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THE SHOW GOES ON IN ANGERS

A few months after the success of the exhibition match between Nouran Gohar and Camille Serme, the Squash du Lac du Maine strikes again: on March 31st, they will welcome Egyptian prodigy Ali Farag and Australia’s hard-hitting Cameron “Pistol” Pilley. Entertainment guaranteed in Angers!

 November 18th. A few days before the World Team Championship in Paris, the Squash du Lac du Maine in Angers is hosting two of the best current female players – Nouran Gohar and Camille Serme – for an exhibition match. “People were delighted, said Nicolas Barbeau, joint manager of the club and cornerstone of the organizing committee. Not only by the level of play, but also the players’ behavior. They are truly great ambassadors for the sport! And I believe the sponsors, especially the main one Anjou Granit Import, liked the way their company was promoted as well as the professionalism of our organization.” Based on this successful experience, the club decided to carry the momentum forward with a men’s match on March, 31st. “It makes sense, continues Barbeau. It is no offence to women to say that the men’s game is faster and more spectacular. We always want to improve, and as such we’ll try and put on an even better show.

 

The organizing committee alongside Nouran Gohar and Camille Serme

As far as show goes, the crowd should not be disappointed: the organizers had their hearts set on Ali Farag and Cameron Pilley – who have never played each other before. “Having an Egyptian player is an obvious choice considering their current domination on squash and their spectacular style. Farag is world number 7 and has a very bright future. One can imagine him being potential world champion in the coming years.” His opponent will be one the most experienced campaigners on the world tour. Pilley has belonged to the world top 25 for more than 10 years, and at 34 years old he’s been enjoying the best form of his career lately. “I refereed him a couple of times, says Barbeau. He is a class act, and an example on and off the court.” The Australian giant (6ft3) is also known for his powerful hitting, which was recorded at 178 mph. “He holds the world record, says Vincent Feugereux, who represents the Karakal brand in France and will be one of the event’s sponsors. With Nicolas, we will try and set up a machine on the day of the match. Cameron has already broken his own record twice and it would be nice if he could do it again in France! Our brand and him have had a strong history: his father is our distributor in Australia, and Cameron has had his signature racket for a few years (the T-120 FF).” Like for the women’s exhibition, players, sponsors and club members will also have the opportunity to gather at the post-match party. “Nouran speaks French fluently so that certainly made things easier, Barbeau told us, but a few people at the club speak English so that shouldn’t be a problem. There will also a Q&A session on court after the match, like we did in November.

Cameron Pilley holds the world record speed for hitting a squash ball (Photo credit: www.squashmad.com

Barbeau and his team are already thinking about the future. “We are a small group of knowledgeable and motivated people. Exhibition matches are good are there are not that many in France. What I like is that squash players are very down to earth and accessible people. They are not blasé and appreciate to be exposed. As far as the future goes, people often ask me why I organize matches with foreign players while the current world number 3 is French … Therefore, I have in the back of my mind the project of setting up an event with Grégory Gaultier and someone like Nick Matthew or James Willstrop. Furthermore, I think this ‘squash show’ concept could be transferred to other clubs. My team and I have the contacts and experience, therefore I take this opportunity to tell anyone who would be interested to get in touch with me. This kind of event is the perfect way to offer a present to your club members.

 

THE SPONSOR: ANJOU GRANIT IMPORT

Main sponsor of the Gohar v Serme exhibition match, the Anjou Granit Import company and its joint manager Christophe Cheftel have put their trust again in Barbeau and his team. “As far as I am concerned I think the two dates may be a bit close, but I have complete trust in Nicolas,” says Cheftel, which was more than happy with the first event. “The organization was spotless. Even though for the company the benefits are hard to measure, the social aspect of the evening with officials and customers is always a plus. And our employees who attended were delighted! As regards to the match, it’s interesting to see high-level female players. Besides, they displayed great behaviour and were very accessible. I was impressed with Nouran Gohar’s maturity at only 19 years old. But for sure the men’s game is faster, as it is in tennis, a sport that I’ve played for a long time. I must say that squash is more fun, tennis can be frustrating when you constantly hit the ball out of court… When I have a busy day and I play squash at lunchtime, it’s a way for me to get some steam off and it gives me a nice boost for the rest of the day at work.

 

Christophe Cheftel with Nouran Gohar and Camille Serme

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT … ALI FARAG

He had a very successful junior career before going to study at Harvard, and then started playing on the tour after getting his degree

Well, this is a funny story, as I never wanted to leave Egypt. While I was in Ecuador playing the World Juniors’ in July 2010, Harvard assistant coach was e-mailing me almost every day to try and recruit me for their squash team. But I was to attached to my family and friends at home and decided to turn down the offer. Six months later, I won the U19 British Junior Open, taking my revenge against Amr Khalifa who had beaten me in Ecuador in the final. Harvard Squash Coach Mike Way was in Sheffield and approached my parents, and once again I said no. Two weeks later, I was playing a tournament in St Louis, and I called my dad, asking him to come to the US to go and give it a try. I was warmly welcomed by the entire team and coaches, and even by the athletic director and head of admissions office who interviewed me. I started accepting the idea of studying abroad a little, but still I would have preferred to stay in Egypt. Two days after I got back home from the Harvard visit, the revolution happened on the 25th of January, 2011. So my dad told me to go and get a good degree. I very graciously got accepted, and it turned out to be the best and most important decision of my life for so many reasons, but mainly because of Mike Way. Since then, he’s been my life and squash mentor alongside my brother Wael.

 

Ali Farag says his encounter with Harvard Squash Coach Mike Way (on the right in the picture) has changed his life (Photo credit: www.mtbello.com)

I never thought of going pro when I was young and I thought that juniors would be the end of my career. I had a very traditional way of thinking, i.e. get a secure after I graduate to have a good and risk-free standard of living. Against all tides, Mike, my brother and Nour (my wife) challenged this idea and tried to convince me to follow my passion and go pro after I graduate. I started thinking about it but was still not totally convinced. I came back home after I graduated in May 2014, and had to mandatorily serve in the army. Since you can’t work while serving, I said I might as well give it a go and try the tour that year. It went very well: I jumped from 88 to 22 in the world in the space of one year. But more importantly, I was happy touring the world, with the one person I love and doing the one thing I love the most and have been doing since a very young age. At the end of 2015, I finally decided that this is what I am going to do for a living for the next 10-15 years (if I can in God’s Willing). I have only been on tour for two years, so during that time I’ve been trying to learn what my fellow players have over the past 10 years. My goal is just to keep improving match after match, and tournament after tournament, until I reach my utmost goal of becoming the world number 1.

Ali Farag against the world number 1 Mohamed El Shorbagy, a spot he calls his ultimate goal (Photo credit: www.squashsite.co.uk)

He’s had a few tough battles against French players

I recall ALL of them vividly. I beat Mathieu Castagnet in El Gouna qualification in 2011, and that was the match that took me into the top 100 for the first time in my career. I also remember losing to him after having six match balls combined in the 4th and 5th games in the 2013 ToC qualification, while I was still studying at Harvard. He was diving all over the place on match balls. Typical Mathieu the warrior! I lost to Gaultier in San Francisco in 2015 after being 10/8 up in the 5th. I had never pushed any of the top guys yet before that match, so it actually gave me the confidence that I could do it. The day before that match, I actually beat Gregoire Marche in the qualifying finals, coming back from 2-1 down.

Matches between Ali Farag and Mathieu Castagnet have often been fierce battles (Photo credit: www.squashmad.com)

I also won my first ever PSA Title in Nîmes back in January 2011, so France is actually a lucky charm for me! Before that I’d been to France once in the summer of 2006 for a family vacation, and I absolutely loved it. I went to a French school all the way until 2nd preparatory, so I’ve always loved France. They are actually my favorite soccer team.

We might see him again in France at the end of 2017 …

 

Ali Farag alongside Amr Shabana (Photo credit: www.squashsite.co.uk)

I obviously would LOVE to be a part of the Egyptian team who will be in Marseille for the World Team Championship. I think it is the highest honor for any athlete to represent his country. Our coach is Amr Shabana. He’s so experienced and fair, I will accept any decision he will take. Like all of us, he wants the best for the country. If he sees I am the most fitting for the team, he will pick me. If I am not, he will go for the better player, which I will totally respect and understand.

 

His wife is one of the best players in the world, whom he can share the high and lows of a professional squash player with

Ali and his wife Nour El Tayeb (Photo credit: wadideglaworldsquashchamps.com)

You wouldn’t understand how much of a privilege it is until you actually live it. It is the best thing that ever happened to me. It is SO hard to find a coach/trainer/mentor that understands the game so well AND understands you so well. And Nour is just THAT person. She’s the one person I depend on in everything on and off the court, and she really is one of a kind!

 

He lives and trains in his home town

 

Potential training partners are numerous in Cairo. Here, Ali with Mazen Hesham and Mohamed Abouelghar (Photo credit: www.psaworldtour.com)

I have been living in Cairo ever since I graduated, back in May 2014. Egypt really is the best place to be based at if you ever think to play squash. So many top players to hit with everyday, and we all live in a 30-40 km radius. The furthest you will have to drive is an hour to play with the likes of Tarek Momen, Omar Mosaad, Abouelghar, Mazen (Hesham)… etc. If you wish to play a game 3 times a week against a top 50 player, you will get to play with a different player for an entire month! My coaches are my elder brother Wael, my Harvard coach Mike Way, and my private coach Basem Makram. I also play with Ahmed Hosni at my home club ‘Heliopolis’, where I am advised by our head coach Hatem Hassan.

 

Bio – Ali Farag, 24 years old, world #7

Crédit photo : www.psaworldtour.com

9 titles on the PSA World Tour (including 2016 Motor City, $70,000)

Quarter finalist of the 2016 World Championship

2014 Collegue Squash Association National Team Champion with Harvard

2012 and 2014 Collegue Squash Association National Individual Champion

2015/16 ‘PSA Fans’ Player of the Season’ award

2015/16 ‘PSA Spirit of Squash’ award

2010 World Team Junior Champion

2010 World Junior Championship runner-up

2011 U19 British Junior Open Champion

 

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT … CAMERON PILLEY

He lives in Denmark – the country of his wife

 

I am based in Odense and really enjoying the lifestyle here. I train with a few of the younger Danish guys as well as the country’s number 1 Kristian Frost and my wife Line Hansen. I also have sessions with the Danish National coach, David McAlpine.

Cameron Pilley and his wife Line Hansen (Photo credit: www.dailyexaminer.com.au)

 

He’s the leading player of the Karakal brand

I have been with Karakal for ten years now, which is something I am quite proud of. They are a very reliable and trustworthy, and have developed into a leading brand over the last few years. They are quite innovative and are always looking for new ideas and ways to progress.”

Cameron Pilley has been representing the Karakal brand for 10 years (Photo credit: karakal.com)

 

He’s been ranked in the world top 25 for over 10 years, during which he’s played some legends of the game

 I didn’t realize I had been in the top 25 for that long but yes that is something I am quite proud of. It is tough to always keep your game at a high level and I am always looking for ways to improve. You never stop learning but you need to actively research and experiment with different training programs and techniques, which I am still doing even at 34 years old. There is always a little bit of luck staying injury free but you need to look after your body to give yourself the best chance to do that. It is important to have a great balance in life too.

 

Cameron Pilley thinks Ramy Ashour has changed the game of squash (Photo credit: i-love-squash.com)

Players I have stepped on court with that really impressed me the most were Shabana, Power and Ramy (Ashour). There have been many changes in the game but you just learn to adapt and grow with it. The way Ramy came and took the game by the throat, completely changed the way squash was played. It made all the other players look for ways to counter him and ways to beat him. He certainly lifted the game of squash.

 

One of the best memories of his career involves France …

 

Cameron Pilley’s win over Thierry Lincou in the 2011 WTC in Germany brought the bronze medal to Australia (Photo credit: worldsquash.org)

The Australia v France at the 2011 World Teams was special for me. I had never beaten Thierry Lincou before and he was this legend of the game that everybody looked up to. My match with him for the 3/4 playoff is one of the best wins in my career. Australians have always had a very proud tradition of representing our country. We always lift an extra gear when playing for Australia, and we are looking forward to coming to France for the WTC later this year.

 

He’s been playing for Valenciennes in French League for a couple of years

 

Cameron Pilley with his French team Valenciennes (Photo credit: La Voix du Nord)

It’s been fun to be a part of Valenciennes. I have known Renan Lavigne for many years. We played together on tour and had a lot of battles against each other, so now it is good to be teammates. Hopefully the team can do well this season and get to the playoffs and win!

 

Bio – Cameron Pilley, 34 years old, world #17

Crédit photo : squashsite

13 titles on the PSA World Tour

Quarter finalist of the 2014 World Championship

2015 Hong Kong Open and 2016 World Series Finals runner-up

2006 World Doubles runner-up

2005 Australian Champion

2010 and 2014 Commonwealth Games Doubles Champion

2007 World Team Championship runner-up

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