8:09 pm
20 Feb 2019

Top Seeds Prevail on Opening Day In San Francisco

27 Sep 2017

The opening day of main draw action at the 2017 Oracle NetSuite Open saw all but two seeds in the men's and women's events make it through to the quarter-final stage, with last year's runner-up James Willstrop avoiding a shock defeat to Qatar's Abdulla Mohd Al Tamimi in the standout match at the Bay Club in San Francisco.

A capacity crowd was treated to a series of fast-paced rallies, with Al Tamimi's shot-making talents and incredible retrieval skills seeing him go 2/1 ahead, only to see England's former world No.1 take control in the final two games to emerge victorious 7-11, 11-8, 9-11, 11-5, 11-6.

"He is very fast and very skilful," said Willstrop, the fourth seed.

"It's also the first match of the season for me and it was a bit cloudy in my head. I have to thank my dad [Malcolm] because I wasn't calm out there. There's no time to think in squash and you're under quite a lot of duress with the oxygen debt, so it's difficult to think clearly and stay calm.

"It's that balance about knowing when your shot is on and when not to go for it when you're under pressure. He was putting me deep and I was having to counter him. That's the brilliant thing about squash, it's about rally construction and choosing the right shots to play at the right time."

Willstrop will take on Ryan Cuskelly in the next round after the Australian defeated Mexico's Cesar Salazar - top seed Mohamed Elshorbagy, the world No.3 from Egypt, overcame former world No.4 Miguel Angel Rodriguez in a four-game thriller.

The pair engaged in some lengthy rallies, with Elshorbagy coming out on top more often than not to build up a two-game lead before Rodriguez found his length in the third to take it and send the match into a fourth game.

Rodriguez forced a tie-break where he saved two match balls - but the gruelling nature of the rallies eventually took its toll on the 'Colombian Cannonball' as Elshorbagy's power ultimately prevailed.

"I thought today was a perfect first match of the season for me," said Elshorbagy.

"Today, I was tested physically and mentally playing Miguel on the bouncy, traditional courts and I passed that test today. You're playing probably the best player in these kind of conditions, so it was a challenge.

"I knew he was going to play well, he didn't play well last season but he will have had some good summer training and I haven't seen him play that well in a while. I'm really proud of the win."

World Champion Karim Abdel Gawad got his tournament off to a winning start against tournament wildcard Faraz Khan and he will take on fellow Egyptian Tarek Momen in the last eight round.

Two-time runner-up Nick Matthew was also in action as he got the better of Spain's Borja Golan with a 3/1 victory in his first tournament appearance since last week's announcement that he will retire at the end of the season.

England's world No.4 will meet Diego Elias in the last eight after the unseeded Peruvian produced the only upset in the men's event to take out sixth-seeded Egyptian Fares Dessouky.

In the women's event, defending champion Laura Massaro took a step closer to retaining her crown after she despatched tournament wildcard Aisling Blake in just 25 minutes.

Ireland's 36-year-old Blake was making her first main draw appearance at a Tour event since retiring from the sport two years ago. But despite the crowd support for her now San Francisco-based opponent, top seed Massaro ensured that the result went in her favour after surging to an 11-5, 11-9, 11-2 victory.

"I thought Aisling played well considering she's been retired for two years," said 33-year-old Massaro, who suffered a shock first round exit in the China Open earlier in the month.

"I'm excited to be back, China didn't go according to plan but I've put in a a few changes in training since then, so hopefully I can do well here ahead of going to the US Open.

"Being in San Francisco is really relaxing, so I feel at home here."

Massaro is joined in the last eight by compatriot and world No.6 Sarah-Jane Perry, who defeated Canadian qualifier Hollie Naughton 11-4, 11-4, 9-11, 11-7 in 37 minutes.

"A few years ago, you used to see a qualifier and think that's an alright draw but now they're really tough," said Perry.

"My length dropped off a little bit maybe. It was good in the first two games but then she stepped up a bit and I was trying to hit some shots that weren't really on. I had to wrestle back the control and I think I did that in the last game, although I did switch off for a couple of rallies and then she was right back in it."

Perry will face Australia's Donna Urquhart in the quarter-finals, while Massaro will take on Egyptian number eight seed Salma Hany Ibrahim.

There were also wins for Malaysian eight-time World Champion Nicol David and Victoria Lust, who will face off in the next round, while US No.2 Olivia Blatchford and India's Dipika Pallikal Karthik will go head-to-head in the other quarter-final.

Unseeded Pallikal scored the day's only women's upset when she ousted England's Emily Whitlock, the No.4 seed, in four games.