By RJ Mitchell
Nick Matthew believes that Fares Dessouky’s triumph at the CIB Black Ball Open is proof that the 26-year-old may at last be able to fulfil his potential and challenge for the game’s major titles on a consistent basis.
The World No.11 stunned World No.1 Ali Farag by coming from two games down to win an epic encounter which was Dessouky’s first victory over Farag coming at the sixth time of asking.
That determination to come through the most challenging of circumstances was a reprise of the steely resolve shown by Dessouky in his semi-final, just 24-hours earlier, when he beat World Champion Tarek Momen in another tense five-game grapple that spanned 75 minutes.
With Dessouky also having beaten defending champion Karim Abdel Gawad in round two in another gripping five-game meeting, the transformation from Dessouky’s previous tournament when, as he himself admitted, “gave up” in his semi-final with Paul Coll, was startling.
That is why the legendary Matthew, who himself joined in battle with the explosive Egyptian on six occasions, winning five of them during his glittering career, reckons 2021 could possibly be Dessouky’s time.
“Fares has always been a player who is capable of beating the best on his day.
Before he suffered the injury issue with his knee [ACL injury sustained at Hong Kong Open in 2017] he was already knocking on the door and had taken some big scalps, but the problem was he was not consistent,” said the former three-time World Champion.
“So it was hard to tell and a bit of a toss-up which Fares would turn up and when you are playing a guy like that, who is up and down in his form, then it encourages you to hang in when the going is tough.
“But you have to say the way he came back from two games down against Ali in the final of the Black Ball, he has gone a long way towards answering these question marks last weekend.
“I think what impressed me was that he found a way to get back into a match, which maybe in the past, he would have let go. He found a solution, he did not go away, and he stuck with it and turned it around to secure the biggest win of his career.
“I know that Fares has done a fair bit of work on the mental side of things and that paid of big time for him in both the final and the semi-final.”
Yet Matthew also admits that the explosivity of movement and firepower that makes Dessouky one of the most watchable stars of the PSA World Tour is also a factor in the inconsistency of the past that dogged the hugely talented Alexandrian previously.
The former World No.1 said: “I think you also have to consider Fares’ style of play. He is just a very explosive player both in his movement and in his shot making and when you have that explosivity it is a style that is going to be tough to consistently produce your best.
“But he has come through a five-game match with the reigning World Champion in Tarek Momen and then backed that up by beating the World No.1 in Ali, who was on a really good winning run. So, Fares has shown he has got the answers and now for him the next challenge in 2021 will be for him to consistently challenge for these big titles.”
Yet while the final week of the PSA World Tour in 2020 may have provided a moment of supreme redemption – and perhaps even a defining breakthrough for Dessouky – for Simon Rösner, the hugely popular former World No.3, it has been the time to say a fond adieu.
However, Matthew, who himself called time on his career just a month short of his 38th birthday, wonders whether Rösner, at 33 years-old, may have hung his racket up a shade too early.
Matthew (left) takes on Simon Rösner at the 2016-17 PSA Dubai World Series Finals
“I think Simon has recently just turned 33 and when I look back to when I retired, I was a month short of my 38th birthday and some people were still telling me it was too soon to retire,” said Matthew, known on tour as ‘The Wolf’.
“So, I do wonder if Simon has called time a bit too early because as the saying goes you are a long time retired.”
But Matthew, a three-time British Open champion who made the last of his five finals at 36, continued: “Simon is a smashing guy, and I can’t speak highly enough of him and I just hope he hasn’t gone too soon.
“The other aspect of this is at the top of the men’s game we need different nationalities and different characters because right now Egypt are the dominant nation and Simon has been a very important part of taking the challenge to them.
“He had that great win at ToC a couple of years back and got to World No.3 and along with Paul Coll and Diego Elias, Simon has been a very important part of the top 10. He can be proud of everything he has achieved and squash will miss him.
“But you just don’t know what has been going on beneath the surface. It may be that Simon has had a niggling injury and been carrying it for a while. Perhaps his mindset has changed because of the year we have had with COVID? Does he just want a new challenge? Has an opportunity in a different direction come around or has the daily grind of training at the level required finally got to him?
“Maybe in his last couple of tournaments it has been obvious that the fire wasn’t maybe in his belly as he suffered a couple of 3-0 losses that you wouldn’t have expected and there just didn’t seem to be the same fight there.
“Either way, I am sad to see him retire and he will be a big loss to our game.”
2021 will also see the return to action of four-time former World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy who will be determined to regain top spot in the PSA World Rankings.
Matthew (left) and ElShorbagy do battle during the 2016 Qatar Classic
ElShorbagy’s only outing in the last four PSA tournaments was a shock third round loss to Youssef Ibrahim in the Qatar Classic back in November, but Matthew still thinks ‘The Beast’ is one to watch.
“I still believe that when Mohamed ElShorbagy is in the draw, he is still the man to beat and that he will remain so for the foreseeable future,” Matthew said.
“Things will obviously change in this respect at some point, but Mohamed is the most experienced guy out there, he has been the standard bearer for his generation, and he will be absolutely desperate to get back out there in 2021 and prove he is still the man to beat.
“I think everyone has a bad day at the office and Mohamed had one in Qatar in the third round when he lost to Ibrahim. Now if that type of result was to happen two or three times in a row then you could perhaps ask questions, but I don’t see that happening.
“I think he will come back refreshed and very, very hungry in 2021. He will have been watching what has been going on in these last few tournaments and of course Ali has taken the No.1 slot back from him and believe me, that will be like a red rag to a bull, he will want it back.”