From GLENN MACDONALD (Chronicle Herald sport, Halifax)
On a stage that has hosted the likes of Pavarotti and Belafonte, it was Hisham Ashour who put on a brilliant, albeit short, performance.
Ashour opened the seventh annual Bluenose Squash Classic on Wednesday with a convincing victory over 2007 Bluenose champion Shahier Razik in a glass court constructed on the stage of Dalhousie’s Rebecca Cohn Auditorium.
Ashour, a 2011 Bluenose finalist who’s ranked 14th in the world, won 11-3, 11-4 and led the third game 2-0 before Razik had to retire with a hamstring injury. But the Egyptian, who’s seeded third for the tournament, wasn’t rejoicing in the victory over the No. 1-ranked Canadian.
“Shahier is like a brother to me and I feel bad for him, especially here in Canada in front of this crowd,” said the Cairo native. “It doesn’t feel really nice when you beat somebody very close to you and is injured.”
Ashour was dominant from the get-go. He scored the first six points of the first game and built a 10-1 lead. In the second, Razik couldn’t match Ashour’s quickness and aggressive shot-making. During a sidewall rally, Razik looked to catch Ashour out of position, but the speedy Ashour used some clever back wall shots to keep the rally alive.
“From the first point, I was on, my game was on,” Ashour said, snapping his fingers.
“This gives me confidence for the week. I feel confident for tomorrow, not because of what happened but what I felt on the court. The temperature’s good, the ball’s not too bouncy, I know what it takes to take a good shot.”
Following the second game, Razik had to take an injury break and had his upper leg taped. Limping noticeably, the Toronto resident laboured through the first two rallies of the third game but couldn’t continue.
“I was coming off a groin injury and I don’t think the muscle was strong enough yet,” said the 34-year-old Razik, who was born in Cairo. “I probably over-compensated with my hamstring too much and I felt it go in the third rally of the match.
“I had been out of action the last two tournaments but I had been playing and practising over the past week and feeling better and better every day. But it’s different in a match situation. You can control a few variables in practice but in a match you have to let it all out. It was too risky to go on.”
Ashour advances to today’s quarter-finals against Stephen Coppinger of South Africa. Coppinger swept Calgary’s Andrew Schnell 11-6, 11-8, 11-2 in
Round 1 action Wednesday.
In other matches, top seed Amr Shabana of Egypt handled England’s Chris Simpson 11-9, 12-10, 11-4, second-ranked Laurens Jan Anjema of the Netherlands got past Australia’s Cameron Pilley 11-7, 12-10, 7-11, 11-8 and and No. 4 Daryl Selby of England topped Mexico’s Cesar Salazar 11-6, 11-3, 11-8. Julian Illingworth of the U.S. edged Montreal’s Shawn Delierre 11-2, 9-11, 10-12, 12-10, 11-9, Thierry Lincou of France bested New Zealand’s Martin Knight 11-2, 11-9, 11-4 and Spain’s Borja Golan swept past Jan Koukal of the Czech Republic 11-5, 11-4, 11-7.
The annual tournament, which had been held at The Tower at Saint Mary’s University for the first six years of the event, switched to the Dalhousie Arts Centre and a portable, all-glass court erected on the Cohn stage.
Ashour looked like a natural in the theatre setting. Following his match, he cracked a few jokes and did a squash demonstration for the crowd, made up mostly of schoolchildren.
“I enjoyed the court, it was nice to play on it,” the 29-year-old said. “And the crowd is great. They are interested in the game and they understand how good this game is.
“It’s the best game in the world,” he told the crowd. “It’s like chess but at 100 miles per hour.”