None of the previous PSA Men’s World Championship finals held in Doha had finished in less than four games, with the last two, both between Egyptians Ramy Ashour and Mohamed ElShorbagy, often considered among the greatest matches in the sport.
And while the scoreline of 3-0 (11-8, 11-3, 11-4) may suggest otherwise, it was a final between two very hungry opponents who battled tremendous pressure, physical pain, epic points and mental battles.
Eventually it was world number three Tarek Momen, who emerged as the fourth straight Egyptian world champion, with his accurate front game snatching the title away from a struggling New Zealander Paul Coll in 39 minutes in front of a very vocal crowd.
Coll, nicknamed ‘Superman’ for his physical game and acrobatic abilities in the court, had played two really long matches coming into the final, including a two-hour pre-quarters clash with Omar Mosaad and an 84-minute semifinal against Marwan ElShorbagy. Having played through 310 minutes of squash on his way to the decider, almost an hour more than Momen, seemed to have taken its toll on the fourth seed.
Momen didn’t allow the 27-year-old any warm-up, pushing him hard from the word go at the front. To make matters worse, Coll seemed to have tweaked his quad early in the second game, and it was almost one-way traffic in favour of Momen despite some incredible moments of fight from the Kiwi.
Momen himself fought through plantar fasciitis in his left heel, surviving a massive scare by home hero Abdulla al-Tamimi in the third round where the Egyptian thought he was “going to exit the tournament”, and some good old dose of pressure; all in all the “toughest week of my life”.
So much so that his first major victory, having never won a Platinum level tournament before, sent Momen into tears as he walked out of the court to hug wife and 2017 world champion Raneem El Weleily, sister Farah, and the rest of the team.
“I am just so relieved that today for the first time in over a week, I can breathe. I have been struggling so hard. That’s why I brought Raneem and Farah with me. I needed them,” said Momen, who along with his wife became the first married couple in squash history to lift the world title.
“I have never experienced the feeling of winning the match, and then five minutes later, I am worried. I was so tensed all the time,” he said talking about his mental struggles through the week.
Momen was forthcoming about how the absence of Ali Farag, the previous world champion, 2016 world champion Karim Abdel Gawad and the 2017 champion Mohamed ElShorbagy only added to his worries.
“On paper it looked like an opportunity, but it just put a lot more pressure on me. I knew if I didn’t win, I would regret this even though the calibre of the players who were left in the draw was so high. I knew I would go back home with so much regret, and this itself put me through hell,” the 31-year-old said.
Right after the match, before he lifted the trophy, he said, “If I tell you how many I have imagined making this speech my whole life, it’s countless. I really don’t know what to say. I just worked so hard for this. For years I have been trying, and I have come this close but it didn’t happen for me. I haven’t won a platinum event and the first major I ever win happens to be a world championship, it is unbelievable.”
Coll had his own pressures and battles to deal with being the first New Zealander since Ross Norman in 1986 to appear in the World Championships final.
“I just switched off my mobile phone last night,” he said.
“I am very proud of reaching my very first world championship final. I have had some massive support from back home, people waking up early morning, and so I just want to tell those people back home, I really felt it through the week and I really love you guys.
“I am proud of the (way I played through the) week but a little bit disappointed tonight but credit to Tarek, he really delivered on the big stage tonight,” Coll said.
Coll only had good words to say about the organisers, the fans and the atmosphere: “It’s the best tournament on tour in terms of hospitality, the way they look at us. The way the crowd gets behind the players, it’s amazing.
“Such a tournament deserves such a good atmosphere, so thank you to all the organisers, and to everyone who turned out the whole week, not just tonight. Thank you guys for making it all such a special tournament.”
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