By Annanya Johari
Under the chandeliers of the iconic Cathedral Hall at the University Club of Chicago, Nour El Tayeb and Mohamed ElShorbagy claimed a championship sweep for Egypt Wednesday at the Windy City Open 2018 squash tournament.
An Egyptian winner was a certainty in the men’s draw since the finalists were the ElShorbagy brothers, Mohamed and Marwan. A lot more than just the title was on the line for Mohamed, the elder of the two. The win took him back to the top of the world rankings.
Before the brothers took to the court though, El Tayeb played her fourth consecutive 5-set match of the tournament against New Zealand’s Joelle King. In two of the first three before the final, El Tayeb had to come back from trailing her opponents 0-2. In the finals, she twice found herself a point away from losing to King, but she came out stronger on each of those occasions.
The first game of the final started with King opening a 3-0 lead in the beginning. El Tayeb, though, aided by her strong backhands, leveled the score at 5-5 and then went on to win the first game 11-8.
The 29-year old King stormed back to win the next two games, her second win coming after she was down 6-10.
King capitalized on her momentum and opened up a 5-0 lead to begin the fourth set. That is when El Tayeb showed the mental skills that had helped her in three previous rounds. Not shying away from long rallies, she took on the attack and won the game 11-9.
The match, very close so far, only got closer. The fifth game was the most intense, as both players were, at different times, just a point away from the championship. King got the opportunity first when serving for the title at 10-8. El Tayeb, unfazed under pressure, held on to the next two points and got her own chance to serve for the championship. She didn’t let go, winning her second World Series title in the process.
“I can’t believe it,” said El Tayeb after the match. “I felt like I lost this match three or four times. I was down in the fifth but looking over at Haitham (her coach) and Ali (her husband) gave me the encouragement, but I really can’t believe that I won the tournament.”
“Everyday that I’ve woken up I’ve felt tired but I knew that I can do it. I don’t think I’ve ever only played five-setters in a tournament. I think I will have to give my physical fitness coach a very big bonus!” she added.
Following immediately on the glass court were the ElShorbagy brothers, who were facing each other in the second World Series final after the PSA World Championships last year in Manchester, England. The result was the same in Chicago, with the elder brother taking home the title.
Mohamed, who had reached the final without dropping a single game, played some remarkable squash and showed exceptional drive when playing toward the back of the court. He started strong and Marwan was left playing catch up as the first two games ended with the same score – 11-8.
The difference became still more apparent in the third game as Marwan had no chance at all to settle in. Before he knew it, Mohamed won the game 11-6 to lift his sixth title of the season, which catapulted him to World No. 1.
“After last season – I worked really hard, set new goals that I wanted to achieve, and it just shows that nothing can stop anyone achieving their dream if they work hard for it,” said Mohamed.
He said he is glad his younger brother is coming up through the ranks and added that his World Series title would come at the right time. “I just wanted to keep it a little bit later than today.”