Today it was the top half of the Men’s $155k PSA draw and the Women’s $95k bottom half.[note]  Annie Au (Hkg) bt Alison Waters (Eng) 9/11, 7/11, 11/9, 11/9, 11/7 (59m)
 Nour El Sherbini (Egy) bt  Madeline Perry (Irl) 11/6, 4/11, 5/11, 11/3, 11/5 (45m)
 Raneem El Weleily (Egy) bt  Dipika Pallikal (Ind) 11/4, 8/11, 11/4, 7/11, 11/7 (51m)
 Jenny Duncalf (Eng) bt  Donna Urquhart (Aus) 11/2, 11/13, 11/4, 12/10 (45m)
 Amr Shabana (Egy) bt Olli Tuominen (Fin) 12/10, 11/4, 11/4 (32m)
 Ramy Ashour (Egy) bt Borja Golan (Esp) 7/11, 3/11, 11/9, 11/1, 11/6 (49m)
 Mohamed El Shorbagy (Egy) bt Adrian Grant (Eng) 12/10, 11/4, 11/8 (37m)
 James Willstrop (Eng) bt Alister Walker (Bot) 9/11, 11/7, 11/7, 11/5 (79m) [/note]
Some marathon women’s matches – and one big upset – at the O2
On paper it may not have been an upset that seventh seed Annie Au beat wildcard Alison Waters, but the former world number three has shown great form in her comeback from an extended injury layoff, and when she took the first two games 11/9, 11/7, no-one was particularly surprised.
But the Hong Kong girl fought back, finding the drop and cut winners she likes so much, aided by the cood court, and occasional errors from Waters didn’t help her own cause. Au levelled 11/9, 11/9, then took a good start to the fifth which Waters couldn’t close down as a delighted Annie went through to the quarter-finals.
Two five game wins in a row for 16-year-old Nour El Sherbini as the Egyptian made the quarter-finals with an up and dow performance to beat fourth seed Madeline Perry. Sherbini was well on top in the first game, putting in dropshots and cutting away volleys almost at will as she took it 11/6.
But Perry, over twice her opponent’s age, stepped up the pace noticeable from the outset of the second, pinned her opponent to the back of the court and maintained control over the next two games to take the lead 11/5, 11/4.
But it turned out to be a game of three thirds as Sherbini found her shots again from he beginning of the fourth and kept playing them for the next two games, not allowing Perry the opportunity to dominate as she had done for two games. Leads of 5/1 in the fourth and 7/1 in the fifth were converted 11/3 and 11/5 and Sherbini was in the quarters.
Raneem El Weleily started the evening session with another Egyptian win, coming through an up and down encounter where she and Dipika Pallikal each scored runs of points to finally triumph in five, 11/4, 8/11, 11/4, 7/11, 11/7 (51m).
England’s Jenny Duncalf also had a bit of an up and down evening, although in her case it was more up than down as she beat Australian Donna Urquhart in four games. Dominating the first 11/2, Duncalf went 6/2 up in the second before Urquhart found any sort of rhythm, but once she did, the Aussie battled away as she does and took the game 13/11.
Duncalf resumed control in the third, taking it 11/4, failed to re-establish that control in the fourth, but still managed to save two game balls before taking it 12/10 much to her own relief.
“I felt really good on there for most of that match, but at times it was really tense,” admitted the winner. “I really like the court, it rewards a good shot and it’s great to play in a setting like this – I hope I can carry on winning and play some more!”
A good day for the Egyptians at the Open
The Egyptian fifth seed, looking for a first British Open title to complete his collection, was in impressive form for the next two and a half games, winning 12/10, 11/4, 11/4 in around half an hour.
Ashour had seemed a little lethargic up to that point, but the urgency of the situation brought out the best in him as he started playing as only he can to level the match in style. He led early in the fifth, was pegged back to 5-all, but pulled away again to survive a real scare.
Mohamed El Shorbagy, enjoying a busy week as he mixes his matches with exams at Bristol University, kept the Egyptian bandwagon rolling as he beat England’s Adrian Grant in straight games, pulling away from 8-all in the first, consolidating a good lead in the second and again pulling clear at the end of the third for a 12/10, 11/4, 11/8 win before dashing back to Bristol.
Top seed James Willstrop was the only non-Egyptian men’s winner of the day, and he had to work hard for his 3/1 win over his familiar foe Alister Walker, 79 minutes of hard work in fact, with a lot of safe play and a lot of decisions required of the referees – mainly resulting in lets.
The Botswanan took the lead 11/9 after a 31-minute first game, and although Willstrop levelled 11/7 he found himself behind again in the third. A run of points brought him level at 6-all, and another five in a row saw him take the lead, carrying that momentum into the fourth which he took 11/5.[hr]
ALISON UNDER PRESSURE
As we were driving to the venue, Alison talked a bit about this and that, nothing precise, but I could sense that she was a bit worried. The fact that she had to fight extremely hard against Wee Wern was I think not only a worrying factor for her from a physical point of view, but also from a mental one.
“Am I good enough”? Normally, she would have a lot of matches won to comfort her in the fact that yes, she is good enough to beat anybody in the world. But as she hasn’t have had much competition for obvious reasons (she was injured just in case you were on the moon), she didn’t have so many marks to refer too….
Both girls were nervous in the first game. Lots of short rallies, misshits, errors. Slowly, Alison imposed her game to lead 8/3, only to be caught up by an Annie starting to relax and enjoying the dead court to place her lethal drop shots. 9/9, and but two tins from the Hong Kong girl give the first game to Alison.
The second was much quicker, and it looked like the Englishgirl was going to take that match painlessly. But a bit like she did yesterday in her first round against Gaby Huber, Annie grew in confidence and relaxed more and more, up 7/3. As a reverse from the first game, Ali came back to 7/7, and stuck in there, 9/9. This time, no tins, and it’s two wining shots for HK, 11/9.
The fourth is as tight as it comes, nothing between the players, and the longest game, 12m. Alison, that hasn’t made any error in that 4th, tin at 10/9 game ball for Annie. It’s all about pressure, isn’t it…
Annie takes the advantage mentally, coming back from 2/0, and take a rocket start, 5/0. Ali will spend a lot of the energy she’s got left to come back to 5/5, and although she’ll still fight for every shot, Annie has not the physical ascendant, and will close the match down 11/7.[quote] “It’s always a tough match when you play a top girl! She is coming back in good form, and although her ranking has dropped, she is still playing top 10 standard! And today, I was nervous playing her, as she’s in great form.
The court is OK, a bit cold, so you’ve got to warm up a bit longer before the match. It’s sometimes difficult to see the ball because of the reflection of the sun sometimes, but the audience is really cheering, so overall it’s really good.
She is quite a steady and solid player, very accurate at the back, so I was stuck in there for most of the two first games. In the 3rd, I was able to slow down the pace, and when she wanted to speed up and hit hard and low, I was able to lob and make the ball softer, and then play a drop shot when she was giving me a loose ball.
The 4th was in my mind the turning point, I was down I think 8/9, came back 9/9, then got a stroke, 10/9. That made a huge impact I think. In the 5th, I had probably more energy because she had a very hard match yesterday, and I was fresher…” [/quote]
LEGEND AT WORK
Legend Shabana meant business today when he stepped on court, as we commented with a few players that happened to be around me. But Olli was not here to play extras, and played his trademark game, hit low, hit low, and then, when that doesn’t work, hit harder and lower!
Shabs tried and match him, but at that game, Olli is the best probably, and the Egyptian was lucky to take that game, finding some stunning perfect length shots at the back of the court, finishing it with a lovely attacking boast. 12/10.
To be noted, how many times Shabana called his shots not up. You can set your honesty barometer by that man. Young players, if you are reading this, take notes. You can win everything and still call double bounces. How do you want to be remembered as? The Cheat? Or the Legend. Up to you.
Maybe I played too many crosscourts in the second, but he is still lethal when you give him an opening.
The first game was good for me, it was close, shame I couldn’t push enough, that I couldn’t grab it. Maybe it would have made a difference, I don’t know. I would have liked to play better at the end of the 2nd and 3rd game. But he was such in a great form today….
“I think I played very well, but in the first game, he played very hard low shots, which normally I wouldn’t have minded, but Olli is one of the best in the world to play at such a fast pace, so I’m lucky that the court suited me and that I took that first game. It made a huge difference that I could take that one in. If I hadn’t, I would have been on that court much longer.
This is the best British Open I’ve played. I always play better when the tournament is better. Here, the hotel is close, court is good, easy, you feel comfortable. The easiest to make it for the players, the better they perform. If you don’t, bad hotel, bad court, bad conditions, I want to go home. Good conditions, I want to stay and win!
I am playing well at the moment, and on a good day, I’m not worse than anybody else. I’ve got my chances against anybody….”
Amr Shabana [/quote]
“I was playing well at the start, playing lots of drops, but in the second and third I started playing too safe and got caught at the back of the court. I got my confidence back by playing lots of drops, I wasn’t dropping enough and it’s my game to drop from everywhere I don’t know why I changed!
“I knew I was playing well, and I was confident that I could win, so once I started playing my game again, putting her deep in the back and then dropping, my confidence came back.
“It’s a really nice arena, it’s quite cold, but not as cold as Qatar! I was very excited about playing here, playing in an atmosphere and venue like this really makes you want to play your best so I’m happy that I played well.”
Nour El Sherbini
ALL IN THE ARTIST’S HEAD
How to write what I’m about to write with sounding disrespectful to Borja? It’s just, well, I feel like I could basically write a book about Ramy, I seem at times to be able to read his mind and body language, and well, it’s like I could 95% of times write the report before the match is over!!!! I know, it sounds extremely pretentious, a bit of a joke it is.
Ramy came on court with something troubling him. I don’t know what it was, but I bet you my keyboard that it has got nothing to do with the tournament. Just worries. And he was not ready for the match at all. He had the wrong shoes on, he changed his shirt as the ref called 15s, he was not hitting the ball during the warm up, just playing with it, being a little butterfly bless him.
Now, on the other hand, if Ramy wasn’t there, Borja was. O. MY. GOD. What that boy attacked, hit and run was just surreal!!! It’s like he suddenly changed his nationality to Egyptian- a bit like Daryl on Monday really. It has to be a game plan, attack, attack, attack, take him short, twist and turn him. And Borja did just that. To PERFECTION.
And it nearly worked. Borja scared the heck out of Ramy, who eventually, after losing the first in 6m, the 2nd 11/3 in 7m, decided that he needed all his neurones if he wanted to beat that players that kept on putting the ball where he wasn’t!!!!
The rest, well, is classical Ramy. In the 3rd, despite Borja having the momentum and sticking to HeadInTheMatchAtLast Ramy, as in, 3/3, 4/4, 6/6, 8/8, the Spaniard just couldn’t stop the tsunami Ramy. Having made very few errors up to that point, Borja made 4 in that game only, and that made the difference really. 11/9 Ramy.
The fourth, Borja’s head is gone, along with the legs, up to 4/0 in the 5th, where he gets his second wind. The fight is on again, but Ramy won’t be denied, and squeezes any belligerence from his opponent not at the front, but by sending him to the back corners, again and again. 11/6 in 10m in the fifth.
Another day at the office for Ramy….
Ramy Ashour [/quote]
Raneem more up than down
Raneem El Weleily made a great start to her match with Dipika Pallikal, racing to a 9/1 lead before taking the lead 11/4, but the Indian bounced back to convert an 8/3 lead in the second – only 11/8 though after a few errors let Raneem back in with a sniff – and after little more than 15 minutes we were into a best of three.
With both players unafraid to go for their shots, the match continued with first one then the other taking runs of of points – 8/1 for Raneem in the third was soon converted 11/4, but in the fourth Dipika timed her run better, countering Raneem’s spurt to take it 11/7 with five points in a row.
It was tense, often nervy stuff, and more of the same in the decider – from 3-all Raneem went to 8/3, Dipika came back to 7-8, but the last three points, and along with it the quarter-final place, belonged to a relieved Egyptian.
“At first, I thought great, the court is cold, but then, the ball sorted of died, and I had to do an awful lot of work to get it to the back, and being very patient.She is a real fighter, and it’s not true, I don’t like 5 setters, it’s a malicious rumour!!!! I think that my battle yesterday helped me from a mental point of view against Amanda actually…
I was really short to start with, but she was not really in the match to start with, but she came back strong in the second, and the ball went really cold, I think that suits her more than me. Actually, when the ball went out of court, I thought, great, the new ball will be better, but then, they found the ball [Greg Gaultier did actually] and I though, ah, too bad.
In the second, I was really mad against myself as I was up 7/2, 8/4 up, and let her come back at 8/8, but after the 4th, I really got nervous, because I just wasn’t sure I was going to be able to put the ball at the back. And that was scary thought for me.
What made the difference in the end was I think the fact I hit the ball harder, without really caring if it was a perfect shot or not, I was$just aiming for the back corners. We had two huge rallies, I lost the first one, then got the second, and that was crucial.
I’m so happy, so happy that I’m in the quarters of the British Open. Happy, but not satisfied, if you see whet I mean.”
Raneem El Weleily
EXAM-ING AND FURIOUS….
Well, only if you’ve been reading my articles for a while will you be able to see where I’m going there. A few years back, we were playing the Sky tournament in Egypt, it was the end of the Ramadan, and Mohamed was fasting (from the raising on the sun to sundown), no food, no water. And he played Olli around 4pm, the worst of times for him. And he just came off blasting from the start, and pushed, and pushed, playing very fast. He won 3/0. Amazing. Hence my title at the time, Fasting and Furious.
Exam-ing and furious. As the Egyptian was doing a Business exam Monday morning in Bristol, to arrive and play at 6pm against Mathieu Castagnet, today, he finished playing around 8pm only to be driven back to Bristol, exam tomorrow morning at 9am….
Not that I know much about game plan and all, but like Olli at the time, Adrian I think maybe wasted an opportunity to slow down the pace and make the rallies longer. When he was doing so, he was often winning the point…
But most of the time, the pace was fast, they were both hitting hard and low, which made the match really entertaining, but more in Mohamed’s favour than not. Maybe the pressure of playing home, in front of friends and family really got to him?
Still a very hard first game, could have gone either way, but then again, Adrian is so used to win from 2/0 down, I really didn’t think it was going to be that determinant. But in fact, it was. It gave Mohamed wings, and Adrian just couldn’t stop the London/Bristol fast train today….[quote] “Well, considering that I have an exam tomorrow morning at 9am in Bristol, I’m really happy to win this match! I’m so happy to get to the quarters of the British Open for the first time, and also, so happy that it’s my rest day tomorrow! That tournament has worked really well around my exams, for which I’m really grateful….
I came out of my match on Monday saying that it was my experience that saved me there. But against somebody like Adrian, 10 years older than me, I knew that experience would be on his side, and that it was with my squash only that I would win.
I was really lucky in the first game, 12/10, it could have gone either way.I was surprised that he didn’t make the rallies last longer to be honest, I was dreading it, I thought he was going to push me physically as I come in the event with very little physical preparation.
But I was controlling the pace, maybe he fell into my game? He played fast, which suited me – not that I could hold it for long – but in the circumstances, that was the only way out for me! And I gave it a big push in the 3rd, to put it at the level of squash I needed to play.”
Mohamed El Shorbagy [/quote] [hr]
Like James said, not the nicest of matches. Would be interesting to watch the replay and see what really happened, when passions have calmed down. And analyse who was in the way, if more effort could have been done, or if there was involuntary blocking at some point.
But between the lets/stops, we had a great match, full of intense squash, mixing patient up and down with stunning fast pace, lots of attacking and hard volleying. Just to give you an idea, the last game, that James won 11/5, lasted 21m of hard work from both players.
There were a lot of balls I could have asked a let, but I just went threw, and played the ball, and I think that there were a lot of interference he could have played through. Yes, of course, there were moment I was in the way, so was he. But there is like an unwritten rule in squash, there always going to be a bit of contact, it’s to be expected. You are trying to find good lines, good areas to play the ball, and open the way….
Plus, he was getting into my back a lot pretty hard, which I think was not necessary. Ok, at the end, I also run into him, but I couldn’t help myself, it was my weight and momentum, and I apologise for it. But at no time do I recall any kind of attempt from his part to come and check on me, although he was pushing hard…
He is big, he is slow, and he doesn’t move out of the way. Nick had trouble with him, so has Karim. It’s not just me…
Today’s Mini-Gallery (lots more in the full Gallery)