SINGAPORE — With optimism in the air following squash's inclusion for the 2028 Summer Olympics, fans enjoyed a drama-filled finale at the US$225,000 Vitagen Singapore Squash Open at the OCBC Arena on Sunday (19 November).
Revived last year as a PSA World Tour Gold event - the second-highest tier of professional squash tournaments - this year's finals saw compelling match-ups. The men's final featured the top two seeds - world No.1 Ali Farag of Egypt against No.2 Diego Elias of Peru - while the women's final was a family affair between Belgian sisters Nele and Tinne Gilis.
And both finals lived up to their billings. Farag and Elias were locked in a titanic struggle - featuring an intense 30-minute third set - before the Egyptian overcame a slow start to prevail 6-11, 11-4, 14-12, 11-8 after a 78-minute battle to claim his 36th PSA World Tour title. It was his 21st win over 24 meetings with Elias.
“When I started my career, I would never have thought that I would have 36 titles to my name," the 31-year-old Farag said after his win. "(Malaysia squash great) Nicol David once said that you should cherish these moments while they’re happening, so I'm trying to enjoy every minute of it while improving at the same time.
“The third set 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.”
Meanwhile, the Gilis sisters took the crowd through a roller-coaster ride of a match, with elder sister Nele storming to a two-set lead before Tinne fought back to send the match into the decisive fifth set. World No.7 Nele, however, steadied herself to finally subdue 10th-ranked Tinne 11-6, 12-10, 8-11, 5-11, 11-4, as the sisters shared a long hug after their match.
"It was already a tough match physically, but the tougher battle was mental," Nele, 27, told Yahoo Southeast Asia after her victory. "Facing your sister on tour, and trying hard to beat her, it's not a nice feeling that's for sure.
"I always knew inside that she would make a comeback, so I tried to end the match in the third set, but I didn't succeed. To be honest, the way she won the third and the fourth sets, I thought I had zero chance in the fifth set, but I told myself to reset my emotions, and thankfully I was able to do so."
It was the third time the sisters had met in a final on tour, with Nele winning twice (Open de France 2022 and this Singapore Open) and Tinne taking the Annecy Rose trophy last year.
Tinne, 26, did not look too unhappy losing to her sister, as the duo smiled and joked with each other after the match. "If I were to lose to her on the tour, it is best to lose in a final, as that would mean she won a title," she said.
Such was the air of optimism amid the participating players, that they were able to put aside their rivalries and celebrate Elias' 26th birthday after the two finals. And why not - with squash being included as part of the 2028 Olympics programme and more tournaments being organised around the world, these players have plenty of titles to aim for in the coming years.
Farag was even gracious enough to call his finals opponent as the favourite to win the 2028 Olympic squash gold medal, saying, "I'll be 36 by then, so even though I'll give it a shot, it's going to be difficult at the end of my career. But Diego, he'll be in his prime in 2028 and he'll be the one to beat."
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