Mohamed ElShorbagy and Joel Makin to meet in all-British battle
By ALAN THATCHER (Squash Mad Editor) and MATT COLES (PSA) in Singapore
Sisters Amanda and Sabrina Sobhy have both made it through to the semi-finals of the Marigold Singapore Open.
USA’s world No.4 Amanda and world No.18 Sabrina secured contrasting victories on the fourth day of the PSA World Tour Gold level tournament at the OCBC Arena in Singapore.
Older sister Amanda, the top seed for the women’s competition, saved match ball before beating Belgium’s Nele Gilis 7-11, 11-7, 4-11, 11-9, 12-10 in a 65-minute, five-game thriller, while sister Sabrina played superb squash to beat England’s Sarah-Jane Perry in straight games in half the time.
Amanda meets Egypt’s No.3 seed Nour El Tayeb in the semi-finals, with Sabrina tackling No.2 seed Joelle King of New Zealand.
Gilis started strongly against Amanda Sobhy, and although the American fought back in the middle of the opening game, Gilis finished strongly to win it. The score seesawed as Sobhy won the second game and Gilis recovered to take the third.
The tension and excitement mounted as the fourth game progressed and Sobhy had her nose in front. Gilis saved two game balls, but a stroke on the last of those gave the American the 11-9 win she needed to extend the contest into a decider.
After a quick start from Sobhy in the fifth game, Gilis brought it level to 8-8. It was the Belgian who had the first match ball at 10-9, but Sobhy saved it to draw level and then won the next two points to claim a 12-10 victory in the fifth, to book her spot in the last four, where she will now face Egypt’s Nour El Tayeb.
“I am a little tired! Very relieved, but definitely tired! She got a lot of balls back, and definitely caught me off guard. I am definitely happy to win that last point at the end!” Sobhy said.
“I had to try a little bit harder, a bit more effort, kick myself up a gear. It was helpful not to have to do it alone, and to have someone in my corner to tell me those things. So thank you Diego [Elias]. She gets a lot of balls back, so it’s having to win the rally a few times to actually win the rally. It was a really good match and I am just pleased that I was the winner in the end.”
Amanda will be joined in the semi-finals by younger sister Sabrina, after the World No.18 overcame English No.1 Sarah-Jane Perry in straight games on Friday evening at the OCBC Arena in Singapore.
The American’s exceptional movement was on full show, getting back several shots that may well have been winners against other opponents. The World No.18’s retrieval abilities kept her in the big points, and she was able to wrap up the victory in straight games, making it two Sobhys in the last four in Singapore.
“It feels awesome. I couldn’t have asked for a better week so far in Singapore, it’s been really chilled and relaxing, the hospitality has been fantastic and it adds a level of ease that all the players look for. I feel like I’ve had that this week and that has made me a little more relaxed on court and found some more enjoyment in there and I’ve been having a great time,” Sobhy said.
“I appreciate the crowd and the liveliness that the atmosphere has. SJ [Perry] is one of those players who will make you run to every corner frantically, which I definitely felt in many rallies for nearly the entire game but somehow, I managed to sneak it out in the end. Each rally was physically and definitely difficult which is why she’s one of the best squash players.”
The men’s quarter finals all went to seeding. England’s Mohamed ElShorbagy got the better of Egypt’s Tarek Momen in a battle of two former World Champions, and he will now take on Welsh No.1 Joel Makin in the last four.
Welshman Makin had to dig deep, but he eventually came through his quarter final contest with Malaysian No.1 Eain Yow Ng, winning after 65 minutes of high quality action.
After a tight start to the first game, the World No.9 won 11-9 before running away with the second game 11-3, thanks to his accurate line hitting.
He then held a big lead in the third game, and looked like he would win in straight games. However, from 8-3 down, the Malaysian produced a stunning fightback. A short break in play to clean the court at 8-4 gave Ng the ability to turn it around, winning seven straight points after it to take the match into a fourth game.
Makin was then able to just keep his nose in front throughout the fourth, with Ng hitting errors at crucial times. The match ended on an incredible rally, in which both players hit the floor but were able to get up and continue, with a stroke going Makin’s way to clinch a 3-1 victory.
“I don’t care about what happened [in that final rally], I just had to get that stroke. That was all that mattered,” he said.
“That was a joke. He is playing very well. People don’t realise the level he is playing at, taking out a few good players in a row, 3-2, 3-2, and beating Paul [Coll] from two down.
“I had the match won there, but he is good like that and I rate that. He came back, he almost didn’t deserve to get back into the match and then it looked like he was pushing on in the fourth, so all credit to him there.
“It gave him a simple way to play from that point forward. He had a gameplan that wasn’t working, I was getting on top and he started attacking. If he had a chance, he was slow-balling and then attacking. He was being disruptive and with a good level of squash. I just had to work hard and find my spots again.”
In a battle of two former world champions, it was World No.3 Mohamed ElShorbagy who came out on top against Tarek Momen.
The first game was tight and tense, with neither man able to establish a lead. There was plenty of chat with the referee as well, but in the end, it was the Englishman who claimed it on a tie-break 12-10 after saving game ball at 10-9 down.
That gave him the confidence and the momentum to move on with his performance, and he went to finish it in three, with a tight third game eventually going his way 11-9. He will play Joel Makin in the semi-finals in Singapore.
“I think we both were quite tense in the first game. We both gave the referee a bit of a hard time, we were both arguing a lot with the referee, so I apologise to him for that,” ElShorbagy said.
“Sometimes, when you get two top players playing each other, we both know that the first game is very important. I think that is the reason we were both aggressive. At the end of the day, you want that. You want two top players to go at each other hard and we both did this! I am happy to win, to get through to the semis, and I am happy to be here again tomorrow!
“It’s what we train for. To be fair to him, he had a very tough first round match with Miguel [Rodriguez], played five games and I knew he needed that first game probably more than I did.
“When I got it, I knew the work I put into him. Winning it gives me a big mental advantage, so it was so important for me to get it. To get off court in three in general is always a bonus, but to do it with Tarek, you get a lot of confidence with this.
“As I said, I am really happy with the win, and I am really happy to play in front of this Singaporean crowd here for another day, and I look forward to being here tomorrow.”
The other semi-final will see Peru’s Diego Elias and Egypt’s Mostafa Asal do battle on Saturday.
Asal was in top form as he overcame France’s Victor Crouin in straight games, winning all three 11-4. The No.2 seed was relentless in his hitting to the back corners, pulverising the ball to find a great length at a pace that was uncomfortable for the Frenchman to deal with. The Egyptian stayed in front of Crouin for large parts of the match with Crouin unable to get the ball past the wingspan of Asal.
The world No.4 motored through each game with devastating effect, using his backhand drop and kill combination whenever the chance presented itself.
Asal said: “It’s amazing to be here again, thanks for the crowd for coming today. It’s an honour to be here and playing one of the best tournaments.
“Victor is one of the toughest opponents to play – he’s my generation. We didn’t play together in the World Junior Championships but I saw him in the finals as I was losing in the quarters. So to play against him and to see my generation playing with me makes me feel I’m not alone with all the older guys here.”
World No.5 Diego Elias completed the semi-final line up at the OCBC Arena with an 11-9, 11-2, 11-9 win over talented Egyptian Mazen Hesham.
The match was always going to be an entertaining one, with both players capable of producing dazzling winners from anywhere on the court. Elias, unsurprisingly, came out the stronger of the two and started to test the physicality of Hesham, who has been struggling with injuries.
Elias said: “It was very tough. I’ve been training with Mazen since the summer, we’ve become very good friends and I knew it would be a very good match. I’m just very happy with the win, I’m glad I could close it out. I know he’s a slow starter so I took advantage of that but I knew by the end it was going to be very tough.
“I think I’m playing well, I’m moving well. It was a good test today with Mazen because he’s very random and plays a lot to the front and I’m glad I could get all those shots so I’m very happy with my movement.
“I think the semi-final will be a tough one. Mostafa is playing very well so I just need to go back now and recover to get ready for that one.”
The MARIGOLD Singapore Squash Open semi-finals begin tomorrow (Saturday, November 19) at 14:00 local time (GMT+8). All of the action from the OCBC Arena will be streamed live on SQUASHTV.
MARIGOLD Singapore Squash Open, OCBC Arena, Singapore.
 Joel Makin (WAL) bt Eain Yow Ng (MAS) 3-1: 11-9, 11-3, 8-11, 11-8 (65m)
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (ENG) bt  Tarek Momen (EGY) 3-0: 12-10, 11-6, 11-9 (41m)
 Diego Elias (PER) bt  Mazen Hesham (EGY) 3-0: 11-9, 11-2, 11-9 (37m)
 Mostafa Asal (EGY) bt  Victor Crouin (FRA) 3-0: 11-4, 11-4, 11-4 (39m)
Men’s Semi-Finals (Saturday, November 19):
 Joel Makin (WAL) v  Mohamed ElShorbagy (ENG)
 Diego Elias (PER) v  Mostafa Asal (EGY)
 Amanda Sobhy (USA) bt Nele Gilis (BEL) 3-2: 7-11, 11-7, 4-11, 11-9, 12-10 (65m)
 Nour El Tayeb (EGY) bt  Rowan Elaraby (EGY) 3-0: 12-10, 11-4, 11-4 (29m)
Sabrina Sobhy (USA) bt  Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) 3-0: 11-9, 11-8, 11-6 (32m)
 Joelle King (NZL) bt  Tinne Gilis (BEL) 3-0: 11-8, 11-7, 11-8 (29m)
Women’s Semi-Finals (Saturday, November 19):
 Amanda Sobhy (USA) v  Nour El Tayeb (EGY)
Sabrina Sobhy (USA) v  Joelle King (NZL)
Pictures courtesy of PSA World Tour and Singapore Squash