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TODAY at the Saudi International 2007:
Steve Cubbins in Al-Khobar ...

Friday 26th, Quarter-Finals:

QUARTER-FINALS:

[1] Amr Shabana (Egy) bt [5] Thierry Lincou (Fra)
       11/7, 12/10, 11/5 (50m)

[3] David Palmer (Aus) bt [7] Nick Matthew (Eng)
       11/5, 10/12, 11/3, 11/3 (71m)

[4] Gregory Gaultier (Fra) bt [6] James Willstrop (Eng)
       11/2, 2/11, 11/7, 11/9 (65m)

[2] Ramy Ashour (Egy) bt [15] Olli Tuominen (Fin)
       11/6, 11/6, 11/7 (31m)

World's top four in Saudi Semis ...

It was down to the last eight tonight, and after four contrasting matches the top four seeds - the world's top four - are still here ...

Top seed Amr Shabana was in no mood for another five-game thriller, and once he had saved a couple of game balls in the second he eased through to victory against Thierry Lincou.

The defending champion will meet David Palmer for a place in the final after the Australian world champion turned in "one of my best performances of the year" to see off the challenge of Nick Matthew.

Another Egyptian who improved massively on his previous performance was Ramy Ashour, who, in the words of his opponent Olli Tuominen, "really ruled the game," with a very impressive performance.

He will meet France's Gregory Gaultier, who got the better of a topsy-turvy encounter with James Willstrop to set up a repeat of their Super Series Finals meeting in August.
 

[3] David Palmer (Aus) bt
[7] Nick Matthew (Eng)    11/5, 10/12, 11/3, 11/3 (71m)

Palmer in control

"That was one of my best performances of the year," said David Palmer after completing a comprehensive win over new US Open champion Nick Matthew.

It was certainly an impressive match by the world champion, as he maintained a tight control for all but one brief spell. Palmer jumped out to a 6-1 lead which sealed the first game, and was making Matthew work harder and harder as he pulled away from 6-all to 10-6 in the second.

That was when Matthews's good spell came as the Englishman, helped by a few rare errors from Palmer, took six points in a row to level.

He would only take six more in the final two games though, as Palmer tightened up and regained his iron grip on the match. By the middle of the fourth Matthew's cause was a hopeless one.

"Credit to him, he had me on the back foot all match the end of the second was my only good patch. I've had two bad performances this year, both against him, so I've got to learn from this. I wasn't happy with my short game, I might have got away with it against someone of a lesser standard, but as his level you have to be able to make winners.

"Missing my drops drained my confidence away, but at least I know what to work on for Qatar, Hong Kong and Bermuda.

"I'm disappointed to lose obviously, especially since I've come off not even tired. I gave it all, but I got outplayed today, simple as that."

"I knew it was going to be a tough match, that I'd have to be at 110% to win this one.

"The schedule suited me this week, I was fresh and well-prepared and that was probably one of the best matches I've played this year.

"I had a good start, and played perfect squash to get to 10/6 in the second. It was a bit of a blow when he came back to take that one, but I managed to get my concentration back again and I felt fairly comfortable one I got 8 or 9/2 up in the third and fourth.

"It's very warm and bouncy, so different from last year, so you have to be smart and play in patches, slow it down and gather yourself when you're on the back foot

"It could have been 3/0, but I would have taken any result tonight to make the semis, so I have to be pleased with that."

[1] Amr Shabana (Egy) bt
[5] Thierry Lincou (Fra)       11/7, 12/10, 11/5 (50m)

Three this time for Shabana

Having survived a scare when 2-0 down in the last round, defending champion Amr Shabana was in no mood for another marathon tonight.

Focused from the beginning, the world number one took a 4-0 lead in the first, and although Thierry Lincou kept pegging the lead back, the Frenchman could never quite get to parity as Shabana took the game 11/7.

It wasn't vintage Shabana, there were few flashing winners, Lincou was too precise to allow that, just the odd burst of brilliance. Lincou was containg his opponent well, and although Shabana took a 5-2 lead in the second he couldn't hold it this tme as Lincou levelled at 6-all and earned two game balls at 10-8. Shabana saved them with winning dropshots, and after a series of lets took the next two points to double his lead. The disappointment was writ large on the Frenchman's features.

The match turned in the middle of the third when Shabana caught Thierry in the face on his backswing - entirely accidental and nothing too nasty, but the stroke brought him level at 5-all and after a brief spell of treatment Thierry never won - or looked like winning - another point.

So the champion is in the semis where the world champion awaits ...

"It was one of those matches that was more on the physical side, it's not the best technical squash I've ever played, but every one of Thierry's shots is technically perfect so it makes it very hard for you if I don't play a good shot I'm in trouble.

"I knew at 3-5 in the third that was the time, because he's the king of the comeback and if he had got back to 2/1 I was not likely to win. It was unfortunate I hit him, we always try not to do anything like that - it was a pure accident, but it did seem to put him off a bit.

"Even though I wasn't happy with my game I'm pleased to be through to the semi-finals, this is such a big tournament for us, and with all the fans here we want to do well for them "

"It could have been different if I'd won the second, but who knows

"I had been playing very patiently cutting out the errors, but at the end of the game I lost my patience and made two tins, and it's very hard from two down against him

"I'm sad to lose, but not disappointed with how I played, or my game, and good luck to him for the rest of the tournament "

[2] Ramy Ashour (Egy) bt
[15] Olli Tuominen (Fin)  11/6, 11/6, 11/7 (31m)

Ramy in cruise control

It was a second Egyptian in a row for Olli Tuominen, but that's where the similarity between the Finn's two matches on the glass court ended.

No war of attrition this, as Ramy Ashour displayed his full array of shots, moving effortlessly around the court while at the same time making his opponent travel much further, much faster, and more often.

You had the impression that Ramy was playing well within himself, but he still had too much ammunition for Olli tonight.

"My aim was to make Olli as tired as I could," he revealed afterwards, and he did that. "I thought I played very well."

He did that too ... beware people, beware ...

"Olli is such a fast player, my target when I play him is o make him as tired as I can.

"I thought I played well tonight, I was putting the balls deep into the back when I needed to, my shots were working fine and my touch was good.

"I really enjoyed it and I hope to carry on like that for the rest of the tournament "


"I didn't play as well as I did yesterday, but I just couldn't get the ball past him. I wasn't sharp enough tonight and he really ruled the game.

"It's important to get a good start against him which I didn't because one he gets on top of you it's very hard to get back into it. But he was just too good today "

[4] Gregory Gaultier (Fra) bt
[6] James Willstrop (Eng)      11/2, 2/11, 11/7, 11/9 (65m)

Greg in the end ...

Well, it was a bit of a topsy-turvy game this one, at least to start with. First game saw James Willstrop well out of sorts, he couldn't seem to get into it, couldn't get the ball tight - three strokes straight down the middle to finish the game off summed that one up nicely.

Second game it was a case of role reversal. James was better, but without doing anything spectacular, and suddenly it was Gregory Gaultier who looked out of sorts, five tins helping James along the way to levelling, another 11/2. Weird.

But from then on we had a match. Both started playing well together, and the rallies became longer and more intense. It was neck and neck to 7-all in the third, but it was Greg who clinched it. Same story in the fourth, as from 6-all the Frenchman drew clear.

James had his chances - at 7-6 Greg was sprawled out in the back of the court but James could only find the back of the court when anything short would have been a winner. Greg recovered to take that point, got to 10-7 on a stroke, and although James managed to claw two points back in a tense finish, a final drop from deep saw Greg home.

It was a fine match - once they got started - played in great spirit, and it was a fine line between winning and losing ...

"The first two games were very cagey I was loose in the first then upped it in the second, getting on my toes. It's very hot on there, it's sapping and I wasn't pushing, just moping around on there.

"It got much heavier in the middle of the third, to 7-all. All credit to him, he just played a bit better and more accurately to win that one. My short game wasn't too fluid, it was sitting up a bit today, I was getting onto the ball late and it was flicking off the sidewalls and stuff.

"I felt strong at the end, I rallied well at the end but he got a couple of tight balls and that was that "

"It's tough to keep the pace up for the whole match, and it was a little up and down for both of us. The third and fourth games were very hard, he was very sharp today and came back very strongly towards the end.

"It was a brutal game, especially with the court being so bouncy, it's hard to read the shots. I'm glad that my shots came through in the end and very happy to get through in four "

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