Shabana & Ashour In
All-Egyptian Saudi Final
Top-seeded Egyptians Amr Shabana
and Ramy Ashour will contest the
final of the Saudi International
after coming through contrasting
semi-finals in the PSA Super Series
Platinum squash event in
Shabana, the world No1 from
Cairo who hasn't reached a PSA Tour
final since March, faced Australia's
world champion David Palmer.
For two and a half games, it couldn't
have been closer, as the pair went point
for point as they strove to reach the
final. Palmer took at 3-1 lead in the
first, but in a relatively cagey opening
game the score went 3-3, 4-4, 5-5 ... all
the way to 9-9 when the Australian earned
game ball with a deep volley. Shabana
saved that with a tight dropshot, but
faced another as Palmer powered another
volley deep into the back.
Defending champion Shabana saved that too
and went on to take the lead after 23
minutes to Palmer's visible
The second presented a similar tale, not
a point to separate them up to
seven-all. Three consecutive returns of
serve into the nick and Shabana led 9-8,
then he sent his opponent on courts
sprints to reach game ball and closed it
out with a drop that was just too tight.
Both were still playing measured squash,
generally content to wait for
opportunities to present themselves
rather than forcing the issue, but from
four-all in the third Shabana made a
break for home, firing in a series of
spectacular winners that left Palmer dead
and buried. The pick of the bunch was a
deft crosscourt flick to reach 9-4,
quickly followed by a volley kill and a
wrong-footing boast to wrap up the
"It's always a great performance to beat
David, he's a big guy, very strong and
very hard to beat," Shabana said after
his 11-10 (3-1), 11-8, 11-4 victory in 54
"There was nothing in it for the first
two games, I managed to save a couple of
game balls in the first which was very
"My shots were very crisp, I had a good
hit this morning when I felt good and it
paid off tonight, my shots were working
well. When I got a couple of points
ahead in the third I knew it was time to
push for a 3/0 win, and I had the
confidence to go for my shots and thank
God they came off," added Shabana, now in
his 24th PSA Tour final.
"It will be fun playing Ramy in the
final. He's just like a kid, out there
having fun - it should be a good match."
In the second semi, second seed Ashour
took on Gregory Gaultier, the
fourth seed who last month became
France's first ever British Open
The first game bore a remarkable
resemblance to the opening game of the
previous match - scorewise, at least.
Point-for-point to eight-all, one player
edging ahead to 10-8 only to be
The similarity ended there, however. The
crowd was treated to a feast of flicks,
lobs, drops, drives and boasts as two of
the most talented racket players on earth
pitted their skills against each other.
Fast and furious, tense and exciting.
Gregory Gaultier took the first, then, as
yesterday, succumbed 11-2 in the second
as Ramy Ashour's shot-making came to the
The Frenchman was much more comfortable
in the third, easing ahead from the
mid-point, moving easily and getting the
crowd worried as he reclaimed the lead.
Then Gaultier lost 11-2 again,
contributing to his own downfall with
The fifth game decider was 15 minutes of
talent and tension. Ramy led 4-1, Greg
recovered to 6-all, then 8-all. Greg
lunged after the ball into the back
corner and was left sprawling as Ramy put
easy winner to lead 9-8, then Greg hit
his return of serve out to gift Ramy two
The 20-year-old Egyptian only needed one.
A tin on his second shot spelled the end
for Gaultier, and sparked the
celebrations of the crowd.
"I felt that we were both playing in
patches, we were both up and down. I had
the lead 10-8 in the first and if I'd
taken that it would have helped my
confidence," said Ashour after the 10-11
(0-2), 11-2, 8-11, 11-2, 11-8 win in 68
minutes which takes him into the 11th
Tour final of his career, but his sixth
"I would have stepped the pace up. But I
had to play safe for a while after that,
get the feel of my shots, then, when I
could, I pushed as hard as I could.
Top Seeds Through In Saudi
The world's top four players will contest
the semi-finals of the Saudi
International after surviving
contrasting quarter-final clashes in the
PSA Super Series Platinum squash
Egypt's top seed Amr Shabana was
in no mood for another five-game
thriller, and once he had saved a pair of
game balls in the second he eased through
to an 11-7, 11-10 (2-0), 11-5 victory
over fifth seed Thierry Lincou.
The Frenchman needed brief treatment
following an accidental clash in the
third - after which he failed to gain a
"It was one of those matches that was
more on the physical side, it's not the
best technical squash I've ever played,
but every one of Thierry's shots is
technically perfect so it makes it very
hard for you – if I don't play a good
shot I'm in trouble," Shabana said
"I knew at 3-5 in the third that was the
time, because he's the king of the
comeback and if he had got back to 2/1 I
was not likely to win. Even though I
wasn't happy with my game, I am pleased
to be through to the semi-finals. This
is such a big tournament for us, and with
all the fans here we want to do well for
The defending champion will meet David
Palmer for a place in the final after
the Australian world champion turned in
"one of my best performances of the year"
to see off the challenge of England's US
Open Nick Matthew - who, by his
own admission, had only one brief good
spell during the match which enabled him
to take the second game.
"I knew it was going to be a tough match,
that I'd have to be at 110% to win this
one - but the schedule suited me this
week, I was fresh and well-prepared and
that was probably one of the best matches
I've played this year," said Palmer.
Another Egyptian who improved massively
on his previous performance was Ramy
Ashour, the 20-year-old No2 seed who,
in the words of his opponent Olli
Tuominen, "really ruled the game"
with a very impressive performance.
"Olli is such a fast player, my target
when I play him is to make him as tired
as I can," said the world No2 from
Cairo after his 11-6, 11-6, 11-7 victory
over the 15th seed from
Ashour will meet France's Gregory
Gaultier, who got the better of a
topsy-turvy encounter with Englishman
James Willstrop, winning 11-2, 2-11,
11-7, 11-9 in 65 minutes to set up a
repeat of their Super Series Finals
meeting in August.
"It's tough to keep the pace up for the
whole match, and it was a little up and
down for both of us," said fourth seed
Gaultier. "The third and fourth games
were very hard, he was very sharp today
and came back very strongly towards the
Olli Ousts El Hindi In Saudi
produced the only shock on the second day
of second round Saudi International
action when he upset eighth seed Wael
El Hindi to reach the quarter-finals
of the PSA Super Series Platinum
squash event in Al Khobar,
The determined No15 seed from Finland
battled for 61 minutes to overcome El
Hindi 11-7, 11-6, 11-10 (3-1) to reach
his fourth PSA Tour event
quarter-final this year.
Tuominen, 28, from Helsinki, will now
face Egypt's latest squash star Ramy
Ashour, the 20-year-old world number
two who was taken to four games by Ong
Beng Hee before beating the 16th
seed from Malaysia 11-9, 10-11 (0-2),
11-6, 11-5 in 63 minutes.
"That was very tough - I expected him to
play faster than me but he slowed it down
and slowed it down. I wasn't expecting
that at all," Ashour explained.
"I had to just keep playing my way and
learn to cope with what he was doing. I
learned a lot from that game today, a
lot," added the winner of five Tour
titles already this year.
In the all-English clash which opened the
day's play, Yorkshireman James
Willstrop beat his club, county and
national team-mate Lee Beachill
11-4, 11-6, 11-4 in 38 minutes.
"It's not the easiest or most enjoyable
matches to play, although it's always
fair game, but you just have to get on
with it," said Willstrop - who only
earlier this year secured the first ever
win over his close friend in years of
competition on an off the Tour.
"Lee wasn't moving so fluently, you could
see it wasn't there - but he hung in well
and made it hard for two games before he
dropped off in the third," said the
24-year-old sixth seed.
"I performed as well as I had to and
played some pretty decent squash. He's
done that to me so many times, so I'm not
going to get embarrassed to get one
Willstrop will face Frenchman Gregory
Gaultier in the quarter-finals for
the third time in three months. The
24-year-old fourth seed, winner of the
British Open title in September,
England team-mate Peter Barker,
the 14th seed, 11-7, 11-4,
"I've played him twice this year, he
fights for all the points and is a good
defender so you have to make your shots
count and that worked for me today,"
explained Gaultier, the world No3.
"Winning the British Open was a huge
thing for me, it's one of my main
targets. With Thierry already having won
the world championship and been number
one, it was nice to be the first to get
France. But you can't afford to dwell on
it too long, now I try to stay focussed
on my upcoming matches and events."
Shabana Tested By Darwish In
Egypt's world number Amr Shabana was
taken the full distance by fellow countryman
Karim Darwish in the second round of
the Saudi International before
surviving to claim his anticipated place in
the quarter-finals of the PSA Super Series
Platinum squash event in Al Khobar,
Shabana, looking for his first Tour title win
since March, dropped the first two games -
but staged a mighty fight-back to beat his
Egyptian rival 10-11 (0-2), 4-11, 11-4, 11-6,
11-4 in 67 minutes.
"I had to give 100% - and the rest - to win
that one," said Shabana.
"I was out of breath in the first two. I
wasn't sure what shape I was in coming into
this tournament after an injury in the
British and losing early in
New York. He just outplayed me in the first
two though - he was too good.
"It's a fine line between winning and losing
and I could easily have lost tonight," added
the 28-year-old from
Shabana will face France's Thierry Lincou
in Friday's quarter-finals after the
fifth-seeded Frenchman defeated Australian
Stewart Boswell, the tenth seed, 11-10
(2-0), 11-6, 11-8.
"It's not like it used to be - all the
players are very close to each other and
there are battles right from the first
round," Lincou explained. "Normally Stewart
and I go to four or five games, so I'm really
pleased with that.
"I've changed my preparation, especially the
mental side of it to try not to give games
away, and I'm trying to enjoy myself more."
The other quarter-final resolved on the first
day of second round action will see
Australia's World Open champion
David Palmer face England's US Open
champion Nick Matthew for the fourth
time this year.
Third seed Palmer defeated Adrian Grant,
the 13th seed, 11-7, 11-9, 11-7,
while seventh seed Matthew needed exactly one
hour to end the run of unseeded Dutchman
Laurens Jan Anjema, winning 11-10 (2-0),
8-11, 11-6, 11-3.
plays a very slow game, it's hard to build up
a rhythm," said Palmer after his win. "My
game was to try to step forward and take the
volley, a counter-punching game. It was more
a concentration thing in keeping it up, and
it was only at 10/6 in the second that I
relaxed at all."
Matthew acknowledged that Anjema should have
won the first game: "Things evened out – he
deserved to win the first, and once I snuck
that I relaxed a little, but I still should
have closed out the second.
"I'd never played him before in PSA so it was
very different to yesterday – new court, new
opponent, you're not on autopilot, you have
find out their game and adapt to the
conditions at the same time."
Anjema Ousts Abbas In Sole Saudi Upset
Unseeded Dutchman Laurens Jan Anjema
scored the sole upset on the opening
day's play in the Saudi International
when he defeated No12 seed Mohammed Abbas
in the first round of the PSA Super
Series Platinum squash event in Al
Khobar, Saudi Arabia.
"It's the win I've been looking for for
two years," said the delighted
24-year-old from The Hague after his
11-10 (2-0), 10-11 (1-3), 11-2, 11-9
victory over the Egyptian in 52 minutes.
The Dutchman's first big win in a major
event takes Anjema through to a second
round meeting with England's Nick
Matthew, the No7 seed from Sheffield who
beat training partner and good friend
Alister Walker, a qualifier from Leeds,
11-6, 11-6, 10-11 (0-2), 11-6 in 61
Elsewhere it was a good day for the
English with Matthew joined by James
Willstrop, Lee Beachill, Peter Barker and
Adrian Grant - though Grant needed 92
minutes to overcome compatriot Joey
Barrington 3-11, 7-11, 11-8, 11-9, 11-10
But the longest battle was an
Egyptian/Spaniard clash between Wael El
Hindi and Borja Golan, in which the No8
seed from Cairo prevailed 7-11, 11-7,
9-11, 11-5, 11-5 in 96 minutes. El Hindi
had been elevated to eighth seed after
the last-minute withdrawal of Scotland's
John White through injury.
The quickest win of the day belonged to
Olli Tuominen, who lived up to the
'Flying Finn' tag as he swept Italy's
Davide Bianchetti aside in just 20
"I got a good start that lasted for two
and a half games," said Olli after his
11-1, 11-2, 11-7 victory. "That just
about sums it up," agreed the Italian
The battle between second seed Ramy
Ashour and English qualifier Jonathan
Kemp started off on the glass court - but
after a quick-fire first game, where
rallies over four shots were a rarity, it
was decided to move the match to the
inside courts, where the Egyptian
completed his 11-10 (3-1), 10-11 (1-3),
11-3, 11-7 win.
"It wasn't slippery as such," said Kemp,
"but neither of us could push off. If you
knew where the ball was going you were
ok," explained the Englishman.
Ramy was so nearly joined by elder
brother Hisham, who lost out in a tense
five games to Ong Beng Hee, the
newly-promoted 16th seed.
After the Opening Ceremony, local
wildcard Mohammed Al-Saif found
Australian Stewart Boswell too much of a
handful - both players struggling a
little with footing.
Egyptians Amr Shabana, the world No1 and
defending champion, and Omar Mosaad
rounded off the day back on the inside
courts with Shabana coming through 11-7,
11-6, 10-11 (2-4), 11-7 to set up another
all-Egyptian clash with ninth seed Karim