By MATT COLES – Squash Mad Correspondent
Egypt’s World No.2 Mohamed ElShorbagy had to come from behind in his opening match of the Oracle NetSuite Open, battling back to defeat compatriot Mohamed Abouelghar on the opening day at Embarcadero Plaza, San Francisco.
The PSA World Tour Gold level tournament got under way on Thursday afternoon with ElShorbagy as the top seed for the event, and he came up against fellow Egyptian Abouelghar, aiming to extend his 100% winning record over ‘the Bullet’.
It was all but plain sailing for the ‘Beast from Alexandria’ as he quickly found himself 7-2 down in the first game, with Abouelghar going on to take the first game with ease. From there, though, ElShorbagy did what he always does, fight back.
He took the second game 11-8, and in a third game that was littered with stoppages, for refereeing decisions and court attendance, ElShorbagy eventually got over the line after 48 minutes of action, advancing to the last eight.
ElShorbagy said: “I think the most relaxed out of the three of us today was the referee, so I have to thank him for staying relaxed. He had two tense, dramatic squash players arguing all the time!
“But having Abouelghar in the first round is very tricky. I was very nervous before the match and everyone could see how tense I was, arguing at some decisions that I had no right to argue about as well, and the referee did a good job. He knew how tough that first round was, and he did a very experienced job.
“The last three years here, I have made three finals. I have won two but this is actually one of my favourite tournaments of the whole year. I love coming back here, coming back to San Fran. Everyone knows how much I love playing here.
“I told my mother, and she has been everywhere with me, but she has never come to San Fran before. This year I told her that she had to come, that she would love it here.”
ElShorbagy will now face another former World Champion and World No.1 in Karim Abdel Gawad in the quarter-finals after the ‘Baby-Faced Assassin’ downed Colombia’s Miguel Rodriguez in a deciding game.
Much like ElShorbagy, Gawad found himself behind after the first game. The World No.6 lost the first on a tie-break 14-12, but from there he allowed the ‘Colombian Cannonball’ to score just nine points.
Gawad said: “Best of three is a totally different story. For me, it’s almost a different sport. Sometimes you’re up 2-0, sometimes you’re 2-0 down and things can turn around. In the last period I’ve been on and off, so I just wanted to play my best. I was a bit worried at the beginning of the match, I didn’t want to lose in the first round and Miguel is a very dangerous player.
“After the first game I just told myself to leave everything on court even if I lost in the first round. I just wanted to play my best squash, tried to win and hopefully I can win again. I had more confidence [in the second]. I wanted to play my game, he was the one controlling the game, so I wanted to play my game at the end.
“When I came back on court in the third, I wanted to play an attacking game with more winning shots and I’m glad it worked. Miguel can come back at any time, in the first game I was 10-8 up and lost that one. The second game, I was 5-3 up and he came back, so I wanted to focus on every point.”
World No.2 Nouran Gohar, the top seed in the women’s draw at this year’s Oracle NetSuite Open, got her debut campaign in San Francisco off to the perfect start, defeating Canada’s Hollie Naughton for the second straight event.
The pair met in the second round of the CIB Egyptian Open, with Gohar winning their contest at the New Giza Sporting Club, in what was the first step to her victory in front of the Pyramids less than a week ago.
She showed her confidence and class throughout her second clash with Naughton in the space of ten days, and needed just 20 minutes on court at Embarcadero Plaza to take the victory and advance to the last eight.
Gohar said: “It has been five years now, but because of university I have missed it every time so I am glad this year. Actually, I had my graduation today but I was not going to miss coming to San Francisco this year!
“I was really excited when I saw it on the calendar. I think I was one of the first people to enter my name. I was really looking forward to it. It is a beautiful city and I have been hearing about it a lot. It has not disappointed me!”
She will now face compatriot Salma Hany in the last eight, while New Zealand’s Joelle King and Egypt’s Hania El Hammamy will face off in the quarter-finals after they defeated USA’s Sabrina Sobhy and Olivia Clyne, respectively.
The first round of the Oracle NetSuite Open continues today at 13:00 (GMT-7), with glass court action from Embarcadero Plaza in San Francisco live on SquashTV.
Oracle NetSuite Open 2021, San Francisco, USA.
Men’s First Round (Top Half):
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) bt Mohamed Abouelghar (EGY) 2-1: 8-11, 11-8, 11-7 (49m)
 Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) bt Miguel Rodriguez (COL) 2-1: 12-14, 11-7, 11-2 (51m)
 Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY) bt Gregoire Marche (FRA) 2-0: 11-7, 11-7 (38m)
 Paul Coll (NZL) bt Youssef Ibrahim (EGY) 2-0: 11-6, 11-8 (37m)
Bottom Half, September 24:
 Tarek Momen (EGY) v [WC] Spencer Lovejoy (USA)
Mazen Hesham (EGY) v  Mostafa Asal (EGY)
 Joel Makin (WAL) v Saurav Ghosal (IND)
Omar Mosaad (EGY) v  Ali Farag (EGY)
Men’s Quarter-Finals (Top Half, September 25):
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) v  Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY)
 Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY) v  Paul Coll (NZL)
Women’s First Round (Top Half):
 Nouran Gohar (EGY) bt Hollie Naughton (CAN) 2-0: 11-6, 11-7 (20m)
 Salma Hany (EGY) bt Danielle Letourneau (CAN) 2-0: 11-3, 11-6 (15m)
 Joelle King (NZL) bt Sabrina Sobhy (USA) 2-1: 12-10, 9-11, 11-8 (38m)
 Hania El Hammamy (EGY) bt Olivia Clyne (USA) 2-0: 13-11, 11-6 (31m)
Bottom Half, September 24:
 Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) v Rowan Elaraby (EGY)
Emily Whitlock (WAL) v  Joshna Chinappa (IND)
 Tesni Evans (WAL) v Olivia Fiechter (USA)
Nadine Shahin (EGY) v  Amanda Sobhy (USA)
Women’s Quarter-Finals (Top Half, September 25):
 Nouran Gohar (EGY) v  Salma Hany (EGY)
 Joelle King (NZL) v  Hania El Hammamy (EGY)
Tournament website here
Pictures courtesy of PSA