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

Saturday 27th, Semi-Finals: 

SEMI-FINALS: 

[1] Amr Shabana (Egy) bt [3] David Palmer (Aus)
       13/11, 11/8, 11/4 (54m)
[2] Ramy Ashour (Egy) bt [4] Gregory Gaultier (Fra)
       10/12, 11/2, 8/11, 11/2, 11/8 (68m)
  

All-Egyptian final at Sunset Beach

The Sunset Beach crowd went wild tonight, not once, but twice, as their favourite Egyptians won through to the final of the richest event in squash history.

They did it in contrasting styles, as defending champion Amr Shabana beat world champion David Palmer in straight games having saved game balls in the first, while Ramy Ashour eventually got the better of France's Gregory Gaultier in a five-game thriller that kept the crowd on the edge of its seats as the momentum swung one way, then the other, before finally resting in the world junior champion's favour.

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[1] Amr Shabana (Egy) bt [3] David Palmer (Aus)
         13/11, 11/8, 11/4 (54m)

Shabana back in the final

For two and a half games it couldn't have been closer, as two double World Champions went point for point as they strove to reach the final. Yes, David Palmer took at 3/1 lead in the first, but in a relatively cagey opening game the score went 3/3, 4/4, 5/5 ... all the way to 9/9 when the Australian earned game ball with a deep volley. Shabana saved that with a tight dropshot, but faced another as Palmer powered another volley deep into the back.

The defending champion saved that too and went on to take the lead after 23 minutes to Palmer's visible disappointment.

The second presented a similar tale, not a point to separate them up to 7-all. Three consecutive returns of serve into the nick and Shabana led 9-8, then he sent his opponent on courts sprints to reach game ball and closed it out with a drop that was just too tight.

Both were still playing measured squash, generally content to wait for opportunities to present themselves rather than forcing the issue, but from 4-all in the third Shabana made a break for home, firing in a series of spectacular winners that left Palmer dead and buried. The pick of the bunch was a deft crosscourt flick to reach 9/4, quickly followed by a volley kill and a wrong-footing boast to wrap up the 8-minute game.

"It's always a great performance to beat David, he's a big guy, very strong and very hard to beat. There was nothing in it for the first two games, I managed to save a couple of game balls in the first which was very important.

"My shots were very crisp, I had a good hit this morning when I felt good and it paid off tonight, my shots were working well. When I got a couple of points ahead in the third I knew it was time to push for a 3/0 win, and I had the confidence to go for my shots and thank God they came off.

"It will be fun playing Ramy in the final, he's just like a kid, out there having fun, it should be a good match "



"I should have won the first you can't afford to waste game ball opportunities against someone like him, you just can't do that. I played good squash until then, and I don't think I did too much wrong but at the end of the day I didn't win the points.

"The second was close too, but toward the end he realized I was struggling with my footing as the sweat was building up on the floor and kept pushing me towards the front.

"I played well all week, but you can't let those opportunities go, that probably cost me the match, but all credit to him he took the big points well. He's looking pretty strong and he'll be hard to beat "

[2] Ramy Ashour (Egy) bt [4] Gregory Gaultier (Fra)
       10/12, 11/2, 8/11, 11/2, 11/8 (68m)

Ramy wins a thriller

The first game of the second semi-final bore a remarkable resemblance to the opening game of the previous match - scorewise, at least. Point-for-point to 8-all, one player edges ahead to 10/8 only to be overtaken.

That's where the similarity ends though. None of that up-and-down the wall business, we were treated to a feast of flicks, lobs, drops, drives and boasts as two of the most talented racket players on earth pitted their skills against each other. Fast and furious, tense and exciting.

Gregory Gaultier took that first, then, as yesterday, succumbed 11/2 in the second as Ramy Ashour's shotmaking came to the fore.

The Frenchman was much more comfortable in the third, easing ahead from the mid-point, moving easily and getting the crowd worried as he reclaimed the lead.

Then he lost 11/2 again. To be fair, Greg contributed to his own downfall in this one, early errors making it a lost cause - although Ramy was good - and he conserved his energy for the fifth.

It was some game that fifth, 15-minutes of talent and tension. Ramy led 4/1, Greg recovered to 6-all, then 8-all. Greg lunged after the ball into the back corner and was left sprawling as Ramy put away an easy winner to lead 9/8, then Greg hit his return of serve out to gift Ramy two match balls.



He only needed one. A tin on his second shot spelled the end for Greg, and sparked the celebrations of the crowd.

One thing is sure - the crowd will be happy tomorrow with either winner, but it would be a brave man who put a lot on it ...

"It was a good game, I was just a little unlucky at the end. It's very hot and humid on there, so you can't keep up the pace all the time, you have to pace yourself and decide when to make the effort.

"I'm happy with the way I played this week and I'll be focused for the next tournaments "



"I felt that we were both playing in patches, we were both up and down. I had the lead 10/8 in the first and if I'd taken that it would have helped my confidence, I would have stepped the pace up. But I had to play safe for a while after that, get the feel of my shots, then, when I could, I pushed as hard as I could.

"I played perfect squash in parts, but he had a very clever game plan and made it difficult for me. Hisham told me in between games what he was doing, what was working on court and what wasn't, he really helped me.

"When I was on top I knew I needed to push, push, and I'm so happy to be in the final, so happy "

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