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Seventh heaven for Gawad in Pittsburgh

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Gawad dethrones defending champion to net Pittsburgh Open title

By MICHAEL CATLING – Squash Mad Chief Reporter

World number 17 Karim Abdel Gawad notched his seventh and biggest PSA Tour title of his career after overcoming defending champion and top seed Alister Walker in four games at the Three Rivers Capital Pittsburgh Open in Pennsylvania.

Gawad, 22, last celebrated success at the Egyptian People Tournament in October 2011 but recovered from losing the opening game to triumph  5-11, 11-7, 11-4, 13-11 in the fifth event of the 2014 US Pro Squash Series.

Despite his superior ranking over the Botswana number one, Gawad was only seeded second for the $25,000 event but after losing the opening game convincingly, it looked like Walker would endorse the seedings for a second successive year at the Rivers Club. 

However, Gawad responded by eradicating his unforced error count and reaped the benefits as he raced through the following two games to move within one game of his first ever Tour victory over the world number 19.

A tense fourth game saw both players exchange the lead on numerous occasions, before the Egyptian tinned a high backhand to squander his first match ball at 10-9.

A no let decision at 11-10 down saved Gawad from contesting a fifth game and the Cairo-based ace retained his composure following a series of lets to clinch victory at the second time of asking in 82 minutes.

Final Result:

[2] Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) 3-1 [1] Alister Walker (BOT) 5-11, 11-7, 11-4, 13-11 (82m)
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Semi-final report: Top two seeds show their mettle in Steel City

Defending champion Alister Walker will contest the final of the Three Rivers Capital Pittsburgh Open against world number 17 Karim Abdel Gawad on Monday, after the top two seeds battled through their respective semi-final encounters in four games at the Rivers Club in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Walker, who slipped to world number 19 in the February world rankings, traded the opening two games of his last four encounter against Finnish number one Olli Tuominen to drop his first game of the PSA International $25,000 tournament.

Karim AbdelBut with the 34-year-old fourth seed threatening to beat the Botswana number one for the first time in only their third PSA meeting on Tour, Walker regained the ascendancy in the third game before reeling off three successive points at eight-all in the fourth to clinch an 11-6, 6-11, 11-7, 11-8 win in 69 minutes.

“Playing Olli is always tough both physically and mentally,” said the US-based Walker afterwards. “Today I managed to get a very good win because Olli has been playing very well lately having followed his scores.

Gawad (pictured right) ensured the top two seeds will be battling for the the fifth title of the 2014 U.S. Pro Squash Series after withstanding a third game fightback from Swiss number one Nicolas Mueller to prevail 11-7, 11-9, 6-11, 11-8 in 53 minutes.

Gawad, 22, had lost their only previous encounter at the Grasshopper Cup in April 2012 but duly levelled their head-to-head record to advance into his first PSA Tour final since the Finnish Open almost a year ago. 

“Niki and I played like twice in the juniors and once on the PSA Tour and I was expecting a very tough battle – and here it was.” said the Egyptian number seven from Cairo later.

“Niki is so talented – I had to keep my eyes open and focus on each of his shots and try to put the ball in the corners,” continued Gawad, now in the 12th Tour final of his career. “I’m very happy to win today and looking forward to playing the finals tomorrow.”

Walker added: “Tomorrow against Gawad will be very tough. He is talented and can rattle off points quickly and things can get away from you if you lose focus for a minute. We played several years ago in Cairo but he has improved considerably since then.”

Semi-Final Results:

[1] Alister Walker (BOT) 3-1 [4] Olli Tuominen (FIN) 11-6, 6-11, 11-7, 11-8 (69m)
[2] Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) 3-1 [3] Nicolas Mueller (SUI) 11-7, 11-9, 6-11, 11-8 (53m)

Picture by Steve Cubbins (SquashSite)

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Quarter-final report: Walker leads the way as top four seeds advance in Pittsburgh

Top seed and world number 19 Alister Walker ended unseeded Muhd Asyraf Azan’s hopes at the Three Rivers Capital Pittsburgh Open with a comprehensive 3-0 success in Pittsburgh, USA.

Azan, 25, caused a huge shock by ousting seventh seed Henrik Mustonen in the first round, but was outclassed by Walker, who is ranked 46 places above the Malaysian number three.

WalkerWalker, who was knocked out of the Tournament of Champions second round by new world number one Gregory Gaultier last month, edged a tight opening game before romping through the second to move within one game of victory.

Azan responded with four successive nicks to start the third game but Walker (pictured right) held firm to force a tie-break, before clinching the match 11-9, 11-3, 15-13 after both men saved and squandered several game balls. 

The Botswana number one will now meet world number 24 Olli Tuominen for a place in the final, after the 34-year-old overcame a sloppy start to defeat Mexican eighth seed Cesar Salazar in 42 minutes.

The 14-time Finish National champion lost the first six points of their last eight encounter but recovered from losing the opening game to prevail 8-11, 11-6, 11-4, 11-7.

In the bottom half of the draw, Swiss number one Nicolas Mueller remains on course for his first PSA title since February 2010 following an 11-9 11-4, 11-7 victory in 40 minutes over sixth seed Mohd Nafiizwan Adnan of Malaysia.

Adnan, world ranked 33, has now failed to progress past the quarter-final stage in eight of his last nine Tour events and will be hoping for a revival of fortunes at the Finnish Open later this month, where he is seeded first. 

Mueller will now face world number 17 and second seed Karim Abdel Gawad in the semi-finals of the $25,000 event, after the Egyptian despatched fifth seed Ryan Cuskelly of Australia 11-9, 11-3, 11-9 in 44 minutes.

Quarter-Final Results:

[1] Alister Walker (BOT) 3-0 Muhd Asyraf Azan (MAS) 11-9, 11-3, 15-13 (45m)
[4] Olli Tuominen (FIN) 3-1 [8] Cesar Salazar (MEX) 8-11, 11-6, 11-4, 11-7 (42m)
[3] Nicolas Mueller (SUI) 3-0 [6] Mohd Nafiizwan Adnan (MAS) 11-9, 11-4, 11-7 (40m)
[2] Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) 3-0 [5] Ryan Cuskelly (AUS) 11-9, 11-3, 11-9 (44m)

Picture by Steve Cubbins (SquashSite)
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First round report: Finish number one falls as Azan seals quarter-final showdown with Walker

By HOWARD HARDING – Squash Mad Contributor

UNSEEDED Muhd Asyraf Azan doubled Malaysian interest in the quarter-finals of the Three Rivers Capital Pittsburgh Open after upsetting seventh seed Henrik Mustonen in Pittsburgh, USA.

MuhdThe 27-year-old (pictured left) from Kuala Lumpur, ranked 65 in the world, defeated Finland’s world number 36 Mustonen 13-11, 6-11, 11-2, 6-11, 11-6 in 44 minutes – and will now take on top seed Alister Walker for a place in the semis.

In the quickest match of the day, Botswana’s US-based Walker – ranked 19 in the world – despatched Brazilian qualifier Vinicius Rodrigues 11-0, 11-2, 11-4 in just 27 minutes.

Fifth seed Ryan Cuskelly looked like another upset victim after the first two games against qualifier Farhan Zaman.

“I came out a little slow, and he was attacking from the start,” said the Australian. “I didn’t feel too sharp, so I tried to focus on getting my shots tighter and my length better, and he started to make a lot of mistakes.”

Left-hander Cuskelly recovered to beat the Pakistani 9-11, 14-16, 11-5, 11-8, 11-4 after 72 minutes and will now line up against second seed Karim Abdel Gawad.

The Egyptian also survived a first round battle against a qualifier from Pakistan – beating Syed Ali Mujtaba Shah Bokhari 8-11, 11-6, 11-6, 12-10.

“I had not played him before and he came out shooting from the start,” said the world number 16 from Cairo. “At first, I was shooting with him. Then, when he won the first game, I decided to be more patient and pick my spots.”

Tournament director Steve Baicker-McKee was delighted with the opening day of the event: “We had a tremendous first day of the main draw.

“The standing room only crowd was treated to some high level squash, with most of the seeded players advancing. We are looking forward to some great quarter finals tomorrow.”

First Round Results:

[1] Alister Walker (BOT) 3-0 [Q] Vinicius Rodrigues (BRA) 11-0, 11-2, 11-4 (27m)
Muhd Asyraf Azan (MAS) 3-2 [7] Henrik Mustonen (FIN) 13-11, 6-11, 11-2, 6-11, 11-6 (44m)
[8] Cesar Salazar (MEX) 3-0 Christopher Gordon (USA) 11-4, 12-10, 11-9 (50m)
[4] Olli Tuominen (FIN) 3-1 [WC] Joel Hinds (ENG) 11-5, 9-11, 11-3, 11-5 (50m)
[3] Nicolas Mueller (SUI) 3-0 [Q] Yasir Ali Butt (PAK) 11-6, 11-8, 5-1 ret.
[6] Mohd Nafiizwan Adnan (MAS) 3-0 [LL] Baba Tunde Ajagbe (NGR) 11-5, 11-2, 11-8 (30m)
[5] Ryan Cuskelly (AUS) 3-2 [Q] Farhan Zaman (PAK) 9-11, 14-16, 11-5, 11-8, 11-4 (72m)
[2] Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) 3-1 [Q] Syed Ali Mujtaba Shah Bokhari (PAK) 8-11, 11-6, 11-6, 12-10 (48m)

Quarter-Final Draw:

[1] Alister Walker (BOT) v Muhd Asyraf Azan (MAS)
[4] Olli Tuominen (FIN) v [8] Cesar Salazar (MEX)
[3] Nicolas Mueller (SUI) v [6] Mohd Nafiizwan Adnan (MAS)
[2] Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) v [5] Ryan Cuskelly (AUS)

Picture by Steve Cubbins (SquashSite) 

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