Tuesday, April 23, 2024

WORLDS: Underdog Mo out to crash the show

Mohamed Elshorbagy gets in front of James Willstrop in Manchester
Mohamed Elshorbagy gets in front of James Willstrop in Manchester


Outsider Mohamed Elshorbagy needs no extra motivation for the task that presents itself today in Manchester as he faces No.2 seed Gregory Gaultier in the semi-finals of the World Championship.

The hard-hitting 22-year-old can simply cast his mind back almost 12 months ago when he came desperately close to winning the event in Qatar.

He overcame James Willstrop in the semi-finals and produced a phenomenal performance against fellow Egyptian Ramy Ashour in the final.

Elshorbagy finally succumbed 11-8 in the fifth game after a battle lasting 90 minutes. Ashour knew he had enjoyed a lucky escape. Elshorbagy knew he could have won.

One year on, and with an extra 12 months of experience of competition at the highest level, No.6 seed Elshorbagy has the confidence to know he can do better.

A resurgent Gaultier stands in his way, with the Frenchman at the top of the game and finally delivering the level of squash we have all known he is capable of when he can avoid the mental stumbling blocks that have tripped him up too many times in big matches.

It should be a classic confrontation.

So should the second semi-final in the top half of the draw which pitches top seed Ashour against England’s Nick Matthew, who is guaranteed to enjoy massive home support.

At 33, Matthew knows there may not be many more big occasions like this and he is determined to make the most of it.

His supreme fitness, aggression and athleticism is still carrying him along, and he would love to become the man who ends Ashour’s 49-match unbeaten run.

Matthew was the last man to beat him, in the final of the 2012 British Open, and a repeat today would provide a fitting book-end to the rivalry between these two players.

Often, Matthew’s confrontations with Willstrop have dominated domestic headlines, but his performances against Ashour have usually provided the barometer of global control in the PSA rankings.

Ashour, like the equally mercurial Jonathan Power before him, is unpredictable. He has admitted this week that he is learning how to match Matthew’s professionalism and attention to training, but he is clearly struggling with injuries.

At the top of his game, he plays with a fearless, flamboyant style. With a ready grin, he seems to enjoy his role of Smiling Assassin.

Dealing with his own internal gremlins often seems to present more of a challenge than many he faces on court. But his fear of injury is the main reason for changing his smile to a frown.

Here in Manchester, however, he is left with two days of serious business if he is to retain his world title.

He will need to keep the gremlins under control if he is to weather the expected storm from a fired-up Matthew.

Two outstanding matches are in prospect.

Semi-final line-up:
[1] Ramy Ashour (EGY) v [4] Nick Matthew (ENG)
[2] Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v [6] Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY)

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