Veteran stars roll back the years in Zurich
By NATHAN CLARKE
James Willstrop rolled back the years, and conjured up a spectacular triple-fake winner in the process, as he beat former world champion Karim Abdel Gawad in the quarter-finals of the Grasshopper Cup in Zurich, Switzerland.
World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy put on a masterclass performance to dismantle compatriot Tarek Momen and book his place in the semi-finals during a thrilling night of action that also saw 35-year-old Gregory Gaultier and maverick 30-year-old Ramy Ashour join the 34-year-old Willstrop in the last four.
ElShorbagy will now meet England’s former World No.1 Willstrop in the semi-finals after the Yorkshireman prevailed 11-13, 15-13, 4-11, 11-6, 11-7 in an 80-minute thriller with 2016 World Champion Karim Abdel Gawad.
The opening game between the pair, a phenomenally high quality 20 minute affair, saw both players hitting precise lines and countering each other in all four corners. From that point on the quality of play only increased, with Willstrop putting together the sort of squash that accompanied him throughout his spell as World No.1 back in 2012 to hold off Gawad and complete a spectacular triumph.
“There were some very loud English people here in the crowd which just enhanced what was already an unbelievable atmosphere in this venue,” said Willstrop.
“In phases Karim definitely out-did me and I was just trying my best to hang in there. I just had to have confidence in myself and come through it mentally and physically.
“He’s a former World Champion so it’s a great feeling to be playing well and beating a player like him.”
The 27-year-old ElShorbagy was imperious as he took Momen apart throughout the first two games before showing tremendous fighting spirit to recover from dropping the third to prevail 11-9, 11-6, 9-11, 11-8 – just one week after narrowly defeating Momen in five games in the final of the Canary Wharf Classic.
“Tarek is a great player and last week we had a huge battle in Canary Wharf which showed just that,” said ElShorbagy.
“Today I had to come out and show him that I was ready for another huge match. He showed how strong he is when he came back in that third game and I had to be on my toes and be sharp again in the fourth.
“It’s great to be in the semis – I lost in the quarters here last year so I’m pleased and James (Willstrop) and I always have tough but fair matches so I’m sure tomorrow with be another one of them.”
Willstrop’s victory came after three-time World Champion Ashour (right) conjured up a performance of clinical beauty as he halted in-form Simon Rösner 3-0 in just 34-minutes.
Ashour, who has endured a torrid time with injury over the past three years, was simply sublime as he mixed up his attacks, changing the pace and angle at every opportunity to twist and turn Rösner, leaving the German World No.7 unable to stop the flow.
“I was just trying not to let him play the squash he is capable of – he’s a very strong player and has recently won a major event as well,” said Ashour.
“I just kept my focus and went on court and got the job done the way I wanted to.”
Ashour’s last four opponent Gaultier meanwhile came back from the brink of defeat to beat Mohamed Abouelghar in one of the best matches of the 2017/18 PSA World Tour season.
With World No.9 Abouelghar in red hot form, unleashing a seemingly never-ending barrage of winners from all angles, Gaultier was staring down the barrel of a straight-games defeat after losing the first two games and finding himself match ball down.
But the Frenchman resurrected the match with an epic comeback that saw him save multiple match balls in the third to stop the flow, before going on to triumph 13-15, 8-11, 19-17, 11-3, 11-9 after 90 minutes of compelling action.
“It has been the worst season for me – having a lot of injury issues and I came here with no expectations as I knew that I was not at my best fitness wise,” said Gaultier.
“But I just tried to play as smart as possible and play as tight as possible. During the first two games the pace was just too much for me but the more I got into the game the better I felt moving and the better I was seeing the ball and it was all about confidence then at that point.
“I have so much experience and that played a part today because a lot of it is in the head. I enjoyed it out there and I’m really thankfully to the crowd who really helped me and got behind me throughout the match – I emptied the tank to win it.”
PSA M100 2018 $100,000 Grasshopper Cup 2018, Halle 622, Zurich, Switzerland.
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt  Mohamed Abouelghar (EGY) 3-2: 13-15, 8-11, 19-17, 11-3, 11-9 (90m)
 Ramy Ashour (EGY) bt  Simon Rösner (GER) 3-0: 11-6, 11-7, 11-5 (34m)
James Willstrop (ENG) bt  Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) 3-2: 11-13, 15-13, 4-11, 11-6, 11-7 (86m)
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) bt  Tarek Momen (EGY) 3-1: 11-9, 11-6, 9-11, 11-8 (51m)
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v  Ramy Ashour (EGY)
James Willstrop (ENG) v  Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY)
Pictures courtesy of PSA