Sublime backhand on show again as Willstrop takes out the top seed
By NATHAN CLARKE and ALAN THATCHER
James Willstrop rolled back the years to knock out top seed Mohamed Elshorbagy in the World Championship third round in Seattle.
Former world number one Willstrop won 11-4, 11-7, 10-12, 11-7 in an amazing match. He controlled the early phase of the contest as Elshorbagy produced some erratic squash, and was desperately unlucky not to finish the job in the third game. Amazingly, Willstrop let slip a 10-7 lead in the third as Elshorbagy mounted a desperate fightback.
A controversial no-let call gave Elshorbagy the game and, although many expected the Egyptian to take control from that point, Willstrop stuck to his guns and won the fourth game.
Social media was abuzz and fans in England stayed up to watch the match, which finished around 1am.
Willstrop’s performance was remarkable, considering how he has slipped out of the world top 20 and made early exits from several recent tournaments. But he maintained his composure as the pressure mounted, and those backhand drops were back to their pinpoint accuracy of four years ago when he ruled the rankings.
In front of an enraptured crowd at the Meydenbauer Centre in Bellevue, Washington the former World No.1, whose ranking has plummeted to a 12-year low of No.24 over the last 18 months as he has battled back from a career-threatening hip injury, produced a performance of phenomenal accuracy and control to restrict the powerful Egyptian and send shockwaves through the tournament.
“In the context of everything that has gone on over the past 18 months this is maybe one of my best ever performances. It’s probably as well as I have ever played, all things considered,” said the Yorkshireman.
“But it is about so much more than squash. It’s people’s days and lives and efforts – it’s such a selfish game but so many people behind the scenes are so selfless and I want to acknowledge everyone. I feel very lucky to do what I do and to play like that today is a hat off to all the people who’ve supported me.”
Playing with freedom and precision, the 2010 World Championship runner-up dominated the opening two games, controlling the court to evoke memories of his performances during an 11-month reign as No.1 in 2011, epitomising the adage that form is temporary, class is permanent.
A straight games victory looked to be on the cards when Willstrop found himself 10-7 ahead in the third with three match balls in hand but Elshorbagy mounted an impressive fightback to keep the match alive. But it proved to be in vain as Willstrop recovered, maintaining his impressive levels in the fourth to take the match 11-4, 11-7, 10-12, 11-7.
“I feel great for the moment but I can’t get too carried away – it’s not the end,” he said. “This is the biggest tournament in the world and I need to get myself together now for the next round – it’s as simple as that. I’ve won but I need to perform again tomorrow.”
The man from Harrogate will now face Miguel Angel Rodriguez in the quarter-finals after the Colombian became the first South American player ever to reach the last eight at the World Championships courtesy of his come-from-behind victory over Frenchman Mathieu Castagnet.
“Being in the quarter-final of a World Championship is amazing, unique and very special,” said Rodriguez, the number five seed.
“When I saw the draw I thought to myself that I could go further than the last World Championship and I’m representing South America right now so I’m very happy with that. I think that this is important for South America to help squash grow a little bit. I have a lot of fans, not only in Colombia but the whole of South America.”
Defending champion Ramy Ashour, the maverick Egyptian, and four-time runner-up Gregory Gaultier, the charismatic Frenchman, took one step closer to a semi-final showdown that would renew their long-standing rivalry with victories over Karim Ali Fathi and Karim Abdel Gawad respectively.
Gaultier won in just 28 minutes but Ashour was kept on court for almost twice as long as Gawad battled to match the renowned artistry of his opponent.
England’s three-time winner Nick Matthew came through a testing encounter with World No.9 Marwan Elshorbagy, having to produce some of his best to see off a spirited challenge from the brother of the vanquished top seed. The scoreline shows how tight the match was, with the first two games both going to tiebreaks.
Number six seed Simon Rosner was felled by Ali Farag (above) in a match of drama and high quality. Farag, the PSA player of the month for April, is a former Harvard student who has given up his studies and is now handing out lessons of his own. He now faces Gaultier in a match which will fully examine his credentials.
Half of the last eight are Egyptians, with Omar Mosaad overpowering Borja Golan, of Spain, and Tarek Momen ending the run of Gregoire Marche, meaning that Gaultier is the sole survivor of the Three Musketeers who made it through to the last 16.
2015 Men’s World Championship, Bellevue, Washington, USA.
James Willstrop (ENG) bt  Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY) 3-1: 11-4, 11-7, 10-12, 11-7 (64m)
 Miguel Angel Rodriguez (COL) bt  Mathieu Castagnet (FRA) 3-1: 7-11, 11-9, 11-7, 11-2 (74m)
Ali Farag (EGY) bt  Simon Rösner (GER) 3-1: 7-11, 13-11, 11-6, 11-9 (78m)
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt Karim Ali Fathi (EGY) 3-0: 11-5, 11-3, 11-3 (28m)
 Ramy Ashour (EGY) bt  Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) 3-1: 11-6, 12-10, 8-11, 11-7 (54m)
 Omar Mosaad (EGY) bt  Borja Golan (ESP) 3-1: 6-11, 11-4, 11-3, 13-11 (65m)
 Tarek Momen (EGY) bt Gregoire Marche (FRA) 3-1: 7-11, 11-3, 11-3, 11-7 (55m)
 Nick Matthew (ENG) bt  Marwan Elshorbagy (EGY) 3-0: 13-11, 12-10, 11-5 (54m)
James Willstrop (ENG) v  Miguel Angel Rodriguez (COL)
Ali Farag (EGY) v  Gregory Gaultier (FRA)
 Ramy Ashour (EGY) v  Omar Mosaad (EGY)
 Tarek Momen (EGY) v  Nick Matthew (ENG)
Pictures by STEVE LINE (www.squashpics.com) courtesy of PSA, and from social media