Matthew ends Palmer’s fairytale to set up Ashour rematch
From ANDREW DENT in Canberra. Pictures by BOB GIVENS
World squash number one Nick Matthew ended David Palmer’s Australian Open fairytale with a ruthless 11-9, 11-4, 11-5 win in the semi-finals in Canberra on Saturday.
The Englishman will now take on Egypt’s Ramy Ashour, a 7-11, 11-9, 11-9, 11-9 winner over Gregory Gaultier, in a repeat of the 2010 decider, won in straight games by Matthew.
The 35-year-old Palmer has been carrying an ankle injury during the week but has been playing great squash, culminating in a win over world number three Karim Darwish in the quarter-finals.
However, despite the vocal support of a large home crowd, the 2008 champion came up short against a player at the peak of his game.
Palmer got away to a great start and jumped out to a 5-2 lead, only for Matthew to claw his way back to level terms, the two then going point for point until Mathew broke away at 9-9 to close out the first game.
The defending champion then stepped up a gear against an increasingly tired looking Palmer to take control of the rest of the match.
As the match wore on, Palmer found it harder and harder to read Matthew’s shots and was often left flat footed at the back of the court.
“He’s had a good week and he’s come pretty far in the tournament, but I wasn’t going to let him have his fairytale,” Matthew said later.
“The first game was quite crucial, he started off like a train but once I got the first game I had some breathing space and it was going to a tough ask for him to come back from it.
“I made a good start in the second and stayed on top, I’m very pleased with my performance today.”
Palmer conceded afterwards that he hadn’t been physically up to the task of beating the world’s best player on Saturday.
“The week caught up with me I think,” he said.
“My legs got heavier and you can’t give up that much time against him. He’s one of the fastest men on the court.
“I was on the back foot and that caused my shots to be not quite as accurate as well.
“Still, it was a good week for me. With my seeding no one expected me to get this far and considering the ankle injury I’m still pretty proud.”
In the last match of the day, Ashour downed fifth seeded Frenchman Gregory Gaultier 7-11, 11-9, 11-9, 11-9 in a semi-final full of passion, humour, tension and remarkable shot making from both players.
The pair were renewing their Australian Open rivalry from last year, where they also met in the semi-finals.
On that occasion they played one of the best matches ever seen in Australia, and although Saturday’s match may have fallen short of that classic, it came fairly close.
Gaultier had chances to win every game, only to be undone by some sublime stroke play from the audacious Egyptian, who seems able to hit clean winners from any position on the court.
“Greg’s as fast as a spaceship, you can see how fast he is on the court, how physically fit he is,” Ashour said.
“He’s such a diligent guy, he works very hard and pushes himself on court to his limit. For me to stay on court for that long and keep up gives me a lot of confidence.
“Every time it’s a fight, between the points I was thinking ‘why does it have to be like this every time?’”
Ashour said he thought he noticed Gaultier beginning to tire towards the end of the match so he tried to increase the pace of the game, which allowed him to sneak home.
“It’s always like this at the top level, it’s always a very thin margin,” he said.
A downcast Gaultier was left rueing his lost chances.
“It’s tough to lose three games 11-9, 11-9, 11-9,” he said. “I had the opportunity to take one of these three games but he managed to hit winners at the right time.
“I’m disappointed but I’m happy with the way I played. I think it’s a good start to the season for me to get my confidence up.”