Semi-Finals at the O2

Semi-Finals at the O2

[16] Nour El Sherbini (Egy) bt [5] Raneem El Weleily (Egy) 14/12, 7/11, 11/4,11/9 (40m)
[1] Nicol David (Mas) bt [3] Laura Massaro (Eng)  11/5, 11/8, 11/4 (39m)

[4] Ramy Ashour (Egy) bt [1] James Willstrop (Eng)  8/11, 11/6, 11/6, 11/8 (59m)
[3] Nick Matthew (Eng) bt [6] Peter Barker (Eng)  11/5, 11/8, 11/6 (45m)


I feel it’s one of those matches I’ll probably talk about one day, stating “I was there”. Like when JK was finally defeated by Ross, or when Rachael took the British Open title on a plunge/nick shot against Nicol. I was there.

Like James says, he didn’t play his best squash, but that was not the case at the start. His squash was squeezed away from him really. He played so well in the first game, dominating Ramy, who made as usual far too many errors, 6 to be precise in that first game that he lost 11/8 in still 16m of very hard work.

That game was crucial I think. Because Ramy was down 3/8, and started to go for mad retrieving, producing 4 mega/marathon/ridiculous rallies along the way, which I think damaged James both mentally and physically. Because Ramy went for impossible retrieving. I mean, impossible. Shots that were definite winners, and that he saved, three, four times, before anihilating James. All the questions that James was asking, Ramy had ten answers. And that must have hurt the Englishman, who had to start doubting. And although James won it, I think that was the turning point/key.

In the second, Ramy cruised to 9/3. James was as white as it comes, his face drained, and he just didn’t show up for that one. The third looked like it was going to be the same, 9/1 for Ramy, when suddenly, James changed his tactics completely, and lobbed every shot. I mean each and every one of them. Ramy, surprised, only took the game 11/6, in 11m.

The fourth was really an amazing one. Having now found the right tactic, James was slowing down the pace Wael El Hindi style. Taking so much time between the serve, as he seemed to had trouble with his breathing. Looked to me that he was suffering form the flu or something. Plus, hitting the ball on the front wall before serving, banged his head (voluntarily) against the back wall!!! Completely out of character. But he kept going, and although he looked absolutely knackered to me, he just dug in, and dug in. Typical James.

3/3. 6/6. 7/7. James’ tactics were starting to affect Ramy, who was tinning again (6 in that game) and I could feel Wagih, the Egyptian coach, jumping more and more off his seat, getting more and more animated bless him, asking “why??” every time Ramy would play a shot that he didn’t think was the good one, or “yes!!” when he was. He could be French I tell you emotion-wise…

And suddenly, we have James flying around the court, trying desperately to dig those shots out of the backwall. Once. Twice. Three times. Every time, he fails. Ramy now knows he is the winner. He has the belief that he could do it, that he is doing it. The atmosphere is electric, the crowd is going as animated as James’s becoming whiter.

And the Egyptian finally does it. With a stunning crosscourt winner, the Artist closes the match, breaking a lot of English hearts tonight. Wagih jumps in the air yet again, flies to embrace Ramy, and the whole of the Egyptian community rejoices with their champion. Ramy is in the Final of the Allam British Open after a monumental of a match.

It was written. Mektoub.

“It probably won’t go down as my best performance ever, my length was poor, I wasn’t hitting lines, and against a player such as Ramy, it was not going to be good enough. I really wasn’t happy on there, I felt I couldn’t run a ball to the back, I clipped my shots, played loose shots.

“And to be honest, I got really frustrated, because I couldn’t produce the accuracy. And that is all credit to him. I really mean it, I’m not saying that I played badly, so he won, it’s really the opposite, I played badly because he forced me to.

“Only little satisfaction, I gave it everything. It was just not good enough.”That last shot is pure genius, to be able to play such a shot on the match ball of the semis of the British Open, I love it! I hate to lose, I really hate to lose, but there are moments where you can only turn round, shake the hand of your opponent, and say “too good”.

James Willstrop

“James is such a great player, he is the world number one, and I had to raise my game to come close to him. And I really want to thank the crowd for their support, both to James and myself.

“After the first game – we’ve already established that I’m not well in the head – so I was trying to push away the bad thoughts in my head. Because of the crowd, they were fantastic, I wanted to play well for them, and raise to the occasion.

“I don’t know if my win comes from my movement, but it is true that squash is all about footwork, not about playing nicks. What I know is that it was not easy, but win or lose, I always enjoy it, and I keep coming back and have fun, I guess that’s the case for a lot of people watching this!

“Beating the world number 1 is giving me a lot of confidence, it’s a big boost. It was a very good match, and I would like to thank all the people that have been helping to put this tournament on, in particular Dr Allam, it’s been such a great event. Thanks ever so much.”

Ramy Ashour 

Matthew back in the final

If the second men’s semi-final was a little anti-climactic compared to the first, that’s to take nothing away from the level of performance turned in by defending champion Nick Matthew.

He took charge of the match from the outset, and try as he might Peter Barker couldn’t repeat last night’s heroics which saw hime put out second seed and former champion Gregory Gaultier.

So Matthew will face Ramy Ashour in a repeat of their El Gouna final last month, which Ashour won 3/1. For the Englishman a third British Open title is the incentive, for Ashour a first is incentive enough. For the crowd, a treat is surely in store.

“I’m really happy with the way I started the game. Yesterday, I was not as quick as my opponent to start with, so I was more conscious about it today. I knew that Peter had a very tough match yesterday, a very emotional one, not just physical.

“Well, although I am the defending champion, it doesn’t feel like it, it was 2009, different venue. And I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr Hallam for bringing the British Open back, and in such an amazing venue.

“While I was warming up before my match, I watched a bit of Ramy/James, but only saw the first two as after that, I needed to stay in my little bubble, but it looked like a brutal match.

“Ramy is in a great form, and tomorrow is bound to be a big match. I’m excited, I’m in the British Open final!!!!”

Nick Matthew

“Nick was spot on in his analysis at the end, yesterday took a lot out of me emotionally, I didn’t go to sleep until 4am, and you turn up the following day, and you’ve got to do it all again.

“Physically, I didn’t feel too bad, but I was a bit flat really. And Nick played perfectly from a tactical point of view. People often talk about Nick for his mental strength or his physical abilities, too often, they forget about his tactics.

“The first and the second games were the key and if I started to come back in thesecond he was just playing too well.”

Peter Barker

Sherbini is the youngest finalist

Nour El Sherbini continued her remarkable run as she beat fellow Egyptian Raneem El Weleily to become the youngest-ever British Open women’s finalist.

One of them was sure to become the first-ever Egyptian women’s finalist, and it was the 16-year-old Shernini who took the first step, taking a nip and tuck first game 14/12. A five minute delay as Nour had the knee that started bleeding yesterday bandaged again, and El Weleily, 23, started the second well and struck back to level 11/7.

Sherbini raced through the third 11/4 in just four minutes, firing in those drops and volley drops she loves so much.

The fourth was close all the way, but from 9-all two unforced errors came from Raneem’s racket and Sherbini was in the final.

“I’m so tired after that match! There was a lot of pressure but I just had to relax and try to play my game, and I managed to feel very relaxed on court, my game was working well.

“Now I’ll just try to believe I’ve really won, enjoy the function tonight and get ready for the final tomorrow …”

Nour El Sherbini

“I can’t find any words, that’s good sign, isn’t it… No words can describe what I feel…”

Atef El Sherbini (father)

“Too much pressure on myself, but she played really well, she had me tight. I found it difficult today to put the ball to the back, and I couldn’t play high either, as she is tall and was volleying everything. I just couldn’t play my game today.

“It’s not a good day for me, but a great day for Egypt….”

Raneem El Weleily

Fram’s impressions

Not sure you are aware, but when two players of the same country play against each other, the national coaches are not allowed to help their players between the games. So today, it was Nour’s dad whowas helping on one side, and Reeme, Raneem’s mother on the other side.

What struck me today was Nour’s authority and calm on there. Absolutely not troubled with the crowd, the occasion or the outcome, the BabyPlayer just went on there with a game plan well in place, attack, attack, lob when it’s not working and attack a bit more.

When at the end of the first game, her knee got a little scrape, I thought that might alter her concentration. Not a bit. And when in the last part of the fourth, that very amateurish bandage although placed by a professional started to slide dangerously to the lower part of the knee, I thought it could trouble her still. Absolutely not for a moment.

I feared for her that the blood would come through, and force her to concede the game, but nope, she won the game and match just fast enough for it not to slide low enough.

The emotions were running high at the end, I tell you. I was sitting next to Nour’s coach and dad. The intense joy, the incredulity that their little girl was in the final was palpable. While on the other side, Raneem showed her professionalism as usual, by talking to me through her tears. Merci ma belle.

David through to a fifth final

Sherbini’s opponent in the final will be in familiar territory, after top seed Nicol David beat the last remaining English hope Laura Massaro in straight games to move into her fifth British Open final.

The Malaysian seemed to be able to control the pace of her opponent and the match, taking the first game with a run of points from 3-all. The second game was much more contested, although it was still the World Champion who seemed to be dictating the pace of the game, and this time  she pulled clear  from 5-all to double her advantage 11/9.

Nicol was in charge from the outset of the third, Laura did a few “c’mon” self-admonishments, but to no avail as Nicol kept it tight, kept it controlled, and closed it out 11/4.

“At the start, yes, I was a bit nervous, I had to get the feel, you want to stay strong, but you try and force it, and the more you force it, the less you get it. After playing about 3, 4 points, I just played, let it happened, and it went into place, and I started to feed off the atmosphere.

“Laura fills the court when she plays, and she was getting very comfortable with the height of the court, and I knew she was going to slow the pace down. So I had to make things happen, and make sure I speeded it up. Then she started to go for too much, I got my confidence from there, and build on it.

“Also, she had a lot of hard matches to get to the semis, so maybe she was getting a bit tired in the end. But she has had some much experience playing against me, she knows how to take advantage of my loss of focus moments, so I was conscious that every point, every rally, every shot was important. Finally, everything came together.”

Nicol David

“I’m still working with Phil Whitlock, I speak with him every day on the phone, and I go and work with him as much as I can, but I can’t have someone with me all the time, first it costs money, and second, when my husband Danny is around, who knows me better than him, how to speak with me, how to advise and support me when I need to.

And also, I won Cleveland and Singapore on my own, I trust my own ability, you can’t always have somebody there..

“I felt that Nicol played really well today. I have played her enough to know that I have to move her to the front, unfortunately, although I didn’t feel nervous, I seem to hit the tin a lot.

“Physically, it was hard work to reach the semis, and as I had to recover from a few injuries, I just couldn’t do the full preparation I would have like to do for this tournament. And if yesterday, I played well, and my fitness was not an issue, today, when I tried and raised my game, it was one. I just couldn’t stay with her today.

“Hopefully, now I’ve got my body right, I can have a solid summer training, and come back strong for next season.”

Laura Massaro

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