game, with Hesham up, 6-1, it was clear that Dessouky — last year’s MCO runner-up — didn’t have anything left in the tank. And it might not have mattered, anyway. Hesham continued the consistent play that carried him all week to the final. It’s another in a growing list of finals the Hesham has made recently. The flick and drop shots that Dessouky successfully played against Coll didn’t phase Hesham. The four-seed seemed to have an early bead on shots and found the right position to hit returns.
“I feel good, but I think in my mind I can do much better than that,” Hesham said. “I’m happy to be in the final. I will try my best tomorrow to have one more go and hopefully get the title.”
Standing between him and a first-ever Motor City Open title are sore shins and the imposing, 6’2” figure of Diego Elias.
Quarters : Dessouky down Coll in thriller
By Andrew Graham, The Motor City Open
Fares Dessouky upset top seed Paul Coll at the Motor City Open Sponsored by Sturbridge Capital as three Egyptians advanced to the quarterfinals. They will have to contend with a very on-form defending champion Diego Elias, winner of last week’s Tournament of Champions, if they are going to win the title at the Birmingham Athletic Club.
In an epic, contentious battle, fifth seed Dessouky had a choice: keep arguing with the official about decisions, or focus on winning his quarterfinal match against World #3 Coll. Coll sprinted to a 2-0 advantage over the Egyptian. Both players were feeling each other out as well as the official – much to Dessouky’s chagrin. After Coll took the first game, 12-10 – including on a couple of points decided by the official – Dessouky aired his frustrations.
“You’re unbelievable, man!” he said walking off the court. After a similar result in Game 2 — an easy 11-3 win for Coll — it was clear that Dessouky was getting flustered by the way the game was being called. He received a warning after the second game that, if he kept up his actions, he’d get an official conduct warning.
Coll was the cooler customer in the early going. But as the match progressed, he grew more frustrated with Dessouky putting a hand into his back and hindering him from clearing. Eventually, Coll protested after going down for what he felt was an obstruction from the Egyptian. The official cut him off.
“I’ll make the decision,” he said to the players. “Then you make the comments.”
Midway through the third game — in which Dessouky seemed to spend as much time arguing with the referee as playing his opponent — Coll was given a point on a let to draw even at 5-5. Fed up, Dessouky hurled his racket to the ground, earning a conduct warning. The resulting penalty stroke put the New Zealander up 6-5.
Then Dessouky reeled off 17 of the next 25 points to draw the match even at 2-2 and force a fifth game.
“You know when sometimes you’re having some tough decisions, you have to fire it up to play good squash. That’s what happened,” Dessouky said of his fiery outburst. “So I said to myself: ‘look, you’re not going to win with the decisions, you have to win every single point with your hand.’ So that’s what I did. I kept fighting for every point and it worked.”
With a semifinal berth on the line, Coll and Dessouky elevated their play. Coll did everything in his power to keep the match under control, hitting shots to prevent the whipping, ricochet kill-shots that Dessouky has effectively used to draw even.
Back and forth they went, the Egyptian managed to take the lead at 10-9 lead and set up a match ball. Now it was Coll urging the ref to make a call.
Dessouky won the match-cinching point on a stroke decision, with the Kiwi futiley calling “It’s not!” to the official. Despite his quarrels with the officiating, Dessouky got the call he needed with the game on the line. Now he’s on to the semifinals to face fourth seed Mazen Hesham, a winner over the ageless Miguel Rodriguez in three: 11-7, 11-7, 12-10.
Second seed and World #4 Elias, who will play Tarek Momen in the other semi, loves playing in Detroit. The MCO has been kind to the Peruvian who won the tournament the last two times it was played in 2020 and 2022 (there was no 2021 MCO due to Covid 19).
“I knew Greg is a dangerous player so I just wanted to start with good pace,” Elias said of his straight-sets win over France’s Gregoire Marche. “And I think I played very well today. I hit my corners well and I’m happy with my performance.”
It’s becoming a bit of a tradition for Elias to play well at the Motor City Open. He credits the BAC courts and good vibes.
“I just really love this court. I don’t know. It’s a great court for me, my game. You can play the four corners very well. I just love being here. It’s a very nice atmosphere, good club, feels like a practice tournament,” Elias said.
Round Two : top seeds progress to quarters
by Andrew Graham, The Motor City Open
Chalk won the day in the Second Round of the Motor City Open Presented by Sturbridge Capital as all eight sees moved on to the quarterfinals – but not before top seeds Paul Coll and Diego Elias got serious tests.
Earlier this year, Coll lost to Qatar’s Abdulla Al Tamimi in Qatar. In a rematch on Thursday, the World #3 avenged the loss, but it didn’t come without a serious test.
“It’s very hard when we’re both trying to impose a completely different game plan,” said Coll after the match. “He’s very quick, very tricky, so I’ve got to be careful where I put the ball. It’s a very tough match for me.”
Coll clearly wanted to use size and power to his advantage while Al Tamimi tapped into every bit of skill and guile he had to make the Kiwi move and work and think. It was highly effective early on, even as Al Tamimi dropped two games.
Coll won the first, 15-13, as Al Tamimi would inch back every time Coll opened a gap. An 11-7 second game result for Coll looked dire for Al Tamimi. But the Qatari responded and Game Three, 11-8.
“I was a little bit annoyed in that third set, I let a lead slip,” Coll said. “I mean he’s so skilled. He’s probably one of the most skillful players on tour. It’s always hard to get in a rhythm. There’s shots and balls and flicks coming from everywhere. So it’s kind of hard to get settled in there and he does a great job of mixing it up.”
But after that third game win, it seemed Al Tamimi was tapped out. Coll, nicknamed “Superman” for his fitness in long matches, cruised, 11-1, to take the match.
Coll’s path won’t get any easier as he next faces Fares Dessouky of Egypt, who was a finalist a the MCO a year ago. The fifth-seeded Egyptian beat Mexico’s Cesar Salazar in four highly entertaining games Thursday: 9-11, 11-4, 12-10, 11-6.
Second-seed Elias of Peru, who downed Coll in the semifinals on the way to winning the Tournament of Champions in New York last week, dropped the first game of his match against Egypt’s Mohamed Abouelghar. Abouelghar is on his way back up the ranks after knee surgery, and beat Elias in the MCO final back in 2019. But the big Peruvian settled in and was businesslike in dispatching Abouelghar, 3-1.
Sixth-seed Youssef Soliman of Egypt, made light work of his opponent. Soliman won 3-0 over Englishman Adrian Waller. Columbia’s Miguel Rodriguez — the #7 seed here — overcame a slow start and a feisty opponent to secure a spot in the quarters. After dropping the first stanza against Aly Abou Eleinen in 20-minutes, Rodriguez took three-straight games — including a 21-minute long second set that finished 11-9 — and a 3-1 match win.
The lone American left in the tournament, Shahjahan Khan, fell victim to Frenchman and Gregoire Marche, but not without a fight. Marche took the first game, using his power and positioning to force Khan to run from corner to corner. It was a strategy that served Marche well given the circumstances — he revealed after the match win that he’d been battling a cold before the tournament.
“It was a tough match,” said Marche. “I was kind of sick the last few days. So today I felt better, this morning when I woke up. I just didn’t know how my body was going to react. I felt good in the first but then I was a bit maybe, too passive, in the second.”
After letting the second game slip away, 11-7, Marche navigated his way to an 11-8 third stanza win. But Khan was desperate to force a fifth set. The American nearly did, getting to game point at 10-9 in the fourth. But a flurry of clutch shots by Marche — including a floater flipped to the back corner of the court that died on the bounce— swung the game back in his favor before the Frenchman pulled it out, 14-12.
“Yeah. I had a good start, I feel, in the fourth,” said Marche. “And then he came back. I didn’t know how to finish it and I was pretty tired at the end. I just fought mentally and that win’s going to be a good step.”
The victors will play in a loaded quarters Friday at the Birmingham Athletic Club with matches starting at 6 PM EST.
Round One : Salazar, Abouelghar survive in five, USA’s Khan advances
by Andrew Graham, The Motor City Open
A pair of long, hard-fought matches highlighted opening day at the 22nd annual Motor City Open Presented by Sturbridge Capital Wednesday at the Birmingham Athletic Club.
Mexico’s Cesar Salazar triumphed over Egypt’s Karim El Hammamy battle in five-set epic. Then, in second tournament back from surgery, Egypt’s Mohamed Abouelghar came all the way back from an 0-2 deficit to defeat Mexico’s Leonel Cardenas. And on home soil, US ace and World #28 Shahjahan Khan took down Hong Kong’s Tsz Kwan Lau: 15-13, 11-7, 11-5.
World #36 Salazar and El Hammamy, World #44, proved equals on court. And as quick, rangy players, they were challenged – not just by their opponents shots – but by their ability to navigate around each other.
El Hammamy looked as if he would cruise to a comfortable victory, commanding the first two games over the Mexican veteran. That all changed in Game 3.
To the Egyptian’s chagrin, Salazar seemed more willing to use his body and make life difficult for his opponent, at the risk of the referee calling him for it. And while the officials needed to be navigated, Salazar did far more to frustrate his opponent than the officials did to slow him.
“It was a very tough match with Karim,” Salazar said. “I just tried to refocus, to be concentrated, to play point-by-point.”
After an 11-9 win in the third set, it looked like Salazar had used up his reserves. El Hammamy briefly led, Salazar wrestled the lead back, only to give it up.
“After the third game, I felt the confidence to keep fighting,” Salazar said. “And I think in the fourth game it was a very close. He made important mistakes in the last point. And for me I think it was very good for my confidence.”
They played to an 11-11 draw in the fourth set before Salazar took the final two points to send the match to a decisive fifth set with Al Hammamy appearing to cramp in his lower legs. Bu the Egyptain came out firing in the fifth and went up 6-2. Salazar clawed back to set up a 10-9 match point.
Salazar wrapped up the comeback, dropped his racket, bunched his hands into fists and let out a joyful yell.
“I just tried to keep fighting, fighting, fighting,” Salazar said. “I think it was a lucky day for me, no? But I hope to be ready for my next match.”
The crowd that had grown and grown watching the duo play offered an enthusiastic ovation. El Hammamy, who had played a brilliant match only to fall short, sank into a chair courtside afterwards. Salazar moves on to face another Egyptian opponent, Fares Dessouky, on Thursday.
In just his second tournament back from a knee surgery suffered a year ago, World #111 Abouelghar weathered a 0-2 deficit to outlast World #31 Cardenas.
After dropping the first two sets 11-8 and 12-10, Abouelghar needed to dig in mentally. He had opened a lead in Game 2 only to watch Cardenas erase it.
“Sometimes you need to block all the negative thoughts and just be in the here and now,” Abouelghar said afterwards. “It’s easier said than done, but this is what we train for. And I’ve tried hundreds of ways throughout my career to get me into the here and now, even though sometimes when I’m not able to do it. But today after 2-0 down, I said to myself: ‘you can reset and you need to win three games anyways.’”
He took Game 3 by a comfortable 11-6 score, commanding space on the court and playing with initiative. Cardenas had a potential match win in the fourth game, but Abouelghar buckled down and played the big points well. He won the fourth, 11-9. Abouelghar still had plenty in the tank to win the fifth game, 11-5, and take the match, 3-2. It was an impressive feat for a player in only his second competitive play since surgery.
“It can work both ways. Sometimes it just drains you,” Abouelghar said. “And sometimes it gives you more energy and it gives you more feel for the court. I’m really, really happy to be back from 2-0 down and win this one.”
Abouelghar will need every bit of conditioning and ability he has for his Thursday match, as the Egyptian is slated to face reigning Motor City Open champion and Peruvian World #4 Diego Elias – the same player he beat in the 2019 final.
“Coming back here made me feel good in terms of memories and past success and stuff, but this gave me a huge boost,” Abouelghar said.
Men’s $80k PSA Silver, 01-05 Feb, Detroit, USA
New Zealand’s Paul Coll will headline the draw for the 2022 Motor City Open presented by Sturbridge Capital, which returns to the PSA World Tour calendar from 1st to 5th Feb at Detroit’s Birmingham Athletic Club.
The PSA World Tour Silver event will make its first appearance on the calendar since 2020 after missing last year due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, and Coll will look to go one step further than his runner-up finish at the 2018 event where he fell to Egypt’s Marwan ElShorbagy in the final.
Coll is seeded to play Malaysia’s Eain Yow Ng in the quarter finals, before a potential semi final against defending champion and close friend Diego Elias. On the opposite side of the draw is second seed Tarek Momen, who makes his first appearance at the Motor City Open since 2014. Momen is seeded to play Houston Open runner-up Mazen Hesham in the last eight, before a potential semi final against 2018 champion Marwan ElShorbagy.