Interview by RJ Mitchell
Egypt’s Ali Farag has vowed that he will not be pushing any panic buttons as he plans a strategy to reclaim his place as World No.1.
The reigning World Champion heads to Cairo for the sport’s most prestigious title in high confidence after winning the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions PSA World Tour Gold title in New York last week.
However, with three successive defeats to current World No.1 Paul Coll, who heads the World Championship men’s draw for the first time, Farag is aiming to turn the tide on home soil to add to his two World Championship titles.
The most damaging of these defeats was Coll’s 3-0 triumph in the British Open final last month in which Coll appeared to break the Egyptian physically and mentally in the third act of a gripping struggle in which Farag had game balls in the first game but crucially failed to convert.
Yet, impressively candid as always, Farag admits while he and coach Karim Darwish are looking to make improvements to his squash, he believes his basic game is in good order and that he has the firepower to get the better of the Kiwi if he remains true to his game plan and adheres to greater tactical discipline.
“I think it’s something in sport in general that people are extremely reactionary and that once you lose to someone a couple of times then you have to change everything from scratch and I don’t believe in that to be honest.
“You see how Arsenal fans are at the moment with a couple of our key players out and we need to change and go back to that system or this system and I just think you have to stick to what works for you. Nick Matthew said it best: ‘You need to make your strength your super strength and keep making your super strength even more.’
“I think that it’s little bits and pieces here and there that I need to find to get that edge over Paul at the moment. I don’t see that I need to change my game plan necessarily it’s just that I need to execute it a lot better.
“I did change some things but not an extreme change, so I feel that with my game plan I still believe I have what it takes to beat Paul.
“That said Paul has become very consistent and he gives you almost no errors at all and you have to be up to the task from minute one to minute 100 if you want to beat Paul these days. That is the challenge that comes with Paul and I am very excited about it actually.
“Karim Darwish and I always speak over what I need to change, to tweak and to improve on what I need to focus on and improve even more and how I need to keep that process going.
“I am not going to get into too much detail and giving away exactly what we need to be working on and where I can improve and hurt certain opponents including Paul.
“But I am not panicking regarding this, I know that I just have to execute my strategy more consistently.”
Applying the microscope to that British Open final defeat to Coll, Farag admits to frustration at both his failure to take the opening game and also the tactical indecision that enveloped him over the course of the next two as Coll powered to victory.
The two-time World Champion admitted:
“Ultimately it was important that I did not convert that first game, but also that I was just very silly and inexperienced to let it affect my confidence and it made me change my game plan even although in the first game I felt like I had control of most of the game.
“But the fact I lost it made me change it and that was very silly from my side. It is a good lesson to learn and it was not like the first time I’ve experienced it but I guess you always have to keep learning and I hope it is something that will not happen again anytime soon.
“So, in the first game, as I said, I felt I executed my game plan pretty well and put Paul in the back corners more than he did to me and I felt I was in front of him most of the time and dictating the game most of the time.
“But obviously with Paul and how well he is playing at the moment he had patches where he was also dictating the game. Overall, I was comfortable on the court in that opening game but to be honest in the second and third games I was all over the place.
“I would execute a certain game plan for a couple of points and if I lost them, I would go to another game plan and then if I lost it I would go back to the first game plan and it was not good from my side.
“But what I could have done better was just stick to my correct game plan regardless of the result obviously with the ball conditions, the opponent conditions and with the score you have to change things, but I believe all in all I know exactly how I need to play. “
While Farag was delighted to add a second Tournament of Champions trophy to his growing list of accolades, he has admitted the ultimate motivation for the rest of the season remains the opportunity to claim a third PSA World Championship on his home soil in Egypt.
“I do want to win the World Championships especially here in Egypt and it would be very special now that Paul is on top of the world and it makes it all the more significant but I am not super desperate about it.
“As I said before what Laura Massaro said: ‘I don’t need anything more I just want more,’ which is great, so I am very hungry for more but if it doesn’t happen it isn’t the end of the world.
“I know that I will still be a happy person and so I am very excited about the World Champs and it is very exciting for all of us Egyptians to have it in Cairo but there is no desperation here I hope.”