Mohamed Elshorbagy meets his brother’s conqueror
By ALAN THATCHER
Three Egyptians join world champion Gregory Gaultier in the semi-finals of the 2016 Allam British Open in Hull.
Top seed Mohamed Elshorbagy maintained his bid to defend the title with a comfortable win over Colombian Miguel Angel Rodriguez, but his younger brother Marwan fell to Karim Abdel Gawad in a match lasting 88 minutes, plus a long delay for an injured spectator to receive treatment. Ramy Ashour completed the Egyptian trio by beating rising star Ali Farag with another display of spellbinding squash.
Rodriguez put in a valiant display but, despite some excellent retrieval skills and a trademark dive wowing an enraptured crowd, Mohamed Elshorbagy’s class shone through as the World No.1 powered through to the win in straight games.
The match was one of the fastest-paced encounters in the whole tournament with Rodriguez falling short by narrow margins in all three games. The ‘Colombian Cannonball’ fought back from 6-1 down in the first after forcing Elshorbagy into four successive errors but a crucial rally at 8-5 went in the favour of the Egyptian as he went on to open up a one-game lead and he extended his performance into the second after coming out on top in a number of gruelling rallies.
The World No.8 never gave up and battled well in the third game, managing to pull himself within a point of Elshorbagy, who had match ball. The pair endured one final marathon rally, which produced a brilliant moment from the South American who displayed a fine flying retrieval, but Elshorbagy kept his composure and Rodriguez hit the ball out to conclude yet another top quality encounter.
“Trying to defend this title is going to mean so much to me and my team,” said Elshorbagy.
“Winning it the first time is always the toughest but, now I have won, I’m relaxed. You deal with each match differently. Today was very tough because it was very hot today and they are the perfect conditions for him and the worst conditions for me. It’s easier to play a quick player in cold conditions because you can kill the ball and go for your shots.
“I had to deal with and I was glad I was able to slow down the pace and keep it as tight as I can. He played really well but this is the British Open and I am playing my best squash here.”
In the semi-finals, Elshorbagy meets his brother’s conqueror, with Gawad looking increasingly more comfortable and confident in such exalted company.
Gawad had forged a two-game advantage for himself before play was halted for 23 minutes after a spectator injured themselves in the stands, requiring the emergency services to come on site.
It looked to have knocked Gawad’s concentration and he went down in the fourth after a strong display from Elshorbagy saw him drop just four points.
The fourth game was a scrappy affair that saw the referee called into action on multiple occasions as the quality of hitting reduced. Gawad managed to see out the game by claiming a dramatic tie-break win to book a place in the semi-final of this iconic event for the first time in his career.
“The first game was very crucial in this match,” said Gawad.
“I was very, very happy to win the first game because it’s hard when you’re 1-0 down because he’s very clever. In the second game I went on court and said to myself that I had to take the lead and keep the lead because he can come back at you quickly.
“After the second, I’m still learning because, when the man had his accident, I was very, very warm on court and I was very into it but when we came back on court my legs were a bit heavy, I lost my plan and lost my tactics.
“I’m very happy (to have three Egyptians in the semi-finals), first of all because I am one of the three guys. It’s nice because Egyptians now are dominating the game. We’re improving so much and we’re trying to get higher up in the rankings, even the younger guys are still coming up like Marwan, who is only two or three years younger than me, yet he’s still in the top 10 so it’s unbelievable.”
Ramy Ashour meets Gregory Gaultier in a semi-final of seismic proportions.
With both players returning to action here in Hull, their fitness will be thoroughly examined but spectators will hope that the match will be decided by the awesome racket skills possessed by both players rather than any physical infirmity.
Ashour looks to be approaching top form after four months out with a hamstring injury, defeating compatriot Ali Farag with an accomplished display to book his place in the semi-final of the 2016 Allam British Open, PSA World Series tournament.
It was the first time Ashour and Farag have met in a competitive match and the first game was a close encounter. It was the World No.5 who struck the first real blow, with an exquisite slice on his backhand seeing him go 9-6 up in the opener. Two costly errors then followed from Farag and Ashour was up and running with a one-game advantage.
The second game was almost an exact repeat of the first but the 28-year-old Ashour, who was almost late for his match after his taxi failed to arrive, managed to pull away and held his nerve to double his lead as he really began to delight the crowd at the Airco Arena. Farag was also in scintillating form in game two as he matched Ashour’s movement and was competing well in the long rallies.
Ashour romped to a 7-4 lead in the third with a spectacular corkscrew shot dying in the back forehand corner as he continued to showcase his outrageous skills. To Farag’s credit, he clawed his way back and got himself on the front foot to make the tie interesting.
Ashour’s quality showed again in the third as he burst into a 5-0 lead and despite Farag’s best effort he maintained his advantage throughout. An error from the World No.14 sealed the win for Ashour – a result that sees the 2013 champion into last four of the British Open for the first time in two years.
“I’m really happy with my performance especially coming back from injury, it means a lot to me and everyone who believed in me,” he said.
“It’s just great to be in the semi-finals but I’m not expecting anything and I won’t get ahead of myself. I wasn’t playing in patches today which is a great sign. I just want to push myself as best I can until my body or my mind breaks down.”
Farag will be disappointed not to have taken Ashour to a fifth game, particularly after his shock win over Nick Matthew, but Ashour had nothing but praise for his fellow countryman, saying: “I’ve been watching him play since a very young age and I’ve seen some unbelievable performances.
“He’s a very respectful character and I think he is now the ‘over-dog’ rather than the ‘under-dog’. His movement is unbelievable and he’s definitely a top-10 quality player.”
Despite bowing out of the competition, Farag was also able to see the positives and was pleased with his tournament as a whole.
“I’m very happy with the way I played in this tournament, not just this match,” said Farag.
“I think it’s all about experience. He’s such a good mover that he makes you think twice about every shot. The British Open is the most prestigious tournament and to get to the quarter-finals is something I’m very proud of.”
World Champion Gaultier moved into the semi-finals with a deceptively hard-fought 3-0 victory over Germany’s Simon Rösner – extending his winning streak over the 28-year-old to five matches.
Both players came into the tournament struggling for fitness, with Frenchman Gaultier making his return from an ankle ligament injury, while Rösner continued to suffer from the illness that dogged his recent Canary Wharf Classic campaign.
World No.9 Rösner performed well in the match, despite what the scoreline may have suggested, and he raced into a 4-0 lead in the first game before two errors in the latter stages cost him and handed the initiative to Gaultier.
Gaultier then took control and looked very composed on court, particularly on the backhand side with some well-placed finishes giving his opponent no chance. The third game was a bit closer but four errors from Rösner contributed to his downfall and saw Gaultier deservedly move through to the semi-finals where he will face 2013 winner Ramy Ashour in what’s sure to be a mouthwatering clash.
“I’m happy to be in the semi-final,” said Gaultier. “I didn’t expect much when I came here because of my injury. When I first came I didn’t know if I’d be able to win one match so every game is a bonus for me.
“I will give all I have in the tank but for me there is no pressure any more in my life. Every win, every title I can get is a bonus. Day by day my vision, the feel of the ball and my judgement is improving so I’m on the way up again.
“Simon is a tough player. He’s had bad luck as well, being in bed for five days with sickness. I could see in the first two rounds he was struggling but got through.
“His last match against Chris Simpson was over 100 minutes, so that took a lot out of him and I don’t think he was 100 per cent today but I’ve got to take what I can.”
2016 Allam British Open, Hull, England.
 Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY) bt  Miguel Angel Rodriguez (COL) 3-0: 11-8, 11-8, 11-9 (47m)
Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) bt Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY) 3-1: 11-9, 11-7, 4-11, 12-10 (88m)
 Ramy Ashour (EGY) bt Ali Farag (EGY) 3-1: 11-8, 11-8, 9-11, 11-6 (56m)
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt  Simon Rösner (GER) 3-0: 11-6, 11-6, 11-8 (47m)
 Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY) v Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY)
 Ramy Ashour (EGY) v  Gregory Gaultier (FRA)
Pictures by PATRICK LAUSON (www.patricklausonphotography.co.uk)