Raneem El Welily saves three match balls to beat Laura Massaro and set up final showdown with Nicol David
By HOWARD HARDING – Squash Mad Correspondent
The world’s top two squash players will contest the final of the Women’s Cleveland Classic after Malaysia’s world number one Nicol David and Egypt’s Raneem El Welily, the world No.2, prevailed in contrasting semi-finals of the WSA International 50 event celebrating its fifth year at Cleveland Racquet Club in Cleveland, USA.
In their 21st WSA World Tour clash this millennium, David despatched unseeded Egyptian Omneya Abdel Kawy 11-8, 11-2, 11-7 in 27 minutes in the 31-year-old from Penang’s third successive straight games win in the championship.
Ranked nine in the world – her highest ranking for more than three years – Abdel Kawy is enjoying one of the best runs of her career. But the 29-year-old from Cairo had no answer to David’s dominant play.
“Have to trust it will come together if you stick to it,” said the Malaysian super star who this month celebrated her 106th month at the top of the world rankings, becoming the longest-reigning world number one of all-time.”These guys are so tough,” added David (pictured above in Cleveland Classic action). “They’re always out to get you!”
The seedings suggested an upset in the other semi – but the latest rankings predicted the outcome! El Welily, the third seed ranked two in the world, took on England’s Laura Massaro, the No.2 seed and the former world No.2 in a match which truly went the full distance.
It was a match of constantly-changing leads – El Welily having three game-balls in the first game which Massaro won; the Egyptian cruising to a second game win; and the Englishwoman fighting back from 5-8 down in the third to take it after a lengthy tie-break and move 2/1 ahead.
And after El Welily drew level following the fourth game, it was Massaro who reached match-ball first in the decider at 10-7 – but the Egyptian who dug deep to save those three match-balls before finally prevailing 11-13, 11-7, 13-15, 11-9, 12-10 to earn her place in the final.
“I don’t feel confident hitting the ball early, but I had to do that today!” admitted 26-year-old El Welily later. “Kawy told me I had to!”
Massaro told her Twitter followers later: “Wow disappointed is an understatement! I lost 12-10 in the 5th to Raneem having had 3 match balls. Great match by both of us! #progress”
The triumph takes El Welily into her third successive WSA Tour final, and immediately follows her surprise title success in last month’s JP Morgan Tournament of Champions in New York.
The milestone marks the 23rd Tour final of the Egyptian’s career – but the earlier semi-final success takes David into her 98th final, where she will be looking for her 79th title!
Women’s Cleveland Classic, Cleveland, Ohio, USA
 Nicol David (MAS) bt Omneya Abdel Kawy (EGY) 11-8, 11-2, 11-7 (27m)
 Raneem El Welily (EGY) bt  Laura Massaro (ENG) 11-13, 11-7, 13-15, 11-9, 12-10
Picture by MICHAEL WEIL