By RJ Mitchell
World No.1 Ali Farag has revealed his excitement at the news the 2020-21 PSA World Championships will be held in Chicago between July 10-17.
Tarek Momen is the reigning World Champion, having claimed the global title in Doha in 2019 but a year earlier Farag claimed his only World title with a 3-1 victory over Momen when the tournament was held in the Windy City for the first time, with the final being showcased in the Great Hall of the city’s iconic Union Station.
While a $1million prize-pot is once again up for grabs and split equally across the male and female events as the game’s showpiece event is presented by the Walter Family for a second time.
With Farag having missed the 2019 event due to personal circumstances his hopes of producing a reprise of his 2018 title crusade will depend on the arrival of his first child with wife Nour El Tayeb.
Yet there was no doubting the World No.1’s enthusiasm for a return to what has been a happy hunting ground where he also won the 2020 Windy City Open.
“I’m super excited to go back to Chicago again for the World Champs as I’ve obviously had very good memories from there with it being where I captured the only World Championship of my career and that means a lot,” said Farag.
“Mark Walter always puts on a great tournament and he is a fantastic asset for the PSA World Tour, but it is during the expected due date for Nour and the birth of our first child, so I am not certain of my own plans, that said it is just a really exciting piece of news for the tour and with my great memories of the 2018 event for myself.
“I would not like to skip the World Champs for a second time in a row but there is zero chance I will miss the birth of our first child. So, let’s see how that goes!”
This week has also seen the release of the draw for next month’s 2021 Black Ball Open which has given Farag a daunting route to the final in which he will have to negotiate an opening encounter with good friend and World No.11 Mohamed Abouelghar followed by a potential third round encounter with rising Egyptian star Mostafa Asal.
If the World No.1 comes through these potentially bruising encounters, he may then face a return meeting with the man who beat him in the final of the 2020 event, Fares Dessouky, in the quarter-finals and World Champion Momen in the semis.
“It’s interesting to say the least and very challenging. No disrespect to anyone outside the top-eight but Abouelghar and Asal are two major threats and to have the possibility of playing them both in the first two rounds is a huge challenge.
“Obviously Asal has to face Declan James first and that will be a tough one but there is no question my draw is about as hard as it could get although it kind of reminds me of the tournament in Qatar in 2018.
“Back then I draw Mohamed Abouelghar in round one, then I had Saurav [Ghosal] in round two and then Gawad in the quarters and Tarek Momen in the semis, so that was a pretty tough draw and I ended up somehow winning the tournament.
“All that came after I barely beat Abouelghar 11-9 in the fifth game. So, at the end of the day, it’s the toughest draw anyone can get but if you want to win the tournament you just have to get through it.”
Yet as Farag confirmed all his focus will be on his opening encounter with Abouelghar who gave him all the trouble he could handle in the quarter -finals at the last Black Ball tournament when the World No.11 took an opening stanza lead and had a game ball to double that before eventually succumbing 16-14 in a tense fourth-game tie break.
Farag, who enjoys a 4-2 head-to-head over his fellow Egyptian, admitted: “For the time being my focus is only on Mohamed [Abouelghar] for sure. Mohamed is my best friend on tour, and I keep telling him, even although he is No.11 in the world that he is better than that and on a good day I think he is one of the best players on the PSA World Tour and I think it is just a matter of consistency for Mohamed.
“When he is playing the top guys, he relaxes and produces his best squash but against lower ranked players he is not as consistent, yet I think any of the top-eight guys would say that when he plays us, he gives us all the trouble we can handle.
“So, I know it will be a tough one like our last meeting at the Black Ball in the quarters when I was one game down and he had a game ball in the second to go two games up and if he’d converted that I would have had a mountain to climb.
“Somehow I managed to sneak that second and in fact I felt like I sneaked the whole match to get through in a really tight fourth game tie-break 16-14. So, I know I have a very tough challenge ahead of me and an exciting one for sure.”
Yet the return of the Black Ball Open some four months after the 2020 version has rekindled some painful memories for the Egyptian ace.
Farag had entered that tournament on the back of a career best 14-match unbeaten run in which he had annexed the previous two PSA World Tour events at the Egyptian Open and Qatar Classic and was attempting to claim a hat-trick of successive successes for the first time.
Yet having taken a two-game lead against final opponent Dessouky, the two-time World No.1 could not find the knock-out blow and was eventually beaten in five games.
Now the 28-year-old admits he has used that pain as a driver as he eyes a return to the fray: “Well, I was obviously very disappointed. To be honest I can’t say that I did much wrong because then that would mean I am not going to get any better! But to be fair Fares played better than me over the last three games.
“He won the backhand straight – line battle and he was cutting the ball short before me and whenever I cut the ball short, he was reading the next one and when that happens your game plan tends to go out the window.
“Then in the fourth game I started to attack a little too early and he was just jumping on it and to be fair he just played so well, and I must give him credit for that. It is not often I come off court and I am like: ‘I was just outplayed for three full games and I just can’t get out of this!’
“So that defeat has been a motivator for me since December. As much as it hurt at the time, I told Nour that it was perhaps a blessing in a disguise as if I’d won three tournaments back-to-back then maybe I would have slackened off a little.
“I mean it’s unlike my character I always go to training to work as hard as I can, but that loss was a reminder I needed to work harder. So, of course the next time I play Fares I will be looking to correct my mistakes in that match, for sure.”
Next month will also see the return of Farag’s greatest rival Mohamed ElShorbagy with whom he has exchanged the top spot in the PSA world rankings on the last three occasions and it is a prospect that Farag relishes.
“It’s great to have Mohamed back. As I have told you many times before when he is not there, he is truly missed as he is a massive character and people love to have him in any tournament.
“But for me I can’t think about him anytime soon. If I reach the final, then he will be a concern for me but right now I’m just happy he is the other half of the draw at the Black Ball and we will see how things work out.”
Nour El Tayeb and Ali Farag share a conversation in front of the Pyramids
Farag was also delighted to share a happy update on wife Nour’s pregnancy progress with fans: “Nour is doing really well. The first three months have been a challenge mentally as the doctor is very conservative and has not allowed her to do any sport and after 25 years it is tough to stop all sport!
“But now she is a little in the gym and even on the squash court and everything is good physically and mentally.”