Willstrop Set Up Dream New York Final
At stake in tonight's dream
final of the JP Morgan Tournament of Champions in New York
between top-seeded Englishmen Nick Matthew and James Willstrop
will not just be the title of the first PSA World Series squash event
of the year, but also the world number one ranking in February.
Matthew, who topped the world
rankings throughout 2011, battled to a 75-minute four-game win over
Frenchman Gregory Gaultier - while in the earlier semi-final
Willstrop, who succeeded his compatriot as world No1 this month, coasted to
his fourth successive straight games success at Grand Central Terminal
by beating England team-mate Daryl Selby in just 25 minutes.
Given Willstrop's near flawless
performances in his first two matches against seasoned players, and the fact
that Selby has never beaten his higher-ranked fellow countryman, the
expectation was that Willstrop would certainly move past his unseeded
opponent into the final.
The brevity of the match,
however, was somewhat surprising: Willstrop, the 2010 Tournament of
Champions titleholder, ran off 10 unanswered points in the first game before
winning it 11-2.
"Having played Daryl so many
times, I knew there was some kind of problem," said the 28-year-old from
Leeds after his 11-2, 11-3, 11-3 victory. "I could tell by his movement he
Selby's explanation was brief:
"It was frustrating that I couldn't play how I wanted to and give 100%." The
29-year-old from Essex declined to elaborate further, although the word
around the tournament was that he had bad blisters.
It was a different set of
expectations for the Gaultier/Matthew semi-final, with both players having
demonstrated a high standard of play and desire to win throughout the week.
Frenchman Gaultier mentioned frequently that he planned his playing and
training schedule so he could peak for this championship.
"Matthew has tried to temper
expectations of his return to competition after a two month absence from
tournament competition to recover from an injury, but his play through the
tournament has been so impressive the expectations have become pretty high,"
explained tournament spokesperson Beth Rasin.
Although third seed Gaultier
held a 10-7 career advantage going into the evening's match, the record over
the past year has been 4-3 in the Englishman's favour. The intensity of the
match was palpable from the start as both players hit solid length and
waited patiently for attacking opportunities.
Maintaining a lead of two points
through most of the first game, 31-year-old Matthew gained the early upper
hand with an 11-8 game win. The second was more of the same - the top seed
Gaultier got back into the match
when he nabbed the third 11-9 - but Matthew stepped up the attack in the
fourth to take a 6-2 lead before going on to win the game 11-4.
"It was a very tough
cat-and-mouse game out there," Matthew said. "We had a lot of tough rallies
down the backhand side." Ultimately, Matthew's patience to force a Gaultier
error or set up a winning shot carried the day.
There will be more than the
Tournament to Champions title on the line when the two Englishmen step on
court for the final: Matthew, a three time finalist, would very much like to
take the trophy for the first time. "I'd certainly like to have my picture
be added to the gallery of champions," said top seed, referring to the
portraits of the tournament's titleholders that line the entrance to the
venue's Champions/VIP lounge.
The world number one ranking
will also be at stake. "It's a motivator," said Willstrop. "But when you get
to play in front of 500 people for the Tournament of Champions title, what
more do you need?"
The final will be the first time
the Yorkshire and England rivals have faced each other since October last
year - since when Willstrop ran off three PSA World Series titles in a row
and went on to succeed Matthew at the top of the world rankings.
But Matthew boasts a
formidable 19-8 career head-to-head PSA Tour record over Willstrop - and an
unbroken winning streak of 12 matches since December 2007.
Quarter-finals (top half of
Gaultier Derails Shabana At Grand Central
Avenging his defeat by the
Egyptian earlier in the month in London, Frenchman Gregory Gaultier
reclaimed his mastery over fellow former world number one Amr Shabana
to reach the semi-finals of the JP Morgan Tournament of Champions at
Grand Central Terminal in New York.
The third seed will now face top
seed Nick Matthew after the Englishman denied any Egyptian interest
in the last four of the first PSA World Series squash event of the
year by beating No7 seed Mohamed El Shorbagy.
In addition to losing to Shabana
in an epic final of the ATCO PSA World Series Finals two weeks ago,
Gaultier went into his quarter-final match against the four times world
champion from Cairo 10-13 down in Tour matches played to date.
After the first two games were
shared, the capacity crowd under the massive Grand Central chandeliers
buzzed with anticipation of another five-game battle.
But it was not to be as Gaultier
seized control of the match. "I wanted to make the rallies long and keep in
the rear corner," said the 29-year-old world No3 from Aix-en-Provence.
The Gaultier game plan worked:
Shabana spent most of the match exactly where Gaultier intended. Without any
room to play his game, the fifth seed could not muster an attack and
Gaultier won the match 11-9, 5-11, 11-5, 11-5 in 62 minutes.
"I wanted to peak for this
tournament," Gaultier said after the match - and he looks to be doing just
Matthew, returning to the
tournament squash court for the first time this past week after a two month
injury hiatus, has been diligently trying to manage expectations for an
immediate return to the form that kept him at the top spot in the PSA world
rankings throughout 2011.
"Anybody who thinks that you can
quickly return to form after being out of commission for two months doesn't
know squash," he had said earlier in the week.
But, minutes after defeating
rising Egyptian force Mohamed El Shorbagy 12-10, 11-7, 11-5,
favourite Matthew admitted: "I think tonight's match shows that I am back!"
In the match's early going, it
looked as if the 31-year-old Englishman might indeed go under to the sport's
latest star. The 21-year-old El Shorbagy came out on court with a blazing
racquet, hammering the ball with such speed, power and intensity that the
tournament's top seed seemed a bit shell shocked.
"The pace he played at the start
of the match was something I haven't seen for a couple of months," said
Matthew. The three time Tournament of Champions finalist quickly fell behind
"But you don't become No1 or a
World Champion without knowing how to adjust your game," said tournament
spokesperson Beth Rasin. "And Matthew did just that."
Matthew explained later: "From
1-5, it was level pegging. I figured I would lose that game, and I just
wanted to play as well as I could before getting into the second game." In
fact, Matthew played well enough to win the game 12-10.
The first game comeback took
some of the wind out of El Shorbagy and emboldened Matthew, who quickly
grabbed a 4-1 lead in the second game. The shift in momentum was completed
when Matthew won the second game 11-7.
His 11-5 third game victory
secured the semi-final berth for Matthew - and not only his 18th Tour
meeting with Gaultier in almost ten years, but his third clash with the
Frenchman at Grand Central since 2006.
Quarter Finals (Lower Half)
Selby & Willstrop
Ensure English Finalist In NY
Straight games victories by
Daryl Selby and James Willstrop in the quarter-finals of the
JP Morgan Tournament of Champions have ensured English representation in
Thursday's final of the first PSA World Series squash event of the
year at Grand Central Terminal in New York.
"Extremely happy to reach my 1st
ever major semi final," tweeted Selby after his emphatic 11-8, 11-8, 11-8
victory over qualifier Marwan El Shorbagy, the reigning world junior
champion from Egypt to whom he lost an ill-tempered World Open clash
The 18-year-old from Cairo
finally ran out of gas against his more experienced opponent - whose
strategy was to capitalise on the fact that El Shorbagy was playing his
fourth match of the tournament and had been pushed to the limit in his
five-game battle with Englishman Tom Richards the night before.
"In the first game and a half
especially, I tried to make the rallies long and hard," said the delighted
Selby following the win which takes him into his first World Series
semi-final after 39 appearances in the elite PSA events since May 2006.
"This has been a really great
week," added the 29-year-old world number 11 from Essex, referring to his
opening round defeat of fourth seed Karim Darwish. "I have managed to
make that win against a top ranked player really mean something by getting
to the semis."
Selby, the only unseeded player
to make the last eight, will now face England team-mate James Willstrop,
the 28-year-old from Leeds who is competing in his first ranking tournament
as the world No1.
"Willstrop was head shaking
brilliant in his 3/0 victory over fellow Englishman Peter Barker,"
said tournament spokesperson Beth Rasin.
Massively understating the
extraordinary quality of his play, Willstrop admitted later: "I was pretty
close to being in the zone."
The Yorkshireman started
especially strong, jumping out to a 6-1 lead in the first game and a 6-2
lead in the second, winning the games with seeming ease. Willstrop's
pinpoint accuracy never wavered, whether he was hitting the ball tight, or
volleying a deft drop shot.
Londoner Barker had a momentary
surge in the third game when he built up a 5-3 lead, but it was short lived.
After going ahead 7-5, Willstrop allowed Barker only two more points before
winning the match 11-4, 11-3, 11-6.
"He controlled every aspect of
the match," said Barker, the world No7. "James showed tonight why he is the
number one player in the world. He has set the bar very high for the rest of
The world No1 moniker is new for
Willstrop, having achieved the status at the beginning of the month: "It can
be a double edged sword," said the Englishman. "Of course, as an athlete,
this is what you strive for, but once it is achieved, the expectations can
be quite high. It gives you a bit of lift, but you still have to continue to
do all the things that got you to number one. Ultimately, it doesn't mean
anything unless you win tomorrow."
Historic New York Quarters
Egyptian teenager Marwan El
Shorbagy became the first qualifier to make the quarter-finals of the
JP Morgan Tournament of Champions for ten years after defeating
England's Tom Richards in the second round of the first PSA World
Series squash event of the year at Grand Central Terminal in
The 18-year-old's celebrations
were boosted later when his older brother Mohamed El Shorbagy, the
No7 seed, also made the last eight.
"This is one of the happiest
days for the El Shorbagy family," said 21-year-old Mohamed minutes after his
five-game victory over Australia's Cameron Pilley.
Marwan, the 18-year-old reigning
world junior champion, continued his fearless trek through the talent-laden
Tournament of Champions draw as he knocked off Richards, ranked 20 in the
world, by winning a 12-10 nail-biting fifth game.
"I was just pushing, pushing,
pushing the whole time out there," said the younger El Shorbagy. "I was
doing what my brother told me, because he had played Tom before and I
The older brother's advice was
to play a basic game, but at the same time, look for every opportunity to
attack. The first game was a seesaw with Richards grabbing an early 7-4 lead
and El Shorbagy then forging ahead 8-7 before Richards edged out an 11-9
Although the Englishman took an
early lead in the second, the young Egyptian stormed back and scored nine
unanswered points to win the game and level the match. The third game saw
Richards back in command as he surged to an 8-3 lead, winning the game 11-7.
The momentum shifted back to El Shorbagy in the fourth when he took the lead
at 3-2 and never relinquished it.
El Shorbagy again took an early
lead in the fifth. Down 4-7, the 25-year-old from Surrey was not ready to
surrender and evened the match at seven-all. El Shorbagy won the next point
and Richards evened the score again - the pattern was repeated three times
until El Shorbagy took the last and final lead at 11-10 and won the game
For the fast-rising Egyptian
teenager it was another exultant moment on the glass court in Grand Central
Terminal - the first one having occurred two days earlier when he beat
eighth seed Thierry Lincou, the former world No1 from France. All
this after having to be persuaded by his brother to even enter the iconic
championship which is a favourite of the PSA Tour players.
Just a couple of hours later, it
was El Shorbagy senior's turn to make some magic on court. "Marwan's match
inspired me, but it also took a lot out of me," said Mohamed.
Like his brother, he went the
distance against Australian Pilley, an opponent whom he finds especially
difficult to play. "This was an up and down match," said El Shorbagy.
"Sometime I was playing super, and sometimes like an 11-year-old."
Fortunately for the Egyptian, he was super in the fifth, jumping out to a
9-2 lead and winning the decider 11-5.
The older El Shorbagy's
quarter-final opponent will be England's Nick Matthew. The top seed
eliminated Adrian Grant, his Commonwealth Games gold medallist
doubles partner, in three games.
"It was a good tough game," said
Matthew, whose year-long reign at the top of the world rankings came to an
end in January after a two-month injury hiatus. "Anyone who thinks I can
come right back to my top form after two months out doesn't know squash. I
am still trying to find my game."
The younger El Shorbagy's last
eight opponent will be Daryl Selby, who defeated Germany's Simon
Rosner in four games. The match almost went to five games when Rosner
came back from a 5-10 deficit to earn a game ball at 11-10. An
ill-considered attempt at a cross court backhand drop from deep in the court
resulted in a tin to tie the game and Selby took advantage to finish the
"I have been struggling recently
to finish off games," said the Englishman after the match. "So at that
point, I was trying not to make an error - to make him have to win the game
instead of my losing it."
Rounding out the trio of
Egyptian squash players into the quarterfinals is two-time title-holder
Amr Shabana, whose match with Miguel Angel Rodriguez was the most
entertaining and dramatic of the day. Once again, the Colombian qualifier
thrilled the crowd with his speed and acrobatic style of play while
Shabana's ability to hit a winning nick at the most opportune times left the
spectators in the capacity crowd shaking their heads in amazement on several
Shabana seemed to have control
of the match when he took a 2/0 lead after winning the first two games 11-6,
11-8. But the never-say-die Rodriguez was unfazed and won the third game
11-7. The fourth game was all Rodriguez as he jumped out to a 9-3 lead and
won the game 11-4.
"I got sucked into his game,"
said Shabana - "which is to hit a lot of shots and try to make each one
better than the last, which results in a lot of tins. I needed to be more
patient and wait for a loose ball to attack."
The change in strategy worked -
after trading the lead back and forth several times in the early part of the
fifth game, Shabana asserted himself at seven-all by hitting a service
return winner into the nick. He then patiently kept the ball tight to the
wall until he had an opening to attack - even so, it was nearly impossible
to hit a shot that the speedy South American could not reach. Shabana surged
ahead to 10-7 and at 10-8, hit the ball to every corner of the court.
His opponent covered all the
corners and thrilled the crowd by hitting a shot from behind his back and
then one through his legs before a deep cross court from Shabana was just
enough out of reach to force a game-winning racquet error.
Shabana's quarter-final match
will pit two of the game's best shot-makers against each other as he takes
on Gregory Gaultier in a repeat of this month's ATCO PSA World
Series Finals final in London. "I was worried that I would get off to a
slow start after having to wait so long to play," said the Frenchman,
referring to the fact that he got on court at 10pm - one and a half hours
after his scheduled match, due to several lengthy matches earlier in the
"But I actually started
quickly," said the world No3. After winning the first game 11-4, Gaultier
lost concentration and dropped the second game to Swiss opponent Nicolas
Mueller. The third and fourth games were entirely in the Frenchman's
control - he was never behind in either game.
The final quarter-final pairing
will be a contest between two Englishmen, each of whom won their matches in
three games. World No1 and second seed James Willstrop despatched
Egyptian qualifier Mohammed Abbas while sixth seed Peter Barker
eliminated Canadian Shahier Razik.
To Grand Central Upset
Colombian qualifier Miguel
Angel Rodriguez upended Hisham Mohamed Ashour in a hard-fought
five-game thriller on the second day of first round play in the JP Morgan
Tournament of Champions to secure a surprise place in the last 16 of the
first PSA World Series squash event of the year at Grand Central
Terminal in New York.
The 26-year-old from Bogota was
a whirling dervish on court, using his extraordinary speed to cover every
corner of the court. Egyptian Ashour was bold and boisterous. The standing
room only crowd in Vanderbilt Hall in Grand Central was captivated.
"I knew it was going to be tough
tonight," said Rodriguez. "But I also knew this was going to be my
opportunity to get to the second round."
Rodriguez won the first game
11-7, but world No14 Ashour stepped up with a mix of power and shot-making
to win the next two 11-9 and 11-8. The momentum shifted back to the South
American, ranked 19 places lower, as he drew level by winning the fourth
Ashour surged ahead in the
fifth, 4-2 and 7-4, but Rodriguez was determined and tied the game at seven
all, at which point it was anyone's match. "At seven all I said to myself,
'I am not tired, I am not injured, I can get to all the balls'," shared
Rodriguez after the match.
Rodriguez flung himself at balls
that seemed ungettable until he got his racquet on them. Ashour responded by
hitting length followed by drops, followed by lobs, and led again at 9-8.
But in the end Rodriguez got to more balls and won the match 11-9 after 75
Rodriguez faces another Egyptian
Amr Shabana in the second round. The two-time title-holder defeated
fellow countryman and tournament roommate Mohd Ali Anwar Reda in
three straightforward games.
Shabana has enjoyed a recent run
of exceptionally fine play on a par with his days at the top of the world
rankings. "I know I am just as god as anyone on the PSA Tour," said the
32-year-old veteran post-match. "But now every day it is about wanting to
Shabana's desire was evident as
he moved Reda to the back of the court with crisp shots, forcing a defensive
response that provided the opening to hit a winner. Shabana punctuated match
ball with a bit of flair as he did a double pump fake before dropping the
ball to the left front corner to claim his place in the second round.
In the day's opening match, top
seed Nick Matthew looked strong and fit as he defeated Wael El
Hindi in four games. "I played well for two and a half games," the
Englishman said. "Midway through the third, it got a bit scrappy and I lost
Matthew's countryman Peter
Barker walked by as Matthew offered this self-assessment and reassured
his friend that "it's good to have a little rough going now because you'll
be better prepared for the later rounds." This is especially true for the
former world No1 who was forced to take a break from squash at year-end due
Matthew's next opponent is
compatriot Adrian Grant, his Commonwealth Games Pairs gold
medal-winning partner. The left-hander from London survived a strong showing
by qualifier Alan Clyne of Scotland who nabbed the second game before
succumbing to Grant after 83 minutes.
Mohamed El Shorbagy,
the 21-year-old older brother of yesterday's giant killer Marwan El
Shorbagy, defeated Pakistan's Aamir Atlas Khan in four games. "It
is good to be able to win even when you are not playing your best," was El
Shorbagy senior's philosophical assessment of his own play.
Khan, who feels strongly about
reviving Pakistan's standing in the squash community, could not maintain the
early leads he established in the first and third games, ultimately yielding
to El Shorbagy's all-around attacking game.
The world No6 from Alexandria
next plays the hard-hitting Australian Cameron Pilley who ousted
Finland's Olli Tuominen in three games.
the tournament's third seed and the 2009 titleholder, moves into the second
round with a straight games victory over Spaniard Borja Golan Santin.
His opponent will be Switzerland's Nicolas Mueller who defeated
qualifier Stephen Coppinger of South Africa in four games.
Selby Stuns Darwish In Grand Central Upset
In an opening day of the JP Morgan Tournament of Champions which was
littered with upsets, England's Daryl Selby claimed the biggest scalp
with a career-first win over Egypt's Karim Darwish, the No4 seed, in
the first PSA World Series squash event of the year in New York.
After losing the first game 4-11
on the all-glass court at Grand Central Terminal, Selby went ahead
9-3 in the second. The former world No1 from Cairo was not going to be
dismissed so quickly and worked his way back into the game to take a 10-9
"That was really the turning
point in the match," said Selby later. "Because if I had lost that second
game, I am not sure I would have been able to come back from being down
Once Selby secured the second
game 13-11, the momentum and confidence shifted from the Egyptian, ranked
five in the world, to the Englishman. Selby picked up speed and intensity,
winning the third game 11-8 and the fourth 11-5.
"I just wanted to play well and
see where it took me," said Selby, the world No11 who was making amends for
a shock first round defeat in last week's Comfort Inn Open in
Vancouver, where he was the fourth seed
The 29-year-old from Essex next
faces Germany's Simon Rosner who defeated highly-rated Egyptian
Tarek Momen 11-9, 9-11, 11-8, 11-7. "Being in the second round of the
main draw is phenomenal," said the 24-year-old German number one from
Paderborn. "I felt comfortable out on court today even though my short game
wasn't at its best. But under pressure, I felt like I played better shots."
Marwan El Shorbagy,
the 18-year-old reigning world junior champion, engineered the day's biggest
upset when he ousted former world No1 and eighth seed Thierry Lincou
in four games. The Egyptian qualifier was beaming from ear-to-ear as he
savoured his stunning victory.
"For me, Lincou is one of the
greatest in the game," said the Alexandra teenager. "So this is amazing for
Coming into today's match, El
Shorbagy was mindful of a 3/0, 27-minute loss to the Frenchman in September.
"I figured I needed a new game plan," he said. When asked what the game plan
was, his older brother Mohamed, the event's No7 seed, piped up: "Hit and
In fact, El Shorbagy junior
covered a lot of court as he went toe-to-toe with one of the sport's
strongest and most balanced players. The 35-year-old Frenchman, who started
playing the PSA tour the year his opponent was born, fended off his upstart
challenger in the first game, 11-9, by hitting strong drives to the rear of
the court and then mixing in a variety of shots. But his young challenger
was undaunted, and took advantage of an increasing string of errors from
Lincou to win the next three games, 11-5, 11-7, 11-7.
"I made a lot of errors," said
Lincou after the match, who attributed his lack of match toughness to a
two-month hiatus at year end. "You really have to prepare yourself to win,
because the youngsters want to prove everything and nowadays even the first
round is a tough one."
El Shorbagy, while delighted
with his opening round victory, was quick to point out that "the tournament
is not over for me; I have a few more rounds to win."
He will next face a rested
Tom Richards, who defeated qualifier Max Lee of Hong Kong 11-6,
11-5, 11-4, in just over half an hour. "I set my stall out early," said the
Englishman. "I wanted to show Max that that I was going to make it tough for
Lee acknowledged the success of
Richards' intent. "He put me under so much pressure." The earnest
24-year-old, despite losing, was nonetheless thrilled with his first visit
to NYC. "It was such a great feeling for me when I got on the glass court
here and looked up at the packed crowd."
The toughest battle of the day
was enjoyed by Peter Barker and Ong Beng Hee who pushed each
other to the limit in an 84-minute outing that saw sixth seed Barker move
onto the second round. The 31-year-old Malaysian qualifier started quite
strongly, winning the first two games 11-8, 12-10.
"My old self might have lost
that match," said Englishman Barker. "But I have been working on staying
calm and not panicking." The work has paid off; Barker dug in and used power
and length to wear down his opponent.
"He is so strong, it is
difficult to keep up with his pace," said Beng Hee, a former world No7,
after the match which Barker won by rebounding to take the final three games
11-7, 11-7, 11-9.
"Just think, it can only get
better from here," said Barker's father as he both congratulated and gave
his son a bit of a ribbing at the conclusion of the match.
Barker takes on Canada's
Shahier Razik in the next round of play. Razik eliminated Julian
Illingworth, the local favourite, in four games. While the New York
crowd may have been disappointed at losing the highest ever PSA-ranking US
player from the draw, the documentary film crew that is following Razik was
delighted that he will continue to play.
"I had a little bit of doubt at
the beginning of the match," Razik said, "because I had rolled my ankle in
the last tournament I played and I wasn't sure how it would hold up. But
midway through the match I felt my confidence build."
Second seed James Willstrop
also looked quite comfortable on court as he dismissed Australian qualifier
Zac Alexander 11-7, 11-3, 11-4. The 2010 titleholder from England,
who has become an author with the upcoming publication of Shot and a Ghost,
a selected compilation of Willstrop's daily reflections during the past
year, said that his entry for this day's diary would read something like:
"Great coffee inside Grand Central and played well."
That might be a slight
understatement from the current world No1 who acknowledged that he is
playing the best squash of his career and competing as well as he ever has.
Willstrop's next opponent also
feels that he is playing some of his best squash: Qualifier Mohammed
Abbas, who has been ranked as high as 13 in the world, eliminated
Alister Walker in four games to set up his second round encounter with
The 31-year-old Egyptian said he
is enjoying a second wind in this later stage of his squash playing career.
"My recent practices have involved doing a lot of solo hitting, and today I
was feeling the ball really well. Plus I was enjoying myself and I really
wanted to win."