Ali Farag (Egy) 3-2 Gregoire Marche (Fra) 4-11, 11-8, 6-11, 11-4, 11-4 (55m)
I can imagine the stress all the Farag clan back at home, celebrating the first evening of Iftar of this year’s Ramadan, and Ali being completely outplayed by the Acrobat, 7/1, 10/3, 11/4 in 9m!
Greg, not as his best physically – he had to forfeit last week in Canary Wharf due to 2 weeks of heavy and nasty flu – had nothing to fear and was letting his arm go freely. And it worked wonders. Moving well, finding sublime crispy volley winners all over the place, he really dominated Mr Fantastic in that opener.
A good reaction from the Title Holder in the second but it’s still a very short rally 11m for 11/8, meaning that Ali couldn’t impose his lengthy and mid pace kind of squash, and was pushed into playing right in Greg’s hand. The Egyptian levels 11/8 thanks to 5 points given away by the Frenchman in that game alone.
The third is a game of two halves. First, Ali with the momentum, 6/2, Greg making tired errors. Then second wind for the Frenchman, and it’s now Ali’s turn to be flat as a pancake. Yes, still good rallies, but Greg was dominating the T, and Ali making windscreen wiper at the back, 9 points in a row for Grégoire, 11/6 in 9m.
But as Greg commented himself, he was just too short after that, and Ali, now at the front and confident, was controlling the middle, and didn’t take prisoners: 11/4, 11/4.
“Il revient de loin”. That was a close call…
The defending champion is up and running in this year's @OPTASIAsquash 💪
— PSA World Tour (@PSAWorldTour) March 23, 2023
I’m happy as I feel l had like an epiphany during my training last two days. I was able to relax finally. I saw my match against Ali two years ago in BlackBall, where I managed to play an excellent game against him.
And I realised that’s the way I was meant to play, that’s the game I dwell in. I forced myself to find those sensations on my last two matches. And I was really happy with my first three matches.
Physically, I knew it was going to be complicated after the last 2 weeks being ill. And when you are 70% on court against someone like Ali, you KNOW it’s going to be complicated. Unless you play BO3….
I still fought hard and got my attacking game in place as I knew there was not much gas left in the tank. Super chuffed as I’m 3kg too heavy, and I still managed to get a good match and enjoy it.
I think I’m close to starting to believe, but a lot of positives to take…
“Greg played extremely well. I’m a little frustrated with myself because I knew my gameplan well and I didn’t execute it at all. Credit to him because he made me play his own gameplan. Greg likes to play a very open court, playing cross courts and with a lot of angles. I played into his hands a little more than I would have liked.
“Credit to him, he was so accurate and forced me to open the court too much. Thankfully my corner told me to keep it tight and keep it higher to try and nullify his attacks and I managed to do that. But it was very nervy at the end.
“It was easy to motivate myself to come back [after the injury]. This injury was a blessing in disguise because it reignited the fire inside of me, so the rehabilitation was fun I guess. It was a new challenge and an exciting one for me and I’ve had a great team behind me and they’ve worked wonders on my knee – look how small those quads are! They’re not really helping with taking the load off my joints but I’ve been building that up.
“I’d love to win here. The Optasia title is the only one I’ve won on British soil so I’ve got good memories here. Thanks to everyone who organises this, you make us feel so welcome, and thanks to the crowd, too, it’s always busy from day one. We love to see it and the English crowd, you can’t find better anywhere in the world.”