England’s World No.20 Declan James claimed arguably the biggest win of his career as he upset Egypt’s World No.10 Marwan ElShorbagy at London’s East Wintergarden earlier today to reach the quarter-finals of the Citigold Wealth Management Canary Wharf Classic.
Nottingham-based James had never been able to get the better of a player inside the world’s top 10 before and was appearing in the second round of the prestigious PSA World Tour Gold tournament for the first time.
But, in front of a packed house at East Wintergarden, the 25-year-old played some of his best squash to come back from a game down against last year’s semi-finalist ElShorbagy. James edged it 7-11, 11-5, 11-9 in 45 minutes and celebrated with gusto after a pinpoint volley drop saw him convert the second of his match balls.
“I think, for me, it was more mental over anything else,” said James.
“I have been saying for quite a few months now that I wanted to get that win over a top 10 guy. I have made no secret about the fact that has been one of my main goals. I feel like this season, I have started to play at a level that is capable of contending with these guys, but I haven’t got over the line, so this means so much to me, it really does.
“It is just so exciting. I just remind myself every day of how fortunate I am to play squash for a living because it is not always fun when you’re training hard and you’re feeling tired. I am just reminding every day to enjoy myself as much as I can because when I enjoy it, I play well, and vice versa, so I am literally just trying to enjoy every day on the court at the moment.”
Defending champion Mohamed ElShorbagy – Marwan’s older brother – will play James in the next round after he kept his title defence alive with a testing 2-1 triumph against Spanish veteran Borja Golan.
A best-of-three games format is being trialled up to and including the quarter-finals at East Wintergarden, and at times it looked as though Golan would come through to take the win after some terrific attacking squash saw him go toe-to-toe with the Egyptian. But ElShorbagy held his nerve at the crucial points and ground out an 11-7, 9-11, 11-8 victory to reach the quarter-finals.
“We have had so many great battles before, and today I knew it was going to be another battle again,” said ElShorbagy.
“When I had that lead in the second game, I thought I had him a bit. It is always a mistake when you do that against an experienced player like him. Obviously, he took advantage of that and in the third, I was so lucky. He gave me a few mistakes which were at times when he was attacking in the rally. I have to thank my lucky stars for winning today.”
England’s top ranked male player – four-time Canary Wharf Classic champion James Willstrop – saw his tournament come to an end after he fell to a 2-1 defeat against Australia’s Ryan Cuskelly.
Willstrop, playing his 650th match on the PSA Tour, came out firing on all cylinders as the 35-year-old took an 11-6 victory in game one. Cuskelly was more aggressive in the next two games as he took the game to Willstrop with some attacking play into the front of the court, and it paid off as he closed out the win in three to book a quarter-final spot against last year’s runner-up Tarek Momen.
“If you play at James’s pace, he is just going to pick you off all day, so I was in that slow to medium pace and he was just too comfortable,” said Cuskelly.
“Rob Owen [Cuskelly’s coach] told me to step it up a bit and be a bit more aggressive and hit in front of the ’T’. That’s what I did, and it was tiring. I tried to just not let him settle. When James sets on the ball, he is probably the best in the world. He can put the ball away, especially on the backhand. I have watched him so much that I think like I know where he is going to hit it, sometimes.”
Momen, competing at his first tournament since losing out in the PSA World Championship final a fortnight ago, surrendered three game balls in the opening game as Kandra edged it on the tie-break, but the World No.3 struck back in games two and three to eliminate the German.
“He just upped the pace and started hitting some beautiful drop shots at the front. It was a great comeback from him to win that [first] game after being 8-4 down,” Momen said.
“I am very happy with the way I turned it around in the second and the third. I got my tactics right again, and I had Mazen [Hesham] and Fares [Dessouky] with me in the corner. They just had to remind me of what I should be doing. It worked pretty well and I am very happy with the way I played towards the end.”
Second round action continues on Tuesday March 12. Play starts at 18:00 (GMT) and will be shown live on SQUASHTV (rest of world), Eurosport Player (Europe only) and the PSA World Tour’s official Facebook page (excluding Europe and Japan).
Result – Second Round (Top Half): 2019 Citigold Wealth Management Canary Wharf Classic
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) bt Borja Golan (ESP) 2-1: 11-7, 9-11, 11-8 (47m)
Declan James (ENG) bt  Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY) 2-1: 7-11, 11-5, 11-9 (45m)
 Ryan Cuskelly (AUS) bt James Willstrop (ENG) 2-1: 6-11, 11-5, 11-4 (42m)
 Tarek Momen (EGY) bt Raphael Kandra (GER) 2-1: 12-14, 11-4, 11-4 (33m)
Draw – Second Round (Bottom Half): To Be Played March 12th
 Paul Coll (NZL) v Tom Richards (ENG)
Joel Makin (WAL) v  Max Lee (HKG)
 Fares Dessouky (EGY) v Daryl Selby (ENG)
Mathieu Castagnet (FRA) v  Simon Rösner (GER)
Draw – Quarter-Finals (Top Half): To Be Played March 13th
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) v Declan James (ENG)
 Ryan Cuskelly (AUS) v  Tarek Momen (EGY)