Thu 2nd Nov, Day Seven:
The illusionist escapes again
Richard Eaton

Ramy Ashour, the great illusionist who has appeared to be on the way out of the World Open much of the time during the past few days, produced his most improbable escape act so far to reach the quarter-finals.

Hampered by limited movement, faced by a superbly mobile opponent, and two games down for the second match in succession, Ashour defied the evidence of logic to get home 8-11, 3-11, 11-6, 11-9, 11-3 against Alister Walker.

The man from Botswana was within two points of a career-best victory at 9-9 in the fourth game, only for the former world champion from Egypt to conjure even greater hidden reserves of deception and than while achieving the improbable against Nicolas Mueller of Switzerland.

Ashour walked with a near limp, played with both legs colourfully taped, and inadvertently revealed during one of many spectacular dives that his back was strapped up as well.

Despite this he forced himself on, ignoring the deteriorating score-line, and playing a part in three of the most spectacularly athletic rallies of the tournament. One of them he finished by running five feet up the front wall.

For two games Ashour looked too disconsolate to fight back, but eventually summoned the passion and then a rage to win, yelling “wait, wait, wait!!!” at the referee whom he thought had been making his decision too quickly. For that he got a code violation warning for bad language.

Perhaps it was worth it. From 3-3 in the decider Ashour possessed more adrenaline, and was scoring more freely, while the worthy Walker, who had run miles, was flagging.

“That was the toughest I played for three or four years…. Alister is so fit, playing well at the moment, and you’ve got to be on your toes – literally I was, you’ve seen me!” Ashour said.
“In the beginning, I had two thoughts. One, I knew that Ali was playing so well, and that I had to stop him and push, but the other thought was the painful recent memory of the injury, and I just was wary of getting injured again.

“Ali’s pace was so high, I just couldn’t not push, so after the first two games where he played so well, I started to come back, and kept pushing and pushing, hoping that nothing bad would happen. And thank God nothing did….”

Ashour next plays Gregory Gaultier, another former world champion, who delivered a similarly tremendous comeback from within sight of defeat to advance his claims to being a world title contender again.

Gaultier believes last week’s triumph in winning the Qatar Classic is proof of “renewal” and his 8-11, 5-11, 11-5, 11-5, 11-3, 11-7 win over Laurens Jan Anjema, the 12th seeded Dutchman, suggested he may be right.

There were times when it seemed Gaultier was playing against half of Holland as well as the home country’s best ever male player. It took 98 minutes of mental recovery as well as characteristically imaginative skill before he reached the quarter-finals.

The most encouraging sign for the man for Aix-en-Provence was not just his regenerated physical condition, but his ability to weather the hostility of the crowd and his feelings that refereeing decisions had gone against him.

“You guys, you stressed me out,” Gaultier told the crowd afterwards. “So much, that I am not pleased with you. But maybe you will come back and cheer for me this time.”

The words were delivered with such humour that those who had sometimes booed and jeered him felt inclined to cheer him instead.

He had run into big trouble after going 5-3 up in the second game, when Anjema was awarded a penalty point, and his video review failed to get the decision overturned.

That seemed to affect Gaultier’s emotions and mistakes flowed regularly from his racket for the rest of that game.

At two games down, his main consolation was that Anjema had done a lot of work, and seemed likely to feel the pace more. So it proved, and this time Gaultier remained steady enough for long enough to take advantage.

He began dominating the centre of the court, placing Anjema under extra pressure, and scored particularly well at the front. The fourth game followed a similar pattern, but the fifth was different, with Anjema hanging hard, gaining energy from the spectators, and courageously making the finish far tighter than seemed likely.

Remarkably a third front runner for the title, Amr Shabana, also came back from two games down. The four times former world champion beat Ramy’s unpredictably talented brother Hisham Ashour 3-11, 8-11, 11-4, 11-9, 11-5, slipping to dangerous deficits of 3-8 and 6-9 in the fourth game before reviving.

Shabana will now play his ninth successive World Open quarter-final against James Willstrop, the 2010 runner-up, who looked ominously impressive while beating Marwan El Shorbagy, the world junior champion from Egypt, for the loss of eleven points.

Earlier Nicol David gained herself a chance of a potential revenge when she reached the quarter-finals. The women's world champion’s 11-7, 11-6, 11-7 win over Nour El Sherbini, the 16-year-old world junior champion, earns her a repeat encounter with Kasey Brown, the much improved sixth seeded Australian who beat her at the US Open in Philadelphia in August.

The Amsterdam-based Malaysian did it with a display which showed how she has added shot making ability, especially with volleys and tight drops, to her supremely athletic game.

“After the US Open I came out in Qatar and played some of my best squash,” David said. “I am just going to bring that forward, and I shall go all out tomorrow.”

Earlier Brown also beat a developing young Egyptian as she earned her chance to meet David again. But her victory over Raneem El Weleilly, the 22–year-old former world junior champion, was a difficult test of her temperament as this match also went the full distance.

Brown’s ability to apply pressure by taking the ball early and recover fast to the central court position only just prevailed, in an excellent contrast of styles, by 4-11, 11-7, 11-4, 6-11, 11-8.

Amother notable winner was Natalie Grinham, the 2009 finalist in Amsterdam, who showed how much she has improved since the birth of son Kieran nearly 18 months ago by upsetting Madeline Perry, the fourth-seeded British Open finalist from Ireland, 11-6, 11-5, 11-8.

The former triple Commonwealth gold medallist from Australia turned Dutch international delighted the home crowd with the way she carved out winners in the front court.

How did she still have the energy to do it? “From all those people who thought that I can’t,” Grinham said.

Also from Richard Eaton:

Matthew Aware ] Nicol Wants More ] Gaultier a contender again? ] Thierry Goes On ] Unusual start for Nicol ] Thanks for the Memories ] [ The Great Illusionist Escapes ] Ashour Retires ] Gregory's Third ] Matthew makes it Two ]

Matthew Aware ] Nicol Wants More ] Gaultier a contender again? ] Thierry Goes On ] Unusual start for Nicol ] Thanks for the Memories ] [ The Great Illusionist Escapes ] Ashour Retires ] Gregory's Third ] Matthew makes it Two ]

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