SINGAPORE — Egypt’s World No.1 Ali Farag and Belgium’s Nele Gilis emerge as men’s and women’s champions respectively at the 2023 Vitagen Singapore Squash Open.
Farag defeated Peru’s Diego Elias in a close-fought 72-minute clash.
The final was the third final the pair has met in this season, after the Paris Squash and the Qatar Classic in which Egypt’s Farag took both titles.
The Egyptian, 31, said: “I had to play so many tough opponents, and to win the trophy is such a proud moment for me. You could see both of us getting tired at the end, but I was just lucky to get away with the last few points.”
Of the 23 occasions that the two have played each other, Peru’s Diego Elias has won just three, with two coming in 2016 and 2017, and the most recent time being a retirement from the World No.1 in last year’s US Open.
Elias had a testing semi final against Mostafa Asal, but came away the 3-1 victor. Farag faced No.6 seed Marwan el-Shorbagy, who had knocked out defending champion Mohamed ElShorbagy in the round prior.
The No.1 seed dispatched the Englishman in straight games to progress to his third final of the season. Elias started quickly, building a 7-1 lead over the top seed and looking settled in the early rallies.
Farag grew into the game, but was still on the back foot and the slow start was the Egyptian’s undoing as he gave Elias four game balls. The ‘Peruvian Puma’ only needed one opportunity to convert his lead as he took the first game 11-6.
The World champion looked more consistent in the second game, trading points with the World No.2 before creating a two-point gap with a pin-point forehand drop to make it 5-3.
The Egyptian marched on, collecting consecutive points to 9-3. The momentum was heavily on the side of Farag as he pushed on to an 11-4 game to level the match.
In a crucial third game that involved several brutally long rallies, Farag looked to have the advantage at 5-3, but the No.2 seed brought the game back level with two hard-earned points.
The pair traded points to 9-9. The Egyptian kept on top from there, earning four match balls. Elias was pushed physically to keep up with the World No.1, but Farag finally found his breakthrough with a backhand drop to take the momentous 30-minute third game.
The Egyptian and the Peruvian exchanged points to 3-3, but the end of the third game seemed to have taken a toll on Elias, as Farag took control of the match, establishing a five-point lead of his South American counterpart.
Farag maintained his lead give himself four championship balls. The World No.1 put two balls into tin, but it was Elias’ shot that sealed the title for Farag as he hit the tin to make it three titles so far season for the Egyptian.
“When I started my career I would never have thought that I would have 36 titles to my name,” Farag said according to psaworldtour.
“Nicol David [Malaysian squash legend] said once that you should cherish these moments whilst they’re happening so I’m trying to enjoy every minute of it whilst improving at the same time. I’m very proud and happy and looking forward to Hong Kong already.
“The third was very crucial. Diego started the match better, he was hitting his marks and I had to change a few things. We had some brutal rallies at the start of the second and in the third we had a really long rally followed by a review and I felt a drop in energy. Thankfully, I managed to recover and then got a good lead in the fourth and managed to close it out.”
Both sisters were competing in their first Gold event finals, and a second World Tour final after Nele won the encounter at the Open de France back in September 2022.
Nele started the better of the two as she got to work on pinning Tinne in the back two corners early in the match and making sure her sister was as far back in the court as possible before sending the ball short.
Nele was relying on Tinne attacking first and then counter attacking her younger sister to make her question her tactics. This worked well as Tinne looked to be getting increasingly frustrated with proceedings as she lost the opening two games 11-6, 12-10.
Despite looking physically tired at the end of the second game, Tinne returned to the court with a fighting spirit, determined to give a better account of herself and get stuck into the match.
She threw caution to the wind as she started to fire the ball into the front corners with great accuracy and rattled off winner after winner. Nele had no response for the change in tactics from her younger sister and lost the game 11-8.
More followed from Tinne as she could see that Nele was struggling to cope with the patterns of play that she was producing.
Tinne couldn’t miss as she relentlessly attacked the corners of the court, as a panicking Nele looked back at fiancé and World No.4 Paul Coll for answers. Tinne impressively levelled 11-5 to force a fifth and final game to decide the champion.
The words of wisdom from Coll in between the fourth and fifth game looked to have been crucial for Nele as she got off to the perfect start in the fifth game, leading 4-1. Despite Tinne clawing her way back to 4-5, Nele put together a string of positive rallies to test a the movement of a fading Tinne, who couldn’t register another point as Nele romped to the title, the biggest of her career.