Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Stunning start for Laura Massaro in Dubai finals


Laura Massaro wins against Nouran Gohar
Laura Massaro wins her first match against Nouran Gohar

Cam Pilley upsets Omar Mosaad and Miguel Rodriguez takes out Nick Matthew on day one

By Nathan Clarke

England’s Laura Massaro began her assault on the PSA World Series Finals with a superb win over Egypt’s Nouran Gohar. But her England colleague Nick Matthew lost on his return to competitive squash in a hotly-contested, hugely entertaining battle with Miguel Angel Rodriguez.

World No.2 Massaro sent out a strong message to her title rivals as she saw off the challenge of powerful young Egyptian Gohar in just 30 minutes in her opening encounter at the lucrative season-ending tournament.

At 32, 14 years Gohar’s senior, Massaro utilised all of her experience and steely determination as she countered Gohar’s relentless hard-hitting style, playing with fluidity and control that will give her a confidence boost after a series of disappointing results in recent months.

After winning the U.S. Open and Qatar Classic, prior to becoming World No.1 in January, Massaro has failed to capture another title since. But, with a lucrative $160,000 purse up for grabs, she’ll be hoping to end the campaign on a high and her performance against Gohar, which included withstanding a tense fightback and tiebreak in the second, will bolster her confidence.

“If it wasn’t for Nour El Sherbini, she [Gohar] would be breaking records all over the place – to be that mature at that age is really special,” said Massaro.

“I was breathing a sigh of relief when she hit the out line during the closing stages of the second game. She’s so lethal if you give her too much space. But we’ve played each other a lot over the past year so I know her game quite well and was able to read her a little better because of that.

“I love it here. As a squash player, your life revolves around training and food and, if I’m on holiday, the only thing I’m bothered about is the food, so it’s brilliant to come here and experience everything in Dubai. It’s great.”

Miguel Rodriguez dives for the ball against Nick Matthew
Miguel Rodriguez dives for the ball against Nick Matthew

The opening day action saw underdogs Cameron Pilley and Miguel Angel Rodriguez upset the form book to claim significant first round victories in the lucrative season-ending tournament which is taking place in the shadow of the Burj Khalifa – the world’s tallest building.

Competing for a share of $160,000 – equal that on offer in the women’s competition – Australian Pilley defeated a struggling Omar Mosaad, the Egyptian World No.4 hindered by a knee injury, while ‘Colombian Cannonball’ Rodriguez produced one of the best performances of his season to claim his first ever win over World No.3 Nick Matthew at the seventh time of asking.

After going one game down Rodriguez, the first South American ever to compete in the tournament, fought back with vocal support from the crowd to come through 8-11, 11-8, 11-9 and take a huge step towards securing a place in the semi-finals of the men’s tournament.

“I’m very happy with my performance today, to win my first World Series tournament match is terrific,” said Rodriguez.

“All the matches are tough and everyone here wants to win – it’s a very special tournament for all the players. It’s not easy playing the best of three format and the court is very bouncy as well so it was a different challenge. I had to adapt as I usually have a slow start but I was patient and in the third I managed to play well tactically well and get the win.

Cameron Pilley (red shirt) overcomes Omar Mosaad in Dubai
Cameron Pilley (red shirt) overcomes Omar Mosaad in Dubai

“This is the first tournament in Dubai so it’s great to be here and for me, playing in the World Series Finals was a dream I had growing up. It was a tough match today but there are no excuses for tomorrow – playing the World No.1 will be tough and I need to focus because I have a chance to make it to the semi-finals.”

There were also victories for World Champion Gregory Gaultier and World No.1 Mohamed Elshorbagy during the opening day of action in the Men’s tournament while World Champion and World No.1 Nour El Sherbini lost to compatriot Raneem El Welily in a thrilling encounter in the Women’s draw.

El Sherbini has been the in-form player this year, winning the Tournament of Champions and British Open to add to her World Champion crown, but it was El Welily who came through an exhilarating shot-making exhibition on her fifth match ball.

Raneem El Welily gets in front of Nour El Sherbini
Raneem El Welily gets in front of Nour El Sherbini

“I didn’t think I had it, especially at the end where I had four match balls and couldn’t finish the match off,” said El Welily.

“But I’m happy to be through, there are so many emotions playing the World Series Finals. There’s zero pressure, but you also want to do well. You want to win, but you’re actually relaxed, so you don’t know what to do or how you should feel or act on court.

“I’m happy with the way I played today. It’s my first time in Dubai, it’s been great so far, and it’s a great court and a great venue.”

France’s Camille Serme was the other winner in Group B while in Group A World No.2 Laura Massaro and eight-time World Champion Nicol David triumphed in their opening fixtures – with David on course to complete a hat-trick of World Series Finals tournament wins after seeing off tenacious opponent Amanda Sobhy.

“This is my first time playing in Dubai and it’s just spectacular to be competing here in front of the Burj Khalifa,” said David.

“All the players are really excited to be here and it just spurs us on to play even better squash.

“Amanda played some very good shots today and I let her in at times and she took it on when she had an opportunity. But I just stuck to my guns and managed to get the win in the end.

“The best of three format really does mean you to be on your game from the very first point and I think because of that everyone is upping their level – and it’s great for the crowd as well to see that intensity. You don’t want to let anyone in confidence-wise and I was very happy to win 2-0 in the end.”

Men’s Group A
[1] Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY) bt [7] Mathieu Castagnet (FRA) 2-0: 11-4, 11-6 (20m)
[5] Miguel Angel Rodriguez (COL) v [3] Nick Matthew (ENG) 2-1: 8-11, 11-8, 11-9 (54m)

Men’s Group B
[2] Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt [6] Simon Rösner (GER) 2-0: 11-2, 11-9 (39m)
[8] Cameron Pilley (AUS) bt [4] Omar Mosaad (EGY) 2-1: 11-7, 5-11, 11-6 (52m)

Women’s Group A
[1] Laura Massaro (ENG) bt [5] Nouran Gohar (EGY) 2-0: 11-7, 13-11 (33m)
[3] Nicol David (MAS) bt [8] Amanda Sobhy (USA) 2-0: 11-6, 13-11 (26m)

Women’s Group B
[4] Raneem El Welily (EGY) bt [2] Nour El Sherbini (EGY) 2-0: 12-10,17-15 (29m)
[7] Camille Serme (FRA) bt [6] Omneya Abdel Kawy (EGY) 2-0: 11-9, 13-11 (23m)

Fixtures – May 25:
[7] Camille Serme (FRA) v [4] Raneem El Welily (EGY)
[6] Simon Rösner (GER) v [2] Gregory Gaultier (FRA)
[1] Laura Massaro (ENG) v [3] Nicol David (MAS)
[1] Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY) v [5] Miguel Angel Rodriguez (COL)
[1] Laura Massaro (ENG) v [3] Nicol David (MAS)
[1] Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY) v [5] Miguel Angel Rodriguez (COL)
[5] Nouran Gohar (EGY) v [8] Amanda Sobhy (USA)
[3] Nick Matthew (ENG) v [7] Mathieu Castagnet (FRA)


Pictures by STEVE LINE (www.squashpics.com) courtesy of PSA 

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