Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Mazen Hesham and Nele Gilis beat top seeds to win Malaysian Open titles

By ALAN THATCHER (Squash Mad Editor) and JONATHAN SMITH (PSA) in Kuala Lumpur

Egypt’s Mazen Hesham fought back from 2-0 down to stun top seed and compatriot Tarek Momen to win the bronze-level Malaysian Open Squash Championships, his first title in seven years.

In the women’s final, Belgium’s Nele Gilis became the first female winner from outside of Malaysia since Raneem El Welily in 2014 as she downed the USA’s top seed Olivia Fiechter at the National Squash Centre in Kuala Lumpur.

No.3 seed Hesham, whose last title was the 2015 Houston Open, made the worst possible start to the match, with the skilled shot-maker consistently foiled by the tenacity of 2019 world champion Momen, who opened up a 2-0 lead with convincing 11-2, 11-8 wins.

Hesham, who after the match admitted that comebacks were not his greatest strength, then dug in tremendously, holding well to negate Momen’s pace as he levelled with 11-6, 11-8 victories.

In the decisive fifth game, Hesham looked confident throughout. The 28-year-old held his nerve as he drew errors from his compatriot’s racket to win his biggest title to date with an 11-5 victory.

“I’m so excited, I haven’t won for so long,” Hesham said afterwards. “It’s just so much emotion hitting me at different times. I’ve been trying to overcome my body and injuries and trying to win anything. I haven’t won a tournament since I was 21, which is crazy.

“I was fired up for it but I was really flat in the beginning and he was picking everything up. He was on point.

“I’m really proud of myself for fighting and sticking in there and I think I was lucky with a few points at the end so I’m really happy with all that and how my mental game was today.”

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There was another comeback in the women’s final as top seed Fiechter started the better of the two and controlled the middle of the court well to take the opening game 11-5.

No.3 seed Gilis responded in great style in the second game, stepping up the court and putting pressure on Fiechter around the middle to level with an 11-5 of her own, before edging ahead with a tight 13-11 victory in the third game.

Fiechter pushed hard in the fourth game as she used short, sharp attacks to disrupt the World No.14’s gameplan and looked set to force a fifth when she opened an 8-4 lead.

The Belgian, though, was steely in her resolve, with the 26-year-old forcing mistakes from the American as she took seven of the next eight points to bring the contest to an end.

Afterwards, Gilis said: “I’ve just had a really long couple of months and to play like this today, I wasn’t expecting it. Olivia is such a good player, she’s just outside the top 10 but she’s definitely that standard.

“I tried to not give her anything on the volley and slow it down a bit, because she’s so deadly up there. When I was down, I just thought I had nothing to lose so I relaxed a bit and started playing better again.”

Following the conclusion of the Malaysian Open Squash Championships, attention turns to the Platinum-level Everbright Securities International Hong Kong Squash Open, which begins November 28.

Malaysian Open Squash Championships, Nicol David Arena, Bukit Jalil, Malaysia.

Men’s Final:
[3] Mazen Hesham (EGY) bt [1] Tarek Momen (EGY) 3-2: 2-11, 8-11, 11-6, 11-8, 11-5 (54m)

Women’s Final:
[2] Nele Gilis (BEL) bt [1] Olivia Fiechter (USA) 3-1: 5-11, 11-5, 13-11, 11-9 (59m)

Pictures courtesy of PSA World Tour

 

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