Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Sixth seed Barker survives ToC comeback

English trio triumph in Tournament of Champions opening round 

By MICHAEL CATLING & SATYA SESHADRI – Reporting from The Harvard Club Of New York City

World number eight Peter Barker marked his comeback from injury by edging a five-game thriller over rising Egyptian star Karim Abdel Gawad to advance into the second round at the Tournament of Champions in New York.

Barker, who has been absent from the PSA Tour since suffering a calf injury at the World Championship in Manchester last October, twice fell behind at the Grand Central station but recovered from the edge of defeat to prevail 5-11, 11-6, 4-11, 11-7, 11-3 in 73 minutes.

The England number three said: “I’m really pleased to get through. Karim is great player who’s highly ranked – he was one of the toughest first round draws – so I’m pleased to get through that.

“I don’t feel like I played great but I wasn’t expecting to be at my best. I haven’t played on a glass court for over two months so I knew it wasn’t going to be easy but I felt like I moved pretty well and there were no effects afterwards, so that’s the most important thing.

“It was tough few months for me but it’s good to be back and get through without any issues. I have a day off tomorrow now as well so hopefully I’ll improve from here.”

World number one Nick Matthew joined his compatriot in the next round after easing past fellow compatriot Adrian Grant in straight games on the fabulous McWil court set up inside this iconic location (pictured left).

The 33-year-old triumphed 11-4, 11-5, 11-4 over the new world number 21 and will now face Stephen Coppinger for a place in the last eight, after the world number 20 beat Malaysian Ong Beng Hee 11-7, 6-11, 11-7, 11-5.

“I’ve played against Adrian for a long time now and we’re good friends,” said the triple world champion. “Sometimes it can be hard to go into that kind of match so I’m pleased with how I performed today and to get off in three.

“This tournament gives you a real buzz as a player. That can sometimes make you a little reckless so it was important to keep focused on the match.

“I built up some momentum before Christmas but we’ve had a few weeks off so I’m approaching this like starting all over again. I’m not thinking about the rankings or anything like that and just concentrating on playing well and hopefully I can keep improving.”

Former world number one James Willstrop (pictured above) made it a hat-trick of victories for the English trio, but not before struggling past Swiss qualifier Nicolas Mueller in four games.

Mueller had lost all of their four previous meetings on Tour but threatened to spring an upset as he clinched the first game 11-7. 

Willstrop responded with a resounding 11-1 success to level matters but with the scores locked at 9-9 in the third game, Mueller fashioned a game-ball.

However, Willstrop managed to reel off three consecutive points to edge a tense tie-break, before finally wrapping up victory in 78 minutes.

Willstrop will meet big-hitting Australian Cameron Pilley, who wasted little time in overcoming Malaysian qualifier Mohd Nafiizwan Adnan 11-2, 11-6, 11-2.

Dutch number one Laurens Jan Anjema survived a valiant third game comeback from Egyptian qualifier Mohd Ali Anwar Reda to prevail 11-8, 11-4, 11-9.

Anjema’s reward is a last 16 meeting with former world number one Amr Shabana (pictured right), who had little trouble in despatching fellow Egyptian Omar Abdel Aziz 11-3, 11-6, 11-7.

The 34-year-old, who is a two-time champion at the $115,000 event, said: “The court is really nice but really hot at the same time. You have got to be smart about your shot selection or else you are in trouble.

“Going 100 miles an hour out here will get me in trouble. However, I played well and had a good result.”

One of the longest matches of the day featured an all-French encounter between teammates Mathieu Castagnet and Gregoire Marche.

Marche, who beat Charles Sharpes on Thursday to qualify for the main draw, won the first two games 11-8 and 11-9 to move within one game of advancing to the last 16 stage for a second successive year.

However, Castagnet staged a superb comeback and capitalised on his battle-weary opponent to triumph in the next three games 11-7, 11-8, 11-4 and setup a second round showdown with Barker. 

Pictures by Michael Catling and Satya Seshadri

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