R3: A nagging Ali overcomes a “too soft” Youssef

[4] Ali Farag (Egy) 3-1 Youssef Soliman (Egy)  7-11, 11-4, 11-6, 12-10 (57m)

On this tournament, the players are tired. It’s the end of a long seaon. I remember Adrian Waller aftermatch quote “there are a lot of tired bodies out there“. Pretty accurate description.

The top 8, top 10, have played a lot of matches on different time zones and are not machines, thank the Lord. They are human beings, and sometimes, they get just exhausted.

I felt that Ali tonight was like a tired kid, that you wish you could just put to bed for a good 12h nap. Yesterday, coming back from nowhere to take the match against Greg Lobban, he used a lot of energy that he really didn’t have as he arrived in Gouna.

As he was talking to me yesterday, I was looking at his eyes. There were dark circles that worried me a bit to be honest. He dug in so deep, like Tarek did, to take out a splendid Lobban. Winning his 4th world champ title, then Manchester with Nour, that was a lot of mental adrenalin gone. This afternoon, he watches as his adored wife lost 3/0 against Tesni, which drained him as well.

And as he started the match tonight, he was nagging, arguing very quickly with the ref, confronting him even – normally, Ali “advises” the official, never confronts, that’s not his style. And I know how close he is with Youssef, but today on court, gloves were off.

Youssef knows Ali very well and how to push his mate’s buttons. I had the impression of looking at Marwan playing against Mohamed, getting under his brother’s skin…

Up and down, in and out. Both players seemed to be able to take control of the rallies each their turn, stringing a few rallies together each. First game close in the middle of the game, 5/5, 6/6, 7/7, and 5 points for Youssef, finding some superb front corners, 11/7 in 17 long minutes.

“I haven’t won a first game since the world champs” commented Ali at the end of the match. Hard to get back in, to “find the motivation, the strength, the mental energy”. After losing the game, pride kicks in…

And pride gave Ali a boost, forcing a few tired errors from his opponent, 6/3, 11/4. 9m game and the World Champ keeps the momentum in the 3rd, 9/1, 11/6, 10m game.

The fourth will haunt Youssef for a while. “I had him, and then, I let him have the game back, I told him, there you go, take it, I’m just too soft”.

Down 3/0, 4/1, 5/2, Youssef found his best squash of the match, scoring 7 points in two hands, 9/6. Ali looked lost, tired, exhausted. But out of the blue, he seemed to have his 567th wind, and zoomed to match ball, 10/9.

Youssef saved it with a beautiful perfect length at the back, but couldn’t save the next one, and it’s 12/10 for Ali, 16m last game.

How did Ali win it? I honestly don’t know. That’s what separates the Men from the Boys I guess??

Youssef :  “Oh I had him, and then I open the door for him and told him there you go, please come in and just win the whole match.

I’m too soft, too soft.

I had him. I found a way after the two games, and then I let him go. I wasn’t fighting the crucial points, I was letting him back in the match, and that’s not the attitude I wanted to have.

Tactically, I’m very happy with the way I switched. I was playing a certain way, he got me, so after the 3rd game, I adjusted on court. And I’m happy with the fact that this season, I have been able to adapt on court, I found a way in the middle to shut him down.

And when I felt it, what did I do? I told him, there you go, you can have it back…

Ali : “The conditions are tough, but for all of us. The biggest challenge today was Youssef. He played extremely well and came out of the gates a lot better than I did.

“Ever since World Champs, I haven’t won a single first game, which has to do with my preparation, I guess, my mindset, I don’t know [but] this has to change. Obviously I come up against a lot of big players and it’s credit to them, but I need to rectify that, hopefully in the next round! Youssef [and I] know each other’s games inside out, for better or worse off, and we know each other’s characters inside out. I know exactly where to hurt him and he knows exactly where to hurt me. It makes it an interesting challenge!

“It’s tough to separate the friendship on court and today I was maybe a little too aggressive, sometime even a bit immature, just because of how tough it is to separate what’s between us.

“Overall I’m very happy I came through, especially in that fourth when I was up and lost a bit of concentration and there were a lot of stoppages, and he took advantage. Then at 9-6, I gave it a big push and thankfully it went my way!”

“I’m very proud to come back whenever I’m down. I never give up. I have my team around me, my mum, and my wife [fellow pro Nour El Tayeb] and it just gives me this extra edge and I’m happy I took advantage of it.”

“I can’t believe I have a chance to get to World #1, to be honest. When I was sitting on the couch injured I was dropping down the rankings and I was telling Nour that if I come back healthy again my aim is to stay in the top four, because I was down to No.5. Now I’ve surprised myself and done maybe better than expected and No.1 is on the line, maybe I should give it a big go and if it happens, it happens, and if it doesn’t then I’ve still had a very good season!”