Sarah-Jane Perry meets Raneem El Welily in women’s final
By NATHAN CLARKE in San Francisco
World No.2 Ali Farag escaped the clutches of defeat by saving two match balls to defeat in-form Frenchman Gregory Gaultier in a thrilling 77 minute five-game battle and set up a championship showdown against World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy in the final off the 2018 Oracle NetSuite Open – the PSA World Tour Gold event taking place in San Francisco.
Under the shadow of the city’s iconic Ferry Building, 26-year-old Farag twice came from a game down to take the match to a decisive fifth game. It went all the way to a nailbiting tiebreak that saw both men squander match balls before the Egyptian finally secured his place in the final courtesy of an 2-11, 11-6, 9-11, 11-5, 13-11 win.
The match began with 35-year-old Gaultier totally outclassing Farag, storming out of the gates to take an early 6-0 lead and secure the opening game. Farag duly responded in the second, slowing the pace to swing momentum in his favour and level the score before the duo traded points back and forth en route to the tense climax that saw Farag book a berth in the 24th final of his career.
“I’m over the moon to come through with a win – he outplayed me for most of that match,” said Farag. “But sometimes it isn’t the better player who wins. Sometimes you just have to find a way out and that’s what I did today. I tried to focus on hitting the back corners, and playing basic, and it worked.
“I was very tense at the start and struggled to find my short game. I had to accept there were going to be times when he would be in control but I just tried to make it as hard as possible and make the rallies a long as possible – I was absorbing a lot but it paid off in the end.
“I’m very excited to face Mohamed in the final tomorrow. He brings the best out of me every time we play. I have trained very hard over the summer and worked on some specific things which I hope I can apply tomorrow.”
Farag will now go up against ElShorbagy (right) after the 27-year-old prevailed in a compelling four-game encounter with compatriot Karim Abdel Gawad that saw him bounce back from losing the opening game to come through an 7-11, 11-7, 11-9, 11-8 winner.
The match, a repeat of the 2017 tournament final, saw Gawad, who largely disappointed during the 2017-18 season, hitting clean, crips lines and moving with languid freedom reminiscent of the form that saw him clinch the World title in 2016.
But ElShorbagy proved equal to the task, responding to the challenge by increasing the pace and using his ferocious hitting power to counter Gawad’s guile and come through a riveting match that saw the duo duel through a series of captivating exchanges, trading points back and forth to the delight of the crown on the Embarcadero.
“I’m really happy to be back in the final once again,” said ElShorbagy. “I came here for the first time last year and it was a great experience so I’m looking forward to having the chance to defend the title tomorrow.
“We were playing a lot of very tough rallies out there – it was a high quality match – and I think that third game was crucial. He’s such a smooth player that you have to accept that there will be times when he will make you look like a fool. But you just have to accept that and come through it and find a way to win.
“Last season he wasn’t at his best. Sometimes you have those periods but it’s great to see him back and hungry again, but I’m very happy I managed to get the win against him today.”
The women’s final will see World Champion Raneem El Welily, who booked her place in the decider with a comprehensive 3-0 defeat of Laura Massaro yesterday, go up against defending champion Sarah-Jane Perry after the Englishwoman swept aside the challenge of Hong Kong’s Annie Au with a ruthless 3-0 win.
Perry, who beat eight-time World Champion Nicol David in the title-decider 12 months ago in what was the biggest win of her career, was in complete control from the outset. She picked Au apart from the off, taking the opening game for the loss of just four points and continued to enjoy complete control as she wrapped up the match in just 25 minutes.
Perry said: “I’ve got fantastic memories here from last year. Tomorrow against Raneem I have no expectations. I just have to go out and do the best I can. I watched the match yesterday between Raneem and Laura so I know how well she’s playing at the moment but I’ll give it my best tomorrow to try to defend the title.”
2018 Oracle NetSuite Open, San Francisco, USA.
Second Women’s Semi-final:
 Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) bt  Annie Au (HKG) 3-0: 11-4, 11-7, 11-9 (25m)
 Raneem El Welily (EGY) v  Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG)
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) bt  Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) 3-1: 7-11, 11-7, 11-9, 11-8 (65m)
 Ali Farag (EGY) bt  Gregory Gaultier (FRA) 3-2: 2-11, 11-6, 9-11, 11-5, 13-11 (77m)
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) v  Ali Farag (EGY)
Pictures courtesy of PSA