‘I’ve never felt like this before’ admits Camille Serme
By HOWARD HARDING in Paris
For the first time in history, France will play for a place in the last four of the WSF Women’s World Team Squash Championship after defeating former champions Australia in today’s quarter-finals of the World Squash Federation event in the country’s capital city Paris.
Before an exuberant partisan crowd at Palais Des Sports Robert Charpentier in the Paris suburb of Issy-les-Moulineaux, French number one Camille Serme – the country’s highest-ranked woman of all-time – beat Australian Donna Urquhart (both pictured above) 11-6, 11-4, 11-3 in 27 minutes on the all-glass showcourt to clinch France’s first appearance in the event’s semi-finals in 16 attempts since 1987.
Coline Aumard had earlier put the hosts ahead after a powerful and impressive 8-11, 11-6, 11-9, 11-4 victory over Australia’s former world number one Rachael Grinham.
“I have been working with some of these players for around 20 years, so to achieve this – in Paris – is amazing,” said team coach Philippe Signoret. “I am very pleased for the team. I guess this is the best moment of my career.”
Serme, overcome with emotion, said: “It’s very special. But I feel so strange right now – as if I’m not really here! I was so focussed during the match. Philippe said to me before the match – forget about Coline’s match, imagine you’re going on at 0-0, try just to focus on your game, not the event.
“I’ve never felt like this before – but most of all I am so happy for Coline, who has trained so hard for this. She really wanted that win and did so well to give us the lead.”
France, the fifth seeds, will now meet favourites Egypt for a place in the final.
On the day that its top three players took over the top three places in the world rankings, Egypt claimed the first spot in the semi-finals by beating USA, the 7th seeds, 3/0. Nouran Gohar put the top seeds in the driving set with a comfortable 11-3, 11-4, 11-7 win over New Yorker Olivia Blatchford.
The top string battle promised to be a close encounter with US number one Amanda Sobhy boasting a 5/4 head-to-head lead over her Egyptian opponent Nour El Sherbini, the world No.1. El Sherbini (pictured above with Sobhy) took a two-game lead – Sobhy winning five points in a row from 4-8 down in the second. But Sobhy fought back to win the third and reach game-ball in the fourth.
The Egyptian, however, regained the advantage and closed out the match 11-7, 11-9, 4-11, 13-11 after 42 minutes to put her country through to the last four for the third time in a row.
After a best-of-three dead rubber – in which Egyptian number three Raneem El Welily, who today leapt to two in the world, beat Reeham Sedky 12-10, 11-5 – Egypt’s coach Amr Shabana acknowledged that the top string encounter had been close: “Amanda has developed so much in the last two years – she is a future champion, for sure. I felt confident that Nour would win once she went two-love up – 60% of all sports clashes that reach that score end up successful. But if Amanda had won that second game, it could have been a totally different story.”
Defending champions England also secured their anticipated semi-final berth in emphatic style, despatching eighth seeds New Zealand 3/0. Second string Sarah-Jane Perry set up the win with an 11-7, 4-11, 11-6, 11-9 win over Megan Craig – but it was team number one Laura Massaro who had a point to prove as she crushed top Kiwi Joelle King, ranked 10 in the world, 11-6, 11-8, 11-3 in just 27 minutes.
It was less than 48 hours earlier that Massaro (pictured above with King) went down to Amanda Sobhy in the American’s first ever victory over the world No.4. The England No.1 came out with all guns blazing to put that defeat behind her.
“I was lacking a bit of match practice then – but there’s nothing better than a loss like that to get your focus back,” said former world champion and world number one Massaro.
“More than anything else, I’m really pleased with how I performed mentally. That’s when I play my best. I’m really happy to do this for the team.”
Massaro’s performance was predicted two days ago by team coach David Campion: “She always seems to come back stronger after a defeat like that. She’s so self-critical. It’s her strength – it’s what’s driven her throughout her career.
“Her attention to detail is what sets her apart. It’s why she’s achieved what she has.”
England will face surprise opponents Hong Kong China in the other semi-final after the fourth seeds pulled off a dramatic 2/1 win over Asian rivals Malaysia, seeded three.
Left-hander Joey Chan put Hong Kong ahead after twice coming from behind to beat higher-ranked Delia Arnold 8-11, 11-5, 9-11, 11-3, 11-6. Malaysia quickly drew level when Nicol David – unbeaten in the championship since 2004 – defeated Annie Au 11-7, 11-2, 11-4.
Hong Kong’s third string Tong Tsz-Wing was after revenge in the decider having lost her only previous clash with Malaysia’s 17-year-old Sivasangari Subramaniam in a meeting in Malaysia a month ago.
Tong took the opener but her determined teenage opponent fought back to level the match. After surviving a tie-break third, Tong closed out the match in the fourth to record a tie-winning 11-9, 15-17, 13-11, 11-6 victory.
“Our last meeting was on a very hot court where the ball was very bouncy and I wasn’t at my best,” recalled the excitable Tong (celebrating her victory above) after her Paris triumph. “So I wasn’t thinking about the significance of the match in the tie, I just focussed on winning – I really wanted to beat her. The team was really confident – we’re really happy to get into the semis.”
Hong Kong coach Rebecca Chiu added: “We haven’t beaten Malaysia in a long, long time – even in Asia – so this is a big achievement for us.”
Malaysian team manager Major Maniam admitted that he was disappointed by the defeat that will see his team finish outside the top four for the first time since 2004: “We were weakened by the loss of Low Wee Wern just before we left for Paris – but at least we have the consolation that we have some promising young players like Rachel (Arnold) and Sangari for the future.
“There are still two days left and we will give it everything we can.”
WSF Women’s World Team Squash Championship, Paris, France
 EGYPT bt  USA 3/0
Nouran Gohar bt Olivia Blatchford 11-3, 11-4, 11-7 (27m)
Nour El Sherbini bt Amanda Sobhy 11-7, 11-9, 4-11, 13-11 (42m)
Raneem El Welily bt Reeham Sedky 12-10, 11-5 (19m)
 FRANCE bt  AUSTRALIA 3/0
Coline Aumard bt Rachael Grinham 8-11, 11-6, 11-9, 11-4 (45m)
Camille Serme bt Donna Urquhart 11-6, 11-4, 11-3 (27m)
Laura Pomportes bt Tamika Saxby 11-6, 12-10 (17m)
 HONG KONG CHINA bt  MALAYSIA 2/1
Joey Chan bt Delia Arnold 8-11, 11-5, 9-11, 11-3, 11-6 (57m)
Annie Au lost to Nicol David 7-11, 2-11, 4-11 (25m)
Tong Tsz-Wing bt Sivasangari Subramaniam 11-9, 15-17, 13-11, 11-6 (56m)
 ENGLAND bt  NEW ZEALAND 3/0
Sarah-Jane Perry bt Megan Craig 11-7, 4-11, 11-6, 11-9 (39m)
Laura Massaro bt Joelle King 11-6, 11-8, 11-3 (27m)
Victoria Lust bt Amanda Landers-Murphy 11-5, 11-7 (11m)
9th – 12th place play-offs, Round 1:
 INDIA bt  NETHERLANDS 3/0
Dipika Pallikal Karthik bt Tessa ter Sluis 11-5, 11-7, 11-5 (21m)
Joshna Chinappa bt Milou van der Heijden 5-11, 12-10, 11-7, 11-8 (36m)
Sunayna Kuruvilla bt Milja Dorenbos 11-8, 11-5, 11-4
 CANADA bt  JAPAN 2/1
Samantha Cornett bt Satomi Watanabe 11-7, 11-2, 6-11, 11-4
Hollie Naughton lost to Misaki Kobayashi 12-10, 4-11, 2-11, 8-11 (30m)
Danielle Letourneau bt Risa Sugimoto 8-11, 11-2, 13-11, 11-6 (33m)
15th – 17th place play-offs:
 GERMANY bt  MEXICO 2/0
Sharon Sinclair bt Nayelly Hernandez 7-11, 11-9, 11-8, 6-11, 11-7 (51m)
Sina Wall bt Diana Garcia 11-8, 11-6, 11-9 (25m)
 SPAIN bt  WALES 2/1
Cristina Gomez bt Hannah Davies 11-5, 11-3, 11-8 (22m)
Xisela Aranda lost to Tesni Evans 4-11, 5-11, 6-11 (25m)
Marina de Juan Gallach bt Lowri Roberts 11-9, 11-8, 11-9 (26m)
 GERMANY bt  AUSTRIA 3/0
Sharon Sinclair bt Sandra Polak 12-10, 11-0, 11-7 (20m)
Sina Wall bt Birgit Coufal 8-11, 11-8, 11-6, 11-8 (32m)
Franziska Hennes bt Sabrina Rehman 11-3, 11-9 (14m)
 EGYPT v  FRANCE
 ENGLAND v  HONG KONG CHINA
5th – 8th place play-offs:
 USA v  AUSTRALIA
 MALAYSIA v  NEW ZEALAND
Pictures by CHRISTIAN LORTAT