The Allam British Open returned to London today with, fittingly, an all-Egyptian clash first on the glass court. With an Egyptian sponsor and a huge Egyptian presence in both the male and female tournaments, the Open is primed for a clash, certainly in the men’s event, between the two super-powers of world squash, England and Egypt.
England has the current one and two in the world, in the imposing shape of James Willstrop and world champion Nick Matthew, while Jenny Duncalf and Laura Massaro pose a formidable threat to Nicol David’s dominance in the women’s game.
With the Open back on the calendar, and some encouraging media coverage in the build-up to the tournament, let’s hope this event can help to raise the profile of squash as the bid for Olympic inclusion gathers pace.
The glass court is set up in the London Piazza, a spacious area next to the main arena at the O2. It’s wonderful to see such a huge bank of seating installed behind the back wall and I can’t wait to see those seats fill up as the week progresses.
Exhibition booths line the area behind both sidewall stands and Peter Nicol was on hand first thing this morning to offer free coaching tips to visitors to the Squashskills stand.
Amr Shabana looked like he was enjoying the cool court conditions as he won the opening six points against Tarek Momen. But after a nervous start his young opponent fought back strongly to work his way into the match. From 8-1 down, Momen won six points in a row and although he lost the opening game 11-7 he was clearly finding his rhythm. He won the second and third games in some style, but Shabana regained his focus in the fourth to win 11-3. From 3-3 in the fifth, Shabana pulled away to 9-4 and duly clinched his place in the second round.
England’s Daryl Selby made Egyptian wizard Ramy Ashour fight all the way to clinch a place in the second round of the Allam British Open at London’s O2 Arena.
Selby won the opening game but the No.4 seed from Cairo unleashed a barrage of unplayable shots win the second and third.
However, Selby battled back in the fourth and a flurry of controversial incidents followed as both players disputed decisions.
Ashour finally squeezed home 16-14 in the tiebreak and meets Spanish outsider Borja Golan, who beat hard-hitting Australian Cam Pilley in straight games.
Former world champion Ashour was delighted with the impressive glass-court set-up at the O2 Arena.
His last tournament triumph, the El Gouna international back home in Egypt, was marred by frequent stoppages caused by sand on the court.
Ashour said: “It’s wonderful to see the British Open back to its former status. The court here is like heaven compared to El Gouna.”
There were too many stoppages for the match to be considered a classic, but two backhand nicks from Ashour, one a volley and the other a crosscourt kill, were sublime moments.
Allam British Open, O2 Arena, London. Men’s first round:
(5) Amr Shabana (Egypt) bt Tarek Momen (Egypt) 11-7, 7-11, 6-11, 11-3, 11-6 (55m)
Olli Tuominen (Finland) beat Ali Anwar Reda (Egypt) 11-6, 12-10, 11-6 (40m)
Borja Golan (Spain) beat Cameron Pilley (Australia) 12-10, 12-10, 11-4 (63m)
(4) Ramy Ashour (Egypt) beat Daryl Selby (England) 8-11, 11-7, 11-7, 16-14 (55m)
(7) Mohamed El Shorbagy (Egypt) beat (Q) Mathieu Castagnet (France) 11-7, 9-11, 11-7, 12-10 (61m)
Adrian Grant (England) beat Adrian Waller (England) 11-6, 11-8, 11-5 (36m)
Alister Walker (Botswana) Chris Simpson (England) 11-7, 11-6, 11-7 (43m)
(1) James Willstrop (England) Simon Rosner (Germany) 11-3, 11-5, 11-7 (49m)