SJP fights back from two games down to halt in-form Tesni Evans
By ALAN THATCHER and CONNOR SHEEN
Sarah-Jane Perry and Joel Makin carry British hopes into the finals of the Manchester Open, with Perry battling back from two games down to triumph against a resurgent Tesni Evans in yesterday’s semi-finals.
Makin managed to end Patrick Rooney’s brilliant run in three well-contested games lasting nearly an hour, but all three of the other semi-finals went to five games.
In the men’s final, Makin meets training partner Mohamed ElShorbagy, who overcame fellow Egyptian Karim Abdel Gawad. In the women’s final Perry faces Joelle King, who beat Belgium’s Nele Gilis in a thrilling 84-minute contest, squeezing home 15-13 in a dramatic final game.
That opening match set the scene for a day of outstanding squash, with No.1 seed Perry producing a stunning comeback to recover from 2-0 down to defeat Wales’ Evans and reach the final for the second consecutive year.
The pair had met in all three previous Manchester Opens, with Perry leading the head-to-head 2-1. Evans had looked in excellent form throughout the event and carried that into the opening exchanges of the match. She fired the ball in short early on to test the movement of Perry and delivered accurate winners to take the first two games 11-3, 11-8.
Perry came out in the third game with nothing to lose and started to work Evans with accurate squash into the front two corners, winning 11-7.
The winners continued to flow for the World No.6 as Perry’s confidence seemed to grow with every rally. Perry’s backhand drop was causing serious problems for the movement of Evans and it wasn’t long before the 2021 runner-up was dominating proceedings. Perry took the fourth and fifth games both 11-4 to complete the comeback and reach today’s final.
“The start was pretty abysmal from me and immaculate from Tez,” said Perry. “It’s not that I wasn’t expecting that. I’ve seen how well she has been hitting the ball this week and I have been on court with her a few times.
“She’s had some good matches recently and some nearly ones, so I knew she was dangerous. I wasn’t hitting my targets in that first and she just picked me off. I did get better in the second, but it still wasn’t good enough. I had to hope that she lost her accuracy and I sorted mine out. I just tried to knuckle down and get a few more balls back and get the ball into the corners.
“The more you do come back from that 2-0 deficit, the more you believe you can. It’s not an intentional thing but I think over the years I’ve learned not to panic in those situations. You’re not going to come back a lot of the time, but I just tried to focus on how I was playing and make it a lot more difficult for her than the first game.”
Perry’s opponent will be the 2019 Manchester Open champion King. The New Zealander overcame Belgium’s Nele Gilis in five high-quality games to reach the PSA World Tour Silver event final for the second time.
The energetic playing style of Gilis was on display from the very start of the match as she gave no time to King, rushing the New Zealand No.1 in all areas of the court to take the first game 11-7 and showed no signs of slowing down.
Despite King levelling the match at 1-1, Gilis’ relentless energy maintained as she took a 2-1 lead in a bid to reach back-to-back tournament finals following her runner up to her sister Tinne at the Annecy Rose Open in France last week. King showed her fighting qualities, however, taking a tense fourth game to set up a decider.
In the fifth game, King earned the first match ball at 10-9, but a spirited Gilis wasn’t done there as she took the match into a nail-biting tiebreak. It wasn’t until 14-13 that the No.2 seed closed out the match after an error from the Belgian.
“That was class from Nele, I think the first game she just got into my lungs,” said King.
“Before this tournament, my preparation wasn’t exactly how I wanted it to be. It’s been a while since the lungs were open and as you can see, she just fights and gets everything back and makes you play that extra shot. After the first, I thought I’m in trouble here, I’ve got to find a way to try and keep myself out of the corners and put her in them.
“In the heat of the battle things get said and you’re asking for lets at pressure moments and I questioned her trying to play the ball and she was a bit disappointed I questioned it, which is only fair. It’s nothing personal, we’re both here on the court to try and win and get to the final. Hopefully once things cool down, we can have a chat.
“I think it’s a credit to the women’s game at the moment. It just seems to get better and better every tournament and more physical. Every time someone starts to play well and we think they’re pulling away from the pack, that next group comes through.”
In the first men’s match of the day, two former World Champions locked horns as Egypt’s Mohamed ElShoragy and Karim Abdel Gawad went head to head for a place in the final.
The match was a repeat of the 2020 final, won by ElShorbagy. Yesterday’s match followed suit, with both players looking to attack at any opportunity much to the Manchester crowd’s delight.
World No.12 Gawad took a tight first game 15-13 but No.1 seed ElShorbagy responded in typical style as he upped the pace of his hitting. This forced Gawad into several difficult movements which took its toll on the body of the 30-year-old, securing the second and third games for ElShorbagy.
A drop in concentration by current World No.3 ElShorbagy allowed Gawad to step in front and clinch the fourth game. But Gawad’s momentum didn’t last long as the 2020 champion ElShorbagy ran away with the final game to book his place in the final in 64 minutes.
A relieved ElShorbagy said: “We’ve been doing this to each other since we were nine-year-old kids and we are going to keep doing this to each other. I’m glad we’re in our 30s – not long to go.
“I thought we played a high quality match today. I’m his No.1 fan and some of the shots he plays are out of this world. Before you go on court with him, I always accept he is going to make me look like a fool at times.”
Looking ahead to the final against Makin, ElShorbagy added: “Joel is my training partner, we train together at least twice a week. We do the same fitness training, we know each other very well and we get along really well. We also talk about the game a lot. He probably has the most inspiring story on Tour and I always think that me and all the other Egyptians we had it easier.
“I’m not saying it was easy but I grew up watching Shabana do it and I wanted to be like them. Joel didn’t have someone before him doing it. He had to create it all himself and it’s very inspiring.”
No.3 seed Makin defeated surprise semi-finalist and crowd favourite Patrick Rooney in straight games to advance.
Makin is renowned for his physical attributes and started early on putting in a high paced performance to put work into the legs of Rooney and test his fitness capabilities. The World No.9 executed this superbly to take the opening two games 11-5 and give himself a comfortable lead.
Spurred on by the home crowd, the England No.2 responded by stepping up the court and cutting out Makin’s drives to stretch the Welshman into all four corners of the court.
Rooney started to implement his attacking and creative style of play to trouble the No.3 seed and excite the spectators, but Makin was able to hang tough and closed out the match in a tiebreak 12-10 to book his place in the final.
“I was hitting the ball exactly how I wanted to,” said Makin. “In the first two games I was getting such a good line on the backhand and I was nullifying his volley and I was getting him to force it.
“The start of the third was a difficult patch. He started coming out and he was firing. He made it really difficult but I would expect that. The first two games ran away and if he wants to push up to that next level then he has to do what he did in the third game and that’s get stuck in. You have to mix it and put in some long rallies and he did that and got back into it.”
On facing ElShorbagy in the final, he added: “The guys in the first few rounds were happy to have a tight match with him, have a hug and a long rally and go off 3-1. Those guys have to push him and believe they can beat him.
“We train a lot together, but it doesn’t make too much difference. I’ve seen the intensity he brings to a Tuesday morning. I know he’s going to be flying tomorrow.”
Manchester Open 2022, National Squash Centre, Manchester, England.
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) bt  Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) 3-2: 13-15, 11-4, 11-5, 4-11, 11-6 (64m)
 Joel Makin (WAL) bt Patrick Rooney (ENG) 3-0: 11-5, 11-5, 12-10 (57m)
Men’s Final (April 18):
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) v  Joel Makin (WAL)
 Joelle King (NZL) bt  Nele Gilis (BEL) 3-2: 7-11, 11-8, 9-11, 11-9, 15-13 (86m)
 Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) bt  Tesni Evans (WAL) 3-2: 3-11, 8-11, 11-7, 11-4, 11-4 (56m)
Women’s Final (April 18):
 Joelle King (NZL) v  Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG)
Pictures courtesy of PSA World Tour