By ALAN THATCHER and ELLIE MAWSON
Wildcard Joe Lee secured his place in the second round of the Optasia Championships after claiming victory over Mexico’s Cesar Salazar as the PSA World Tour Gold event got under way at The Wimbledon Club in south west London.
Formerly known as the Channel VAS Championships, the Optasia Championships this year has seen the event relocate from the St George’s Hill Lawn Tennis Club, where it had been held since 2015 to an indoor sports hall at the Wimbledon Club.
World No.89 Lee, who picked up three PSA Challenger Tour titles in 2021, will face 2021 Qatar Classic champion Diego Elias in the next round after he overcame Salazar, with the Mexican forced to retire due to injury.
London-born Lee got off to a strong start, testing the movement of the Mexican from the very first point to grind out a tough first game. That signalled the beginning of the end for Salazar though with his lack of movement fully exposed in the second as Lee doubled his lead before Salazar was forced to retire before the start of the third game.
“It was just a bit of a mental challenge as I knew he wasn’t moving as well as he usually does,” admitted Lee afterwards. “He still played pretty constructively in that first game. I managed to do enough and then found what I needed to do in the second. It would have been nice to have a go at him at 100%, but I’ll take the win.
“I feel like I’m ready to start playing at this level again, maybe even beyond what I was before my injury. This is great opportunity for me and things have gone my way today and I have another great opportunity in a couple of days.”
Lee will be joined by compatriots James Willstrop and George Parker in the second round after they beat Germany’s Raphael Kandra and Egypt’s Karim El Hammamy.
Former World No.1 Willstrop put on a display befitting of his ‘Marksman” nickname to defeat Germany’s Raphael Kandra in straight-games.
The 38-year-old Yorkshireman was on fire throughout the 35-minute fixture and there was very little Kandra could do to fight back against Willstrop’s brilliance as he secured a second round meeting with Egypt’s Marwan ElShorbagy.
Meanwhile, Parker made the most of his late call-up into the tournament, following the withdrawal of Baptiste Masotti, as he came from a game down to set up a round two clash with 2017 champion Mohamed ElShorbagy.
“It’s a weird one [being called up late into the draw], it’s sort of less pressure in a way,” said Parker following his win.
“I didn’t expect much today, I just got the call up yesterday and I’m happy to be in and playing. I got back from America last Saturday and it’s just good to be back and playing after Covid.”
There will be no other English players in the second round after Patrick Rooney and Adrian Waller both saw their tournaments come to an early end as they lost out to India’s Saurav Ghosal and Malaysia’s Eain Yow Ng, respectively.
Ghosal was in spellbinding form as he comfortably moved past a lacklustre Rooney in straight-games, while Eain Yow was forced to come from behind to defeat Waller. They will face Egypt’s Mazen Hesham and Wales’ Joel Makin respectively in the second round.
Another upset came in the form of Switzerland’s Nicolas Mueller after he defeated the in-form Iker Pajares of Spain in four games.
Pajares recently recorded his best result to date at a Platinum event as he reached the quarter finals of Chicago’s Windy City Open. However, the Spaniard fell victim to a brilliant display of attacking squash from Mueller, who held the ball well and played his angles to set up a next round fixture with France’s No.7 seed Gregoire Marche.
“I was playing very well in the first two and a half games, I had a big lead in the third but then I thought about winning the game instead of focusing on what I was doing,” Mueller said.
“Iker had a few big rallies, he won those and got some confidence. I was very happy to get a good start in the fourth, I wanted to make sure the lead was big enough so he couldn’t come back again.”
Egypt’s Youssef Soliman and Mohamed ElSherbini were the other winners on the first day of action after Soliman completed a dominant victory over France’s Lucas Serme, while ElSherbini held off a comeback from USA No.1 Shahjahan Khan to set up a last 16 clash with World Champion Ali Farag tomorrow.
PSA Gold Optasia Championships, The Wimbledon Club, London, England.
Mohamed ElSherbini (EGY) bt Shahjahan Khan (USA) 3-1: 11-9, 9-11, 11-5, 11-4 (55m)
Eain Yow Ng (MAS) bt Adrian Waller (ENG) 3-1: 7-11, 13-11, 11-6, 11-8 (58m)
Nicolas Mueller (SUI) bt Iker Pajares Bernabeu (ESP) 3-1: 11-8, 11-5, 8-11, 11-2 (52m)
James Willstrop (ENG) bt Raphael Kandra (GER) 3-0: 11-9, 11-3, 11-6 (35m)
[WC] Joe Lee (ENG) bt Cesar Salazar (MEX) 3-0: 11-7, 11-1, 0-0 retired (24m)
Saurav Ghosal (IND) bt Patrick Rooney (ENG) 3-0: 11-4, 11-6, 11-8 (42m)
Youssef Soliman (EGY) bt Lucas Serme (FRA) 3-0: 11-8, 11-6, 11-2 (39m)
George Parker (ENG) bt Karim El Hammamy (EGY) 3-1: 8-11, 11-6, 11-7, 11-9 (51m)
Round Two (Top half, March 7):
 Ali Farag (EGY) v Mohamed ElSherbini (EGY)
Eain Yow Ng (MAS) v  Joel Makin (WAL)
 Gregoire Marche (FRA) v Nicolas Mueller (SUI)
James Willstrop (ENG) v  Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY)
Round Two (Bottom half, March 8):
 Diego Elias (PER) v [WC] Joe Lee (ENG)
Saurav Ghosal (IND) v  Mazen Hesham (EGY)
 Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) v Youssef Soliman (EGY)
George Parker (ENG) v  Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY)
Pictures courtesy of PSA World Tour and Patrick Lauson Photography