By ALAN THATCHER
Ramy Ashour overcame fellow Egyptian Amr Shabana and another mental meltdown to reach the semi-finals.
Ashour won 11-8, 12-10, 5-11, 1-11, 11-4 in an astonishing match full of sublime racket skills and astonishing lapses of concentration from the enigmatic 24-year-old from Cairo.
Two days ago, after fighting back from two games down against Spanish No.1 Borja Golan in the second round, Ashour admitted he was “mentally all over the place”.
Today, after dominating the start and finish of the match and being totally outplayed for the third and fourth games, he said: “I have so much crazy stuff going on in my head. I am not quite sane.”
With two of the most attacking players in the history of the sport, the rallies were never going to be long. In fact, the whole match was over in 45 minutes, akin to a sprint at this level.
Ashour raced into a 6-3 lead in the first game but the 32-year-old Shabana levelled at 8-8 before his younger opponent won the next three points.
Shabana played stylish, intelligent squash to lead 8-1 in the second game but Ashour produced a phenomenal recovery to win it 12-10.
Shabana dominated the third and fourth as Ashour totally lost concentration. The third lasted just eight minutes and the fourth was over in half that time as Ashour could find no answer to the quality of his opponent’s play.
Between games, Ashour threw every racket out of his bag and on to the floor as he searched for one with a grip that he liked.
Amazingly, he was able to regain his focus at the start of the fifth and although Shabana fought back from 3-0 to 3-3, Ashour pulled away to win the decider 11-4. The veteran Shabana was still diving all over the court to get the ball back but this time he was the one making mistakes. At match ball, he simply hit the service return into the tin as a clear gesture of frustration.
That quickly turned to anger as he smashed every racket in his bag and dumped them, plus his squash shoes, into a courtside bin.
Ashour admitted that he went to pieces if his racket grip felt anything less than perfect. He said: “I keep changing rackets because the grip is very important to me. If the grip is not right it stops me playing the way I want to. It changes your shots and takes away a lot of shots. I need the grip to be just right. I don’t have a very good record with the racket companies.”
Regarding his lapses in concentration, Ashour added: “I think it has always been like that between us. You can only play well against Shabana in patches and for a 20-minute spell he got in a place that was unbelievable. When he is in that zone he can beat anyone in the world in 20 minutes. It was surreal.
“You have to play the right shots at the right time and there is a lot of mental stuff going on. Playing him it is more mental squash than physical squash.
“I was happy to have the momentum after winning the first two games and I knew that I was in the zone. But when it changed it was difficult to find the necessary motivation. There are a lot of crazy elements in my head.
“If you think about it too much you get stuck there or you can find a soothing spot. I try to find what is in my head and focus. Push away the bad things and be focused. Other players maybe handle it better. Maybe I am too emotional.”
It was a glorious day for Egyptian squash in the women’s event as Raneem El Weleily and Nour El Sherbini set up an all-Egypt semi-final.
Raneem played superbly to beat England’s number two seed Jenny Duncalf. The 23-year-old number five seed from Alexandria attacked throughout the match to clinch victory in just 27 minutes. After a tight first game, she maintained the pressure to win 12-10, 11-7, 11-5.
Nour, the 16-year-old world junior champion, also from Alexandria, produced a mature performance to win a marathon match against No.7 seed Annie Au of Hong Kong two days after beating Irish fourth seed Madeline Perry.
She began brightly to win the opening game but Au responded solidly to take the next two. However, the tall El Sherbini tightened up her game to win 11-9, 7-11, 6-11, 11-9, 11-6 in 56 minutes.