James Willstrop meets Gregory Gaultier in quarter-finals
By NATHAN CLARKE in Chicago
World No.6 Amanda Sobhy, the highest-ranked US-born player ever, emerged victorious in a momentous all-American encounter with Olivia Blatchford to reach the quarter-finals of the 2017 Windy City Open presented by Guggenheim Partners and EquiTrust Life Insurance Company.
The 23-year-old Sobhy, in the first meeting this century between two US-born players this deep into a PSA World Series tournament, came through in four games against 24-year-old Blatchford, having been made to work hard for the win by the World No.26.
After taking the first comfortably, Sobhy found herself drawn into a real battle as Blatchford upped her game to take the second 12-10 in a tie-break. And Sobhy could have gone behind in the third, managing to get out of trouble and take it 12-10 before sealing the win with a one-way 11-3 fourth game.
“It was difficult mentally out there against a good friend,” said Sobhy. “I got a bit edgy when things where getting close. She played well in the big points and I was really bummed to lose the second game. I finally felt like I relaxed in the fourth so hopefully I can play the whole match tomorrow like that.
“But I enjoyed the match today. It’s great to have two US players at this stage of a major event. It shows that we can produce the talent so hopefully we will see more of it in the future.”
Sobhy will take on 2016 and 2015 tournament winner Raneem El Welily, the Egyptian former World No.1, for a place in the semi-finals after she downed Hong Kong’s Annie Au with little difficulty.
Joining them in the last eight were 2014 tournament winner Laura Massaro, who beat Canada’s Samantha Cornet, and World No.4 Nouran Gohar, who had to come from behind to defeat the in-form Sarah-Jane Perry.
The Englishwoman, who broke into the top ten for the first time in her career last month, took the opening game 11-6 and enjoyed periods of control. But Gohar stayed calm, applied pressure through her hard-hitting style and was rewarded when Perry slowed up physically in the third, setting the platform for the win.
“It was a big battle, she’s in-form at the moment and I’d never beaten her before,” said Gohar.
“I had to play very well today. She’s just made the top 10 so I had to be 100 per cent ready mentally and physically.
“In the first game it was all her – I just tried to stick in there and dig deep to win the match.”
In the Men’s draw another in-form English player, James Willstrop, came out victorious against Egyptian opposition, coming through a tough and testing match with Mohamed Abouelghar to set up a quarter-final with 2015 World Champion Gregory Gaultier.
Willstrop demolished Omar Mosaad 3-0 in round one and picked up from where he left off as he continued to hit accurate, precise lines and leave Abouelghar powerless to resist as he took a 2-0 lead.
But Abouelghar’s top-15 calibre was on full display as he reduced the error count, tightened up his line hitting and played with patience to transform the match into an almighty tussle. He took the third and was enjoying success in the fourth until 9-9, when Willstrop’s beautifully deceptive crosscourt kill set up match point – although he needed two more to convert the win.
“There was a lot of relief at the end of that one – it was very hard,” said Willstrop.
“He was very heard to break down today. I might have a ranking advantage and the experience, but he’s given me a real tough ride the last few times we played.
“I handled it well in the first two today but he just got better and better and grew into it. I thought he was class – he was making it very, very hard and wasn’t giving me any openings. I’m very happy that I managed to get through it.”
The winner of Willstrop’s encounter with Gaultier will face either Spaniard Borja Golan, who beat Leo Au to reach his first World Series quarter-finals in over a year, or current World Champion Karim Abdel Gawad.
The Qatar Classic and Tournament of Champions winner beat compatriot Fares Dessouky in a hard fought 3-1 encounter to return to wining ways after losing to Gaultier in the Swedish Open final earlier this month.
“I really want to do well in this event and keep my performances high and get the winning going,” said Gawad.
“I went on court very focused and trying to start strong and I feel like I played very well today. I felt like I kept my rhythm and focus going throughout the game which is pleasing.
“You can’t win every match but the most important thing I believe is to always try and learn from your mistakes. I lost in Sweden but I’ve tried to work on what I did wrong and come into this tournament as if it is the first one of the season.”
Gaultier eased through against England’s Daryl Selby, who was suffering from a fever. Selby told social media: “I just want to say sorry to the fans but I was suffering from a fever and wanted to at least complete the match.”
2017 Windy City Open, presented by Guggenheim Partners and EquiTrust Life Insurance Company, Cathedral Hall, Chicago, USA.
Men’s Second Round (Bottom Half):
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt Daryl Selby (ENG) 3-0: 11-2, 11-0, 11-1 (16m)
James Willstrop (ENG) bt Mohamed Abouelghar (EGY) 3-1: 11-4, 11-8, 8-11, 13-11 (70m)
Borja Golan (ESP) bt [Q] Leo Au (HKG) 3-1: 1-11, 11-5, 11-4, 11-7 (56m)
 Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) bt Fares Dessouky (EGY) 3-1: 11-6, 10-12, 11-8, 11-9 (59m)
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) v  Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY)
 Ali Farag (EGY) v Simon Rösner (GER)
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v James Willstrop (ENG)
Borja Golan (ESP) v  Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY)
Women’s Second Round (Bottom Half):
 Raneem El Welily (EGY) bt  Annie Au (HKG) 3-1: 11-8, 8-11, 11-4, 11-7 (37m)
 Amanda Sobhy (USA) bt [WC] Olivia Blatchford (USA) 3-1: 11-7, 12-14, 12-10, 11-3 (41m)
 Laura Massaro (ENG) bt [Q] Samantha Cornett (CAN) 3-0: 11-2, 11-8, 11-8 (30m)
 Nouran Gohar (EGY) bt  Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) 3-1: 6-11, 11-9, 11-9, 11-6 (49m)
 Nour El Sherbini (EGY) v  Nicol David (MAS)
 Alison Waters (ENG) v  Camille Serme (FRA)
 Raneem El Welily (EGY) v  Amanda Sobhy (USA)
 Laura Massaro (ENG) v  Nouran Gohar (EGY)
Pictures courtesy of PSA