By ALAN THATCHER – Squash Mad Editor
World No.5 Karim Abdel Gawad saw his title challenge at the CIB PSA Black Ball Open come to an end because of injury. He was forced to retire from his second round match against fellow Egyptian Zahed Salem after a recurrence of the heel problem that has plagued his season.
Gawad won the inaugural men’s Black Ball Open in December 2018 when he toppled current World No.1 Ali Farag in the final of the PSA World Tour Platinum tournament.
But his attempts to win this title for a second time came to a premature end as he shook hands with Salem during the third game of their match with Salem leading 6-2 at Cairo’s Black Ball Sporting Club.
It marks the first time since 2014 that Gawad has gone three tournaments in a row without reaching the quarter-finals.
“I didn’t want to win like that,” Salem said. “Karim is a top five player and one of the strongest players I’ve played with. It’s a tough match, of course. I’m based in Alexandria and I had heard about his injury, but you don’t know sometimes.
“He has clever shots and if I’m not focused and I don’t push from the beginning and he finds his game even with his injury then that’s not good for me. I wish him a very quick recovery. We miss him on the tour.”
Salem will line up against Frenchman Mathieu Castagnet in the next round after he defeated Egypt’s Mohamed ElSherbini in straight games. It was a good day for France as Gregoire Marche also booked his place in the third round after he upset Colombia’s Miguel Rodriguez at the fifth attempt after four previous defeats to the World No.10.
Marche was sublime as he overcame the 35-year-old in an entertaining 64-minute encounter, with an 11-4, 15-13, 11-8 victory sending him through to the last 16.
“The second game was crucial,” said Marche. “Even if I had the lead at 10-8 there were a few weird decisions at the end of the second. I just tried to stay calm and focused as much as I could. I think I played the crucial points pretty well, that’s something that I’ve been working on for the last few months.”
Defending champion Fares Dessouky launched his title defence with a 3-0 win over India’s Ramit Tandon.
Tandon threatened at times in the opening game but Dessouky held firm to complete an 11-9, 11-2, 11-6 victory in 30 minutes. He will play former World No.3 Omar Mosaad next.
“The last time I came here I was hungry, but I wasn’t looking to reach a final,” Dessouky said. “This time I’m more hungry, I’ve trained really well and pushed really hard over the last three months. I feel more ready than last time and more fresh.
“I have to remember that I’m the World No.8 and not the World No.1 yet, so the pressure is on the other guys, not on me, so I’m going to enjoy that.”
The man Dessouky beat in December’s Black Ball Open final, World No.1 Ali Farag, also began his tournament and got the better of World No.11 Mohamed Abouelghar.
The fixture was a banana skin tie for Farag, who has lost to his compatriot on two of their previous six PSA World Tour fixtures. But he was in fine form and, aided by a knee injury to Abouelghar which required treatment in the second game, he completed a 3-0 victory to ensure he will play Mostafa Asal in the next round.
“I don’t think I’ve felt that nervous for a match for over a year and a half,” said Farag afterwards.
“It’s not my type. I’m usually a laid-back person but ever since I got the draw I was alright because I wasn’t into the heavy training, I was only focusing on myself. Then as the tournament was approaching, I was having sleepless nights and things that are not really me and this is what Abouelghar does to you. I’m really sad for him, but I have to look at it in a selfish way and be happy for myself.”
Asal defeated Englishman Declan James in straight games, while World Champion Tarek Momen got the better of Malaysia’s Eain Yow Ng.
Men’s 2021 CIB PSA Black Ball Squash Open, Black Ball Sporting Club, Cairo, Egypt.
Second Round (Top Half):
 Ali Farag (EGY) bt Mohamed Abouelghar (EGY) 3-0: 11-9, 11-4, 11-3 (37m)
Mostafa Asal (EGY) bt Declan James (ENG) 3-0: 11-9, 14-12, 11-7 (50m)
Omar Mosaad (EGY) bt Alan Clyne (SCO) 3-0: 11-7, 11-7, 11-5 (36m)
 Fares Dessouky (EGY) bt Ramit Tandon (IND) 3-0: 11-9, 11-2, 11-6 (30m)
Zahed Salem (EGY) bt  Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) 3-1: 9-11, 11-3, 6-2 retired (32m)
Mathieu Castagnet (FRA) bt Mohamed ElSherbini (EGY) 3-0: 11-3, 11-9, 11-7 (42m)
Gregoire Marche (FRA) bt Miguel Rodriguez (COL) 3-0: 11-4, 15-13, 11-8 (64m)
 Tarek Momen (EGY) bt Eain Yow Ng (MAS) 3-0: 12-10, 11-8, 11-5 (36m)
Second Round (Bottom Half March 21):
 Paul Coll (NZL) v Nicolas Mueller (SUI)
Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v Youssef Soliman (EGY)
Lucas Serme (FRA) v Youssef Ibrahim (EGY)
Karim El Hammamy (EGY) v  Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY)
 Joel Makin (WAL) v Patrick Rooney (ENG)
Iker Pajares Bernabeu (ESP) v Mazen Hesham (EGY)
Tom Richards (ENG) v Saurav Ghosal (IND)
Baptiste Masotti (FRA) v  Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY)
Third Round (Top Half March 22):
 Ali Farag (EGY) v Mostafa Asal
Omar Mosaad (EGY) v  Fares Dessouky (EGY)
Zahed Salem (EGY) v Mathieu Castagnet (FRA)
Gregoire Marche (FRA) v  Tarek Momen (EGY)
Pictures courtesy of PSA