Gaultier rolls back the years to reach Egyptian Open quarters
By SEAN REUTHE – Squash Mad Correspondent
THE 37-year-old Frenchman Gregory Gaultier is through to the quarter-finals of a PSA World Tour event for the first time in two years after the World No.76 defeated World No.10 Miguel Rodriguez earlier today in their third round clash at the CIB Egyptian Open.
Gaultier, a former World No.1, spent 15 months on the sidelines between October 2018 and January 2020 after suffering a serious knee injury which left him fighting for his career and required two surgeries just to get him back on court.
His return to action was then cut short after just two events due to the global COVID-19 pandemic which brought professional squash to a halt for six months. But his mental strength and belief was unwavering and he put on a demonstration of the control and class that has characterised his career as he overcame Rodriguez by an 11-7, 11-7, 9-11, 12-10 scoreline to record his first win over a top 10 player since September 2018.
“I’m very happy I kept digging in,” said Gaultier following his win at the New Giza Sporting Club in the first PSA Platinum tournament of this relaunched season.
“Mentally I stayed focused despite it all, and I’m chuffed to get through, they were two tricky matches in a row. They were not the easiest of conditions, it was very hard to finish off the rallies.
“If you hit the ball just a bit too hard, it bounces off very hard, so against Miguel I had to play extremely accurate squash without overhitting and varying the height, and I really had to be very patient. It was not the most entertaining squash, but that’s what needed to be done.”
Gaultier’s most recent PSA World Tour quarter-final was against World No.2 Ali Farag at the U.S. Open in October 2018 and he will take on the Egyptian once again following Farag’s 10-12, 11-8, 11-9, 9-11, 11-7 victory over Switzerland’s Nicolas Mueller on the glass court in front of the iconic Great Pyramid of Giza.
Farag, a runner-up at last year’s CIB Egyptian Open, was struggling with a finger injury and came close to suffering a surprise exit after Mueller displayed his shot-making skills to take the No.1 seed to a fifth game. But tiredness ultimately got the better of him as Farag closed out the win to book his quarter-final berth.
“The injury was a very silly thing in the morning, I was opening a can of oatmeal, I just had my breakfast and cut my finger,” Farag said.
“You’d be surprised how much it affects the holding of the grip, and I just missed so many easy shots because I couldn’t hold the grip properly. In a fraction of a second I’m thinking about it and then I’m wrong footed. All of this plays in your head, but I’m happy to still be in the tournament and have a day off, where I’ll be playing without it and hopefully all will be good.”
Farag’s compatriot, 19-year-old Mostafa Asal, has also earned his spot in the last eight after a relentless performance saw him defeat 37-year-old former World No.1 James Willstrop at the New Giza Sporting Club. He will line up against World No.5 Paul Coll, who defeated World No.49 Youssef Ibrahim.
In the women’s event, World No.1 Nouran Gohar had to fight through the pain barrier as she overcame an ankle injury to dispatch fellow Egyptian Rowan Elaraby 11-4, 11-9, 11-5.
Gohar, 23, was wearing heavy strapping around her right ankle and looked on the verge of shaking hands after hurting it further at 2-1 down in the third game. But after some time off court to receive treatment, Gohar returned and put together a steely performance befitting of her ‘Terminator’ nickname to close out the win against all the odds.
“I thought my ankle was going to be worse actually,” said Gohar following her win.
“At first, the feeling wasn’t very good, but I really wanted to play, so I think that helped a little bit to just not really think about it. I’m just glad I was able to keep going and not just pull out. It felt really great to be back here, I love this court, whether it’s at El Gouna or here, my first match on this court was at Wadi Degla and I have very good memories on the court, but put it in front of the Pyramids and it’s another thing.”
The first match of the inaugural women’s CIB Egyptian Open pitted World No.3 Camille Serme up against World No.29 Sabrina Sobhy, with the former coming close to causing another upset at this year’s tournament after toppling fellow American Olivia Clyne in the previous round.
Serme, who exited the CIB PSA World Tour Finals at the hands of Sabrina’s older sister Amanda a fortnight ago, never looked comfortable on court after an early slip. But the 31-year-old held her nerve to edge her opponent out, winning 11-6, 12-14, 9-11, 12-10, 11-7.
“I always know it is going to be hard against Sabrina, she is coming along strongly,” said Serme.
“We’ve been practicing and training together a little bit so I know what she’s capable of. To be honest, I saw myself on a plane home tonight when I was 2-1 down. I don’t know what happened, I need to analyse with my coach how I actually won this match. I felt a bit flat in a few games and she was really good, attacking and volleying very well. I’m happy I’m through and really glad I made it.”
She will face off against PSA World Tour Finals champion Hania El Hammamy for a fifth tournament in a row after El Hammamy beat Belgium’s Tinne Gilis 3-1 over at the New Giza Sporting Club. El Hammamy stunned Serme when she came back from two games down to beat the French player in the CIB PSA Women’s World Championship quarter-finals 12 months ago in front of the Pyramids.
GIlis’s older sister, Nele, was the day’s other victor as she came back from a game down to beat Canada’s Hollie Naughton. She will play Gohar next in only her second PSA Platinum quarter-final appearance.
Round three continues tomorrow (October 13). Side court action will once again be held at the New Giza Sporting Club from 12:45 (GMT+2), while four matches will be held at the glass court in front of the iconic Great Pyramid of Giza from 18:00 onwards.
Action will be shown live on SQUASHTV and the official Facebook page of the PSA World Tour.
2020 CIB Egyptian Open, CAIRO, EGYPT.
Men’s Third Round (Top Half):
 Ali Farag (EGY) bt Nicolas Mueller (SUI) 3-2: 10-12, 11-8, 11-9, 9-11, 11-7 (77m)
Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt  Miguel Rodriguez (COL) 3-1: 11-7, 11-7, 9-11, 12-10 (63m)
Mostafa Asal (EGY) bt James Willstrop (ENG) 3-0: 11-5, 11-8, 11-5 (40m)
 Paul Coll (NZL) bt Youssef Ibrahim (EGY) 3-0: 11-9, 11-4, 12-10 (45m)
Draw – Men’s Third Round (Bottom Half): To Be Played October 13th
 Tarek Momen (EGY) v Cesar Salazar (MEX)
Gregoire Marche (FRA) v  Diego Elias (PER)
 Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY) v Nathan Lake (ENG)
Saurav Ghosal (IND) v Mazen Hesham (EGY)
Men’s Quarter-Finals (Top Half, October 14):
 Ali Farag (EGY) v Gregory Gaultier (FRA)
Mostafa Asal (EGY) v  Paul Coll (NZL)
Women’s Third Round (Top Half):
 Nouran Gohar (EGY) bt Rowan Elaraby (EGY) 3-0: 11-4, 11-9, 11-5 (34m)
Nele Gilis (BEL) bt Hollie Naughton (CAN) 3-1: 5-11, 11-5, 11-6, 11-5 (50m)
 Hania El Hammamy (EGY) bt Tinne Gilis (BEL) 3-1: 11-9, 11-4, 13-15, 11-9 (55m)
 Camille Serme (FRA) bt Sabrina Sobhy (USA) 3-2: 11-6, 12-14, 9-11, 12-10, 11-7 (67m)
Women’s Third Round (Bottom Half, October 13):
 Nour El Tayeb (EGY) v Nadine Shahin (EGY)
Salma Hany (EGY) v  Joelle King (NZL)
Farida Mohamed (EGY) v Joshna Chinappa (IND)
Danielle Letourneau (CAN) v  Nour El Sherbini (EGY)
Women’s Quarter-Finals (Top Half, October 14):
 Nouran Gohar (EGY) v Nele Gilis (BEL)
 Hania El Hammamy (EGY) v  Camille Serme (FRA)
Pictures courtesy of PSA