Makin, Evans and Whitlock put Wales on a par with Egypt
By ALAN THATCHER – Squash Mad Editor
Welsh international trio Joel Makin, Tesni Evans and Emily Whitlock achieved one of the greatest days in the nation’s squash history by reaching the semi-finals of the PSA Manchester Open.
Makin dug deep to overcome Egyptian maverick Mazen Hesham in a five-game marathon, clinching it 12-10 after 82 minutes of sometimes contentious and controversial combat.
Words were exchanged on court and Makin said afterwards: “There were a few things that I thought he was doing that weren’t on, and I told him. He had an opinion on it as well, and that’s fine.
“I loved that. It’s what I love about sport. It’s competitive, it’s hard, getting stuck into each other. That’s what it’s all about. And it’s always better when you nick it in the fifth!”
In the women’s event, Evans won a tough battle against Belgium’s Nele Gilis in four games, while Whitlock powered through in straight games against Coline Aumard of France.
Those victories put Wales on a par with mighty Egypt, the dominant nation in professional squash, with each having three representatives in the semi-finals.
No.4 seed Makin is favourite to go through against Egyptian giant-killer Youssef Ibrahim, while Whitlock and Evans face the top two women’s seeds, Hania El Hammamy (Egypt) and England’s Sarah-Jane Perry.
Makin and Hesham met in March’s CIB Black Ball Open where Makin achieved a 3-0 victory. But Hesham was much sharper this time around as his incredible shot-making talents enabled him to unsettle his opponent, and ‘The Black Falcon’ duly took a one-game lead.
Makin’s grit and determination carried him to victory in the second game, but he was again victim to some sensational winners from Hesham in the third as World No.14 Hesham showed his class to restore his lead, coming back from 5-1 down.
The momentum flipped once again in the fourth as Makin turned the tables on his opponent, before the fifth game was punctuated by a number of refereeing decisions and video reviews, as well as a short break for a blood injury sustained by Hesham, who had been well acquainted with the physio after requiring treatment after each game.
As the drama reached its crescendo, it was Makin who held his nerve to book his spot in the semi-finals, where he will take on Ibrahim.
After winning 7-11, 12-10, 7-11, 11-6, 12-10, Makin added: “It’s professional sport, we were getting stuck in and he’s a quality player. These guys are coming into it with nothing to lose, everyone is shooting from behind me. He was hitting shots that weren’t on, but he’s doing it with a high percentage.
“You’ve got to take it and absorb, it’s a difficult balance to get right on my behalf when he’s playing like that, but I’m getting through these matches. It might not be the best squash I’ve played, but I’m in the next round.
“You’ve just got to try and get through those patches when he is unbelievable and pin him behind you. I tried to mix the serve but hitting it hard down the middle got it off the volley, at least.”
World No.11 Evans, the women’s No.3 seed, has fond memories of this tournament after reaching the final of the inaugural Manchester Open back in 2019, and the 28-year-old will have another chance to reach the title decider following an 11-7, 8-11, 11-8, 11-8 victory over Gilis.
It was the pair’s first meeting on the PSA Tour since the qualifying stages of the 2016 Wadi Degla Open, with Evans winning that match as well as their only other meeting at the 2015 Allam British Open.
Things have changed a lot for both players since then – Evans since breaking into the top 10 and Gilis establishing herself as a top 20 player – but the scoreline remained the same as Evans booked her place in her first PSA semi-final since the 2019 Manchester Open.
“It couldn’t have gone any better,” said Evans. “She’s a fantastic player, she’s been playing really well all season and she’s knocking on that door. She’s basically in the door, she’s not even knocking on it really. I knew I had to play really good squash today and that has not been the case recently.
“I’m really proud of myself for putting out a performance like that, and I’m happy. I naturally start really slowly, and I knew if Nele started really quickly then it would have been even harder for me to get back into it. I knew I had to start rapidly, so I got myself ready and managed to do that today.
“Calm is not a work you’d normally use for me on court, but it’s something that I know I have to do. Recently I haven’t been playing the way I want to play, so I was trying to keep myself calm and keep myself focused on what I have to do. You have to play your best squash, there’s no other way.”
Going into today’s clash, Whitlock boasted a 4-1 record in PSA games against Aumard, with the last match coming in the 2018 Windy City Open.
Whitlock started the match strongly, as she has throughout the tournament. The World No.23 moved Aumard around the court well, dominating her opponent and taking the first game 11-4 in nine minutes.
Aumard was much improved in the second and the World No. 25 quickly moved into a 4-1 lead. Whitlock fought back and after the lead changed hands she sealed the second game 12-10 with a powerful cross-court drive.
Whitlock’s clinical performance continued in the third and she dispatched the final game in ruthless fashion, securing a 11-4 win to progress to the semis-finals.
Whitlock said: “I knew Coline can really up the tempo and be really riled up, especially after yesterday. [Aumard’s win yesterday] was not a surprise for everyone on tour, because she’s really athletic, really mobile, trains her socks off and is coming back from a horrendous time out.
“As someone who has struggled with injury also, maybe not for a prolonged eight-month block, but over a two year span on and off, I know how mentally difficult that can be and I can only imagine how difficult it had been not to see family for 20 months, so fair play to come out and play so aggressively and positively. I think I was just better in those conditions on the day.
“With Tesni and I being in north Wales, the squash there isn’t what it was when I was a junior, but hopefully now that I’m getting my act together and keeping my body healthy and able to get through the rounds alongside Tesni, having experienced that squash side of it, I hope that encourages participation levels, junior play in particular and courts being built again and not taken down.”
Perry, who lost to Evans in the quarter-finals of this event two years ago, beat Malaysia’s Sivasangari Subramaniam and is anticipating a difficult match tomorrow night.
“It was really nice to see her [Evans] playing some really good squash today,” Perry said.
“She’s a very good friend of mine, she’s had a lot of things going on in the past year or so and the most recent was a bit of a niggle. It’s great to see her back from that and playing some good squash, but hopefully I can stop her from doing that, which is the goal.”
Men’s top seed Marwan ElShorbagy overturned a 2-0 deficit and came back from match ball down to avoid a shock defeat against World No.38 Abdulla Mohd Al Tamimi from Qatar.
The fearless Al Tamimi made things incredibly uncomfortable for World No.5 ElShorbagy as he dazzled the spectators with some superb winners throughout.
However, it was like two different players walked onto court for the third game as the momentum shifted completely in ElShorbagy’s favour. The 28-year-old dictated the tempo as he came back to take two games without reply, before keeping Al Tamimi at bay when match ball down in the fifth to win by an 8-11, 9-11, 11-1, 11-7, 12-10 scoreline.
“Abdullah played very well today, he had a great tactic in the first two games,” said ElShorbagy.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be honest, I was expecting him to go shorter sooner than that and I should have been smarter, knowing that he can play differently. His coach in the US is smart and knows how to play against me, I guess. I should probably have thought about that tactic he would play, my brother does that really well against me, so I should have expected it a bit, but I’m really happy with how I came back after that.
“I told myself I have to fight. Nick [Matthew] and Danny [Massaro] haven’t seen me play here in a very long time, so I didn’t want to lose in the first match after a long time. It’s good, I’m happy to have both of them here, and I was looking at Danny and he was giving me that look [telling me] to breathe and giving me confidence.”
ElShorbagy will line up against Peruvian No.3 seed Diego Elias for a place in the title decider after Elias dispatched 2015 World Championship runner-up Omar Mosaad in straight games.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s World No.18 Ibrahim continued his incredible form so far at this tournament after he followed up his round two upset of No.2 seed Karim Abdel Gawad with a 3-0 dismantling of No.6 seed Mohamed Abouelghar.
Ibrahim will compete in the semi-finals of a PSA World Tour Silver event for the first time in his career after the unseeded 22-year-old, who is a senior at Princeton University, completed a spectacular 11-9, 11-5, 11-3 victory against World No.12 Abouelghar to continue his giant-killing run.
“I’m very happy that I’ve managed to get scalp after scalp,” said Ibrahim.
“I’m the underdog in each match. I never beat Abouelghar in practice and he’s so strong in tournaments too, so it’s a big win for me. I’m happy with the way I played every game and played the crucial points well.”
The women’s top seed, World No.7 Hania El Hammamy, kept her title challenge on track with a dominant display against Belgium’s Tinne Gilis, winning 11-4, 11-4, 11-1 in just 28 minutes.
The Egyptian was firing on all cylinders and gave her opponent no time to attack. She said: “I think I played really well today, I’m so happy with my performance.
“Playing against Tinne is never easy. Playing the Gilis family is not easy. I played [Tinne’s sister] Nele in the last tournament and this one against Tinne. It’s tough to be playing against someone who is improving constantly.”
2021 Manchester Open, National Squash Centre, Manchester, England.
 Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY) bt Abdulla Mohd Al Tamimi (QAT)
 Diego Elias (PER) bt  Omar Mosaad (EGY) 3-0: 11-5, 11-7, 11-6 (32m)
 Joel Makin (WAL) bt  Mazen Hesham (EGY) 3-2: 7-11, 12-10, 7-11, 11-6, 12-10 (82m)
Youssef Ibrahim (EGY) bt  Mohamed Abouelghar (EGY) 3-0: 11-9, 11-5, 11-3 (39m)
 Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY) v  Diego Elias (PER)
 Joel Makin (WAL) v Youssef Ibrahim (EGY)
 Hania El Hammamy (EGY) bt  Tinne Gilis (BEL) 3-0: 11-4, 11-4, 11-1 (28m)
Emily Whitlock (WAL) bt Coline Aumard (FRA) 3-0: 11-4, 12-10, 11-4 (34m)
 Tesni Evans (WAL) bt  Nele Gilis (BEL) 3-1: 11-7, 8-11, 11-8, 11-8 (53m)
 Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) bt Sivasangari Subramaniam (MAS) 3-0: 11-3, 11-9, 12-10 (34m)
 Hania El Hammamy (EGY) v Emily Whitlock (WAL)
 Tesni Evans (WAL) v  Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG)
Pictures courtesy of PSA