Any number of squash classics in the game’s history would compare very closely with the final of the 2015 PSA World Series El Gouna International Tournament, which ended on Friday at the Egyptian Red Sea Resort of El Gouna. The analysts will keep looking for new descriptions and phrases in days to come about the match between world no.1 Mohamed Elshorbagy and world no.4 Ramy Ashour. In a match lasting 94 minutes, fortunes fluctuated from one side to the other and it was impossible to tell which of the two players would finally emerge as the champion. Finally, it was the maverick Egyptian superstar and current world champion Ramy Ashour, who ruled the roost in the end in a fully stretched 5-game match, causing great disappointment to his equally competent compatriot Mohamed Elshorbagy.
It was a remarkable comeback for the 24-year old Cairo resident Ramy Ashour, who has remained out of active squash after his victory in the PSA World Championship at Doha in December 2014. The match sustained itself on an even keel with neither finalist willing to yield the ground. But the end had the same fever-pitch excitement as the world championship match between these two same players. After losing two games, Elshorbagy responded to take the third game and then saved two championship points in the fourth to force the match into a decider. The last game was not short of heroics either as Mohamed Elshorbagy held four championship points but ended as a loser finally.
When Nick Matthews dropped out of the tournament due to his foot injury, it looked as if Angels were smiling at Elshorbagy and he deserved to be the logical champion. Ashour had kept himself out of the PSA circuit since the world championship and had to work relatively harder in his progress to the final. Therefore, Elshorbagy looked headed to take the no.1 spot in the tournament as he began well in the first game. He led 6-4 and progressed to 8-5. But Ashour not only clawed back to make it 8-8, he forced Elshorbagy into committing some unforced errors at critical junctures. Elshorbagy slipped and lost the first game 9-11 in 17 minutes. Having tasted the blood, Ashour continued relentlessly in the second game, which remained close up to the score of 6-7 in favor of Ashour. Then the world champion forced the pace again and ran through the game in 14 minutes to finish at 11-6. In the third game, Elshorbagy pulled up his socks and played ferociously to pull one game back. He did it in style with Ashour watching helplessly. Elshorbagy took just 9 minutes to win the third 11-4.
After the first three games, the 4th was a case study for the squash coaching camps. It had all the drama one could imagine. The game began with some amazing rallies that didn’t seem to end. From 5-5, the game progressed to 6-6 and finally Ashour ran away to 9-6, just two points from the title. But Elshorbagy was not one to throw in the towel so easily. He rallied but couldn’t prevent Ashour to hold the first championship point at 10-8. Ashour tried but Elshorbagy bounced back to make it 10-10. It was very much like the two guys played at Doha during the world championship, when Ashour was 10/5 up but Elshorbagy found his best shots to deny him at that instant. Here in El Gouna, Elshorbagy held his nerves, took the game 12-10 in 22 minutes and equaled game scores to 2-2.
The last game was a spoiled dream for Elshorbagy, The 24-year old world no.1 raced to a 10-6 lead to hold four championship points. But the history had to repeat as Ashour wrote the Doha world championship script all over again. Just as he did four months ago, Ashour prevented Elshorbagy from the winning finish at El Gouna. He bounced back to take the decider to the tie-break and won the match amidst high emotions, leaving the audience completely shocked. The one-and-half hour battle was fought at a blistering pace without any let up from either man. The final victory score for Ashour was 11-9, 11-6, 4-11, 10-12, 12-10.
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