Ruthless ElShorbagy reaches Bellevue semi-finals
By SEAN REUTHE
World No.5 Marwan ElShorbagy claimed a huge victory over three-time World Champion Ramy Ashour to move to within one win of claiming a final berth at the inaugural Pacific Market International Bellevue Squash Classic, PSA M100 tournament.
ElShorbagy’s only previous win against Ashour came during the 2016 El Gouna International, but Ashour was unable to see the match out on that occasion, retiring mid-way through through the second game.
The enigmatic Ashour was far from his best throughout the 39-minute encounter, but a ruthless display from ElShorbagy made sure there was no hope of a revival from the 29-year-old as he dispatched him by an 11-8, 12-10, 5-11, 11-6 margin at the Boys and Girls Club Hidden Valley Field House.
“I’m really happy with the win today,” said ElShorbagy. “Ramy is a great player. The only time I beat him before, he couldn’t finish the match because he got injured. I’m really happy to win, but it was really hard for me today. I watched Ramy so many times when I was growing up so to get that first win against him means a lot to me.
“I’ve been working really hard, I’ve got to number five in the world and a lot of things happen off the court. To be able to play my 14th tournament of the season and to stay on my feet and be healthy means a lot to me.”
There is guaranteed to be an Egyptian finalist after World No.8 Ali Farag defeated Australia’s Ryan Cuskelly in straight games to set up a semi-final meeting with ElShorbagy. And the 25-year-old Harvard graduate is now just one win away from a second successive PSA World Tour final.
In the other half of the draw, World No.2 Gregory Gaultier made it 25 matches unbeaten after he dismantled World No.10 Tarek Momen by a 3-0 margin.
Gaultier has been simply irresistible in 2017, losing just once and capturing five Tour titles in a row, and he took an 11-8, 11-4, 11-7 victory in 47 minutes to reach a ninth straight semi-final.
“I always try to find an extra motivation because it’s the end of the season and I agreed to play this tournament, so I know I’m going beyond my limits,” said Gaultier.
“But every day I have to keep pushing until the end, the end of the season is really close, so I want to finish on a positive note and carry on playing as hard as I can. Me and Tarek have had a lot of games and it’s always tough to play him because he’s always unpredictable with his boasts, but sometimes he gives you cheap points which I’m happy with.
“I knew that if I gave him some openings that he would put them away, so I had to be really sharp to the front corners and defend with intelligence.”
The Frenchman will be up against former World No.1 James Willstrop, who he lost to in December’s AJ Bell British Grand Prix semi-finals, after Willstrop recovered from three match balls down to defeat Spain’s Borja Golan.
Harrogate-based Willstrop squandered a two-game lead to let Golan back into the match and Golan looked to be odds on to take the win after holding three match balls in a nail-biting decider. But the Yorkshireman dug deep to force a tie-break and held his nerve to close out a dramatic match by an 11-6, 11-7, 2-11, 6-11, 12-10 scoreline.
“I was so outplayed in the fourth and the fifth so I was just happy to be in the fifth,” said Willstrop.
“It was a weird match, totally weird. I’ll take it though, I’m really happy and it’s great to be playing in the semis now. It’s fantastic.”
The Bellevue Classic has a $150,000 prize purse on offer, a record amount for a 16-man main draw squash tournament, thanks to the efforts of both title sponsor Pacific Market International and multinational technology giants Microsoft.
Coverage from the semi-finals begins at 18:00 local time (PDT) and will be shown live on SQUASHTV (Rest of World) and Eurosport Player (Europe Only).
PSA M150 Men’s Pacific Market International Bellevue Classic 2017, Boys & Girls Club Hidden Valley Field House, Bellevue, Washington, USA.
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt  Tarek Momen (EGY) 3-0: 11-8, 11-4, 11-7 (47m)
 James Willstrop (ENG) bt Borja Golan (ESP) 3-2: 11-6, 11-7, 2-11, 6-11, 12-10 (87m)
 Ali Farag (EGY) bt  Ryan Cuskelly (AUS) 3-0: 11-9, 11-5, 11-7 (48m)
 Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY) bt  Ramy Ashour (EGY) 3-1: 11-8, 12-10, 5-11, 11-6 (39m)
Semi-Finals (To Be Played May 19th):
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v  James Willstrop (ENG)
 Ali Farag (EGY) v  Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY)
Pictures courtesy of PSA