Egypt, England and Australia may have dominated men’s squash for the last two decades, but it is a South American that is lighting up the tour this year with a 13-game unbeaten streak.
Diego Elias today beat Marwan Elshorbagy in straight games to win the Pittsburgh Open, adding to his Tournament of Champions and Motor City Open crowns in January and early February.
‘Born playing squash’
The ‘Peruvian Puma’ hails from a South American nation not known for its international squash credentials.
The Lima-born player did have one major advantage, however, in that his father, Jose Manuel, was a 20-time Peruvian national champion. The duo still travel together today as player and coach, alongside a wider coaching entourage that includes Canadian great Jonathon Power.
Indeed, Elias’ Red Bull profile quips that he was “born with a squash racket in his hands”.
“When I was a baby, my Mom used to take me to watch my Dad’s matches and when a match finished, he always played with me. Then, when I was six years old, I started training with him,” he said during this interview in his junior days.
“At first I used to play both tennis and squash, but after a while my dad asked me to pick one of them and I chose squash because I was constantly attending squash events. He has always been my coach, my partner and my friend during this long process.”
Compared with Jansher Khan from a young age due to his smooth, cat-like movement, Elias arrived on the world stage in 2013 when he won the British Junior Open, aged 16.
With seven of the top 10 currently Egyptian, Elias is a mould-breaker in the men’s game.
Besides the ‘Columbian Cannonball’ Miguel Angel Rodriguez, there are just two other Latin Americans inside the men’s top 50 (but seven in the top 100).
‘Absolutely on fire’
The ‘Peruvian Puma’ was inevitably compared with Pakistani great Kahn yet again in today’s Pittsburgh Open victory.
“The only player I would liken him to from my era is Jashher Kahn – firstly in terms of the sixth sense of the ability to read what you’re doing, before you’ve even decided it. But also the smoothness onto every shot,” Squash TV commentator Simon Parke said.
“It’s been yet another immaculate performance from him. To dismantle a player of Marwan Elshorbagy’s quality the way that he’s done here is the sign of a man who is absolutely on fire,” fellow commentator Paul Hornsby added.
A mainstay in the top 10 for several years, Elias recently attributed his arrival at the pinnacle of the game (he currently leads the men’s race rankings) to his improved endurance.
“I’m really proud of myself for backing up those two tournaments I won in the last couple of weeks, which is something I’ve never done before,” Elias said after his victory today.
“All the hard work I did paid off. Also, having my Dad with me for the last three weeks is just incredible, and I’m very thankful for having him here with me.”