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Matthew & Gaultier To Meet In Surprise Egyptian-Free New York Final

29 Jan 2009

England's tenth seed Nick Matthew and fourth-seeded Frenchman Gregory Gaultier will meet in a surprise final of the JP Morgan Tournament of Champions after the Europeans stunned higher-ranked Egyptians in the semi-finals of the $117,500 PSA Tour Super Series Gold squash event at Grand Central Terminal in New York.

The final is not only the first PSA Super Series event climax not to feature an Egyptian since last May's British Open, but it will also guarantee a new Tournament of Champions' champion - the eighth since the inaugural championship in 1993.

Matthew took defending champion Ramy Ashour out of his comfort zone to earn a second appearance in the final since losing to twice champion Amr Shabana in 2006. The 28-year-old Englishman from Yorkshire took advantage of his strength and stamina to keep the balls tight and deep on the wall, forcing the third-seeded Egyptian to try to create his trademark shot-making from a less favourable position than he is normally accustomed.

"I was changing the pace, and the speed, sometimes hitting high and sometime hitting low," explained Matthew, a former British Open champion, after the match.

Early on, it looked like it was going to be a close encounter when Matthew won the first game in a 12-10 tiebreak and Ashour won the second 11-8. "I was annoyed that I let the second game go," said the Englishman. "So I went back to basics in the third and once I got a lead, Ramy seemed a bit disheartened."

Matthew, who was off the Tour for nine months in 2008 with a shoulder injury, looked fresh and strong throughout the match, while Ashour looked increasingly disconsolate. Between games, England National Coach David Pearson was in Matthew's corner as they discussed strategy while the 21-year-old World Open champion sat alone, his head in his hands. After play was done, all Ashour had to say was: "I just didn't think I was going to win the match."

Matthew won the third game 11-6 and then easily closed out the match with an 11-2 victory in the fourth. It wasn't just length and width that earned the Englishman his victory; he also occasionally and surprisingly displayed the kind of shot-making for which his opponent is better known. "I don't mind if people underestimate that part of my game," he said, tongue-in-cheek!

Although he played to a high standard, the winner - now in his 24th career final - noted: "It is hard to be in the zone against Ramy because he changes the game all the time. You have to be physically strong, but you also have to be mentally focused on each shot."

In the final, Matthew will play his good friend Gregory Gaultier, who ousted current world number one Karim Darwish in the evening's second match. The 26-year-old Frenchman joyfully grabbed the side railings of the court in the players' area after he came off court at the end of the match.

"It's unbelievable," Gaultier said with a big grin. "This is my first ToC final and my fourth final in a row."

It didn't look as though this would be Gaultier's night at the start of the match when Darwish won the first game 11-2 by playing consistent length and waiting for Gaultier to make errors - which he did. Darwish used the same strategy in the second game, but Gaultier made enough winners to offset his errors and the game went to a tiebreak which Gaultier won 12-10.

The world No1 changed his strategy in the third game and tried to play a more attacking game, much to his detriment as he began making the errors. Still, the players were keeping pace with each for the first half of the game. Midway through, Gaultier had a heated exchange with the referee that seemed to energise him, and he then broke the game open to take a 9-4, lead, ultimately winning the game 11-5. The fourth game was all Gaultier as he led from start to finish to reach the 32nd Tour final of his career.

"I just tried to stay calm and focused," Gaultier observed after the match. "I think Karim might have been feeling the pressure of being No1." Asked to what he attributed his streak of four finals in a row, Gaultier responded: "I am so much stronger physically and mentally, but especially stronger in the head."

[10] Nick Matthew (ENG) bt [3] Ramy Ashour (EGY) 12-10, 8-11, 11-6, 11-2 (61m)
[4] Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt [2] Karim Darwish (EGY) 2-11, 12-10, 11-5, 11-6 (50m)