Matthew topples Ashour in 90-minute thriller to win fourth Swedish title
World number one Nick Matthew won a thrilling five-game final against Egyptian top seed Ramy Ashour to win his fourth Swedish Open title at Linköping.
Matthew, 33, narrowly lost an epic first-game battle but stormed back to take the next two to move within one game of inflicting Ashour’s first defeat without retiring since the 2012 British Open.
Ashour, who suffered an injury scare in the third game, recovered to force a decider but Matthew drew on his superior match fitness and experience to prevail 11-13, 11-6, 11-8 6-11, 11-4 in 90 minutes at the Linköping Sporthall.
Victory for Matthew, his first at the PSA 70 International tournament since 2011, avenges his final defeat to Gregory Gaultier last year, while Ashour can return home satisfied after suffering no recurrence of the hamstring injury which forced him to miss the Tournament of Champions last month.
“I can’t underestimate how tough that was,” admitted a relieved Matthew in his post match interview.
“It was tough for Ramy and the crowd as well, especially when he started to feel his leg in the third game.
“I went someone near cloud cuckoo land for a moment because I had Manchester in my head again and I didn’t want him to shake my hand so I’m just happy he came back and was able to finish the match because that’s what we wanted.”
At one stage, it looked like the final was going to be cut short midway through the third game after the Egyptian pulled up while chasing a drop shot.
But unlike their last meeting at the semi-finals in the World Championships in November where Ashour was forced to retire, the world number four soldiered on and reeled off three successive points as his movement slowly returned to normality.
Ashour said: “I played some very hard matches since the first round and I’m just glad to get through to the final and give it 100%. I’m also happy to finish the tournament without coming off court disappointed in terms of suffering an injury.
“I think Nick played a great match and is very consistent. He is in top form right now and he is pretty much the complete player so it was good to play him in the final.”
A 28 minute first game – two short of the marathon opening game between Matthew and Gaultier in the semi-finals on Saturday, set the tone for a pulsating encounter between the current and former world number one.
A sluggish start by Ashour gave Matthew a four point cushion at 6-2 and 8-4 in the opening game, before the Egyptian number two responded by rattling off five points in the next six to pull level at nine apiece.
Matthew reclaimed the advantage and his first game ball following a tinned drop by Ashour, only for the third-seed from Sheffield to return the favour and force a tie-break.
Six successive lets at ten-all ramped up the tension before Matthew squandered a second game ball following an outrageous reaction from the mercurial Egyptian to boost his winner count.
An uncharacteristic lob fell out of court to hand Ashour his first game ball and the 26-year-old took full advantage to claim the opening game at the Scandinavian event.
Despite the setback, Matthew raced into another 6-2 lead but unlike the preceding game, the triple world champion fought off another comeback attempt to level the scores in just eight minutes.
Matthew continued in the ascendancy during the third game and after winning the opening two points, Ashour was left limping heavily after failing to retrieve a backhand drop.
But although his movement was restricted, the Egyptian reeled off the next three points before repeating the feat again to draw level at 6-6.
Ashour returned for the fourth game with his body fully-functioning again and won four quick points at 6-5 ahead to amass five game balls. Matthew saved the first before his fifth unforced error of the game drew the reigning British Open champion level.
For the fifth consecutive game, Matthew inflicted an early blow by taking the opening point and barely surrounded control thereafter as Ashour fell 5-1 behind.
A series of unforced errors and penalty strokes ultimately proved Ashour’s undoing, before Matthew executed an inch perfect backhand drop nick off a dive retrieval from Ashour to claim six match balls.
A stroke decision duly handed the two-time Commonwealth gold medallist his 29th PSA Tour title and ended Ashour’s hopes of a first title since the NetSuite Open in October.
The duo will next return to competitive action at the North American Open later this month, where they will vie for the second PSA World Series title of 2014.
— Nick Matthew OBE (@nickmatthew) February 9, 2014
Not happy to lose, but happy to come out of the court in one piece "injury free ", and nick was the better player today…#swedishopen2014
— Ramy Ashour (@RamyAshour) February 9, 2014
Pictures by Sofia Tapola and Steve Line (Squash Pics)