Saturday – Semi-Finals Preview

Saturday – Semi-Finals Preview

[5] Raneem El Weleliy (Egy) v [16] Nour El Sherbini (Egy)
[1] Nicol David (Mas) v [3] Laura Massaro (Eng)

[1] James Willstrop (Eng) v [4] Ramy Ashour (Egy)
[3] Nick Matthew (Eng) v [6] Peter Barker (Eng)

It’s the weekend at the O2 and the weather, as well as the squash, has been getting ever warmer ready for a quartet of hot semi-finals at the O2.

First up are the women’s semi-finals, and the first match guarantees an Egyptian finalist. Both former world junior champions, Raneem El Weleily and Nour El Sherbini are no strangers to each other, and increasingly no strangers to the later stages of major tournaments.

El Weleily, at 23, has been fulfilling her promise over the last 18 months as she moves into he upper echelons of the women’s game but has yet to win a really big title, while Sherbini, just 16, seems to be making rapid strides towards the top ten and is the youngest British Open women’s semi-finalist, ever.

El Weleily has won both their previous meetings, but both were back in 2010 in the early rounds of the Malaysian and World Opens, and a lot has changed since then, for both of them.

Nicol David has certainly won major titles, sweeping all before her for the last six years, a fixture as world number one with six world titles already to her name. There has been the occasional blip of course, and Laura Massaro, freshly recrowned as the British National Champion, is one of the few who can claim to have inflicted some of those blips onto the Malaysian superstar.

Massaro’s two wins, in Singapore and Cleveland in 2011, have to be set against 14 win for Nicol including their last three encounters, but Nicol knows the danger and Massaro, whose determination is legend, knows she can win.

Then it’s the men’s semi-finals, which feature three Englishmen – the same three who contested the same stage of the last British Open in 2009 – plus another Egyptian, Ramy Ashour.

World number one and top seed James Willstrop has accumulated major titles at a fast rate of knots recently, but still lacks a British Open title, having lost in three finals after having match balls in both the 2008 and 2009 finals.

Ramy Ashour, like Willstrop, can lay claim to be a former world junior champion and the holder of several major titles. In Ashour’s case he also has a World Open to add to the mix, but perhaps more crucially he can reflect on a 14-5 winning record in their head to head meetings.

Willstrop played superbly to win in the final of the North American Open in February, and will want to make amends for an unsatisfactory final in El Gouna which he conceded to Ashour in the third game. Ashour, if his head is right, will start favourite, Willstrop will desperately want another shot at a British Open final.

Nick Matthew has only been in two British Open finals, but the double world champion has won both of them, the last one a marathon 12-10 in the fifth against Willstrop in 2009.

He will be perhaps surprised to be facing England team-mate Peter Barker for the right to contest a third, but was no doubt as delighted as the rest of the England supporters with Barker’s late-night heroics in beating Gregory Gaultier in the semi-finals.

In all competitions Matthew has won 20 of their 21 meetings. In PSA matches only it’s a little better at 15-1, but Barker’s sole win is slap in the middle chronologically, Hong Kong 2010. That means that Matthew has won all seven of their PSA meetings since, 10 if you count Commonwealth Games and National Championships.

So the odds are stacked against Barker, but he beat the odds yesterday, and declared at the end that he wasn’t ready to go home yet. The trouble may be that Matthew probably doesn’t want to make his somewhat longer trip to Sheffield yet, either.

As they always say at the O2 (they must do, surely) … stay tuned …