Ramy Ashour, the strongest favourite to retain the world squash championship in two decades, began his title defence with a scare during which he almost went two games down.
The brilliantly gifted Egyptian has gone 45 matches unbeaten but slipped to a game and 8-10 down to Laurens Jan Anjema, the former top ten Dutchman, before winning his 46th by 10-12, 13-11, 11-3, 11-4.
Two tight little front court rallies on those two critical points in the second game got Ashour back to 10-all; had his control failed him on either occasion he would have been left with a mountain to climb.
The world champion fled from the arena after his fright, eventually to be cornered by only one journalist who elicited a brief description of his predicament.
“LJ (Laurens Jan) played very well – but it’s always like that. I have not had any player who didn’t play well against me for two or three years,” Ashour said.
“So that’s how it is. Every player plays his best against me, which is kind of hard for me, but at the same time it motivates me.”
Home hero Nick Matthew recorded one of the earliest wins. The No4 seed from Sheffield, bidding to become England’s first three-time winner of the title, despatched event debutant Zahed Mohamed, a 21-year-old qualifier from Egypt, 11-5, 11-4, 11-4.
The former world number one, now ranked four in the world, admitted later that he knew nothing of his opponent – and spent last night searching the internet for some background. But he later confided: “I feel in the best shape of my career.”
Fellow Yorkshireman James Willstrop, the third seed, also had a convincing opening win over a qualifier – beating compatriot Joel Hinds 11-4, 11-4, 13-11. England team-mates Matthew and Willstrop, who contested the 2010 final, are drawn in opposing halves of the draw.
16 years after making his first appearance in the event’s qualifying competition for the first time – ahead of any other player in the 2013 draw – Malaysia’s 33-year-old Ong Beng Hee rolled back the years by beating higher-ranked Egyptian Karim Abdel Gawad, 11 years his junior, 11-9, 11-9, 2-11, 10-12, 11-8 in 70 minutes.
“I think I played well in the first two, then went into my usual hibernation mode for two games – well, one and a half games,” said former world No7 from Penang. “I woke up at 7-1 in the fourth, thinking ‘you’re going to lose that one if you don’t do something fast’.
“It was nice to play somebody my ranking, at least I have a 50/50 chance,” added the Malaysian number one, now in the second round for the first time in four years. “But it’s still a strong quarters with Mosaad and Matthew. But with the baby due in April, I’d better win a few more!”
Two all-left-handed clashes produced mixed results for the hosts: Early in the day, in-form Londoner Adrian Grant took on Egyptian maestro Amr Shabana, the No8 seed who is a four-time winner of the trophy.
The 34-year-old from Cairo is making his first PSA Tour appearance since March – and showed his class with an 11-6, 11-7, 11-7 win over Grant to extend his career head-to-head record over the Englishman to 11-1.
But fellow London left-hander Peter Barker took his anticipated place in the second round after beating Ryan Cuskelly. But the seventh seed was taken to four games before taking out the Australian 11-4, 8-11, 11-4, 11-5 in 72 minutes.
“I started pretty well, to be honest – I knew it was going to be a tough match, he’s had a few good results and he’s knocking on the door of top 20 so he’s fresh, said Barker, a semi-finalist three years ago. “You just can’t take anyone for granted. I’m good mates with him as well, we shared at the last tournament, the US Open so I was well aware of him. He played really well in the second, I nearly got it back but then the third and fourth were good from my point of view.
“I had a really up and down year last year but I managed to stay in the top eight which was the bare minimum but hopefully I can push on this year. I’ve had a couple of decent tournament wins but physically I feel good and just enjoying being able to run.”
Spain’s ninth seed Borja Golan survived one of the longest matches in the history of the championship when he outlasted England’s Chris Simpson 11-9, 6-11, 9-11, 11-8, 11-5 in 110 minutes.
It was a courageous performance by Guernsey-born Simpson, the world No21, who had never before taken a game from the Spanish world No9 in two previous encounters.
“I played well, had my chances in the fourth and the first,” explained underdog Simpson later. “Think it came down to the fourth really – I was quite tired in the fifth, bit disappointed with how I faded physically. So obviously very disappointed at the moment, hopefully I can take some positives out of it.
“I played him about three weeks ago and lost in three so it’s encouraging to do a bit better – but, like any athlete, it’s hard to see that right now.”
There was another brave performance from an up-and-coming Englishman later when Londoner Adrian Waller established a 2/1 lead over sixth-seeded Egyptian Mohamed Elshorbagy, last year’s runner-up.
But world No6 Elshorbagy showed his class when he upped his game to close out the match 11-6, 6-11, 6-11, 11-7, 11-7 in 84 minutes.
“I am reading a book at the moment, called Winning Ugly – written by a tennis coach that never was a top player but knew how tactically to switch from losing to winning,” said the UK-based Egyptian. “And the first page of his book says ‘do you prefer to win ugly or to lose pretty???’
“Today, I know I didn’t win pretty. I won ugly, but I’m not taking a plane home tomorrow. And that’s what counts. I’m pretty proud of what I did, happy to get myself out of this situation.
“I had seen him play at the US Open, I knew so what to expect. I really put myself under tremendous pressure for this event. I was very nervous, and he was very clever, he slowed down the pace. And the more he slowed down the pace, the more I was nervous.
“So in the fourth, I just tried to make myself angry. Not against him. But I used all the opportunities I could to try and fire myself up. That’s what the book told me really!”
Waller, a tall 23-year-old from Enfield, added: “Played quite well tonight. It’s always difficult to play someone highly-ranked in the world, top 10 in the world. Got to a winning positions which was good to feel but just disappointed not to convert. Feel like I can complete with the top guys in the world – but it’s just having the opportunity to do that on a regular basis.”
A second qualifier later made it through to the second round when Australia’s Matthew Karwalski upset Egypt’s world No43 Mohd Ali Anwar Reda 11-2, 11-5, 11-5.
The world No54 from New South Wales now faces in-form Frenchman Gregory Gaultier, the No2 seed who defeated Danish qualifier Kristian Frost Olesen 11-7, 11-8, 11-6.
 Ramy Ashour (EGY) bt Laurens Jan Anjema (NED) 10-12, 13-11, 11-3, 11-4 (65m)
[Q] Fares Mohamed Dessouki (EGY) bt Alan Clyne (SCO) 9-11, 4-11, 11-8, 11-7, 11-9 (82m)
Mohd Nafiizwan Adnan (MAS) bt Mazen Hesham Ga Sabry (EGY) 11-8, 12-10, 4-11, 8-11, 13-11 (79m)
 Cameron Pilley (AUS) bt Campbell Grayson (NZL) 12-10, 11-8, 11-9 (48m)
 Alister Walker (BOT) bt [Q] Shaun le Roux (RSA) 11-8, 11-5, 13-11 (49m)
Saurav Ghosal (IND) bt Joe Lee (ENG) 11-5, 12-10, 11-3 (48m)
Henrik Mustonen (FIN) bt [Q] Jaymie Haycocks (ENG) 7-11, 11-8, 7-11, 12-10, 11-8 (84m)
 Peter Barker (ENG) bt Ryan Cuskelly (AUS) 11-4, 8-11, 11-4, 11-5 (72m)
 Amr Shabana (EGY) bt Adrian Grant (ENG) 11-6, 11-7, 11-7 (38m)
Mathieu Castagnet (FRA) bt Omar Abdel Meguid (EGY) 11-3, 10-12, 11-4, 7-11, 11-4 (78m)
Leo Au (HKG) bt [Q] Shahier Razik (CAN) 11-5, 11-8, 7-11, 11-9 (90m)
 Miguel Angel Rodriguez (COL) bt Gregoire Marche (FRA) 11-6, 11-7, 4-11, 11-9 (75m)
 Omar Mosaad (EGY) bt Christopher Gordon (USA) 11-6, 11-5, 11-8 (34m)
Ong Beng Hee (MAS) bt Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) 11-9, 11-9, 2-11, 10-12, 11-8 (70m)
Max Lee (HKG) bt Jonathan Kemp (ENG) 11-7, 13-11, 12-10 (39m)
 Nick Matthew (ENG) bt [Q] Zahed Mohamed (EGY) 11-5, 11-4, 11-4 (39m)
 James Willstrop (ENG) bt [Q] Joel Hinds (ENG) 11-4, 11-4, 13-11 (35m)
Tom Richards (ENG) bt Ben Coleman (ENG) 11-8, 11-7, 11-9 (53m)
Cesar Salazar (MEX) bt [Q] Steven Finitsis (AUS) 11-8, 4-11, 7-11, 11-9, 11-9 (75m)
 Borja Golan (ESP) bt Chris Simpson (ENG) 11-9, 6-11, 9-11, 11-8, 11-5 (110m)
 Simon Rosner (GER) bt [Q] Raphael Kandra (GER) 11-5, 11-5, 11-9 (57m)
Abdullah Al Muzayen (KUW) bt [Q] Andrew Wagih Shoukry (EGY) 11-9, 11-8, 12-10 (47m)
Omar Abdel Aziz (EGY) bt Julian Illingworth (USA) 11-8, 11-7, 11-7 (45m)
 Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY) bt Adrian Waller (ENG) 11-6, 6-11, 6-11, 11-7, 11-7 (84m)
 Karim Darwish (EGY) bt [Q] Nasir Iqbal (PAK) 11-9, 11-6, 11-5 (28m)
Olli Tuominen (FIN) bt [Q] Mohamed Abouelghar (EGY) 11-5, 4-11, 8-11, 11-8, 14-12 (74m)
Stephen Coppinger (RSA) bt [Q] Ammar Altamimi (KUW) 11-5, 11-5, 11-4 (30m)
 Daryl Selby (ENG) bt [Q] Charles Sharpes (ENG) 11-7, 11-5, 11-4 (35m)
 Tarek Momen (EGY) bt [Q] Eddie Charlton (ENG) 11-9, 11-6, 11-7 (39m)
Nicolas Mueller (SUI) bt Marwan Elshorbagy (EGY) 7-11, 12-10, 11-5, 12-10 (52m)
[Q] Matthew Karwalski (AUS) bt Mohd Ali Anwar Reda (EGY) 11-2, 11-5, 11-5 (32m)
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt [Q] Kristian Frost Olesen (DEN) 11-7, 11-8, 11-6 (47m)