Ramy Ashour and James Willstrop - two of the top three players in the world and both former world number ones – set up a much-hoped-for J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions semi-final after contrasting quarter-final victories in the first PSA World Series event of the year at Grand Central Terminal in New York.
Top-seeded Englishman Willstrop ended the spirited run of Stephen Coppinger, the unseeded South African who had his best PSA World Series showing with his quarter-final appearance. Tied at nine-all, the first game could have gone either way. Cool as a cucumber and betraying no sign of unease, Willstrop demonstrated the control and confidence that kept him at the top of the world rankings for most of 2012 and gave himself the early cushion by winning the game 12-10.
“Scrappy” was Willstrop’s description of the first game. “It was important to win that first game,” explained the world No3. “Stephen played hard and it becomes a whole different match when you are one game down at the start.”
Coppinger had the cheering section of South African fans rooting him on, complete with the South African flag draped over the stands. Their enthusiasm was increasingly muted as Willstrop asserted his superior racket skills and court coverage to win the second game 11-2.
The third was more of the same, as Willstrop moved the world No23 from Cape Town from corner to corner and kept his 6’ 3” opponent off balance for the remainder of the match before closing it out 12-10, 11-2, 11-4 in 43 minutes.
“Clinical, accurate and unforgiving,” was how PSA SquashTV commentators Joey Barrington and Paul Johnson described Willstrop’s match play.
Wednesday night’s tantalizing semi-final was confirmed when Ramy Ashour held off fellow countryman Omar Mosaad (both pictured above) in an emotional and erratic match punctuated by some magical moments. The 6’4” Mosaad jumped off to a dramatically fast start, taking the crowd and his opponent by surprise as he won the first game 11-4.
After staying on court during the game break to practise on his own, the reigning world champion and current world No1 improved his shot length and combined it with a quick attack in the second game to take a commanding 10-1 lead before winning it 11-3.
In the third, the two Egyptians went toe-to-toe, exchanging the lead several times as they both used a full variety of shots to move each other the full length and width of the court. It was Ashour who snatched the game at 12-10 by wrong footing his tall opponent with a cross-court forehand that was beyond Mosaad’s reach.
Ashour seemed assured of the victory when he took a commanding 10-4 lead in the fourth. The world No9, however, was not ready to concede and with a combination of several winning shots off his racket and a few errors from Ashour, recovered to 9-10.
Ashour was not be denied, though, and after forcing Mosaad to the back of the court with great length hit a soft drop that was just out of Mosaad’s reach.
Ashour’s immediate reaction was quite emotional: he threw his racquet down and gave a fist pump and a shout. “I was just mad at myself for giving up that big lead at 10-1,” said the voluble Ashour after the match.
Earlier in the week, the 25-year-old from Cairo had talked about the pressure of topping the world rankings. “Being world number one is hard work,” he said. “I’m happy because I got there, but it is not always fun. I am trying not to put too much pressure on myself.”