Wild card Al Tamimi close to a shock
By SEAN REUTHE in Doha
Three-time World Champion Nick Matthew came within two points of falling to a shock defeat to tournament wildcard Abdulla Mohd Al Tamimi during a stunning opening day of action at the 2016 Qatar Classic, the World Series tournament held at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex in Doha.
The 36-year-old Matthew won this tournament in 2009, but relinquished a two-game lead against Qatari No.1 Al Tamimi, who, buoyed by vocal home support, went 8-4 up in the decider to threaten a huge upset.
But Matthew drew on his 18 years of professional experience to wrestle back momentum of the match, taking seven of the next eight points to seal an 11-9, 11-8, 9-11, 10-12, 11-9 victory against a player being coached by Australian legend Geoff Hunt.
“Physically I felt great, but he is such a clever player and anything I played short he was able to counter-attack me beautifully,” said Matthew.
“I’m not sure how I won that to be honest. I think today he deserved to win. When we had that ridiculous rally where we both ran like headless chickens, and he ended up playing that incredible winner, I thought OK, maybe this is not your day, maybe it’s his day, you’ve got to take it on the chin.
“The only thing I tried to do was to hold my head high and hope that maybe at the end he would get a bit nervous.”
Defending champion Mohamed ElShorbagy was also in action on day one as he too was forced all the way to five games by his first round opponent, Peruvian Diego Elias.
The World No.1, who defeated Frenchman Gregory Gaultier in last year’s final, went ahead twice but was forced all the way to a fifth by two-time World Junior Champion Elias, who hit some superb winners.
The hard-hitting Egyptian looked to be struggling with his movement a little bit towards the end of the fourth game, but he recovered to take the fifth, closing out an 11-4, 8-11, 11-8, 6-11, 11-5 triumph, ensuring he will face Hong Kong’s Leo Au in the next round.
“I have great memories in Qatar, that’s where I won my first World Series title, so it’s a very important place for me,” ElShorbagy said.
“It’s very hard to back up tournaments, we just finished the Worlds in Cairo, and win or lose, it’s very hard to back them up. It’s just different emotions, but it’s very hard for the body.
“I’m just very happy to get through and live another day in this event. I think it’s just my experience that paid off at the end of the fifth, I got a good start there too.”
He will be joined in round two by compatriot Tarek Momen, who played out a fast and furious match of the day against New Zealand’s Paul Coll, with their high-quality 101-minute encounter featuring a feast of stunning retrievals.
With the scores poised at two games apiece, both players fought against cramp as the match crept towards its conclusion, with Coll overturning multiple match balls to stay in the encounter. At 16-15 down though, a lunge towards the back of the court left Coll doubling over in pain, enabling Momen to force the win over the line to close out a nailbiting 7-11, 11-8, 8-11, 12-10, 17-15 triumph.
“In that last lunge I did, both my hamstring and my quads cramped together,” said Momen. “I was wondering when he would cramp. Up until he cramped I thought he wasn’t human, to be honest, it was unbelievable.
“I had no idea how I pulled that off to be honest. My motto today was that I wasn’t going to give up until the last point. I knew I had good momentum after the World Championship, I didn’t want to break that momentum.”
Former World No.1 James Willstrop followed fellow Yorkshireman Matthew through to the second round after the 33-year-old recovered from a game down to defeat World No.20 Chris Simpson in an all-English affair.
The former World No.1 fell victim to a strong start from Simpson in game one, but put in a masterclass in the next three games, failing to drop a single point in the fourth to close out a 7-11, 11-2, 11-4, 11-0 triumph.
“He was playing well, but I didn’t really panic because I felt that my quality was there,” said Willstrop.
“You’ve just got to ignore the scoreboard a bit really, otherwise you get carried away with being behind and that becomes a negative thing. I just kept telling myself that it didn’t really matter and what did matter was how well I was playing squash. I held it together and it worked for me a little bit later in the match.”
‘The Marksman’ will take on German No.1 Simon Rösner for a place in the last eight after Rösner saw off World No.41 Declan James, while Scotland’s Alan Clyne came up with the day’s biggest upset after he ended a five-match losing streak to Indian No.1 Saurav Ghosal, setting up a second round clash with Matthew.
Frenchman Gregoire Marche and Hong Kong’s Leo Au were the other victors on day one and they have lined up fixtures with Momen and ElShorbagy in the next round.
PSA M150 Qatar Classic 2016, Khalifa International Tennis & Squash Complex, Doha, Qatar:
First Round (Top Half):
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) bt Diego Elias (PER) 3-2: 11-4, 8-11, 11-8, 6-11, 11-5 (63m)
Leo Au (HKG) bt [Q] Campbell Grayson (NZL) 3-1: 6-11, 11-6, 11-5, 11-8 (55m)
James Willstrop (ENG) bt Chris Simpson (ENG) 3-1: 7-11, 11-2, 11-4, 11-0 (53m)
 Simon Rösner (GER) bt [Q] Declan James (ENG) 3-0: 11-6, 11-8, 11-6 (36m)
 Tarek Momen (EGY) bt [Q] Paul Coll (NZL) 3-2: 7-11, 11-8, 8-11, 12-10, 17-15 (101m)
Gregoire Marche (FRA) bt Mohamed Abouelghar (EGY) 3-2: 9-11, 11-6, 11-9, 3-11, 11-8 (54m)
[Q] Alan Clyne (SCO) bt Saurav Ghosal (IND) 3-1: 12-10, 9-11, 11-7, 11-1 (47m)
 Nick Matthew (ENG) bt [WC] Abdulla Mohd Al Tamimi (QAT) 3-2: 11-9, 11-8, 9-11, 10-12, 11-9 (71m)
First Round (Bottom Half, to be played Monday November 14):
 Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) v [Q] Mohamed Reda (EGY)
Tom Richards (ENG) v Zahed Mohamed (EGY)
Max Lee (HKG) v Ryan Cuskelly (AUS)
[Q] Tsz Fung Yip (HKG) v  Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY)
 Cameron Pilley (AUS) v [Q] Nafiizwan Adnan (MAS)
Cesar Salazar (MEX) v Omar Abdel Meguid (EGY)
Nicolas Mueller (SUI) v [Q] Adrian Waller (ENG)
Daryl Selby (ENG) v  Omar Mosaad (EGY)
Pictures by STEVE LINE (www.squashpics.com) courtesy of PSA