Hisham Ashour made it a good start for Egypt on day two of the El Gouna International Squash Open, on a day which saw home interest in all but one of the eight matches, as he overcame French qualifier Mathieu Castagnet in an entertaining and high-quality four games.
The Frenchman finished a tough opening game stronger to take the lead 11/9, but Ashour levelled 11/8, and almost paid the price for a string of unforced errors in the third, saving four game balls before taking the lead 14/12. Despite Castagnet’s best efforts – and they were considerable – Ashour kept ahead during the fourth, and finished it off 11/9 with a crosscourt that was just too wide for Castagnet to control.
“He is a strong man on court, he is like the Shark in the movies, you think you’ve killed it, and it keeps coming back at you!!!!!” quipped Ashour. “I’m pretty happy with my performance,” he added.
Ali Anwar Reda made it two out of two for Egypt – but that was no surprise as he was up against a compatriot in qualifier Wael Farag. Reda was relatively untroubled as Farag struggled to make a real impression on the match, losing handfuls of quick points in each game as Reda took the initiative and showed no sign of letting it slip.
“Wael is a good player, we know each other’s game pretty well, last week only, we played three times,” said the winmner. “When I play him, I try and keep him off pace, because he adapts to your pace something awful, so, I have to change the rhythm constantly.”
Germany’s Simon Rosner became the first non-Egyptian to advance, but it took him 87 minutes to quell the challenge of young Frenchman Greg Marche, who was playing confidently to put himself 2-1 up and 8-all in the fourth before the higher-ranked Rosner managed to impose himself.
“I think that’s the best I ever saw Greg play,” said a relieved and impressed Rosner. “He didn’t give my any cheap point for the whole first four games, and I got frustrated more and more, I just didn’t know what to change tactically!!!! I don’t think I played badly, he just played so well, really well.”
Adrian Grant gained a measure of revenge for his marathon defeat in the KL Open final at the hands of Omar Mosaad, coming through in five games where neither seemed to play well at the same time. From 2-1 down the Englishman eased through the last two games with Mosaad making error after error in the fourth and unable to regain the momentum in the decider.
“He was the last opponent I played, and neither of us wanted to play each other again so soon but that’s how it goes sometimes. The court was to my advantage, but he was at home in Egypt, so it balanced things I guess! It was a tough draw for both of us, but it’s really nice to beat him here.
The first evening match was all-Egyptian, with Amr Shabana taking on young Karim Abdel Gawad. The four-time world champion showed who was boss in the opening game 11/4, but Gawad made a real fight of it in the next two. You never got the impression that Shabana was in danger as he went through to a second round meeting with Hisham Ashour, but it wasn’t a cakewalk either.
“The court we played on in Rotterdam during the worlds suited his game better, because he’s got some sting in his shots, but this glass court is a bit slower, so it was better for my game,” said Shabana. “Still, it was very close, 11/9, 11/9, it could have gone either way. And his game is like his personality: calm but deadly!”
Neither was it a cakewalk for Ramy Ashour against his fellow former world junior champion Amr Khaled Khalifa, who played well to push the fifth seed in the first before losing it 11/7, but then opened up a 9/3 lead in the second. Ashour steadied though, took the next 14 points in a row and although Khalifa made a good comeback it was too late by then and Ashour goes through to meet Adrian Grant.
Ashour, looking trim, was happy with his performance, some of which he put down to a new regime and attitude: ““I thought that I was dedicated before, but now, I’m actually realising that I’m learning the true meaning of it. And it’s like, before, I was a squash player when I was on court, and thinking about other things off court. But now, I am a squash player all the time…
“I had never seen Andrew play before, so I had to give him all the respect due, but after a while, I got used to the conditions, and felt pretty comfortable,” said Matthew, who faces Ali Anwar Reda. “I have a lot of Egyptians in my draw, I just hope I can keep the English flag going,” he added.
Round one was completed as Fance’s second seed Gregory Gaultier despatched world junior champion Marwan El Shorbgy in just over half an hour, the young Egyptian challenging at the end of the second game as Gaultier made a few errors on game ball, but left no room for error in the third as he advanced to an all-European second round with Simon Rosner.
“Marwan played extremely well, he has a lot of good shots and moves very fast to the front, so it was perfect to test myself, and to get back into business,” said Gaultier.
Tuesday’s second round again sees four afternoon matches at the Movenpick resort followed by four in the evening on the glass court, with all eight seeds and six Egyptians still in contention:
Round One, bottom half:
Hisham Ashour (Egy) bt [Q] Mathieu Castagnet (Fra) 9/11, 11/8, 14/12, 11/9 (63m)
Ali Anwar Reda (Egy) bt [Q] Wael Farag (Egy) 11/5, 11/6, 11/5 (32m)
Simon Rosner (Ger) bt Gregoire Marche (Fra) 10/12, 11/6, 12/14, 11/9, 11/6 (87m)
Adrian Grant (Eng) bt Omar Mosaad (Egy) 9/11, 11/3, 5/11, 11/1, 11/3 (61m)
 Amr Shabana (Egy) bt Karim Abdel Gawad (Egy) 11/4, 11/9, 11/9 (40m)
 Ramy Ashour (Egy) bt [Q] Amr Khalid Khalifa (Egy) 11/7, 11/9, 11/7 (35m)
 Nick Matthew (Eng) bt [Q] Andrew Wagih (Egy) 11/5, 11/5, 11/3 (35m)
 Gregory Gaultier (Fra) bt Marwan El Shorbagy (Egy) 11/4, 11/9, 11/2 (33m)
12.00  Laurens Jan Anjema (Ned) v Tarek Momen (Egy)
12.45  Mohamed El Shorbagy (Egy) v Thierry Lincou (Fra)
13.30  Amr Shabana (Egy) v Hisham Ashour (Egy)
14.15  Ramy Ashour (Egy) v Adrian Grant (Egy)
18.30  Nick Matthew (Eng) v Ali Anwar Reda (Egy)
19.15  Karim Darwish (Egy) v Jonathan Kemp (Eng)
20.00  James Willstrop (Eng) v Saurav Ghosal (Ind)
20.45  Gregory Gaultier (Fra) v Simon Rosner (Ger)
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