Allam British Open, O2 Arena, London.
Men’s quarter-finals (afternoon session):
(4) Ramy Ashour (Egy) bt (5) Amr Shabana (Egy) 11-8, 12-10, 5-11, 1-11, 11-4 (45m)
(1) James Willstrop (Eng) bt (7) Mohamed El Shorbagy (Egy) 11-4, 11-7, 11-9 (45m)
Women’s quarter-finals (afternoon session):
(16) Nour El Sherbini (Egy) bt (7) Annie Au (HKG) 11-9, 7-11, 6-11, 11-9, 11-6 (56m)
(5) Raneem El Weleily (Egy) bt (2) Jenny Duncalf (Eng) 12-10, 11-7, 11-5 (27m)
By ALAN THATCHER
World No.1 James Willstrop stopped an Egyptian clean sweep as he reached the semi-finals of the Allam British Open at London’s O2 Arena today.
The 28-year-old top seed from Leeds beat young Egyptian Mohamed El Shorbagy to win 11-4, 11-7, 11-9 in 45 minutes of compelling, intelligent squash as Willstrop contained and ultimately subdued his hard-hitting opponent.
Willstrop said: “I am very pleased with the way I played. He made a big effort at the end of the match, cranking the pace up. We were both hitting tight lines and with the court a little warmer today the rallies were longer than they have been earlier this week in the cold. I had to play quality squash to win 3-0.
“I am trying not to put too much pressure on myself and I am looking forward to playing Ramy Ashour in the semi-finals. He is a very exciting player and to play him in the semi-finals of the British Open is an enthralling proposition. He makes squash great to watch and we all know what he can do with a racket.
“I am feeling confident and am going into it as the best player in the world at the moment. But there will be three other players who will be feeling the same.”
Willstrop’s semi-final opponent Ashour admitted feeling “insane” after losing his concentration for two games before hitting back to beat fellow Egyptian Amr Shabana 11-8, 12-10, 5-11, 1-11, 11-4.
Today, after dominating the start and finish of the match and being totally outplayed for the third and fourth games, he said: “I have so much crazy stuff going on in my head. I am not quite sane.”
With two of the most attacking players in the history of the sport, the rallies were never going to be long. In fact, the whole match was over in 45 minutes, akin to a sprint at this level.
Shabana dominated the third and fourth as Ashour totally lost concentration. The third lasted just eight minutes and the fourth was over in half that time as Ashour could find no answer to the quality of his opponent’s play.
Between games, Ashour threw every racket out of his bag and on to the floor as he searched for one with a grip that he liked.
He said: “I keep changing rackets because the grip is very important to me. If the grip is not right it stops me playing the way I want to. It changes your shots and takes away a lot of shots. I need the grip to be just right. I don’t have a very good record with the racket companies.
“You can only play well against Shabana in patches and for a 20-minute spell he was unbelievable. When he is in that zone he can beat anyone in the world in 20 minutes. It was surreal.”
Ashour was able to regain his focus at the start of the fifth and although Shabana fought back from 3-0 to 3-3, Ashour pulled away to win the decider 11-4. The veteran Shabana was still diving all over the court to get the ball back but this time he was the one making mistakes. At match ball, he simply hit the service return into the tin as a clear gesture of frustration.
That quickly turned to anger as he smashed every racket in his bag and dumped them, plus his squash shoes, into a bin.
It was a glorious day for Egyptian squash in the women’s event as Raneem El Weleily and Nour El Sherbini set up an all-Egypt semi-final.
El Weleily played superbly to beat England’s number two seed Jenny Duncalf. The 23-year-old number five seed from Alexandria attacked throughout the match to clinch victory in just 27 minutes. After a tight first game, she maintained the pressure to win 12-10, 11-7, 11-5.
El Sherbini, the 16-year-old world junior champion, also from Alexandria, produced a mature performance to win a marathon match against No.7 seed Annie Au of Hong Kong two days after beating Irish fourth seed Madeline Perry.
She began brightly to win the opening game but Au responded solidly to take the next two. However, the tall El Sherbini tightened up her game to win 11-9, 7-11, 6-11, 11-9, 11-6 in 56 minutes.