Rob Owen on Paul Coll: Titles more important than reaching World No.1 – Professional Squash Association – PSA World Tour


By RJ Mitchell

Paul Coll’s coach Rob Owen says that the defining metric of Coll’s career will be his major title haul, rather than him becoming World No.1 next month.

The Kiwi enjoyed a spectacular 2021, beating current World No.1 Ali Farag in the finals of the the Allam British Open, the Canary Wharf Classic and the CIB Squash Open Black Ball, and will succeed Farag as World No.1 in March.

Now, one week on from Spain’s Rafael Nadal claiming a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title in tennis with his capture of the Australian Open, Owen – who has helped mastermind Coll’s rise over the past three years – asserts that Coll must put together a similar body of work in order to provide a lasting legacy, rather than focusing on being World No.1.

Owen says that titles will be more important to Coll’s legacy than his ranking.

Owen explains: “In my opinion, some players put too much emphasis and therefore pressure on themselves to be World No.1.

“So, we are still working on things and it is about winning the major titles. It’s great looking back on your career and having been World No.1, but to me it’s all about winning those majors.

“The target was always to win tournaments and beat the best players, which is something that has happened on a regular basis over the last 12 months.

“You look at Nadal winning that 21st grand slam and that is the defining stat for him now, not that he was World No.1 and that is probably the same with Federer, Djokovic, and Murray.

“For Paul it is about World Opens, British Opens and other major titles, what I call the grand slams of squash.

“Now I think he’s at a level where he would have been competitive in any era and would have been very tough to break down and I believe that will only become even more the case as he continues to develop.

“At the moment if Paul plays his best and the others play their best then no one will beat him and that is a proven fact. If he plays average there are three or four players that can beat him and if he plays poorly and others play well, there are possibly eight or nine players that can beat him.

“There is no particular reason he will play poorly but it is a given at some point in the next year he will and he will lose to players that are ranked well below him.

“While naturally the other players will of course be looking at Paul and what he is doing and realise he has raised the bar and they will be working hard to improve and beat him.”

Coll and Farag met in four finals in 2021.

While Owen is of course proud of his charge’s rise to the game’s summit, he also has warm words for Farag, with whom Owen believes Coll will continue to enjoy a defining rivalry, alongside talented 20-year-old Mostafa Asal.

“Paul will be an excellent World No.1 and a superb role model, just as Ali Farag was before him.

“Both of them are great ambassadors for the sport as well as being amazing role models for juniors and anyone with aspirations to play sport to a serious level. I hope to see their rivalry grow and grow and that can only be good for the game.

“Paul has so much variety now and he plays sport in the way I believe it should be played with skill, flair, incredible athleticism, and great sportsmanship.

“Ali is slightly different in style and I’m intrigued to see what he’s working on to improve as I can see a couple of things that would make a big difference to his game but I won’t be revealing those for a few years yet!

“But Asal is the guy I believe can improve the most. He is a great player already but he is young, very ambitious and fiercely competitive. I see several areas in his game that could improve dramatically with the right input and he will get better and better and will be a big threat going forward.

Owen believes Coll can continue improving.

Despite the fact the New Zealander will turn 30 in May, Owen can see no let up in Coll’s relentless desire to improve and take his game to new levels: “Paul is still improving and hopefully that will continue. We did a training camp last month and we worked on new strategies and a new shot and Paul has an amazing mindset whereby he is constantly looking to improve and add to his game.

“You can see the improvements even from Qatar where he struggled a little in the final to Canary Wharf where he was exceptional and barely made any errors all tournament while still being very positive. All that was made even more impressive by the fact that the early rounds were best of three games which in theory shouldn’t suit Paul.

“Then to go to Egypt and beat the players he did in their own backyard was outstanding and he just got better and better as the Black Ball unfolded.

“It is very hard to see how much improvement there is still within Paul. You never know when you have played your best match until it has happened! This could be his best period or it could be in 12 months’ time, only time will tell.

“One would certainly hope that the experience he has now of winning major tournaments will be a big plus for Paul. He is, relatively speaking, still quite inexperienced for someone at this stage of their career.

“Whereas if you look at Mohamed [ElShorbagy] he was playing world class squash at 20 years old which was the same as players like Ramy [Ashour] and several others.

“Paul has only just started winning titles and he has to get used to doing that and in some ways there is more pressure and in some ways less.

“But I’m confident Paul will continue to improve and I see that almost every time I see him. We communicate all the time when he is not with me, we analyse every match afterwards in detail and this helps with his future strategies. Now he looks at the game in a totally different way compared to when I first met him.”

Owen says that Coll is deserving of his sport at the top.

Looking back to the start of their coach/player relationship almost three years ago, Owen admits it did not take him long to realise that he had a special talent on his hands.

“When I first saw Paul play from a distance I thought he would be a very interesting guy to work with as there were some glaring weaknesses in his game that I felt I could help improve dramatically,” Owen says.

He adds: “I talked to him about the technical changes and the strategic changes I wanted to work on with him and I also felt that there was one area that most people felt was a strength and I felt was a weakness. That was his movement around the squash court.

“To me, he was always too heavy with too many big lunges and he clearly wasn’t in the position I would like to see a player with two or three options to produce the best quality of shot possible.

“One unknown factor is always how quickly a player can take on information and in this regard Paul was exceptional. His ability to implement change quickly and efficiently was astonishing and we noticed a clear difference in a matter of months.

“I quickly came to the realisation that if the rate of improvement continued at the pace it was, Paul would not only start competing with the top players on a regular basis, but had the ability to actually be a superior squash player to them.

“Once we had put some of the basics in place we quickly started working on cutting the ball in short, adding deception and a lot of other different varieties.

“It has been a process that has just got better and better. I knew that what was out there wasn’t anything special and that I had seen better players, so for me the players ranked above him were well within reach and I genuinely believed if he trusted in the methods I was teaching him then Paul had a real chance to become the best player on the planet.

“As the transition took place and Paul began to bloom as a player, I thought ‘hang on a second this is actually something very special.’

“Now we have reached that point where we have both worked hard to achieve what the rankings are about to confirm: Paul Coll is the best player in the world!”