All eight seeds, and six Egyptians, were still in contention at the start of the second round of the PSA $115k World Series El Gouna International Squash Open in Egypt’s Red Sea resort, and at the end of it we were left with seven seeds, four Egyptians, and an upset win that had been a full decade in the making.
The first match iof the day was a clash of style and physique as eighth seeded Dutchman LJ Anjema met speedy Egyptian Tarek Momen.
Anjema took a tight first game, but Momen looked to have taken the momentum as he levelled, then led 5/1 and 8/5 in the third. Anjema powered back though, taking the lead 11/9 and opening up a 10/4 advantage in the fourth, which he finished off at the fourth attempt.
“This is why I’m playing squash, this is such an amazing feeling!!! Playing in the Lion’s Den…. I’m so happy with my performance,” said a delighted Dutchman. “He is just so fast, so tricky, and if I was not quick enough to the front he would have me all over the place, but I just kept focusing on my game, nothing else to focus on really, is there.”
The second match was a clash of the ages as 21-year-old Mohamed El Shorbagy faced France’s Thierry Lincou, with 36 years of experience to call on. The Frenchman made an untypically fast start as he took the lead but Shorbagy struck back to lead 2-1.
A series of unforced errors cost the Egyptian at the start of the fourth, but he prevailed in a tense decider which Lincou led 7/5 but was Lincou left unhappy as the referee called his pickup not up on Shorbagy’s first match ball.
“I don’t know what to say, he played very well, I didn’t expect him to play that well to be honest,” admitted a relieved winner. “I think I played well in patches, I was patient, but at others, I just wasn’t. Still, we had some very tough rallies. I think he likes playing me, and I like playing him! It was a Tecnifibre battle!”
An Egyptian winner was guaranteed from the third match, but for the first time in ten meetings since their first in January 2002, it would be Hisham Ashour, not Amr Shabana who progressed.
It was typically fast and furious, but on this day the sixth-seeded fourt-time world champion couoldn’t keep Hisham and his winners down. Understated on court at the end of the match, he walked a few solo circuits of the court and the Movenpick gardens and his considered reaction was “I feel like crying, man …”
“Do you know how many years I’ve been trying to win against him, and never ever succeeding,” he added. “It’s been probably what, 8, 9 years? And getting close sometimes, but because of his experience, and craft, and immense talent, not succeeding.
“Today, I beat 4 people. One, The Legend, Two, the 4 times World Champion, Three, The big brother, Four, The Fair player, who is so respectful on court.”
Hisham’s younger brother Ramy Ashour made it an Egyptian hat-trick for the afternoon session as he beat Adrian Grant in four fast-paced games. The Englishman fought back well to take the second, but in the end Ashour’s pace and shotmaking proved too much.
“I knew, even after taking the first, that it was not going to be easy, that he would dig in and not let go. And that’s exactly what he did in the second,” said Ramy. “After that, I found my rhythm – it was a pretty fast pace – and although it was a shortish match, a lot of work was done.”
World champion Nick Matthew survived a scare in the first evening match on the glass court, where the top four seeds were to play. Ali Anwar Reda gave the sizeable Egyptian crowd at El Gouna and on TV hopes of an upset as he took the first game and had game balls at 10/8 in the second to double his advantage.
“That lasted a bit longer that I expected!!!” admitted Matthew after the 80+ minute match. “Tonight we were both playing well in patches, like I was playing 3 or 4 points quite well, then he would. But we didn’t seem to find a real momentum throughout.
“Conditions were difficult tonight, but tomorrow I’ll have to move better between plan A and plan B! It’s all there in pieces, it’s just about piecing them together….”
Defending champion Karim Darwish looked to be taken by surprise by the attacking start made by Jonathan Kemp as the Englishman took the first game 11/7. Darwish dominated the next three games though, taking them for the loss of just seven points to set up a meeting with Mohamed El Shorbagy.
“A few tins? A bit more than a few! Like one every other point,” admitted Kemp, “but he was just too good!”
“In the first game, there was nothing I could do, he was going for every shot, typical Kemp!” added Darwish. “So I played more solid to the back, to retake the control. So happy to be in the quarters, in this beautiful setting of El Gouna, and I hope I can stick around a bit longer …”
Top seed James Willstrop, like his Yorkshire rival Matthew, found himself facing game balls in his first game as Saurav Ghosal continued to cause his Leeds training partner trouble. Willstrop though, saved five before tking the game 14/12 and carried that momentum into the second, taking it 11/2.
The speedy Indian led midway through the third but the world number one helped the schedule a little as he again recovered to take it 11/7. He now meets LJ Anjema for a place in the semi-finals.
“I was much more mentally tuned and solid than I was in Canary Wharf, I think I played better,” said Willstrop. “Winning the first was crucial, then the second, momentum with me, but again had to dig in the third. Tonight was a good mental performance, I think.”
The final match of the day and the round saw two big swings of fortune. Second seed Gregory Gaultier looked to be heading for a fairly comfortable 3-0 win over Simon Rosner, but from 4-10 down in the third the strong German scored eight points in a row to pull a game back 12/10. The Frenchman responded with a run of nine points to lead the fourth 9-0, and finished it off 11-1 to set up a mouth-watering clash with Ramy Ashour in the quarter-finals.
El Gouna International Squash Open 2012
Tue 12th Apr, Round Two:
 Laurens Jan Anjema (Ned) bt Tarek Momen (Egy) 11/7, 8/11, 11/9, 11/7 (70m)
 Mohamed El Shorbagy (Egy) bt Thierry Lincou (Fra) 5/11, 11/8, 11/8, 8/11, 11/8 (75m)
Hisham Ashour (Egy) bt  Amr Shabana (Egy) 13/11, 9/11, 11/9, 11/8 (48m)
 Ramy Ashour (Egy) bt Adrian Grant (Egy) 11/4, 9/11, 11/5, 11/1 (44m)
 Nick Matthew (Eng) bt Ali Anwar Reda (Egy) 9/11, 14/12, 11/6, 11/6 (85m)
 Karim Darwish (Egy) bt Jonathan Kemp (Eng) 7/11, 11/2, 11/2, 11/3 (31m)
 James Willstrop (Eng) bt Saurav Ghosal (Ind) 14/12, 11/2, 11/7 (55m)
 Gregory Gaultier (Fra) bt Simon Rosner (Ger) 11/6, 11/9, 10/12, 11/1 (67m)
Quarter-finals start at 18.30 on Wednesday.
Full Coverage: www.elgounasquashopen.com