By ALAN THATCHER (Squash Mad Editor) and JONATHAN SMITH (PSA)
England’s Declan James built on the confidence-boosting joy of a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games by gaining an important win over France’s Baptiste Masotti on the opening day of the QTerminals Qatar Classic.
James and his partner James Willstrop won five matches in a row in Birmingham on the way to claiming a gold medal in the Commonwealth Games men’s doubles final against fellow English pairing Daryl Selby and Adrian Waller.
World No.46 James kept his hand in after the Games by playing in smaller events in Canterbury and Cleethorpes, failing to reach the final in either event.
However, simply gaining some semblance of competitive squash allowed him to focus on peaking for Qatar, the first Platinum event of the PSA World Tour’s new season.
James reached a career-high position of world No.15 in 2019 but injuries affected his return to action after lockdown.
Now 29, his win over world No.20 Masotti in Doha was regarded as a significant upset in a four-game battle in which the Englishman showed his true class.
It was a match of high quality, with James bossing the ’T’ and forcing the Frenchman to work hard in all areas of the court. James was getting back to his best and he took an early two-game lead.
He then had the chance to put the match away with the score at 8-8 in the third game, but Masotti was able to fight through to win it and extend the clash. However, James regrouped, and a quick burst of points in the middle part of the fourth game was enough to give him the gap he needed, moving through to win the fourth and take the victory 11-7, 11-8, 9-11, 11-8 in 50 minutes.
James revealed: “Good, I thought it was a good quality match to be honest. Baptiste is obviously physically strong and a very good mover. Some of the stuff he was getting back in the front left even surprised me a little bit!
“I am trying to make my way back up the rankings with performances and that is good for the confidence. I feel like I am playing reasonably well and the match fitness is getting there week-by-week. Of course, I’m very happy to win a match like that!”
Asked about his Commonwealth Games gold medal, he added: “It was an unbelievable thing, the best moment of my career and it was a wonderful two weeks.
“It was just the realisation of a childhood dream, so taking the positivity from that, I am not putting as much pressure on myself to get up there, so achieving something like that means anything else is a bonus. Especially this season, I want to go out and enjoy my squash and try to get better.
“I am reasonably relaxed. Getting riled up and annoyed with decisions doesn’t suit my game whatsoever. The fire still burns inside, I am still hungry and I am training hard. It is still there, but I am just trying to get on with the job at hand, staying focussed and in the present!”
Before the Games, James was working hard on honing his game with Nick Matthew, the three-times world champion whom acted as an assistant coach to Team England in Birmingham.
In his Commonwealth Games review on Squash Mad, Matthew felt that the performances by England players in Birmingham could have a huge impact on results this season.
Clearly, world No.24 Adrian Waller was suffering some kind of hangover as he fell to world No. 42 Dimitri Steinmann in four games in the first round in Qatar.
Switzerland’s Steinmann upset the odds to earn a spot in the second round after beating Waller 3-1. The 25-year-old meets Mexico’s Leonel Cardenas in the second round tomorrow.
“it’s the first time I’ve beaten Adrian – I lost twice 3-2 before this year so I’m definitely happy to get that win under my belt,” Steinmann explained.
“It’s a good start for me in my first PSA event of the season and I’m happy to be in the second round.
“It feels great beating him for the first time, I’m happy and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.
“We always seem to get heated on court. He’s a big guy so naturally there’s not much space on court, but I stood my ground and played my shots.”
England trio Patrick Rooney, George Parker and Nathan Lake all won through to the second round after wins over Mahesh Mangaonkar (India), Henry Leung (Hong Kong) and Bernat Jaume (Spain).
France’s Mathieu Castagnet turned back the clock to shock Egypt’s world No.27 Moustafa El Sirty and set up a second round clash with last week’s CIB Zed Squash Open champion Youssef Soliman.
World No.52 Castagnet, 36, in his first match in almost four months, played a brilliantly controlled game against the talented 20-year-old, who is regarded as one of the game’s rising stars, winning 8-11, 11-6, 13-11, 12-10 in 78 minutes, the longest match of the day
After dropping the first game, the former World No.6 played a brilliant tactical game, increasing his hitting tempo while maintaining strict discipline.
This proved immediately effective as a number of errors began to creep into the game of the attack-minded El Sirty, and Castagnet levelled with an 11-6 in game two before edging the third 13-11.
In a tight fourth game, Castagnet took a 9-6 lead, only for a brilliant run of points from El Sirty to take the Egyptian to game ball at 10-9. Castagnet, however, fended this off well, saving the game ball before eventually securing the match with a 12-10 win in the fourth, after a nervous wait for a video referee decision on match ball.
“It was really difficult to be honest, that was my first match for three or four months now,” Castagnet explained.
“I am really happy to be back in good shape! He is a very talented young player. He is a fighter, really strong, so it was not easy for me. I love this kind of match, and that was a really good fight.
“I am ranked World No.52. I don’t want to be arrogant, but I feel I can be higher than that, so for me it is a pleasure that I can play the young generation with my ranking, and hopefully they won’t be happy to see my name against theirs!”
Castagnet was not the only experienced player to upset a younger opponent as Spain’s 39-year-old World No.41 Borja Golan blew World No.28 Mohamed ElSherbini away 3-0.
Former World No.5 Golan, who is the oldest player competing in Qatar, made a stunning start to the match, occupying the front of the court with ease as he took the first game 11-2 in just nine minutes.
ElSherbini improved in a stop-start second game and had a 9-6 lead and later a game ball at 10-9, only for the in-form Golan to claw his way into a 2-0 lead with a 13-11 victory.
This win both motivated Golan and deflated ElSherbini, with the 39-year-old sealing his place in the next round with an 11-4 win in the third game.
Afterwards, Golan said: “Every match I play nowadays is so special, so coming out here to Qatar again on this beautiful court and in this great event is amazing. I think today felt so good.
“Every time I step out on court I try to be very professional and concentrate. I know the margins are very little and at my age I have to play my best every time if I want to win. Today was a perfect day for me.”
To the delight of the home fans, Qatar’s Abdulla Mohd Al Tamimi was able to provide another upset as he comfortably overcame the higher-ranked Ramit Tandon of India in the day’s final match to set up an enticing encounter with World No.2 Paul Coll in tomorrow’s second round.
In an even first game, World No.44 Al Tamimi was initially forced onto the defensive by some good, tight, shots from World No.30 Tandon, before the Qatar No.1 settled and took the first game 11-8 thanks to his improved accuracy.
Al Tamimi, who is blessed with excellent speed and racket skills but has at times struggled for consistency, was much the better player in game two, with the 27-year-old taking advantage of a flurry of errors from Tandon – who missed August’s Commonwealth Games due to injury – to take the second game 11-4 in just seven minutes.
Al Tamimi continued to dominate in the third game and comfortably swatted aside the tiring Tandon with an 11-3 win that was a minute shorter than the rapid second game.
After the match, Al Tamimi said: “I’d like to thank everyone for the support. I couldn’t play last year, my first time missing the event since 2010.
“I’m really happy to be back here and I’m really happy with the win. Until yesterday, I was 50/50 to play this event because I have national service, but thanks to the Federation, who helped me. I hope I can play the whole season and the upcoming seasons without having to disappear from the tour for a while.
“I look forward to playing tomorrow again, and I hope the support will be even bigger.”
The QTerminals Qatar Classic 2022 continues tomorrow (September 5) as the seeded players enter the competition.
Play begins at 12 noon local time (three hours ahead of the UK), with live streaming available on SQUASHTV.
$187,500 PSA Platinum 2022 Men’s QTerminals Qatar Classic, Khalifa Tennis and Squash Complex, Doha.
Cesar Salazar (MEX) bt [WC] Syed Azlan Amjad (QAT) 3-1: 9-11, 11-8, 11-8, 11-9 (34m)
Mathieu Castagnet (FRA) bt Moustafa El Sirty (EGY) 3-1: 8-11, 11-6, 13-11, 12-10 (78m)
Eain Yow Ng (MAS) bt Auguste Dussourd (FRA) 3-0: 11-7, 11-5, 11-6 (44m)
Declan James (ENG) bt Baptiste Masotti (FRA) 3-1: 11-7, 11-8, 9-11, 11-8 (50m)
Borja Golan (ESP) bt Mohamed ElSherbini (EGY) 3-0: 11-2, 13-11, 11-4 (45m)
Shahjahan Khan (USA) bt [WC] Abdulrahman Al-Malki (QAT) 3-0: 11-0, 11-4, 11-4 (26m)
Omar Mosaad (EGY) bt Faraz Khan (USA) 3-1: 11-5, 5-11, 11-5, 13-11 (50m)
Leonel Cardenas (MEX) bt Zahed Salem (EGY) 3-0: 15-13, 11-9, 11-7 (47m)
Dimitri Steinmann (SUI) bt Adrian Waller (ENG) 3-1: 11-7, 11-8, 2-11, 11-6 (50m)
Yahya Elnawasany (EGY) bt Sebastien Bonmalais (FRA) 3-2: 3-11, 11-8, 8-11, 11-8, 11-8 (69m)
Karim El Hammamy (EGY) bt Tayyab Aslam (PAK) 3-0: 11-1, 11-5, 11-2 (23m)
Patrick Rooney (ENG) bt Mahesh Mangaonkar (IND) 3-0: 11-7, 11-8, 11-6 (32m)
Nathan Lake (ENG) bt Bernat Jaume (ESP) 3-0: 11-5, 11-4, 11-3 (30m)
Todd Harrity (USA) bt Mazen Gamal (EGY) 3-0: 11-7, 11-7, 12-10 (38m)
George Parker (ENG) bt Henry Leung (HKG) 3-0: 11-3, 11-7, 11-5 (31m)
Abdulla Mohd Al Tamimi (QAT) bt Ramit Tandon (IND) 3-0: 11-8, 11-4, 11-3 (27m)
Second Round (September 5):
 Ali Farag (EGY) v Cesar Salazar (MEX)
Miguel Rodriguez (COL) v Nicolas Mueller (SUI)
Youssef Soliman (EGY) v Mathieu Castagnet (FRA)
Eain Yow Ng (MAS) v  Mohamed ElShorbagy (ENG)
 Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY) v Declan James (ENG)
Borja Golan (ESP) v Shahjahan Khan (USA)
Fares Dessouky (EGY) v Omar Mosaad (EGY)
Raphael Kandra (GER) v  Mostafa Asal (EGY)
 Diego Elias (PER) v Saurav Ghosal (IND)
Leonel Cardenas (MEX) v Dimitri Steinmann (SUI)
Yahya Elnawasany (EGY) v Karim El Hammamy (EGY)
Gregoire Marche (FRA) v  Tarek Momen (EGY)
 Joel Makin (WAL) v Victor Crouin (FRA)
Patrick Rooney (ENG) v Nathan Lake (ENG)
Todd Harrity (USA) v George Parker (ENG)
Abdulla Mohd Al Tamimi (QAT) v  Paul Coll (NZL)
Pictures courtesy of PSA World Tour