Reigning Richmond champion Nick Matthew survived a first round scare last night before beating Colombian outsider Miguel Rodriguez in the first round of the Davenport North American Open at the Westwood Club. Matthew squeezed home 14-12, 10-12, 11-9, 9-11, 11-5 in a 92-minute marathon.
The Englishman, who is bidding for a third consecutive NAO title, said: “Miguel is capable of giving all the top guys a scare and I was almost ready to get on the plane home at the end of the fourth game.
Fortunately I got a good start in the fifth and I’m glad to get through. Mentally, that’s one hurdle over and I’ve got to get it out of my system and get ready for the next match.”
Matthew faces Finland’s Olli Tuominen, who withstood a fierce fightback from American national champion Julian Illingworth.
Tuominen held match ball at 10-5 in the fourth game but Illingworth produced a spectacular spell of attacking squash to draw level. Then it was his turn to waste two game balls before Tuominen clinched victory by a 15-13 margin.
Ramy Ashour, runner-up to Matthew for the past two years, returned to action after an injury break and overwhelmed Australian Matthew Karwalski in just 23 minutes.
The Egyptian said: “I don’t want to talk about my injuries any more. That’s all I have talked about for the past few months and all I want to do is concentrate on playing squash. I am so happy to be back, and especially here in Richmond.”
His opponent, Karwalski, admitted: “That was just like going to squash school and being given a lesson. It didn’t matter what I did, Ramy had an answer for it. Even if I hit a good ball past him and sent him to the back of the court, he would just run past me and hit a winner.
“In fact, he hit winners from anywhere and everywhere. He hit some shots I have never even seen before. At times I just had no idea what to do. There is no doubt that, when he is free from injury, Ramy is the best player in the world.”
Ashour, the No.4 seed this week, posed for pictures in a Jaguar parked next to the court in the Westwood Club in Richmond, Virginia, and joked: “I am not worried about the prize money. I’ll just take the Jaguar.”
Ashour now meets another Australian, Cameron Pilley, who won a colourful clash with Canadian Shawn De Lierre. The match ended in controversial fashion as De Lierre was punished with two conduct strokes for audible obscenities, the second coming on match ball.
The biggest casualty of the day – and the only seed not to make the last sixteen – came when Alister Walker of Botswana removed number seven seed Laurens Jan Anjema of The Netherlands. Walker also wasted five match balls from 10-5 up in the fifth game before finally clinching it 12-10.
First Round, (bottom half ):
 Ramy Ashour (Egy) bt [Q] Matthew Karwalski (Aus) 11-8, 11-1, 11-8 (23m)
Cameron Pilley (Aus) bt [Q] Shawn DeLierre (Can) 11-6, 11-8, 9-11, 11-8 (60m)
[Q] Zac Alexander (Aus) bt Alan Clyne (Sco) 11-6, 11-3, 11-8 (40m)
 Karim Darwish (Egy) bt [Q] Mathieu Castagnet (Fra) 12-10, 11-6, 7-11, 11-5 (59m)
Alister Walker (Bot) bt  Laurens Jan Anjema (Ned) 7-11, 11-8, 8-11, 11-5, 12-10 (70m)
Simon Rosner (Ger) bt Chris Ryder (Eng) 5-11, 11-5, 11-5, 11-9 (57m)
Olli Tuominen (Fin) bt Julian Illingworth (Usa) 8-11, 11-7, 11-2, 15-13 (55m)
 Nick Matthew (Eng) bt Miguel Angel Rodriguez (Col) 14-12, 10-12, 11-9, 9-11, 11-5 (92 mins)
Davenport North American Open, presented by Brown’s Jaguar, at the Westwood Club, Richmond, Virginia
Second round, Wednesday (12 noon start):
 Amr Shabana (Egy) v Adrian Grant (Eng)
 Azlan Iskandar (Mas) v [Q] Karim Abdel Gawad (Egy)
 Gregory Gaultier (Fra) v Shahier Razik (Can)
 Ramy Ashour (Egy) v Cameron Pilley (Aus)
 Karim Darwish (Egy) v Zac Alexander (Aus)
Alister Walker (Bot) v Simon Rosner (Ger)
 Nick Matthew (Eng) v Olli Tuominen (Fin)