Tournament organiser Danny Lee looks forward to a spectacular squash week at The Wimbledon Club
There are only a few days to go before this year’s Optasia Championship at The Wimbledon Club and once again the excitement is building for what promises to be our most intriguing event yet.
Fittingly for SW19, Wimbledon’s second biggest sports event is staged on a tennis court, one covered in black carpet, with a bar, a TV studio, a large grandstand, and an all glass squash court on it.
We know plenty of things already about the cast of characters who will assemble just a stone’s throw from the All England Lawn Tennis Club Club where tennis history is made year after year.
Four aiming for Top Spot
Mostafa Asal the wonder kid is world number one at the age of 21 and he’s a “ marmite” character who divides opinion.
Mostafa is an amazing player and as promoter I hope he lets his squash do the talking.
I haven’t seen him play live so I have no firm opinion on whether he’s victim or aggressor. I know that he can really play and to have him competing here is an enthralling prospect.
There are three pretenders literally breathing fire down Mostafa’s neck and hoping to make Wimbledon history of their own.
Last year’s champion, the likeable, eloquent Egyptian Ali Farag happily back from injury, himself no stranger to a softer type of controversy as he drew global attention with support for Palestine in his victory speech which went viral. A top sportsman using his influence to sway political opinion on human rights issues , whatever next ?!
Ali’s supreme movement and court craft make him a delight to watch and he carries his World Champion status fittingly as one of squash’s finest ambassadors.
Diego Elias, the best player to come out of South America, has shifted his play up a level and is in a rich vein of form having, with Mohamed El Shorbagy, participated in a free flowing squash extravaganza at the Black Ball Open, which restored the cognoscenti’s faith in our beautiful, but recently tarnished, game. Diego inches ever closer to the summit of the world squash rankings, jostling with Ali and Mohamed, hoping to plant his Peruvian flag on the top .
Mohamed may have thought that his star was waning, but wisely sought the counsel of another recent world champion, Greg Gaultier. The partnership has proved to be invigorating for Mohamed who has regained both his passion for matches and his winning formula.
The Canary Wharf tournament which proceeds the Optasia will no doubt also influence this enticing four horse race for the number one spot . A race that looks set to run a while yet but as I write there’s just a short head between the contenders.
Strength in depth
The intrigue and suspense comes of course from what we don’t yet know and such is the depth of the PSA world tour that there are a host of characters, themselves masters of the game, who are lurking, ready to pounce on just the slightest show of weakness from any of the glittering top four.
Marwan ElShorbagy has the squash intelligence and pedigree to hijack the ambitions of those even more loftily perched. He’s in fine form too but has he quite got the physicality to win four brutal matches in successive days ? Like his brother he is forging a strong pupil /coach allegiance with an ex world champion, exquisite shot maker and Khan conqueror Rodney Martin.
The mere mention of the word “physicality“ conjures up images of Joel Makin’s brutal capacity to tolerate and absorb intense pressure. Wimbledon club member and former World number two Peter Marshall, now 51, is rumoured to have fallen off a treadmill at the club recently. Obviously wounded but shunning assistance “ Marsh” jumped back on and pounded even harder ! Joel, in addition to his “Marshall like” hardness, has worked tirelessly improving his attacking game and is now a match for what the very best can throw at him .
A Harvard graduate like Ali Farag, Amanda Sohby and Gina Kennedy before him, Victor Crouin has quietly slipped up the rankings to a career high of number 7 . He won a couple of weeks ago in Washington and is another man “en forme “ leading the charge of a talented French quartet of squashbuckling musketeers breezing into town with the ghosts of their racket wielding forbearers, Jean Borotra, René Lacoste, Henri Cochet and Jacques Brugnon performing magic across the road on Centre Court a century ago, watching over them.
Mazen Hesham has been a major highlight of previous Optasia (Channel VAS) tournaments. With shotmaking as flamboyant as his former “corkscrew” hairstyle, Mazen captures the hearts of audiences worldwide. He has the necessary grit too to take him to a potentially breakthrough title win.
One of three World Champions and four World number ones in the draw, Karim Abdel Gawad had the lines of pain etched on his cherubic features when he suffered an injury which kept him out of squash for eight months, a period of convalescence and intense rehabilitation with only a 50% chance of him returning to the big stage .
The fans flocking to Wimbledon will delight once again at his majestic skills and if he can get past Raphael Kandra, a Wednesday encounter with Mostafa really whets the appetite for a battle royale.
Don’t miss Super Tuesday
Tuesday’s first round, which runs from 1pm until closing time, provides the best value ticket in town at £20 for eight matches.
In addition to the aforementioned Gawad v Kandra clash at 6.30pm, locals will flock to watch the late blossoming talent of Surrey’s Charlie Lee pitching his skills against Qatar’s entertaining Abdulla Al-Tamimi at 7.30pm.
England’s Patrick Rooney who flies the home flag with Charlie and Mohamed, clashes with former World Junior Champion Eain Yow Ng at 5.30pm . Two players that attempt to play everything should greatly entertain.
We welcome another popular veteran of many epic Optasia matches Saurav Ghosal, who plays Auguste Dussourd at 2pm who sneaked into the draw as a late replacement.
Top Scot Greg Lobban takes on another Egyptian in Youssef Soliman, and they start the day’s proceedings at 1pm.
Last season’s surprise semi finalist Nicolas Mueller, who enjoyed the vibe of being so close to where Swiss sporting history was made by Roger Federer, is challenged by fellow countryman Dimitri Steinmann, who has hurtled up the rankings this season, at 3pm.
Another Egyptian talent waiting patiently for a top ten spot is Youssef Ibrahim, a shot maker who stands on the threshold of a breakthrough into the World’s top 10 who plays charismatic Frenchman Sebastien Bonmalais at 4pm.
The evening session will be concluded at 8.30pm by French rivals Gregoire Marche and Baptiste Masotti, who will be looking to upset his higher ranked compatriot.
We have some extra treats in store for the fans as the mercurial talents of ex world number 45 Robbie Temple are challenged by Wimbledon’s assistant pro Jordan Warne on Saturday 25th March at 3pm prior to the semi finals.
On Sunday 26th March at 3pm a Pro Squash Challenge featuring world number 10 Gina Kennedy and World number 20 Jasmine Hutton precedes the final at 4.15pm.
This is no exhibition and Gina will be keen to keep the title which helped her spring to prominence in 2021 with wins over Jasmine, Tesni Evans and Sarah Jane Perry.
Thanks to …
Sponsor Bassim Haidar, who has been improving his own skills with regular coaching, remains an ardent supporter of squash and the sport owes him a great debt for his passionate involvement over seven seasons.
Bassim’s enthusiasm has been partly fuelled through witnessing numerous, breathtaking Optasia battles and seeing the tournament grow into a major sporting event which remains intimate whilst attaining magnitude and prestige.
Don’t Miss It !!!
With an enlarged arena built to cope with increasing demand, tickets and hospitality are still available. Make sure you get yours now …
For wonderful hospitality packages contact Stacey Ross at The Wimbledon Club on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wimbledon and the squash world awaits the gladiators with stirred anticipation …