New York braced for the ‘Clash of the Former Champions’ as Matthew and Shabana book last eight meeting
By MICHAEL CATLING – Squash Mad Reporter
Two-time champion Amr Shabana will face world number one Nick Matthew in the quarter-finals of the Tournament of Champions in New York, after the experienced duo breezed past Laurens Jan Anjema and Stephen Coppinger respectively.
Shabana, who at 34 is the oldest competitor in the main draw, ruthlessly despatched Anjema in straight games, while triple World champion Matthew quelled the threat of the unpredictable Coppinger with a crushing 3-0 victory at the Grand Central Station.
“I think today I played as well as I ever could,” said Shabana. “LJ is a big guy with a lot of great skills so I was very focused to play the right game against him.
“Every game is different but I was very happy with my game today and hopefully I can keep that up.
“I have a lot of fond memories of playing here and especially from earning the number one ranking in this event so to go further this week, in the first event of the year, would be amazing.
“First I have to get past the World champion and that will be an extremely hard task. Nick is in a great run at the moment but I’ve been close a few times in our last few matches so I’ll just concentrate on playing my game and see what happens.”
Shabana powered past fellow compatriot Omar Abdel Aziz in the opening round and he wasted little time in repeating the feat against world number 17 Anjema.
A series of front court winners proved the undoing for the Dutch number one, who struggled to find any rhythm as the Cairo-born left-hander romped to an 11-8, 11-3, 11-5 win in 38 minutes.
Shabana will now be looking to advance past the quarter-final stage of a PSA Tour event for the first time since the Cambridge Cup last February.
But despite winning the first of his two Tournament of Champions titles by beating Matthew in the 2006 final, the ‘Maestro’ has failed to repeat the feat against the 33-year-old in their last seven meetings.
Matthew, who won the $115,000 event in 2012, retains a 17-9 advantage in their head-to-head record and remains on course for his fifth successive Tour final after easing past Coppinger 11-7, 11-2, 11-4 in the second round.
The England number one had never lost to the South African in their five previous Tour meetings and that run never looked like ending as Matthew picked the world number 19 apart in just 34 minutes.
“I was conscious that it was an early start today – I don’t usually play at that time in the afternoon,” revealed Matthew afterwards.
“I was conscious of starting well and I luckily managed to carry that through, especially against someone like Steve who’s hungry and determined. So I’m really pleased with my performance.”
Matthew was joined in the last eight by fierce rival and England teammate James Willstrop, who prevailed over Australian Cameron Pilley 13-11, 11-1, 13-11 in their first encounter since their marathon match at the World Championship in November.
Willstrop, who is seeded fourth, needed to save four game balls en route to winning a 29 minute first game tie-break overshadowed by a series of lets and several points of contention.
An 11-1 thrashing in the second game, however, was a throw-back to Willstrop’s imperious form two years ago where the Pontefract ace enjoyed a year-long stay at the top of the rankings.
Since then, though, the 30-year-old has struggled for consistency and a third-game tie-break typified his recent inability to maintain a prolonged period of control in matches as Pilley threatened to stage a comeback.
However, Willstrop managed to fend off a late charge to secure a quarter-final spot for an eighth year running.
“It was a tight game and a bit of a scrap in places, especially in the first and third games,” said the England number two.
“I played well in the second game but I’m not managing to my put my game together on a consistent enough basis at the moment but you always take a win and to win when you’re not at your best is a bonus.
“It was testament to Cameron in how he came back in the third. I was getting on top and he could have let his head drop but he’s a world class player and showed his talent.”
The world number five will now meet fellow compatriot Peter Barker in a repeat of the Canary Wharf Squash Classic final (pictured above), after the sixth seed continued his comeback from a calf injury with a hard-fought four game victory over world number 25 Mathieu Castagnet.
The pair traded points in the opening game before Barker capitalised on two stroke decisions to prevail 11-9. And with Castagnet still smarting over an element of injustice, Barker ruthlessly extended his lead in the second to move within one game of victory.
Despite the deficit, Castagnet romped through the third-game to mirror the start of his comeback against Gregoire Marche on Friday evening,
But despite forcing a fourth-game tie-break, Barker managed to overcome any lingering nerves to capitalise on his third game ball and another contentious stroke decision to wrap-up victory 11-9, 11-8, 3-11, 13-11 in 78 minutes.
The world number eight will now fulfill the role of the underdog on Tuesday night, when he attempts to upset Willstrop for just the second time in 19 meetings between the pair.
Willstrop added: “Pete and I have played a lot and I think we’re both finding our feet in ways this week.”
“He’s shown that he’s worked hard to come back from injury and win two matches so far so he’s obviously in great shape at the moment.
“He’s a great athlete and never gives you anything lightly and he’s tough to crack so I need to try and put my game together to get past him. I’m in another quarter-final which is exciting so hopefully I can keep going and get the win.”
Top seed Gregory Gaultier and the mercurial Egyptian Mohamed Elshorbagy will attempt to book their places in the quarter-final draw on Monday afternoon.
Pictures by Steve Line (SquashPics), Steve Cubbins (SquashSite) and Michael Catling