Chicago will always have a special place in Ali Farag’s heart.
Not only has Farag won two of his three World Championship titles in ‘The Windy City’, the second of those wins came just 11 days after the birth of his daughter, when he came back from a game down and 7-0 behind in the second to beat Mohamed ElShorbagy to the title.
The 31-year-old will be one of the favourites to lift the trophy once again this week, particularly after winning his maiden British Open title last month. We spoke to Farag to get his take on his previous World Championship triumphs as well as to look forward to the week ahead.
Q: Ali, you’ve had some injury issues this year, how are you feeling and what has the recovery process been like?
Ali: “It’s been an exciting and challenging process, mentally and physically. With any injury setback, you don’t come straight back, you have times where you plateau and take a step back.
“Am I 100 per cent yet? Some days, yes, some days, not so much. But it’s part of the process and it’s up to me and the team around me to replicate those days as much as possible and hopefully peak for the World Champs.
Q: Last time you performed at the World Champs in Chicago in 2021, it was a very special time for you – talk us through your memories from that event.
Ali: “I’ve spoken about it so many times but I’ve never been able to do it justice. The birth of your first child is always going to be the most special memory of your life. Nour [El Tayeb, Farag’s wife] was extremely supportive, she travelled out two months earlier to give birth there so I had the opportunity to play the World Champs.
“It was during COVID, so our parents couldn’t get in. It was just Nour and I, and I probably shouldn’t say this, but it made it more sweet because it was more intimate. It was so much fun and then all of a sudden you have to flip a switch.
“Literally the next day I had to go to the hotel room and because of the COVID situation I had to stay on my own. It was strange and I guess it took some pressure off of me because I knew it wasn’t the best preparation. If I lost, it wouldn’t have been an excuse, but I would have understood why I lost.
“I hadn’t come off a good World Tour Finals the month before and I wasn’t playing my best at the time, so it was a pleasant surprise 11 days later when I lifted that trophy again. Chicago is always going to have a special place in my heart and I really look forward to coming back again.
Q: What are your memories of that final match against Mohamed ElShorbagy in Chicago?
Ali: “It was a strange match. I didn’t play badly in the first or second but Mohamed won the first and then in the blink of an eye I was 7-0 down [in the second].
“I got a point on the board, I hit a couple of quick winners and Mohamed hit a couple of sloppy errors, which is unlike him. Somehow I was back in it and I remember the second and third games being very tight, then I ran away with the fourth. Thankfully, I had my parents in the crowd with me because they were there for the birth of Farida.
“Everyone I care for was there and coming back the way I did against a champion like Mohamed made it even more special.”
Q: The year after was a repeat of the Chicago final as you faced Mohamed again, this time in Cairo – how special was it to face him again?
Ali: “There are so many great players on tour but, for me, Mohamed is the greatest of our generation. We had played in so many finals in so many different areas of the world, but we’d never played in the World Championship final before.
“To play two back-to-back was very special. I was lucky to come out on top in both because I was two points away from losing in Cairo and I was a game down and 7-0 down in Chicago. To do it in Cairo in an amazing venue in front of the people who had been supporting me from day one was very special for me.”
Q: Union Station is an incredible venue – how excited are you to return there?
Ali: “I am excited because the very first World Championship I won was at Union Station back in March 2019. But Nour [El Tayeb] had lost to Nour El Sherbini in the women’s final and it was a dream for both of us to win it.
“So it was disappointing from that perspective. Deep inside I wasn’t in a very celebratory mood until later in the week once it had sunk in that I was World Champion and I had achieved a dream that any kid dreams of growing up.
“There was a mix of emotions there. But Chicago is one of my favourite cities around the world because of everything that has happened there for me over the years, and returning to Union Station is definitely exciting for me.”
The PSA World Championships presented by the Walter Family will take place May 3-11 with play split between Union Station and the University Club of Chicago. Live action from round one will be shown on the tournament website while RD2 onwards will be shown live on SQUASHTV.
Tickets for the event are available to purchase here.