Whirling Darwish

Champion stuff... Karim Darwish of Egypt with the trophy after winning the Kolkata International squash tournament.-S. PARTONOBISH

The Egyptian, currently ranked No. 3 in the world, does justice to his reputation by winning the $35,000 PSA tournament at the Calcutta Racquet Club. Amitabha Das Sharma reports.

Squash fans in the city had a special reason to cheer the former World No. 1, Karim Darwish, at the Kolkata International tournament. After all, the arrival of one of the sport's top stars had lent credence to the rising stature of the tournament in the international calendar.

Darwish, currently ranked No. 3 in the world, did justice to his reputation by winning the $35,000 PSA tournament at the Calcutta Racquet Club recently. Though the field had no other player from World Top-10, the Egyptian had to contend with a few spirited opponents from World Top-30.

Darwish's challengers included his compatriot Omar Mosaad, ranked No. 17 in the world and seeded No. 2 in the tournament, third-seeded Ong Beng Hee of Malaysia and fourth-seeded Saurav Ghosal of India.

Ghosal, who received the news of his ranking going up by a place to World No. 23 during the tournament, reached the semifinals against Darwish.

His remarkable record in the tournament had given rise to a lot of optimism among the local fans. Ghosal had scalped the top seed and World No. 13 Adrian Grant of England to reach the semifinals of the previous edition in 2010 — a moment the Indian loves to talk about.

Ghosal, who has risen to be the best squash player from the country in the international professional circuit, put up a spirited fight against Darwish. He matched the top seed in every aspect of the game for a greater part of the contest. But, in the final analysis, what made the difference between the two was the knack of winning crucial points, and this Darwish showed in good measure to emerge triumphant.

“I am looking to play and perform better against higher-ranked players this year as I wish to get into the Top-10 in world rankings,” said Ghosal of his plans for the future.

There was enough indication of Ghosal's resolve as he overcame a shaky start against Darwish in the first game. He matched the Egyptian star point for point and went level till 9-9. But Darwish nudged ahead by winning a ‘stroke' that gave him a 10-9 lead. He then closed out the game with a low forehand smash (11-9).

The Indian came back strongly in the second game, executing sharp returns with a clever mix of smashes and sliced drops on the wall. Ghosal, who had registered commanding victories against Bradley Hindle of Malta (first round) and the World junior champion, Amr Khaled Khalifa, of Egypt (quarterfinals), impressed with his shot selection, which caught Darwish on the wrong foot more often than not.

Sourav Ghoshal... improving by leaps and bounds.-R. RAGU

Producing a series of spectacular winners, Ghosal ran up a 9-4 lead before winning the second game 11-5.

Darwish tried harder in the third game but the Indian, who had a nasty fall while trying to reach for a return, refused to give up and kept chasing the top seed. Having drawn level at 9-9, the Indian made a couple of unforced errors and hit his returns successively on the tin to give Darwish the third game (11-9) and also the psychological advantage. The Egyptian never looked back thereafter and won the fourth easily (11-4) to wrap up the match in 54 minutes.

“I am beginning to feel that I can match up to these guys,” Ghosal said later. “I am satisfied with my performance but feel that I should have been able to hold on to the later points (in the first and the third games) and that would have made a great difference,” he added.

Darwish, who had beaten Ghosal 3-0 in a tournament in Kuala Lumpur recently, was impressed with the skill and spirit of his opponent. “He played well and gave a good fight. I did not expect to win the fourth game so easily,” the Egyptian said.

While the top seed had to work overtime to keep his Indian opponent at bay, second-seeded Mosaad defeated his 19-year-old compatriot Karim Abdel Gawad in just 28 minutes in the other semifinal, making it the quickest match of the main draw. Gawad, who had upset third-seeded Ong Beng Hee in a protracted battle in the quarterfinals, failed to counter the power and accuracy of Mosaad, who played an all-court game.

In the final, Darwish justified his billing by overriding the challenge of Mosaad. It was a top-class contest, where the finesse of Darwish came up against the determination and doggedness of Mosaad.

The clash, which lasted 91 minutes, saw the top seed falling behind his tough opponent on a number of occasions, but he came back strongly each time to wipe out the deficit. Darwish, finally, won in straight games to bag the 21st title of his career.

THE RESULTS Final

Karim Darwish (Egypt) beat Omar Mosaad (Egypt) 12-10, 12-10, 11-4.

Semifinals

Karim Darwish bt Saurav Ghosal (India) 11-9, 5-11, 11-9, 11-4; Omar Mosaad bt Karim Abdel Gawad (Egypt) 11-6, 11-4, 11-4.