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• TODAY • ROUNDUP • SEMIS • QUARTERS • Round TWO • Round ONE • Qualifying • Day 0 •

TODAY at the Saudi International:
Monday 18th, Day Three, QUARTERS

[1] Amr Shabana (Egy) bt [15] Mohammed Abbas (Egy)
       11/7, 11/7, 11/6 (28m)
[4] James Willstrop (Eng) bt [5] Anthony Ricketts (Aus)
       8/11, 12/10, 11/5, 11/10(3-1) (58m)
[7] Gregory Gaultier (Fra) bt [3] Thierry Lincou (Fra)
        11/9, 11/7, 12/10 (56m)
[2] David Palmer (Aus) bt [6] Nick Matthew (Eng)
        15/13, 11/7, 6/11, 11/7 (52m)

Shabana & Willstrop, 
Gaultier & Palmer to meet again

Framboise reports from Sunset Beach
Quick Summary from Steve Cubbins


The semi-finals opened up with two contrasting matches as Amr Shabana and James Willstrop set up a repeat of their semi-final meeting two months ago in Hong Kong, and concluded with David Palmer and Gregory Gaultier making a date for a World Open final repeat performance.

Shabana never looked in trouble against an out-of-sorts Mohammed Abbas, who failed to capture his devastating form of yesterday, finding the conditions, the court, and of course his opponent, too much to deal with.

The following match was, by contrast, a real battle from start to finish. With the added bonus of a guaranteed Super Series Finals place for the winner both Willstrop and Anthony Ricketts were fully committed and turned on the best show of the tournament so far.

Next up was the all-French affair as world numbers three and four Thierry Lincou and Gregory Gaultier did battle, and this time it was the turn of the youngster to win. The conditions were always likely to favour Gaultier's shotmaking over Lincou's steadiness, and so it proved.

The final match of the evening saw World Champion David Palmer come through against Nick Matthew to set up a repeat of August's World Open final against Gaultier.


En Bref: Issue #1

[1] Amr Shabana (Egy) bt [15] Mohammed Abbas (Egy)        11/7, 11/7, 11/6 (28m)

SHABANA STILL UNBEATEN

The Prince of Egypt has yet to lose a game in this event, and has been in a devastating form. I also guess that today, he had a point to prove after his not so astonishing performance against his mate during the last World Open in Cairo.

So no training mode like in Egypt for this one, instead, a gruelling patient mode, eight errors for him only for the whole match (when we know how self destructive Amr can be), and a very focused performance from the World number one.

On such a cold court it must be extremely difficult to get your length right, and Abbas couldnít be as tight as he is normally. Although he was able to surprise his day in day out sparring partner and keep close score wise at each start of the games, Gentleman Abbas couldnít really threaten his out of this world opponent today.

It was not one of those flamboyant matches with winners fusing from the four corners, but more of a relentless pressure and taking the opportunity as soon as possible, and at that game, Shabana is definitely top dogÖ
  

"Iíve been training with Mohamed every day for the past 10, 11 years, there is no surprise.

"Itís always the same when two Egyptian players play against each other, itís who plays the tighter and better.

"Normally, I donít know why, I donít perform well in the Middle East, maybe too much pressure, so hopefully this time, Iíve already made it to the semi-final, and In-sha-Allah, Iíll win this tournament.

"Today, it was my turn to play well, Iím gladÖ"

"I wanted to win today, but he knew the court better than I did, and I was too lazy on court, I just recovered his shots, I was not playing my own game, just hitting the ball to the back.

"And as he was going short all the time, I didnít have a chance to play really, a bad day Ö"

[4] James Willstrop (Eng) bt
[5] Anthony Ricketts (Aus)
       8/11, 12/10, 11/5, 13/11 (58m)

MEENEY MINEY MOÖ

When people asked me what my predictions were for this match, I was totally response-less. Not a clue had I. But one thing I knew, they both needed a good result badly, especially Anthony, whose chances of participating to the Super Series Finals depending on the outcome of this matchÖ

Yet again, we are going to have to talk about the conditions, and itís obvious that James is far more at his ease on a cold court than Anthony would be. Itís that reason why he won the Qatar Classic last year, as itís one of the coldest courts on the PSA tour, well, up until this one, of course!

But still, as Intense Anthony has enriched his game with some surprising gems of short shots like trickles and sliding shots that follow the tin all the way plus a good volley crosscourt deception that finishes in the nick mid court, he was able to win some surprisingly short rallies.

Talk about changes, Young Willstrop has been showing signs of passion recently, and has been a bit more feisty and fiery towards the ref, his opponent and himself. No, not saying itís bad at all. I personally donít mind a bit of oomph into sport, and as long as it serves his game, why not? Itíll be up to him to keep it under control and to his advantageÖ

"It's so cold I didn't want the ball to go past me too much, I'd have to take it early and try to hold the 'T'.

I'd certainly have preferred the conditions here last year, but James hit some great shots, especially some winning returns of serve off serves I thought were quite good, but that shows a great skill level from him.

"It's disappointing to lose, it was a big match for me, I wanted to get back on track before Christmas after a fairly poor run of results.

"I knew I needed to win to guarantee a Super Series Finals place, and my gut feel is that the quarters here wasn't quite enough. I'd have loved to defend that title, but we'll just have to see how it goes."

"For my past few matches, I have been showing a few more signs of aggression, of outward aggression, I probably need to work and that and keep quiet a bit more. But maybe itís a sign that I want to win moreÖ

"Anthony and I train a lot together, there is a lot of respect between us, and itís so difficult, especially on such a cold courtÖ I do love these conditions, but when itís that cold, itís very hard to get any fluid kind of rallies, so we play at a furious pace, that was some brutal squash

"Although there were some words on the court, there is absolutely no problem with Anthony but squash is played in a confined space, and we are all professionals playing for our money, for our livesÖ He is probably one of the most aggressive players on the circuit, he shows a lot of passion and enthusiasm for the game.

"After my bad experience in Cairo, I donít think I really stopped playing well, itís just been a quiet moment, and I guess that both Anthony and I needed results, Iím glad that Iím the one that got through, itís such a confidence boost.

"I will see tomorrow if I can take out the world number one."

[7] Gregory Gaultier (Fra) bt
[3] Thierry Lincou (Fra)     11/9, 11/7, 12/10 (56m)

GREGíS TURNÖ

After a long spell of Thierryís domination on the French scene, the battle between my two compatriots had to balance out.

After a victory in February during the French Nationals, Thierry won the French final of the English Open, to let the Kid take him out the US Open and take it all back in yet another all French final in Pakistan. So the logic was it was Gregís turn.

Those court conditions were always going to suit Gaultier the Shotmaker more than Lincou the retriever. Still, the three games were extremely close, up to 8/7 or 9/7 each time, but Greg was in front for the two first games, forcing Thierry to play catch up which on such conditions, is not helping to build up confidenceÖ

Down 2/0, the former world champion dug in and succeeded to get in front, simply by finding some stunning tight length, but could never create a comfortable gap. He eventually got his first game balls of the match at 10/7, but two strokes and three backhand drop shots later, Greg was walking out a straight game victory in the pocket.

It was a very good match I thought, Thierry didnít do anything wrong, quite the contrary, I found he was attacking, precise and played the right tactic. But Greg has such an advantage in those conditions, his shots are even more sizzling and damaging as they normally are, and itís strictly impossible to retrieve them, however hard Thierry tried.

A well deserved victory for the young Frenchman, who looks more and more confident, secure and strong in his belief that he will soon get to the number one spot. ďSomebody stop meĒ, he seems to say. Well, not sure that anybody canÖ
  

"Greg really likes those conditions, it suits his game, and on such a cold court, itís very hard to retrieve. It was very close, very close indeed, but he was just a bit better than I was. I could never get ahead, even when I was leading, and I couldnít get the third, that he won with three superb backhand winners.

"He counter attacked me very well at the front, he seized all the opportunities that presented themselves, he may have had a bit more luck that I had, and he used the court conditions to perfection."

"I feel sorry for him, itís hard to play against each other. I know what it is to lose against him, last time we played he beat me, today I beat him, so in a way Iím happy to have won the match, but on the other hand Iím sorry to have beaten my best mate.

"Iíve been working hard for years, especially on the mental side of things, and I feel that this year is my breakthrough year. Iíve been preparing 10 times more than I did before, and itís not just me, itís also the people, the team that is behind, so itís not just me that wins, itís the whole teamÖ"

[2] David Palmer (Aus) bt [6] Nick Matthew (Eng)         15/13, 11/7, 6/11, 11/7 (52m)

DAVID LOOKS GOOD

The Marine doesnít look as devastating as the Prince of Egypt, as heís lost one game per match so far, but when you think that he hasnít prepared that much for the event, he is not doing too bad is he. And maybe thatís why, because he is relaxed, no pressure, no expectationÖ Thatís normally when the results comeÖ

Nick didnít look too bad himself, thank you very much, and had he taken the first that he conceded only 5-3 in the tie-break, the outcome could have been dramatically different. But still, I canít explain, but David seemed comfortable out there, in control and even when Nick roll him into flour in the third, he didnít look that worried and seemed to just reassessed, tuned a few screws, and from 2/2 in the fourth, never looked back really.

A bit like in the French encounter, Nick did everything right, but the early volleying ending by soft and delicate feathery drop shots that David despatched all way through took their toll eventually. Still, some stunning rallies, great tight squash, and a perfect ending of a very very VERY cold eveningÖ
  

"Iím delighted with the way I played today. I had no expectations when I came to this tournament, I had the worst preparation ever.

"I stayed the past three weeks in Australia only playing solo, but this year Iíve put my family first, and thatís my choice.

"So, Iím taking one match at a time, trying to be competitive. Nick was really up for it tonight, and we played at a brutal pace. Nick and I have a similar game, he doesnít have a typical English game, heís got an Australian style, and takes a lot off the volley, so I was talking with Shaun on the phone before the match, and he told me the one that controls the T will win the match, so I was trying to drive him off the T, also my volleys went in rather well tonight.

"My length dropped a bit in the third, but I picked it up and worked through it. The court was so dead, and Nick and I really shot out very fast rallies.

"All credit to the players who played tonight, I was surprised how well they all moved despite the conditions. I watched the match between James and Anthony a bit earlier on, and I was thinking how on earth am I going to be able to play at such a pace in that cold. But once you get on there, you just get on with itÖ

"Iím really happy to get through Ö"

"Itís so dead out there, when you get to counter drop, normally you can take the ball early and even get a stroke if the other one doesnít move fast enough, but tonight, although we would be standing right behind each other, you sometimes couldnít even pick the ball up!

"David anticipates the volley and takes the ball very early with a soft arm and plays feathery drop shots. I do volley as well, but I put a bit more pace in the ball, whereas David has two options, hit or softÖ

"Not that itís an excuse, but he had two more games on the glass court than me, as this was my first match tonight, but I must say that at the end of the first game, I was not sure what game or options to adopt or what my next move was going to beÖ

"I thought I played well, even if David would always be hard to beat in those conditions, but I was not disappointed with the way I played, and Iím looking forward playing him again when we can have some longer ralliesÖ."

 

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