Day three of the $190k PSA World Series Platinum Kuwait PSA Cup at the Qadsia Club in Kuwait City, and once again eight first round winners were up against eight seeds, this time from the bottom half of the draw.
All eight seeds in the top half made it safely through, but today two of them failed to reach the last sixteen, and one did so only by the skin of his teeth …
Round Two, Bottom Half:
 Tarek Momen (Egy) 3-0 Cameron Pilley (Aus) 11/8, 11/6, 11/9 (43m)
Mathieu Castagnet (Fra) 3-1  Tom Richards (Eng) 9/11, 11/8, 11/6, 11/3 (68m)
 Karim Darwish (Egy) 3-1 Zac Alexander (Aus) 11/4, 11/6, 8/11, 11/3 (39m)
 James Willstrop (Eng) 3-0 Grégoire Marche (Fra) 11/9, 11/5, 11/5 (37m)
 Mohamed El Shorbagy (Egy) 3-2 Ali Anwar Reda (Egy) 8/11, 11/7, 11/9, 8/11, 13/11 (84m)
 Nick Matthew (Eng) 3-0 Adrian Grant (Eng) 11/7, 11/8, 11/9 (58m)
Ong Beng Hee (Mas) 3-1  Alister Walker (Bot) 9/11, 11/5, 11/6, 11/4 (55m)
 Daryl Selby (Eng) 3-0 Ryan Cuskelly (Aus) 11/5, 11/5, 11/4 (43m)
Castagnet and Ong gatecrash last sixteen as Shorbagy survives in Kuwait
Tarek Momen took to the glass court in Qadsia’s basketball court first, the speedy Egyptian facing hard-hitting Aussie Cameron Pilley. Although Pilley pushed him close in all of the games it was Momen, the eleventh seed, who always had the edge as he won 11/8, 11/6, 11/9.
“I decided in the third that no, I didn’t want to play a fourth!” said Momen. “I’ve just been playing tournaments, not training properly, so I’m very pleased with the outcome, beating Cameron is a good result for me, he is a very tough competitor, so a 3/0 win is really a great result.”
If that was a great result, Mathieu Castagnet followed it with his “best performance ever” as he produced the first upset of the round in beating twelfth seeded Englishman Tom Richards 9/11, 11/8, 11/6, 11/3. Richards had the edge in a first game which he always led, but the Frenchman was never far behind and some determined play saw him turn it around to take the next two games with increasing control, resulting in a comprehensive win in the fourth.
“We started at a rather fast pace, and I thought that I would have trouble keeping this up if it lasted too long,” admitted Castagnet, “so I slowed the pace right down, just trying to keep it glued and tight, nothing fancy really, but accurate.
“”I had the experience of my match against him in HK, where I ended up losing 12/10 in the 5th despite having several match balls. So this time I knew I had to push all the way through,” added the delighted Frenchman.
The next two matches featured the finalists from the previous edition of the Kuwait Cup in 2011.
Karim Darwish, back in action after being forced to withdraw from the North American Open with a calf injury, was convincing in the three games he won against young Aussie Zac Alexander, who took a game himself thanks in no small measure to some deadly kill shots in the third, but it wasn’t enough to stop Darwish progressing 11/4, 11/6, 8/11, 11/3.
“Sometimes at two-nil up you feel almost too comfortable and let your concentration slip a bit,” explained Darwish afterwards. “The first two were quite comfortable but in the third he hit some good, if risky, shots and my level slipped. I managed to get it back in the fourth and played like I did in the first two.”
“I never played Greg before,” said Willstrop, “but I saw him play obviously, he’s been improving a lot, and if I was maybe a tiny bit slow off the blocks, he is an exciting prospect for France and he played well.”
The evening session started with an all-Egyptian marathon as sixth seed Mohamed El Shorbagy survived by the skin of his teeth against compatriot Ali Anwar Reda. It was a fast-paced, often ferocious, often contentious match with the referees getting plenty of work. But it was gripping too, as the first four games were shared with both young players showing great determination and skill.
Shorbagy took the lead in the decider, but Reda fought back with a run of six points to earn himself four match balls at 10-6. They all went begging and it was a delighted and relieved Shorbagy who finally took it 8/11, 11/7, 11/9, 8/11, 13/11 in 84 minutes.
“In the fifth I had a good lead, but suddenly I went from being 6/3 up to being 10/6 down!” said Shorbagy. “I was getting more and more nervous, so I decided to hit the ball harder and harder, and to make the time between the serves as quickly as possible, to prevent me from thinking. And I think that surprised him a bit, and he started making errors.”
“The good news is, I had a very hard match against him in the Worlds in Qatar, and I then had an amazing tournament. So I guess this is a good omen for the rest of the event,” added Shorbagy.
Following that epic between two Egyptians just into their twenties, came an equally tough match between two Englishmen just into their thirties. Second seed Nick Matthew went into his match against Adrian Grant with a 10-1 advantage in previous PSA meetings, Grant’s only win coming over a decade ago in 2002.
But the left-hander made Matthew work hard, very hard, for his straight-games win, the world number two getting the better of the endgame each time. Grant more than held his own up to 7-5 in the first, 8-all in the second and 9-all in the third but each time it was Matthew who won the important points.
“It’s hard to play Adrian because we go way too far back,” said Matthew. “It was not the prettiest of performance, but then again, the court is much bouncier than we’ve been playing on recently. I feel that 3/0 is a harsh score for Adrian, he played the right game, was very aggressive, very positive, and when he plays like that, he can be a danger to anybody.”
A second seed fell when another 30-odd year old, Malaysia’s Ong Beng Hee, came from a game down to beat recently crowned All Africa champion Alister Walker. After taking the first game Walker found the tin too many times for his own good and as Ong’s game and confidence grew he completed a 9/11, 11/5, 11/6, 11/4 win in just under an hour’s play.
“Hey, I won! I haven’t won a match for 9 months! And you haven’t spoken to me for 9 months either!” said a delighted Ong. “I think that I was lucky to get to play Alister as he is just coming back from injury, and he made a lot of errors tonight. I know exactly what he is going through.”
The last sixteen lineup was completed as Daryl Selby made it a quartet of Englishmen in round three with a straight-game win over Ryan Cuskelly that was tougher than the 11/5, 11/5, 11/4 scoreline suggests – the Australian made Selby work hard in the opening exchanges, but as the thirteenth seed began to control the rallies Cuskelly’s frustration levels rose, culminating in a conduct stroke for racket abuse as the third game was slipping away.
“He dominated me for the first half of the first game,” admitted Selby, “but then I began to find my length and I managed to get in front. Considering I’ve only played a couple of competitive matches this year I’m pleased to get through, especially in three.”