Willstrop and Gaultier beaten in dramatic semi-finals
By ALAN THATCHER and NATHAN CLARKE
Ramy Ashour theatrically bowed to the audience after beating top seed Gregory Gaultier as if to announce that he is back on the biggest stage in squash.
In a meeting of two star players battling to overcome injury demons, Ashour lived up to his nickname of “The Artist” to reach the final of the PSA M100 Grasshopper Cup in Zurich with another sublime performance, dominating centre stage once again.
Just 24 hours after completely outclassing Simon Rösner, Ashour continued to set the court alight as he proved too strong and too clinical for 2017 tournament winner Gaultier – the man who held the World No.1 spot for nine consecutive months before ElShorbagy remounted the summit on March 1.
Since halting Raphael Kandra in style in round one, Ashour has shown an irresistible fluidity on court and nonchalantly knocked the ball into all four corners to place Gaultier under an immense amount of pressure and complete and 11-6, 11-8, 11-8 win in 45-minutes.
“We’ve played so many battles together. He’s an amazing athlete and its impressive how he covers the four corners of the court,” said Ashour.
“He looked a little off in his movement today but I knew I had to be so on form to not give him an inch as he would have taken the game. When he’s playing normal you know what to expect but today, because he wasn’t at his best, it was even harder because you don’t know what to expect from him.
“Of course I’m happy with how it has been going this week. You just try to give your best out there every time you play but no doubt tomorrow’s match will be another tough one.”
Ashour, who bowed with a flourish to all four sides of the arena before leaving court, loved every moment. And he knows another command performance will be required if he is to upstage the in-form ElShorbagy, who has been in dominant form throughout this extraordinary season.
World No.1 ElShorbagy is also expecting a memorable match as he prepares set to lock horns with compatriot and nemesis Ashour, the three-time World Champion, in what promises to be a mouthwatering finale to a successful Grasshopper Cup tournament.
The duo, who will meet for the 11th time on the PSA World Tour (in a seventh final) have been in superb form so far throughout the tournament and will go into the final with hopes of rekindling the rivalry that saw them contest two of the greatest matches in squash history during the 2014-15 season.
In the finals of both the 2014 World Championship and 2015 El Gouna International it was Ashour who triumphed in thrilling circumstances.
But, since then, the 30-year-old has largely been absent from the Tour due to injury, while ElShorbagy, who has assumed the mantle of the sport’s most dominant player, has gone from strength-to-strength – coming through a supremely high quality last four battle with James Willstrop to underline his authority with an 11-9, 11-8, 11-8 win.
“This season has been unbelievable for me so far,” said ElShorbagy, who has claimed seven titles so far this season.
“This is the third tournament in a row and the third final in a row – there’s so much work that goes in behind the scenes to try and recover from each match and come back and perform like I’m doing right now against these great competitors.
“But these are the kind of challenges that I live for and try to survive – victory tastes much better this way and tomorrow I will be giving it big shot.
“Ramy has been playing unbelievable this week and we alway play incredible matches against each other. We play at a different level when we’re up against each other and I’m looking forward to another big battle with him tomorrow.”
Writing on Facebook last night, Gaultier (right) said: “I really enjoyed being back on court this week and happy that I didn’t do more damage in my leg. It held very well but it’s still painful around the past injured area due to compensations and protections.
“I did all I could in every single match. I came here with just the hope to be able to play and move, so it’s a big win and bonus for me that makes me happy. I never expected to play like that. Very glad to be back again in all this squash environment. Thanks to Steve Buchli and his crew who always do a fantastic job. Bigger venue this year, and sold out every day – that’s what we want to see. Thanks to everyone who came to watch and support this beautiful event in Zurich. I will come back next year.
“It was great to see all the players again, nice to see Ramy with no injury too and moving well on court. He has been injured the last few years and always tried to come back. It’s very good for everyone to see him like that on court, it gives inspiration and motivation too when I see him struggling these last few years and keep trying and trying to come back. So my hat off to him really.
“My injuries are consequences of things that I know and will try to manage, but Ramy is the pure example not to give up. When I’m out for a couple of weeks or months due to injuries that can depress me, I know who to think about and where to get inspiration from. I will do all my best to come back in good shape and to my best, it just takes time, you can’t do miracles in just a few days….
“See you Zurich next time. Now I have four good weeks to work ahead of me before El Gouna.”
PSA M100 Grasshopper Cup 2018, Halle 622, Zurich, Switzerland.
 Ramy Ashour (EGY) bt  Gregory Gaultier (FRA) 3-0: 11-6, 11-8, 11-8 (45m)
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) bt James Willstrop (ENG) 3-0: 11-9, 11-8, 11-8 (47m)
 Ramy Ashour (EGY) v  Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY)
Pictures courtesy of PSA