Willstrop Gurantees English Finalist In Richmond
26 Feb 2010
Two of the greatest national rivalries in world squash will entertain the semi-final crowd at the $93,750 North American Open in Richmond after Egyptians Ramy Ashour and Amr Shabana, together with Englishmen Nick Matthew and James Willstrop, came through the quarter-finals of the second PSA Super Series 2010 event of the year at the University of Richmond in Virginia.
Seventh seed Willstrop produced the only upset of the day when he beat fourth seed Gregory Gaultier - repeating the win over his career-long French rival in the Richmond final two years ago, but avenging two most recent losses to the former world number one from Aix-en-Provence.
The clash was billed as the potential match of the tournament: Gaultier reached No1 in the world only a few months earlier, while Willstrop won the year's first Super Series event, the JP Morgan Tournament of Champions, in January in New York.
Both players started out at a furious pace, with Willstrop managing to hit a slightly better length, allowing him to dominate the middle of the court.
"Gaultier never really controlled any point in the match, though he is a great fighter," commented a tournament spokesman. "Through sheer will, he managed to win a few scrappy points towards the end of the second game to force a tie-break."
The Frenchman stuck to his natural game of fast-paced hitting and counter-attack in the third game, though it was ineffective as Willstrop closed out the last few points to win 11-6, 12-10, 11-3 in 53 minutes.
It took Nick Matthew 14 more energy-sapping minutes to conquer compatriot and England team-mate Adrian Grant 11-9, 5-11, 11-4, 11-7 to set up his second Tour meeting this year with fellow Yorkshireman Willstrop after the pair contested the Swedish Open final earlier in the month.
Matthew, 29, from Sheffield, and 26-year-old Willstrop, from Leeds, have been persistent rivals since their junior days - and Willstrop, currently 8-12 down on their PSA head-to-head record, is looking for his first win since December 2007.
Like last year's runner-up Matthew, defending champion Ramy Ashour is one match away from his second successive appearance in the Richmond final after beating experienced Frenchman Thierry Lincou 8-11, 12-10, 11-9, 11-8.
Lincou, a former world number one, produced a fantastic display of fighting squash against the touch and speed of Ashour, the reigning world number one. The ninth-seeded Frenchman played tight squash and dominated the top seed in the first game and up to mid-way through the second.
At 10-8 to Ashour in the second, Ashour hit two crosscourt volley drops into the tin - an unusual occurrence! The 22-year-old from Cairo regained composure and Lincou started to tire. Two more crosscourt drop-shots and this time they went in: game to Ashour 12-10.
Ashour went on to produce some spectacular shot-making and retrieving to carve out his impressive four-game victory in 49 minutes.
The 30-year-old third seed from Giza produced a clinical display of precision squash to end the Finn's Richmond run - and set up a head-on clash with young Egyptian rival Ramy Ashour.
The pair will be meeting for the 15th time on the Tour since October 2006 - eight of which were in finals. Shabana was the victor in November's World Open final in Kuwait, but Ashour prevailed in their most recent clash in December's semi-finals of the Punj Lloyd PSA Masters in India.
Picture by Patricia Lyons Photography
 Ramy Ashour (EGY) bt  Thierry Lincou (FRA) 8-11, 12-10, 11-9, 11-8 (49m)
 Amr Shabana (EGY) bt  Olli Tuominen (FIN) 11-3, 11-7, 11-8 (32m)
 James Willstrop (ENG) bt  Gregory Gaultier (FRA) 11-6, 12-10, 11-3 (53m)
 Nick Matthew (ENG) bt  Adrian Grant (ENG) 11-9, 5-11, 11-4, 11-7 (67m)