Willstrop dazzles in Dubai as Gawad loves the Opera
By SEAN REUTHE in Dubai
World Champion Karim Abdel Gawad, former World No.1 James Willstrop and Germany’s Simon Rösner all joined World No.3 Mohamed ElShorbagy in the semi-finals of the Men’s event as the group stage of the 2016-17 PSA Dubai World Series Finals drew to a close.
In the stunning setting of the Dubai Opera venue, Gawad began the tournament with a defeat to Rösner, but qualifies top of Group A after following up a day two win over 2010 finalist Nick Matthew with victory over compatriot Marwan ElShorbagy, which sees the World No.1 go ahead of Rösner in the group due to a higher games won percentage.
“I didn’t have the best start to the tournament,” admitted Gawad. “I would say it’s the first time on court where I got too excited and didn’t start the right way. I had no pressure on me afterwards and I just wanted to enjoy playing in such a great venue.
“I just wanted to be on court as much as I could. I didn’t expect to get to the semi-finals, especially at the top of the group. Playing here is an unforgettable experience. You don’t have the chance to play at this venue every day and it’s great for our sport. We need more of these kinds of tournaments.”
World Series Finals debutant Gawad will clash with Willstrop for a place in the final after the 33-year-old Englishman held off World No.5 Ali Farag to reach the last four for the first time since the 2012 edition.
With one win and one defeat under his belt, 33-year-old Willstrop needed to beat Farag to reach the last four, but was under the cosh from the first point as an inspired Farag surged to victory in the opening game.
Willstrop weathered the storm though in the second game to edge out an 11-9 victory and he closed out game three for the loss of six points to seal second place in Group B.
“People throw it around when they say that someone can become World No.1 and it doesn’t happen that easily, but Ali’s an awesome squash player and a credit to the game as well,” said Willstrop.
“I didn’t think I did too badly really, he was just so good. It was maybe a little bit short when I was hitting to the back and I thought that all I could do at the start was to stay in it. I had to have a bit of faith that, despite the fact it’s gone wrong on the scoreboard, I could turn it around.
“You’ve got to regroup and you can’t let it get to you mentally. I thought that I just had to win the two games, it’s as simple as that.”
World No.3 Mohamed ElShorbagy topped Group B ahead of Willstrop and is the only man to maintain a 100 per cent record after he dispatched defending champion Gregory Gaultier 2-0 to leave the Frenchman without a win.
He will face Rösner after the World No.11 beat 2010 finalist Nick Matthew to become the first German ever to reach the semi-final stage of the World Series Finals.
The Women’s event saw World Champion Nour El Sherbini earn her place in the knockout stages at the expense of England’s Sarah-Jane Perry after she recovered from a game down to beat last year’s winner Laura Massaro.
Massaro was 1-0 up and match ball up in the second game until a spirited fightback from El Sherbini saw the Egyptian World No.1 turn the match on its head to triumph, meaning that she finishes second in Group B behind Massaro due to the Englishwoman’s superior games won percentage.
El Sherbini’s games won percentage is higher than that of Perry’s, which means Perry’s 2-1 win over two-time winner Nicol David wasn’t enough to make it an English triumvirate in the semi-finals.
“I wanted to qualify so badly and last time I played Laura I was 2-0 up [before losing],” said El Sherbini.
“It wasn’t going my way in the first game, but I’m really happy to qualify. I feel sorry for SJ though, I know how it feels not to qualify for the semi-finals.”
El Sherbini will go up against French World No.3 Camille Serme, who is the only female player to hold a 100 per cent record after she beat World Championship runner-up Raneem El Welily to make it three wins out of three.
It was a straight shootout between the pair to decide who would qualify from Group A and El Welily held two game balls in the third game, only to see Serme show nerves of steel to take four successive points to send El Welily out.
“I can barely realise that I’ve made it,” said Serme. “You can count on one hand the times I’ve beaten her, so I’ll take this one. It could have gone either way, it was so close and I had a different tactical plan from yesterday. I tried to fight as much as I could and tried to retrieve every ball.”
World Junior Champion Nouran Gohar is the other player from Group A to make it through to the last four after she overcame England’s Alison Waters and she will face off against Massaro.
Dubai PSA World Series Finals 20-16-17, Dubai Opera, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. ($160,000 prize fund for both men and women).
Men’s Group A Day Three:
 Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) bt  Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY) 2-0: 11-7, 12-10 (33m)
 Simon Rösner (GER) bt  Nick Matthew (ENG) 2-0: 13-11, 11-8 (39m)
Men’s Group B Day Three:
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) bt  Gregory Gaultier (FRA) 2-0: 12-10, 11-7 (17m)
 James Willstrop (ENG) bt  Ali Farag (EGY) 2-1: 4-11, 11-9, 11-6 (40m)
Semi-Finals (To Be Played June 9th):
 Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) v  James Willstrop (ENG)
 Simon Rösner (GER) v  Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY)
Women’s Group A Day Three:
 Camille Serme (FRA) bt  Raneem El Welily (EGY) 2-0: 11-7, 7-11, 12-10 (40m)
 Nouran Gohar (EGY) bt  Alison Waters (ENG) 2-0: 11-7, 14-12 (35m)
Women’s Group B Day Three:
 Nour El Sherbini (EGY) bt  Laura Massaro (ENG) 2-1: 6-11, 12-10, 11-2 (35m)
 Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) bt  Nicol David (MAS) 2-1: 6-11, 11-4, 11-8 (41m)
Semi-Finals (To Be Played June 9th):
 Camille Serme (FRA) v  Nour El Sherbini (EGY)
 Nouran Gohar (EGY) v  Laura Massaro (ENG)
The semi-finals of the 2016-17 PSA Dubai World Series Finals will take place from 22:00 local time (GMT+4) on June 9 and will be broadcast live on SQUASHTV, Eurosport Player and the following broadcasters:
Astro (Malaysia / Brunei)
beIN Sports (Middle East / North Africa)
BT Sport (United Kingdom)
Eleven Sports Network (Singapore / Taiwan)
Fox Sports Australia (Australia)
MNC Indonesia (Indonesia)
Now TV (Hong Kong)
Sky Sport NZ (New Zealand)
Super Sport (Sub-Saharan Africa)
Ten Sports (Indian Subcontinent)
Pictures courtesy of PSA