9:36 pm
20 May 2024

Defending Champion Gawad Downs Home Favourite To Reach Optasia Semis

16 Mar 2024

In an exciting quarter-final stage of the Optasia Championships in London, fifth seed Karim Abdel Gawad defeated England No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy in a dramatic five-game thriller to eliminate home interest in the last four of the men's PSA World Tour Gold event at The Wimbledon Club.

In the women's event, Japan's Satomi Watanabe survived a match ball scare to beat France's Melissa Alves in five games, while it was seventh time lucky for England's Jasmine Hutton who defeated higher-ranked compatriot Sarah-Jane Perry, the No.2 seed, for the first time in seven meetings.

Defending Champion Gawad and fourth-seeded ElShorbagy were meeting for the 25th time on the PSA Tour, with ElShorbagy leading the head-to-head 17-8 but Gawad having won the last three.

The latest was another five-setter as the match swung to and fro. The Englishman started strongly to take the lead 11-5, but Gawad struck back to take the next two 11-5, 11-4 to move ahead.

The fourth was the crucial game. It saw 20 minutes of fast, attacking squash with both players having their chances. Points were traded to 9-9, and after that it seemed that most of the points would be decided by errors or decisions at the end of well-contested rallies. Gawad thought he had match ball but a VR decision reversed it. It would take ElShorbagy four game balls to set up the decider 14-12 with each of the final seven points ending on an error or a stroke.

Undeterred, Gawad was on the front foot from the start of the fifth, and although ElShorbagy levelled at 6-6, the momentum was with the reigning champion as he reeled off five points to progress to the semi-finals.

"It was a tough battle as usual. Nothing new there," said Gawad after the match. "Mohamed now is playing amazing squash. His tactics, his reading the ball, his way he volleys the ball, the way he attacks. Just amazing.

"I really wanted to win. I tried to push as much as I could. I tried to dominate the T a bit more. I managed to this in the important games like the third and fifth. I wanted to finish in the fourth but he was just a bit more aggressive than me."

France's Melissa Alves came close to the first seedings upset of quarter-finals day when she squandered a match ball in the fourth game as No.4 seed Satomi Watanabe mounted a staggering comeback.

No.7 seed Alves took the final three points of the first game as they traded points up to 8-8, then took a quick lead in the second, moving from 6-3 to 8-4 and doubling her lead 11-5, both games lasting 9 minutes. The Japanese comeback started in game three as she opened up leads of 8-3 and then 10-4. One by one those game balls disappeared, some to Japanese errors, some to French winners. Five of them were wasted, but a relieved Watanabe finally found a winner to take the game 11-9 and pull one back.

Watanabe led early in the fourth game, but Alves levelled at 6-6 and 8-8 before Watanabe earned two game balls. A slip let Alves in for a match ball at 11-10. To her own dismay Alves volleyed the ball straight back at herself, and it was Watanabe who took the game 14-12 after 17 minutes to set up a decider. Watanabe maintained a lead through the fifth game with Alves looking passive compared to her previous play, and after 66 minutes, an ecstatic Watanabe completed the comeback 11-7.

"I'm just speechless," said Watanabe after the match. "I still can't believe I came back from match ball down. I'm really happy."

Elsewhere, No.6 seed Jasmine Hutton defeated No.2 seed Sarah-Jane Perry to reach her maiden World Tour semi-final in an all-English encounter to wrap up the women's quarter-finals.

"She's beaten me so many times now," said Hutton after the match. "Every time it's gotten closer and closer. I knew it was going to be a real battle today but I had the belief that I could definitely win today.

"I won the first, lost the second, won the third, but every time I lost that game I just though that she was trying to up the pace at me. I'm quite a frantic, high-energy person so I knew she was going to hit it at me quickly. As soon as that happened I started to get frustrated with myself. I needed to manoeuvre around the court more and play it into good places and I did that in parts but not enough."

Plenty of seeds progressed as Paul Coll downed Baptiste Masotti, Nele Gilis beat Hana Moataz, Mostafa Asal defeated Joel Makin and Ali Farag bested Marwan ElShorbagy. In the first match of the day, Nada Abbas came back from 2/0 down to beat Tesni Murphy.