Squash ace Paul Coll has become the first Kiwi man to win the prestigious British Open, after upsetting top seed Ali Farag of Egypt in the final in Hull on Monday (NZ time).
The 29-year-old Greymouth product shrugged off a slow start to beat world No. 2 Farag 6-11 11-6 11-6 11-8 in 65 minutes to claim just his second win in 15 matches against his rival and close friend, and his first-ever Major.
"This is the pinnacle of squash, apart from the World Championships, so to get my first major title here, against a good friend, and one of the best players in the world means everything to me," said an ecstatic Coll afterwards.
"It's been a long journey for myself. Coming right from juniors, I had to leave home at a young age. This moment right here makes it all worth it. To have my coach in the crowd, one of my really good friends, Lee, in the crowd, just makes it extra special to be able to do that.
"My parents were supposed to be here, but due to COVID-19 they can't travel, so just super proud of this moment. I just want to thank everyone from New Zealand and everyone who's helped me over my career to get to this stage."
Coll's achievement follows in the footsteps of compatriot Leilani Joyce - who won the women's event back in 2000 - and the great Susan Devoy, who won the tournament eight times through the 1980s and early 90s. NZ's Ross Norman reached the 1986 men's final but lost to legendary Pakistani player Jahangir Khan.
In the final set, Coll leaned on his superb conditioning to withstand several brutal rallies against the resilient Farag to close out the match, before dropping to his knees and soaking in an emotional victory.
“[Immediately after the match] I rang my girlfriend [fellow professional Nele Gilis] back in Amsterdam, she was crying. I rang my parents straight away, they were crying as well, Coll continued.
"There’s just too many people to thank for me. But I just want to thank everyone who's helped me.
"This is for everyone that’s come along that journey with me. I’m just super proud and super happy in this moment."
On Sunday, Coll secured his spot in the marquee match with a statement whitewash in the semi-final over four-time defending champion and world No. 1 Mahmoud Elshorbagy, needing just 31 minutes to score a straight sets win.
Squash New Zealand chief executive Martin Dowson believes Coll's win will provide a momentous boost for both the sport and the country.
"We are really proud of Paul’s win and know it was well deserved," says Dowson. "Paul is a very dedicated athlete who takes pride in his work ethic and to beat world No. 1 and No. 2 in the semi-finals and the final in such a clinical fashion demonstrates his hard work and it is a fantastic reward for him.
"This was a well-planned achievement and they don’t call him 'Superman' for nothing… this is squash's equivalent to a gold medal."