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Thursday, June 24, 2021

Shabana stardust on a magical night in England

Lee Hortonhttps://squashmad.com
Former Sun, Mirror, People and Sunday Express sports executive. Knows a bit about newspapers and the art of talking a good game. Brighter than some but a way to go to match others.

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The Maestro thrills as PSA stars launch charm offensive before British Open 

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Amr Shabana, the Maestro of squash, came, saw and conquered everyone at his first-ever exhibition event in England last night recruiting a whole new legion of fans left mesmerised and beguiled by the Egyptian superstar.

Shabs headlined a star-studded evening, billed as Shabana’s Shoot-out at Bishop’s Stortford Squash and Rackets Club in Hertfordshire, which also featured England stars Daryl Selby and Peter Barker as well as big-hitting Australian Cameron Pilley.

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The players are using the two-night sell-out event as part of their build-up to next week’s Allam British Open. Judging by their form last night, all four will be banging hard and running tough in Hull.

It was a return to home turf for Selbs, who began his career on the Stortford courts at the age of five. He helped stage the event – run by Off the Wall Squash. Tickets were sold out within hours of going on sale, testimony to the pulling power of the PSA tour in general, and Shabana in particular.

The four-times World Champion and current World number five was mesmeric as he and Selby thrilled the audience with squash laced with stardust. The heady combination of grueling points, humorous exchanges and magical racket craft was a joy.

Selby has never beaten Shabana on the pro circuit and was thrilled with the support and the match.

He said: “I started playing at this club 25 years ago so to play a four-times world champion on the court I started on is an amazing thing. I have been looking forward to this evening for quite a long time. To have such an enjoyable game with such a great crowd was something very special.”

He added: “Amr is a fantastic player to play against. He is a great guy and great professional. I have played him four or five times. I lost to him 3-2 in the last 16 when he won the World Championship in Kuwait but that’s the closest I’ve got to him.”

Shabana, 34, won 6-11, 11-7, 11-9, 9-11, 11-2 but few in the audience were concerned by the score. They were engrossed in the theatre and would have revelled in more.

The earlier match saw World Number eight Barker beat  Pilley 3-1 in another encounter that brought wild applause from the crowd, dazzled by the skill and fitness levels. Both players know how entertain at these events an had the audience eating out of their hands at the finish. 

The players head for the golf course today for another head-to-head battle that probably won’t carry the skill levels of last night but is bound to be equally competitive.

The evening was organised by Off The Wall Squash and tonight Selby will play Pilley and Shabana will take on Barker.

It was backed by Simplixity Travel Management, Remit Now and Nick Sheppard.

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Pictures by Tom Barley Photography

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