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Thursday, April 22, 2021

Max Lee and Nouran Gohar Continue The Upsets

Alex Wan
Alex Wan is an avid squash lover who writes, photographs, plays and coaches when he is not making a living with his Finance degree.

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Max Lee and Nouran Gohar Continue the Upsets

By Alex Wan – Squash Mad Asian Bureau Editor in Macau

Semi-final matches moved to the ASB all-glass court erected in the heart of Macau City’s Praca da Amizade or Friendship Square for us linguistically challenged. With the legendary Grand Lisboa hotel and casino next to it, there is no better central location in what they name the Sin City of the East or City Of Dreams, depending on how you look at it.

Two Finals in a Row for Nouran Gohar

Egyptian teenager (left) makes her second successive final
Egyptian teenager (left) makes her second successive final

Kicking things off for the evening was the match between Annie Au of Hong Kong, who has proven to be lethal on the new 17” tin and Egyptian teenager and the current player on form Nouran Gouhar. The world junior champion is playing with such confidence at this tournament, it will take something very special out of Annie Au to rattle her.

It was Annie Au who started better in the first, winning the first point and then leading 4-1. But soon, Gohar found her momentum and she was clinical. Whether it was a drop or a boast or a drive, everything just worked her way. That explains the 9 points she won in a row from 1-4 down. From a 3-point lead, Au found herself to be game ball down. She saves one with a dying length at the back before Gohar before Gohar hits a length that died in the back.

The second was pretty much the same story as the first. Only thing being Au never had that lead. Gohar’s backhand cross court flick was very effective in this game, winning her a couple of points. It couldn’t have been worse for Annie Au when a serve went into the nick at the back wall to give her game ball, which she closed out in the first opportunity.

The third saw Gohar opening up a 2 point lead with a dying length to lead 2-0. An honest self-called not up pickup gave the Hong Kong number one her first point. As the game progressed, Annie Au began to feel her way into the match finally and things got more competitive, though Gohar was always in front by a couple of points.

She had her biggest lead at 7-3 before the longest rally of the match thus far turned things around for Au, who then took 7 points in a row to go to game ball. Before that, Gohar had slipped and fell while returning a serve, just to show how hard the Egyptian hits. The last two rallies finished with a no let to Gohar and then a stroke against her to close out the game, bringing loud cheers from the adopted home crowd of Annie Au.

Au had a great start in the fourth, taking a 3-0 lead with some of her deft drops. But Gohar manages to refocus and from then on, was unstoppable. She had a run of 8 points in a row before dropping another 2 and then booked her place in her second successive final, following her feat in Shanghai. With her current form and confidence, she would certainly be going into tomorrow’s final as the favourite.

Nouran Gohar said :
It’s my second consecutive final of a big event and I’m very happy. I didn’t expect to be in the final at all. The last time we played, I lost 3-2 so I expected a really tough match. In the first two games, I was playing very well. I was doing exactly what I wanted to do. Annie came back and played well in the third and I am lucky to have gained control again in the fourth.
Both Alison and Laura will be tough to play. I will just focus on my own game and try to play my best and not think about winning or losing at all.

Annie Au said :
I feel I played pretty OK. She was attacking very well and put the pressure on me all the time. I started very slowly and it took me a while to get into it. I only got the hang of the momentum in the third game. It’s something I need to work on. It’s my first time playing her on the glass court and I feel it’s harder to play her here (than conventional courts).

Massaro Muscles Her Way Through

English number one Laura Massaro faced compatriot Alison Waters in the next semi-final. Both are ranked 4 and 5 respectively in the September rankings and judging from history, this could be a very long encounter.

Massaro started the match very well, feeling her way into court very quickly while Waters seem to still struggle. Massaro raced to a 4-1 and 5-3 lead, followed with two backhands the glued to the wall, bringing her up to 7-3. She drops the next point after being denied a let and then Alison Waters would make two errors in the form of drop shots, first into the tin and the next to the floor. The game ended with a rather harsh no let decision to Waters.

macau2015-SF-massaro-waters-2
Laura Massaro (right) wins the English battle

The second game was a lot tighter and it was Alison Waters who first took the lead 2-0. Massaro then took 4 points in a row. Alison Waters never led again in this game, but she was never more than 2 points behind. There were some good old school squash rallies in this game, which drew some comments from the audience right behind me on how ineffective the pair were compared to the previous match.

It was a good end to the second game as both girls hit a pair of beautiful tight drops each on the backhand side, first Waters at 9-7 and then Massaro with one that got her to game ball. Waters saved a game ball with a drive that died in the back but tinned the next drop to go 0-2 down.

Just as what Massaro would say later after the match, Alison Waters is not one who will go down without a fight. She came in firing in the third, rushing to a 6-0 lead before Massaro slowly clawed back to 7-4. But the damage in the beginning was already done and Waters would ensure this game went her way. At 9-7, she sent a backhand drop right into the nick, much to the crowd’s pleasure before closing out the game.

The first half of the fourth was very much similar to the second game. There were some nice, long rallies from both the girls. A very stubborn moth flying around interrupted play while Massaro was 2-1 up. Both girls tried to get it out, and the court attendants came to help. And then the referee announced for someone to come get it – no idea what was he thinking, did he expect someone to shoot it down? For many reasons, I’ve found the referees in this event highly amusing.

The same can’t be said about the second half as a majority of the points were based on referees’ decisions. With Waters leading 5-4, a no let was called against her, with another against Massaro next, bringing score to 6-5 in Waters favour now. Waters slammed a backhand into the nick for the next point to go 7-5 up, and then another no let, this time against her and the score was 7-6. An extremely generous stroke allowed Massaro to draw level 7-all. A lucky mishit wins Waters the next point followed by yet another no let against Massaro.

With the score now at 9-7 in Waters’ favour, Massaro would win the next 4 points, out of which 3 would be strokes, including the final point.

macau2015-SF-massaro-watersLaura Massaro said :
I felt good today and made a good start. I’m happy with how fast I came out of the blocks. Alison is someone who never goes down without a fight. In the third, I was disappointed I went 0-6 down. And then in the fourth, it was all about being mentally tough. I worked really hard over the summer and I’m happy to have come out the winner.
I expect a really tough match tomorrow. Nouran is having the form of her life. She’s beaten Nour (El Tayeb) and Nicol (David) in Shanghai, so there’s really no pressure on me given her form.

Fares Dessouki Makes His Biggest Final

Nafiizwan Adnan (right) found Fares Dessouki too hot to handle
Nafiizwan Adnan (right) found Fares Dessouki too hot to handle

I have always felt that Fares Dessouki does really well against the top players (Nick, Ramy, etc) but somehow struggles with equal or lower ranked players.

Tonight, he was nothing like that in his demolition of Malaysia’s Nafiizwan Adnan, who had just a day before deconstructed the Hammer of Thor, Omar Mosaad.

The first rally ended in 5 seconds. Wan went for the kill on the third shot and got it. The next few rallies would go Dessouki’s way who looked sharp with his kill shots. Both players are playing at a slower than normal pace, seemingly trying to get into each other’s heads.

It was 4-1 then 5-3, with the last point creating some confusion when the referee called out 4-all instead. The next rally ended with a decision that drew three difference calls from all three referees, the central referee who held his card at “No Let” but making a final let decision.

Dessouki continued to hit winners beyond Wan’s reach. It didn’t help the Malaysian’s cause that his cross courts were nowhere near wide or deep enough, creating many opportunities for the Egyptian. It went to 7-4 and then 9-5. The next rally certainly woke the crowd up, as Dessouki slammed a forehand really hard that completely rolled flat out in the front right corner.

The second game’s pace was still rather slow. There were some physical contact in the beginning which first drew a warning to Dessouki and later a conduct warning for physical abuse came complimentarily with a let decision for running into Wan. This game was not pretty to watch, with too many points coming from decisions. But still, the Egyptian was in total control all the while.

At 4-2 up, Dessouki gets a stroke to go 5-2, then a no let against him allowed Wan to close to 5-3. A no let again, this time against Wan and it’s 6-3. The next point, Dessouki hit a shot against the back wall that glued to the side wall to force a mistake from Wan. The following rally was by far the most entertaining all game, a long one with both players in offence and defence, which ended in the Egyptian’s favour, who then let out a huge roar. Dessouki doesn’t drop another point from here onwards and takes a 2-0 lead.

Wan did not look very competitive any more at the beginning of the third. It was 6-0 to Dessouki pretty quickly until a no-let decision against him turned things around for a little while. Wan won the next rally and started to play more like himself. In fact, both players are striking the ball well, but still the rallies went the Egyptian’s way. Dessouki drops just another point at 9-2 and a shot into the tin sends him into the final.

Fares Dessouki said :
It wasn’t easy in there for sure. It was very tough for me mentally, especially having to compete after such a long match yesterday. I was focussing 100% on my shots and not to make errors. It was a good tournament for him (Nafiizwan). It will be my biggest final tomorrow and I hope Max and Tarek will play for 200 minutes today!

Nafiizwan Adnan said :
I didn’t play good squash today. I couldn’t put him under any pressure. Both of us are quite tired from yesterday’s matches, and he played much better than I did. Today, my shots were all just not good enough.

Max Lee Continues to be Impressive

Max Lee (right) takes out the defending champion
Max Lee (right) takes out the defending champion

Max Lee, clearly a local crowd favourite here in Macau, had survived a five-game battle against Nasir Iqbal in the first round and deconstructed Marwan El Shorbagy in the quarters. He faced defending champion Tarek Momen today, a man he lost to a year ago at the same event having had match ball in hand.

An entourage of Hong Kong Squash officials and fans, including former WSF Vice President Heather Deayton, ASF Chairman David Mui, head coach Tony Choi and Hong Kong Squash Executive Director Emily Mak, had made the one hour fifteen minutes ferry ride across the channel to cheer on their top player.

Max Lee and Tarek Momen surely did not disappoint the crowd in the first game. Both players gave a display of what top level squash is all about with some smooth flowing rallies that included every shot in the book made to look easy, some ridiculous retrieving and winners that simply swept the audience of their feet. Both were never more than 2 points apart and it ended that way too in favour of Lee, 13-11.

The second was point for point up to 5-all. The great rallies continued, both players still trying hard to pull away from each other. It was Lee who manages to break away and win 6-points in a row to wrap the game up, which included a stroke that got him to 9-5 which I feel was a highly controversial one. There was a discussion between Momen and the referee, whether it was a let or no let in the Egyptian’s head. But it went to a stroke to Lee, much to Momen’s disgust.

In the third, a clear dip in the competitiveness level of Momen is evident. Max Lee took full advantage of it to forge ahead, build a lead and he never looked back. It must be a real special evening for the Hong Kong number one with his wife, 6-week old baby girl and mom, in the audience together with his many other supporters. The amount of people who came to congratulate him and pose for photographs is a testament to his popularity here.

Max Lee said:
I’m very happy to have won. I never thought I’d reach the final. Last year I played Tarek (Momen) and was game ball up and I lost. So I’m happy and I won this time. The court is very warm and bouncy, and both of us had to work really hard. I was lucky to win the first and it was a close crucial game. After I won that, it was a lot easier after I won the first.
I never knew it could have been a 3-0 score and I feel very good about these two (and China) tournaments.

Tarek Momen said :
I’m disappointed obviously. I think I only played the first game. I got very tired in the end. It didn’t help that the conditions were so hot and humid in there. But it was on both of us and I think he handled it better than I have. I was ill just before the tournament so maybe that affected my fitness a little. But credit to Max, he played really well.

Semi-Final Results :

Nouran Gohar (EGY) beat Annie Au (HKG) 11-5, 11-6, 8-11, 11-3 (41m)

Laura Massaro (ENG) beat Alison Waters (ENG) 11-4, 11-9, 7-11, 11-9 (49m)

Fares Dessouki (EGY) beat Nafiizwan Adnan (MAS) 11-5, 11-3, 11-3 (40m)

Max Lee (HKG) beat Tarek Momen (EGY) 13-11, 11-5, 11-4 (40m)

Pictures by Macau Squash Association

 

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