[Above: Ali Farag celebrates his five-game come-back win over Gregory Gaultier]
World No. 2 Ali fought off two match balls in the fifth to defeat three-time Oracle NetSuite Open champion Gregory Gaultier, while defending champions Mohamed ElShorbagy and Sarah-Jane Perry booked their place in the finals Monday night on the SuiteSuccess Court in Embarcadero Plaza.
In 2015, Farag faced Gaultier for the first time in his career in the then NetSuite Open first round. Gaultier won that first match up 12-10 in the fifth after ninety minutes. Since that encounter, Gaultier won all six of their first encounters through 2017, but Farag had won the past three matches during the 2017-2018 season.
Gaultier opened the seventy-seven-minute encounter with an emphatic 11-2 opening game, and then earned a 2-1 lead by taking a close third game 11-9. Farag regained his composure in the fourth, forcing a fifth game 11-5.
The fifth game strung along the crowd with each player battling out exhausting rallies. From 7-7, Gaultier pulled away to earn two match balls up 10-8. Farag fought off both to level the score at ten all, and then earned his first match ball up 11-10. The French General saved one match ball, but Farag regained momentum with a pivotal video review to earn a stroke and second match ball. The Harvard graduate converted and ultimately converting to reach his first career Oracle NetSuite Open final.
“I was very tense at the start and struggled to find my short game,” Farag said. “I had to accept there were going to be times when he would be in control but I just tried to make it as hard as possible and make the rallies a long as possible—I was absorbing a lot but it paid off in the end.
Farag will make his Oracle NetSuite Open finals debut on Tuesday night against world No. 1 Mohamed ElShorbagy, who overcame compatriot Karim Abdel Gawad in a rematch of the 2017 finals.
“I’m over the moon to come through with a win, he outplayed me for most of that match,” Farag said. “But sometimes it isn’t the better player who wins. Sometimes you just have to find a way out and that’s what I did today—I tried to focus on hitting the back corners and playing basic and it worked. I’m very excited to face Mohamed in the final tomorrow. He brings the best out of me every time we play. I have trained very hard over the summer and worked on some specific things which I hope I can apply tomorrow.”
In the first men’s semifinal, Gawad displayed impressive shot-making to win the first game, reminiscent of his play two years ago that saw him reach world No. 2. ElShorbagy came back to win the second, then pulled away from 9-all in the third to claim a crucial 2-1 advantage before closing out the match in four games.
“I’m really happy to be back in the final once again,” said ElShorbagy. “I came here for the first time last year and it was a great experience so I’m looking forward to having the chance to defend the title tomorrow. We were playing a lot of very tough rallies out there—it was a high-quality match—and I think that third game was crucial,” ElShorbagy said. “He’s such a smooth player that you have to accept that there will be times when he will make you look like a fool. But you just have to accept that and come through it and find a way to win. Last season he wasn’t at his best. Sometimes you have those periods but it’s great to see him back and hungry again but I’m very happy I managed to get the win against him today.”
England’s Perry will join ElShorbagy in defending her 2017 title in Tuesday’s finals. The world No. 8 only needed twenty-five minutes and three games to dispatch Hong Kong’s Annie Au, setting up a final against world No. 2 and top seed Raneem El Welily.
“I’ve got fantastic memories here from last year,” Perry said. “Tomorrow against Raneem I have no expectations. I just have to go out and do the best I can. I watched the match yesterday between Raneem and Laura so I know how well she’s playing at the moment but I’ll give it my best tomorrow to try and defend the title.”
Limited tickets are available to the finals on oraclenetsuiteopen.com/tickets.
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