US SQUASH

Trio of Past Champions Headline All-Egyptian U.S. Open Finals

(l-r): Mohamed ElShorbagy, Nour El Tayeb, Ali Farag

Three past champions—Mohamed ElShorbagy, Ali Farag and Nour El Tayeb—have the opportunity to enrich to their FS Investments U.S. Open legacies after advancing to the 2019 finals, while Nouran Gohar aims to engrave her name on the coveted trophy for the first time following Friday’s semifinals, October 11, at Drexel University’s Daskalakis Center in Philadelphia.

The opening match of the semifinal session defied expectation as 2017 champion Nour El Tayeb swiftly eliminated world No. 1 and defending champion Raneem El Welily in a three game, thirty-five minute match, 11-8, 11-9, 11-5. Fighting off early deficits in the second and third games, El Tayeb out-maneuvered and out-played the 2018 champion to maintain her unbeaten record against El Welily on the ASB GlassCourt in Philadelphia.

El Welily and El Tayeb had already met two times this season, with El Tayeb prevailing in the China Open final in September and El Welily taking their most recent encounter—the Oracle NetSuite Open final in San Francisco last week. El Tayeb first upset El Welily in the 2015 U.S. Open quarterfinals in five games. Two years later, she went on to upset El Welily again in a five-game final.

“I watched our last match from San Francisco this morning,” El Tayeb said. “I was shocked, I didn’t think I was doing a lot of things badly, but she was just unbeatable and took every chance. Today, I was laughing, when I was 6-4 up in the first game I thought ‘yes, I’ve taken more points than I did last time.’ Last time the most I scored was five, so after I took the first game I thought ‘wow, I’m in this and it’s not like last time’. I think that was my mindset going into today, I didn’t want to lose 3-0 to her and I took every point as it came because she can beat anyone 3-0 on her day and I don’t think I’ve ever beaten her in three, not in practice, not in my dreams, not anywhere.”

The 2017 U.S. Open proved to be historic for El Welily and her husband Ali Farag, as the couple celebrated their first World Series titles alongside each other. The dream of pulling off the U.S. Open husband and wife double is still alive, as Farag followed El Tayeb into the finals in the ensuing match against Peru’s Diego Elias.

Farag fell behind 4-7 in the opening game against the world No. 7, at which point he strung together six straight points to go up 10-7, and converted on his second game ball 11-8. The second game was close to start with both players level at 5-all. Farag began to force from Elias, including three strokes as the Egyptian pulled away to take the second 11-6. Farag then closed out the match in a nick-filled third game, 11-8 after fifty-three minutes. Farag, who has held the world No. 1 ranking since March, hadn’t been in action since Monday following Miguel Angel Rodriguez’s withdrawal from their quarterfinal encounter.

“I’m extremely happy,” Farag said. “It felt like the first performance of the tournament, I had a couple of good wins against solid opponents at the start of the tournament but then the unfortunate situation of Miguel pulling out let me rest for three days, so it felt like I wasn’t in the zone anymore and that made me a little nervous.”

Farag, a 2015 Harvard graduate, had the guidance of Harvard coach Mike Way in his corner, while Elias has Jonathon Power, the two-time U.S. Open champion and Way’s former pupil.

“I’m in my best comfort zone when Mike is around,” Farag said. “We had a chat before the match and he settled me down. Diego got off to a great start and I think I weathered the storm well. I tried to dominate the ‘T’ area and it’s never easy against him because he hits the ball very cleanly and his positioning is very good. If leaving the room today you would have told us that we would be leaving with two 3-0 wins tonight I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s a very good day for us. We will both have solid opponents in the final now. Whoever it will be, they are all playing really well but we’re going to give it our best and if we walk away with another repeat of 2017 then we would be very happy.”

The three-game results continued with the final two semifinals of the evening. The second women’s semi was a repeat of the 2019 British Open final between Egypt’s three seed Nouran Gohar and France’s Camille Serme and ended in the same result. Gohar, world No. 5, only needed thirty minutes to claim the British Open title in May and was able to get off court one minute earlier Friday night, overpowering the 2016 U.S. Open champion 11-4, 11-6, 11-4. The result sends the twenty-two-year-old through to her first career U.S. Open final.

“Before playing here, I was thinking yesterday that all the semi-finalists are U.S. Open champions and I’m the only one that isn’t,” Gohar said. “Hopefully I can do it tomorrow. I’m just really happy to be on court, I had a solo practice this morning and there are some days when you are feeling good and you are very excited to be one court and today was one of those days. It really helped against someone who is very precise, accurate and tactical like Camille. She beat me last time at home, which was really painful and it was great today. You work really hard throughout the whole season for days like this when you are feeling great on court and I’m really happy about it. I’m just going to relax today and forget about it because tomorrow is a new day.”

World No. 2 and defending champion Mohamed ElShorbagy is one match away from equaling Peter Nicol’s record of four U.S. Open titles, following a comprehensive victory over compatriot and world No. 3 Tarek Momen. One week after a narrow five-game final against Momen in San Francisco, ElShorbagy pushed through two close opening games 11-8, 11-9 before barreling into the final 11-3 in the third after forty-four minutes.

“You had to win the rally many times before you won the point,” ElShorbagy said. “Patience was the key today and I think I was a little bit more patient than him. I’m really happy to be off in three and playing Ali tomorrow, he has had a really good run here and with how many matches he has had, I had to make sure that I won in three if I was going to get through today.”

The twenty-eight-year-old currently holds three U.S. Open titles —2018, 2016 and 2014—and level with fellow three-time champions Gregory Gaultier, Jansher Khan, Hashim Khan and Roshan Khan.

“It would mean so much to have a shot at winning the U.S. Open title for the fourth time, but I’m up against the best player in the world right now,” ElShorbagy said. “I’m after him and I want his ranking, but right now he had an unbelievable season last season and I think it’s fitting that the first Platinum tournament of the season we have the world No. 1 and No. 2 in the final and hopefully it’s a good match in front of everyone.”

 

 

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