Gregory Gaultier’s winning run ends on day one in Dubai
By SEAN REUTHE in Dubai
The opening day of the 2016-17 PSA Dubai World Series Finals featured a number of matches befitting of Dubai Opera’s status as one of the most stunning squash venues of all time as World Champions Karim Abdel Gawad and Nour El Sherbini both fell to shock defeats against Simon Rösner and Sarah-Jane Perry, respectively.
The World Series Finals brings together the top eight players on the Men’s and Women’s PSA Road to Dubai Standings, who are then split into two groups of four as they battle for points to qualify for the knockout semi-finals and beyond.
Rösner had never beaten Gawad on the PSA World Tour prior to the tournament, but the best-of-three games format, which is used in place of the normal best-of-five games scoring up until the final, looked to play into the German’s hands as he claimed an impressive 11-9, 8-11, 11-7 victory in 48 minutes.
“We played some incredible squash today, I thought I managed to play aggressively and at the same time I didn’t make too many errors, which really helped,” said Rösner.
“Even though I was down a few times, I didn’t let it go, I just tried to hang in there and made it as tough as I could for him. I think that the key was the aggressive game plan, but I also kept the error count really low.
“The whole group is so strong and the whole event is so open. Anything can happen, you can finish first, you can finish last, but with my win today I got one step closer to making the semis.”
Rösner sits at the top of Group A along with Marwan ElShorbagy, who recovered from a game down to defeat three-time World Champion Nick Matthew.
Group B was lit up by a masterclass from World No.5 Ali Farag who ended World No.1 Gregory Gaultier’s incredible 27-match unbeaten run by winning in straight games.
Defending champion Gaultier had lost just once in 2017, claiming six titles in a row, which included victories over Farag in the finals of the Grasshopper Cup and Bellevue Classic.
However, a superb display from Farag against an admittedly out-of-sorts Gaultier saw the 25-year-old dominate the Frenchman in a way that few have managed over the past six months to claim a huge win.
“The last two times I didn’t even take one game, so to win today in two games was surprising to even myself,” said Farag, who was making his World Series Finals debut.
“I think I played very well and towards the end I was very edgy because I was 10-6 up in Seattle against him. When he lets loose he plays even better, so I was always on my toes and I’m very happy to win in two today.
“It’s my first World Series Finals, I’m playing best of three for the first time in my life and I didn’t know what to expect. To get off to a good start is crucial and it gave me a lot of confidence.”
Gaultier will next take on former World No.1 James Willstrop, who lost out to World No.3 Mohamed ElShorbagy. Farag will take on ElShorbagy as both players look to take a step closer to qualification from Group B.
The Women’s event saw World No.7 Perry claim her first ever win over El Sherbini at the fifth attempt, with a superlative performance from the 27-year-old seeing her fightback from a game down.
El Sherbini took the opener, but Perry – who qualified for the World Series Finals after the greatest season of her career saw her reach the final of the British Open three months ago – refused to be beaten and she came out fighting, taking the next two games to leave El Sherbini needing a win in her next match with Malaysia’s Nicol David.
“I’m feeling pretty amazing, I think this is the first time I’ve beaten Nour, but it’s also the first time that I’ve beaten the current World No.1,” Perry said.
“I’ve earned my place here, especially in the second half of the season and I want to be a contender. If I play well and move well on the day then I believe that I can beat anyone.”
Defending champion Laura Massaro also won on day one against eight-time World Champion David in the latest chapter of their rivalry on the PSA World Tour.
The match started tentatively, with both players struggling to find their lines and making errors, but it soon developed into a free-flowing affair, with Massaro fighting back from three game balls down to take the first game by a 12-10 margin and she claimed the second game by the same scoreline to move to the top of Group B.
“I didn’t realise no one else had dropped a game, it was tight and in that second game when I was in front I was thinking that I would be gutted if I lost that one and it went to three,” said Massaro, who takes on Perry next.
“I’m really happy to close it out in the end. You know you’ve got three matches either way and you’ve got to do your best in all of them. If I lost today I would have had a bit of an uphill battle tomorrow and the day after, but a win under my belt doesn’t mean anything at this point unless I can get at least one more win.”
Group A saw top seed Camille Serme recover from a game down against England’s Alison Waters, while World Junior Champion Nouran Gohar defeated World No.2 Raneem El Welily.
Dubai PSA World Series Finals 2017, Dubai Opera, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. ($160,000 prize money in both men’s and women’s competitions).
Men’s Group A Day One:
 Simon Rösner (GER) bt  Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) 2-1: 11-9, 8-11, 11-7 (48m)
 Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY) bt  Nick Matthew (ENG) 2-1: 11-13, 11-8, 11-7 (49m)
Men’s Group B Day One:
 Ali Farag (EGY) bt  Gregory Gaultier (FRA) 2-0: 11-5, 11-7 (28m)
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) bt  James Willstrop (ENG) 2-0: 11-8, 11-9 (39m)
Men’s Group A Day Two: To Be Played June 7th
 Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) v  Nick Matthew (ENG)
 Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY) v  Simon Rösner (GER)
Men’s Group B Day Two – To Be Played June 7th
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v  James Willstrop (ENG)
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) v  Ali Farag (EGY)
Women’s Group A Day One:
 Camille Serme (FRA) bt  Alison Waters (ENG) 2-1: 9-11, 11-5, 11-3 (39m)
 Nouran Gohar (EGY) bt  Raneem El Welily (EGY) 2-1: 13-11, 3-11, 11-3 (35m)
Women’s Group B Day One:
 Laura Massaro (ENG) bt  Nicol David (MAS) 2-0: 12-10, 12-10 (30m)
 Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) bt  Nour El Sherbini (EGY) 2-1: 9-11, 11-9, 11-4 (37m)
Women’s Group A Day Two – To Be Played June 7th
 Camille Serme (FRA) v  Nouran Gohar (EGY)
 Raneem El Welily (EGY) v  Alison Waters (ENG)
Women’s Group B Day Two – To Be Played June 7th
 Nour El Sherbini (EGY) v  Nicol David (MAS)
 Laura Massaro (ENG) v  Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG)
Live coverage from day two of the World Series Finals begins at 15:00 local time (GMT+4) and will be shown on SQUASHTV (rest of world) and Eurosport Player (Europe only).
Pictures courtesy of PSA