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Willstrop’s respect for Ramy revealed in new book

James Willstrop overcomes Ramy Ashour in the Davenport North American Open final. Picture by ANDREW PREZIOSO

Ramy The Greatest, Says Rival Willstrop

28 February 2012

Egyptian squash sensation Ramy Ashour is “one of the greatest sportsmen on the planet” but his continued lack of global exposure is a “terrible injustice” to sport.

That is the verdict of Englishman James Willstrop, one of his chief rivals, despite beating the Egyptian to the PSA World Series Davenport North American Open title at the weekend. It was Ashour’s first event for three months after recovering from a hamstring injury.

Willstrop took advantage of Ashour’s latest setback in December when the Yorkshireman took over as world No1 in January for the first time in his career. Willstrop and compatriot Nick Matthew are currently the two in-form players on the PSA World Tour while Ashour, 24, has slipped to fifth.

But with squash continually missing out on an Olympic berth – the sport will be put forward for inclusion to the 2020 Games at an IOC session in Buenos Aires in 2013 – Willstrop says that the world needs to be made more aware about the Egyptian’s all-round brilliance on court.

In a new book published this month – Shot and a Ghost, an eye-opening diary account of a “brutal” year on the world tour – Willstrop writes: “He is undoubtedly one of the greatest sportsmen on the planet – certainly the most talented holding a racket in the modern generation.

“He has the ability to dismantle the very best players and he is the most unusual squash player I have ever seen or been on court with. But unfortunately the man goes relatively unannounced globally, which is a terrible injustice.

“I’m sure any one of the top 10 players would be happy to admit that the speed of his game operates on a different plane. It doesn’t make him unbeatable or even necessarily the best player, but to consider winning against him, squash of the highest calibre is required.”

Willstrop, whose win in Virginia saw him return to world No1, added that the same attributes should be applied to Amr Shabana, Egypt’s four-time world champion.

He said: “Shabana’s four major wins in two months in 2007 is regarded in squash circles as a truly mammoth achievement.

“Not only is the man the most artistic hitter of a squash ball that has ever been, and a true gentleman, he is also a winner. He stands, justifiably, as a legend of the sport.”

Willstrop and Matthew will soon by vying for success in the Canary Wharf Classic, as British squash fans clamour to see the world’s two most successful players in action on home soil.

A Shot and a Ghost: a year in the brutal world of professional squash’ by James Willstrop is available, Amazon or Kindle.

In his latest column in the Yorkshire Evening Post, Willstrop again pays tribute to Ashour:

Richmond, Virginia, was the latest stop on the PSA world tour. Now in its fifth year as a top-tier event, the North American Open has cemented itself as a mainstay on the calendar – one of only two American events at this level.

It has not been an altogether easy journey; much hard work has been put in over the years by many people in what is a relatively modest squash-playing community.

There is hardly an abundance of squash clubs in the region and it is credit to the place and its people that it has delivered an excellent event so consistently, despite the fact that Richmond isn’t perhaps considered a US super power of a city.

Since 2008, when I won the event, I have had good memories of the place and I repeated that success last Saturday night, beating Ramy Ashour, pictured inset, 3-0 in the final.

The win has given me back the initiative in the world number one ranking battle and after Sheffield’s Nick Matthew regained the position from me in February by winning in New York, I now take it back for March 1.

At the quarter-final stage all sorts of permutations were possible at the top of the list. Had I lost to Amr Shabana in the last eight, Matthew or Greg Gaultier would have had the chance to take the top spot.

I didn’t know the eventualities beforehand and was pleasantly surprised when the tournament MC announced to me in the quarter-final post-match interview that I had amassed enough points.

Shabana, the Egyptian four-time world champion, had to concede his match against me because of a knee injury and so as buoyed as I was with the good news over the points, I really felt his disappointment.

I took four games to beat Gaultier in the semi-final and so met Ashour in the final.

He had played some entertaining squash during the week, scoring victories over Matthew and Karim Darwish.

The squash world is pleased to see Ashour back in action after an enforced lay-off with a hamstring injury.

In light of this he should be thrilled with his efforts in the event and we all hope he can now draw a line over his problems and is allowed to play on unfettered from here.

So the North American Open was another success for many reasons.

We now get a breather for a few weeks before the next assignment: the Canary Wharf Classic in London, starting on March 19.


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