Fri 4th Nov, Quarter-Finals:
Gaultier mourns as Ashour quits
Richard Eaton

Gregory Gaultier, the former world number one, was painfully unable to celebrate even though he carried his bid to become only the second Frenchman to win the World Open title rapidly into the semi-finals.

The sixth-seeded man from Aix-en-Provence got past Ramy Ashour, second seeded former world champion from Egypt, but seemed almost as upset as Ashour after his opponent retired with hamstring related injuries for the second world championship in succession.

Last year at Al Khobar in Saudi Arabia, Ashour had been unable to complete the defence of his title beyond the second round. This year it was a mystery how Ashour had twice recovered from two games down with his legs heavily taped and progressed as far as the quarter-finals.

Now though there was a contest only for about 20 minutes. By the end of the first game Ashour’s injury appeared to have deteriorated badly for he failed to run down a single ball in the second.

Three points into the third, when Ashour stopped and yelled with pain, Gaultier tapped him on the shoulder, prompting the Egyptian wisely to shake hands.

The sense of shock was then heightened because after Ashour was unable to do the customary post-match on-court interview, Gaultier was only briefly able to contribute in his place.

“I feel really sad for him,” Gaultier began, then saying: “I can’t talk......” and departing holding his face.

It left the crowd to filter sadly away, perhaps to recall the evening’s earlier events, which had been spectacular.

During them another former world champion from Egypt, Amr Shabana, had made a brilliant escape from two games and 9-5 down against James Willstrop, and then from match point down at 10-9 in the third.

Shabana did that with some of the artistry which helped him become four times the world champion and the most talented player of his era.

But Willstrop was at his best in the fourth and scotched the revival.

“There is no player I have more respect for,” said Willstrop after an impressive balance of discipline and self-expression in his 11-8, 11-2, 11-13, 11-1 success. It suggested that Gaultier may have to play as well as his brilliant title-winning form of Qatar two weeks ago to get past the in-form Englishman.

Earlier another Englishman, the defending champion, Nick Matthew, took an important step towards retaining it when he reached the semi-finals by beating Peter Barker, a fellow member of England’s world team championship winning squad of 2007.

The top-seeded Yorkshireman’s 6-11, 11-8, 11-8, 11-5 success followed his victory over the rising top ten Egyptian, Mohamed El Shorbagy, and earned him a meeting with Karim Darwish, the third-seeded former world number one from Egypt.

Darwish came through with an 11-9, 11-7, 11-1 over David Palmer, the 35-year-old twice former World Open champion from Australia, who was playing his last match before retirement.

There was sadness here as well, but this time providing an intoxicating mixture of celebration and nostalgia as well. Palmer has had 17 years as a professional squash player, and a decade in the world’s top ten.

He was asked to say goodbye by taking a lap of honour inside the Luxor theatre, applauded by a thousand spectators. Surely no player has had a better send-off than this.

Nicol David’s bid to win the World Open a record sixth time carried her to a notable revenge and to the semi-finals in her adopted home country of The Netherlands.

The Amsterdam-based Malaysian overcame Kasey Brown, the sixth-seeded Australian who beat her in the US Open in Philadelphia in August, by 11-7, 12-10, 11-4 in a match which, David said, felt like a five-setter – or “possibly a six-setter.”

Afterwards David said she thought the women’s game was improving all the time as players tried to close the gap on her.

“There’s always a challenge but every time you step up your game these girls are still coming at you,” she said. “But I look forward to every challenge.”

Her next one is a repeat of the 2009 final in Amsterdam against Natalie Grinham, who prevented an all-Malaysian semi-final by beating Low Wee Wern 11-7, 11-7, 11-5 - despite a cut to her nose requiring a ten-minute injury time out early in the third game.

The former Australian turned Dutch international returned to the court knowing that if the bandage fell off and the bleeding restarted she would have to forfeit that game and, if it were repeated, the match.

But Grinham won, as she had against the fourth-seeded Madeline Perry, because of the high quality of her front court game, and once again overcome the distraction of arriving with a pram carrying baby son Kieran and having to return to it afterwards.

The other semi-final will be between Samantha Teran, the first Mexican ever to reach a World Open semi-final, and Jenny Duncalf, the second seed from England.

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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