‘I was a bit cloudy in my head’
By SEAN REUTHE and ALAN THATCHER
The opening day of main draw action at the 2017 Oracle NetSuite Open saw all but two of the seeded players across the mens and women’s events make it through to the quarter-final stage, with last year’s runner-up James Willstrop avoiding a shock defeat to Qatar’s Abdulla Mohd Al Tamimi in the standout match at the Bay Club San Francisco.
A capacity crowd were treated to a series of fast-paced rallies, with Al Tamimi’s shot-making talents and incredible retrieval skills seeing him go 2-1 ahead, only to see Willstrop take control in the final two games to emerge from the fixture unscathed by an 7-11, 11-8, 9-11, 11-5, 11-6 margin.
“He is very fast and very skilful,” said Willstrop. It’s also the first match of the season for me and it was a bit cloudy in my head. I have to thank my dad (Malcolm) because I wasn’t calm out there. There’s no time to think in squash and you’re under quite a lot of duress with the oxygen debt, so it’s difficult to think clearly and stay calm.
“It’s that balance about knowing when your shot is on and when not to go for it when you’re under pressure. He was putting me deep and I was having to counter him. That’s the brilliant thing about squash, its about rally construction and choosing the right shots to play at the right time.”
Willstrop will take on Australia’s Ryan Cuskelly in the next round after he defeated Mexico’s Cesar Salazar, while World No.3 Mohamed ElShorbagy overcame former World No.4 Miguel Angel Rodriguez in a four-game thriller.
The pair engaged in some lengthy rallies, with ElShorbagy coming out on top more often than not to build up a two-game lead before Rodriguez found his length in the third to take it and send the match into a fourth game which saw both players go hell for leather in a bid to establish their superiority in the match.
As the game went on, the intensity of the matches grew while there were frequent discussions with the referee as the duo refused to give in. Rodriguez forced a tie-break where he overturned two match balls but the gruelling nature of the rallies eventually took its toll on the ‘Colombian Cannonball’ as ElShorbagy’s power won out in the end.
“I thought today was a perfect first match of the season for me,” said ElShorbagy. “Today, I was tested physically and mentally playing Miguel on the bouncy, traditional courts and I passed that test today. You’re playing probably the best player in these kind of conditions, so it was a challenge.
“I knew he was going to play well, he didn’t play well last season but he will have had some good summer training and I haven’t seem him play that well in a while. I’m really proud with the win.”
World Champion Karim Abdel Gawad got his tournament off to a winning start against tournament wildcard Faraz Khan and he will take on fellow Egyptian Tarek Momen in the next round.
Two-time runner-up Nick Matthew was also in action as he got the better of Spain’s Borja Golan with a 3-1 victory in his first tournament appearance since he announced that he will retire at the end of the season last week. The World No.4 will meet Peru’s Diego Elias in the last eight after he got the better of Fares Dessouky.
In the women’s event, defending champion Laura Massaro took a step closer to retaining her crown after she dispatched tournament wildcard Aisling Blake in just 25 minutes.
The 36-year-old Blake was making her first main draw appearance at a Tour event since 2015 after retiring from the sport two years ago and Massaro, the number one seed, ensured that the result went in her favour after the 33-year-old from Preston surged to an 11-5, 11-9, 11-2 victory.
“I thought Aisling played well considering she’s been retired for two years,” said Massaro.
“I’m excited to be back, China [the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions] didn’t go according to plan but I’ve put in a a few changes in training since then, so hopefully I can do well here ahead of going to the U.S. Open (next month). Being in San Francisco is really relaxing, so I feel at home here.”
Massaro is joined in the last eight by compatriot and World No.6 Sarah-Jane Perry, who defeated Canadian qualifier Hollie Naughton 11-4, 11-4, 9-11, 11-7 in 37 minutes.
“A few years ago, you used to see a qualifier and think that’s an alright draw but now they’re really tough,” said Perry.
“My length dropped off a little bit maybe. It was good in the first two games but then she stepped up a bit and I was trying to hit some shots that weren’t really on. I had to wrestle back the control and I think I did that in the last game, although I did switch off for a couple of rallies and then she was right back in it.”
Perry will face Australia’s Donna Urquhart in the quarter-finals, while Massaro will take on Egyptian number eight seed Salma Hany Ibrahim.
There were also wins for Malaysian eight-time World Champion Nicol David and Victoria Lust, who will face off in the next round, while United States No.2 Olivia Blatchford and India’s Dipika Pallikal Karthik will go head-to-head in the other quarter-final after they beat Millie Tomlinson and Emily Whitlock, respectively.
The Oracle NetSuite Open continues with the quarter-final stage tomorrow (September 27) and selected quarter-final matches will be shown live on SQUASHTV (rest of world) and Eurosport Player (Europe only).
2017 Oracle NetSuite Open, San Francisco, USA.
Men’s First Round:
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) bt [Q] Miguel Angel Rodriguez (COL) 3-1: 11-4, 11-8, 9-11, 14-12 (75m)
 Daryl Selby (ENG) bt [Q] Campbell Grayson (NZL) 3-0: 11-5, 11-7, 11-8 (55m)
 Ryan Cuskelly (AUS) bt Cesar Salazar (MEX) 3-1: 11-8, 11-7, 7-11, 11-5 (63m)
 James Willstrop (ENG) bt [Q] Abdulla Mohd Al Tamimi (QAT) 3-2: 7-11, 11-8, 9-11, 11-5, 11-6 (64m)
 Nick Matthew (ENG) bt Borja Golan (ESP) 3-1: 7-11, 11-9, 11-5, 11-4 (65m)
Diego Elias (PER) bt  Fares Dessouky (EGY) 3-1: 9-11, 11-5, 11-7, 11-3 (54m)
 Tarek Momen (EGY) bt [Q] Alan Clyne (SCO) 3-0: 11-7, 11-8, 13-11 (43m)
 Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) bt [WC] Faraz Khan (USA) 3-0: 11-9, 11-9, 11-9 (28m)
Quarter-Finals (Top Half, To Be Played September 27):
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) v  Daryl Selby (ENG)
 Ryan Cuskelly (AUS) v  James Willstrop (ENG)
Quarter-Finals (Top Half, To Be Played September 28):
 Nick Matthew (ENG) v Diego Elias (PER)
 Tarek Momen (EGY) v  Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY)
2017 Women’s Oracle NetSuite Open First Round:
 Laura Massaro (ENG) bt [WC] Aisling Blake (IRL) 3-0: 11-5, 11-9, 11-2 (25m)
 Salma Hany Ibrahim (EGY) bt [Q] Nikki Todd (CAN) 3-0: 11-8, 11-5, 11-9 (32m)
 Donna Urquhart (AUS) bt [Q] Samantha Cornett (CAN) 3-2: 11-9, 5-11, 11-8, 2-11, 11-8 (52m)
 Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) bt [Q] Hollie Naughton (CAN) 3-1: 11-4, 11-4, 9-11, 11-7 (37m)
Dipika Pallikal Karthik (IND) bt  Emily Whitlock (ENG) 3-1: 11-9, 11-8, 7-11, 11-8 (52m)
 Olivia Blatchford (USA) bt Millie Tomlinson (ENG) 3-0: 11-5, 11-7, 11-8 (28m)
 Victoria Lust (ENG) bt [Q] Rachael Grinham (AUS) 3-1: 11-13, 11-8, 11-8, 11-9 (42m)
 Nicol David (MAS) bt Heba El Torky (EGY) 3-0: 11-6, 11-8, 11-5 (32m)
Quarter-Finals (To Be Played September 27):
 Laura Massaro (ENG) v  Salma Hany Ibrahim (EGY)
 Donna Urquhart (AUS) v  Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG)
Dipika Pallikal Karthik (IND) v  Olivia Blatchford (USA)
 Victoria Lust (ENG) v  Nicol David (MAS)
Pictures courtesy of PSA