By LEE HORTON
Home favourite Nick Matthew and World No.1 Ramy Ashour gave the squash world the semi-final it demanded when they dismissed their quarter-final opponents to set up a mouth watering World Championship showdown on Saturday.
The two big guns will face each other for a place in Sunday’s final in Manchester in a showdown guaranteed to match the fireworks usually reserved for the two footballing giants of this city.
Matthew delighted the home fans by winning the battle of the former champions in straight games. He downed Egyptian maestro Amr Shabana 11-8, 11-4, 11-7 in 43 minutes of pulsating action.
The Englishman pulled clear after an even opening to take the lead, controlled the second and recovered from a 1-4 deficit to take the match.
“If I play like that on Sunday it will be the perfect result,” he said immediately afterwards. “I feel like I’m in the form of my life. “
Ashour ended the run of Saurav Ghosal, the first player from India to reach a world quarter final.
It was another 3-0 scoreline with the mercurial No.1 seed looking assured and dominant.
Defending champion Ashour overcame a sluggish start, but recovered from 6-9 to take the lead with a run of five points. The Egyptian dominated the second game and although Saurav Ghosal kept the score level for most of the third it was Ashour who took the crucial points at the end.
“Squash has always been my life, my whole life, but I was doing it wrong,” admitted Ashour after the match. “Now I’m doing it right.”
Ghosal was patient and accurate but unable to make serious inroads in Ashour’s armoury eventually losing 11-9, 11-5, 11-9 in 48 minutes.
Ashour had not been at his absolute best in the early rounds as he struggles with a leg injury, and he visited a local hospital on Thursday morning to check on the problem.
There were few signs of discomfort once he took to the court, however, and from 6-9 down he reeled off 14 of the next 15 points to take control of the match in a brilliant passage of play.
“I hadn’t been enjoying my squash for the last three days and today was the first day I enjoyed my squash,” said the Egyptian, who admitted he was playing through pain.
“I have a groin, hamstring [problem]; it all comes from a long, long time ago, because I’ve never been used to doing the right things.
“I consider myself becoming a real professional player maybe two or three years ago, but I’ve been playing this game for 20 years. I wasn’t doing everything right physically, because I had no-one to tell me.”
Asked about his unbeaten run of 53 matches – 49 on tour plus four at the World Team Championship – he said: “I’m not thinking about this. Whether it was 50 matches, 200 matches, I’ll just keep doing what I have to do.”
Looking ahead to Saturday’s clash with Matthew, the last man to beat him in May 2012, Ashour added: “I hope it goes in his favour as well, so we can have a real match and neither of us has something wrong with him.
“This is better for both of us. So whoever wins, it’s a certain win.”
For Shabana, the tournament signalled his return after a long lay-off due to illness. Afterwards he said:”Nick is in great form, and I felt I was off the pace.
“It was my first tournament in eight months, and I found it hard to execute the plan I had in my head. I needed to be at my 100% to beat Nick and I would say I was at probably 60%. I’m trying to catch up to that level, and reaching the quarters of the world champs is a good start! Today, I was always playing catch up, normally, it’s the others that are playing catch up with me!
“I can’t complain, I was three matches away from picking up the World Title.”
For Matthew, victory sweet but he warned: “I can’t get too carried away by that win, I’ve got to keep my feet on the floor – there are two rounds to go yet. He’s such a great player. I was really nervous today as he’s coming back from injury – so I felt the pressure was on me.”
And the Yorkshireman added: “Today, I really felt the pressure on me, but when I walked in the arena, hearing the cheers of the crowd really relaxed me…
“I feel I’m in the best shape of my life. I’ve changed one or two things in my training – I’m now doing yoga, for instance. I’ve been inspired by a quote I saw recently on the wall in my gym at the EIS: ‘If you’re not nervous, you’re not ready’. ‘That means you’re ready’ my wife said to me!
“Having a rest day tomorrow will give me the chance to do my homework on my semi-final opponent. Though if it’s Ramy, I’d need 182 hours!”