INTERVIEW by RJ Mitchell
World No.2 Ali Farag says that he is aiming to become World No.1 and World Champion before the season is out
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Ali Farag has revealed that his defeat at the hands of Mohamed ElShorbagy in the Everbright Sun Hung Kai Hong Kong Open just eight days ago has only served to make him more determined to dethrone the World No.1 and claim his world title.
Speaking exclusively to PSA World Tour ahead of this week’s CIB Black Ball Open, which is held in Farag’s home city of Cairo, the World No.2 has revealed that his recent 40-minute humbling in Hong Kong has only stiffened his resolve to hunt down ‘The Beast’.
Ali will open up his Cairo campaign with a second round match against either France’s Lucas Serme or Englishman Joshua Masters on Wednesday and the affable Egyptian admits that nothing excites him more than the prospect of battling his way through a tough draw to exact revenge on ElShorbagy in front of his friends and family at the Black Ball Sporting Club.
Ali said: “Every year since I’ve come on the PSA World Tour I’ve set myself targets, improved and for the most part achieved my aims and the two big aims for this season are to become World No.1 and to win the World Open.
“My first season I went from No.88 to No.39, then I was up to No.22 and my target was to break the top 10 and I made it to No.9. Then my target was to make the top four and that was the one season I didn’t achieve my targets and finished at No.5.
“But my target last season was to make No.2 and I’m proud to have achieved that. Now all that is left is to strive to be the best and to be No.1 and, of course, to win the World Open and my aim is to do both this season.”
Farag was candid in his assessment of where it all went wrong in Hong Kong: “I know how tough that will be as Mohamed (ElShorbagy) is a great player and when we played in Hong Kong eight days back he was at the very top of his game, but it is also true I was not at the top of my game.”
Farag (left) takes on Mohamed ElShorbagy in the Hong Kong Open final
He continued: “On top of that I was way too passive but while I must be aggressive, I must also make sure that the rallies are extended, that Mohamed gets nothing for free and he is having to work every minute of the match.
“Patience will be a big part of that but also I must balance when to attack and inject pace and venom and when to be cute. But I believe that when I get that right I can win against Mohamed.”
Of course injury has robbed the game of the stellar presence, for the time being, of former World Champion Ramy Ashour and what had at one point appeared to be an era-defining struggle for dominance with ElShorbagy.
But when it comes to his own burgeoning rivalry with ‘The Beast’, Farag is hopeful it is a contest he can prevail in eventually.
Ali said: “Mohamed is a great player. He has been at the top of the game for the last five years and for it to be even said that we have a rivalry is a great honour for me. But Mohamed is 9-5 in head-to-head against me and I have a lot of hard work ahead of me to change that.
“But I think through all the sports it is great when there are rivalries and I know that Mohamed had a great one with Ramy (Ashour) and it is up to me that I am worthy of creating the strongest challenge to Mohamed as possible.
“After my defeat in Hong Kong to him I am very hungry, very motivated to get back on the court with him as soon as possible.”
But while Farag is once again seeded to meet ElShorbagy in this weekend's final, the World No.2 accepts he will have to be at his best to cut a swathe through his daunting half of the draw.
Farag (left) en route to a semi-final win over Simon Rösner (right) in Hong Kong
Farag admitted: “It would mean a lot to meet Mohamed in the final again on home soil here in Cairo, in front of all my family and friends but it will be very hard to achieve that.
“You can only look at your next match but I have Lucas Serme, Declan James, Miguel Angel Rodriguez, Paul Coll and Simon Rosner in my half of the draw. So there are an awful lot of good players to get past and I will have to produce my best squash consistently to make the final.
“I think that’s what disappointed me most in Hong Kong, I played very well to get to the final but when I got there I was flat. But at 26, I am old enough and experienced enough to know that can happen, learn from that situation and the disappointment and come back again stronger for it.”