Willstrop tested as Governor declares Virginia Squash Day

Top seed James Willstrop endured a fierce onslaught from former world champion Thierry Lincou before reaching the quarter-finals of the Davenport North American Open.

He weathered the storm to complete a straight-games victory over the former world number one, who is still performing at a phenomenal physical level at the age of 35.

He now faces another squash legend, Amr Shabana, in the last eight.

Lincou held game balls at 10-8, 12-11 and 14-13 in the first game but Willstrop dug deep to win it 16-14 in 27 minutes.

The Frenchman led 6-5 in the second game but Willstrop finished strongly to win 11-7. The tall Englishman built a strong lead in the third but at 9-2 down Lincou continued to compete for every ball and made the scoreline more respectable with some superb winning shots.

Willstrop finally completed a 16-14, 11-7, 11-6 victory in 50 minutes and afterwards he paid tribute to his opponent, and the man he faces in the quarter-finals, Shabana.

Willstrop said: “We are fortunate to have such great players in our game, men who are fantastic competitors, gentlemen both on and off the court and act as superb role models and ambassadors in our sport.

“Thierry has always been an inspiration for the way he plays the game and conducts himself, and the way he is still competing deserves enormous respect.

“As for Amr, he has won four world titles and is still continuing to operate at the highest levels. Some people attempt to write off these guys, simply because of their age, but that is just a number, nothing more. They continue to inspire but I have just beaten one of them and have a job to do tomorrow and will have to be at my best to win again.

“Fortunately I am feeling strong and winning long games gives you the confidence to push through.”

World champion Nick Matthew again made life difficult for himself but finally forced his way through to the quarter-finals. Matthew struggled against Finland’s Olli Tuominen before winning 11-9, 4-11, 11-8, 11-2 in 55 minutes.

He admitted: “I was actually thinking too much and couldn’t get my head straight. It’s not what I wanted with all these long matches on the midnight shift, having seen guys like Greg and Ramy winning quickly in the afternoon matches.

“I know I will need to play better against Simon Rosner. He is playing well and looking relaxed. We played each other in the World Team Championships in Paderborn and it felt like the whole of Germany was against me.”

The 6ft 3in Rosner again impressed as he overcame Botswana’s Alister Walker, winning 11-6, 11-6, 11-6 with a consistent display of solid hitting and confident court movement.

Gregory Gaultier powered his way through to the quarter-finals by overwhelming Canadian Shahier Razik in just 29 minutes. The French maestro looked very shaarp indeed as he won 11-1, 11-4, 11-4.

After the match he said: “I am feeling good and learning how to look after my body a lot better than I used to.”

Ramy Ashour was ten minutes late on court but attacked right from the start against Cameron Pilley. He won 11-6, 11-7, 11-9 in just 28 minutes.

Both players produced fast, attacking squash but Ashour was always likely to be the man hitting more winners. Pilley fought hard at the finish and had Ramy diving all over the court in to one rally, only to hit the ball back to himself to concede a penalty stroke.

Ashour, who is returning to action after injury, echoed Gaultier’s comments about diet and fitness. He said: “I love the food here in Richmond so I have to be very careful about what I eat and how much.

“I always enjoy playing Cameron. He is a great professional and hits the ball very well. I treat every player with respect.”

In the quarter-finals, Ashour meets fellow Egyptian Karim Darwish, who beat Australian qualifier Zac Alexander 11-5, 11-4, 11-3 in 30 minutes.

Darwish said: “Zac is a very strong player and improving all the time. I am looking forward to playing Ramy. He is one of my best friends. All the Egyptian players are very close. The last time I played him, I lost 3-2 in Hurghada. We always have close matches.”

Number eight seed Azlan Iskandar conceded his match against young Egyptian Karim Abdel Gawad because of a thigh injury. The Malaysian world number ten stayed in his chair after losing the first two games and said: “I have been suffering for a few days and trying to play through it. The adductor muscle is causing the problem and it started bruising badly.”

Gawad now meets Gaultier in the quarter-finals, a huge challenge for the skilful 20-year-old from Alexandria. He said: “I have always wanted to beat a top ten player. Now I am in the quarter-finals but my thoughts are with Azlan. I hope he gets better soon.”

This will be the 20-year-old’s first appearance in a World Series quarter-final. He is already used to the glass court on the big stage, having led Egypt to success in the Under-21 World Cup earlier this month in Chennai, India.

Second round, Wednesday, February 22, 2012:

[1] James Willstrop (Eng) bt Thierry Lincou (Fra) 16-14, 11-7, 11-6 (50m)
[6] Amr Shabana (Egy) bt Adrian Grant (Eng) 11-8, 11-5, 4-11, 11-6 (59m)
[Q] Karim Abdel Gawad (Egy) bt [8] Azlan Iskandar (Mas) 11-8, 11-4 rtd (26m)
[3] Gregory Gaultier (Fra)  bt Shahier Razik (Can) 11-1, 11-4, 11-4 (29m)
[4] Ramy Ashour (Egy) bt Cameron Pilley (Aus) 11-6, 11-7, 11-9 (28m)
[5] Karim Darwish (Egy) bt Zac Alexander (Aus) 11-5, 11-4, 11-3 (30m)
Simon Rosner (Ger) bt Alister Walker (Bot) 11-6, 11-6, 11-6 (46m)
[2] Nick Matthew (Eng) bt Olli Tuominen (Fin) 11-9, 4-11, 11-8, 11-2 (55m)

GOVERNOR DECLARES VIRGINIA SQUASH DAY

The Governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell was welcomed to the Davenport North American Open’s glass court by an enthusiastic audience, flanked by Kim Ennis from the Westwood Club and David Hetherington, President of the Virginia Squash Association.

The Governor officially proclaimed February 22 as Virginia Squash Day and said how pleased he was that Richmond hosted such an outstanding annual event that attracted the world’s leading players to the Commonwealth capital.

He joined spectators in the SkyBox to watch the action as top seed James Willstrop from England took on former world champion Thierry Lincou from France.

The success of the tournament has resulted in a steady increase in participation figures accompanied by the building of new courts throughout Virginia.

Group picture shows (left to right): David Hetherington, Thierry Lincou, Governor Bob McDonnell, James Willstrop and Kim Ennis. Pictures by ANDREW PREZIOSO

Quarter-finals:

(1) Willstrop v (6) Shabana (7pm)
(3) Gaultier v (Q) Awad (5pm)
(4) Ashour v (5) Darwish (6pm)
(2) Matthew v Rosner (8pm)

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