El-Gouna International: Willstrop defeated in controversial final

Top seed James Willstrop misses out on El Gouna International Squash Open title after a surprise 3-0 defeat by Ramy Ashour

By Oliver Porritt

World number one James Willstrop dramatically conceded the final of the El Gouna International Squash Open to Ramy Ashour on Friday night after repeated problems with the flooring of the open-air court.

The top seed was trailing 2-0 and 5-2 in the third game when he decided it was no longer safe to continue following a number of stoppages to deal with the slippery conditions.

Willstrop, 28, was devastated to be unable to compete at full-tilt but knew from the third rally he was going to struggle to move with any confidence in the hugely-anticipated match-up between two of the sport’s most lethal finishers.

But it was not the first time this week the Yorkshireman had struggled to play on the court – His semi-final against Karim Darwish on Thursday night was moved indoors after both players had repeatedly slipped and risked incurring serious injury.

Therefore the event organisers had attempted to minimise the impact of sand and dust particles being blown into the arena by covering the court before the final but the issues persisted.

“I’m horribly disappointed,” Willstrop told SquashSite. “It feels like the chance to compete in a major final has been taken away from me.

“There was no wind tonight so there was no reason why it should have been slippery. But I just never felt steady on there.

“I found myself thinking about the floor and not about my squash so I was thinking ‘What am I doing?’

“Against any other player I would have been able to handle my movement differently but against Ramy you’ve got to be able to move to your full capacity.

“Ramy didn’t seem to be bothered as much as me but his movement is completely different to mine.

“He obviously handled the floor better than I did and it is very unsatisfactory to say the least.”

A resurgent Ashour, the former world champion and fifth seed, took the title in front of a delighted home crowd after himself having to withdraw injured from the final versus Darwish when it was last held in the Red Sea resort two years ago.

The 23-year-old Egyptian has struggled with injuries over the last six months but looked to be back to his best form throughout the week despite recently questioning his future.

“The past five or six months have been a long journey,” he told SquashSite. “I asked myself if I really should go on playing squash or if I should stop my career altogether, so I would like to thank the people that have been helping me during those past months.”

Ashour is desperate to regain his number one status and was delighted with his performances at the tournament which saw him defeat the world’s top three players.

To reach the final he outclassed second seed Gregory Gaultier 3-0 in the last eight before overwhelming third seed Nick Matthew 3-1 in a dazzling semi-final.

“I feel good because I’m happy with the way I played all week,” he said. “I’ve been consistent from the first match to the last one and that doesn’t normally happen to me.

“And playing in Egypt always adds an extra pressure on your shoulders. It’s nice to know people are following you but when you are losing you have that feeling you are letting all those people down.

“James played well I thought but I managed to keep the game going the way I wanted to. I was sharp and alert.”

The final started with a flurry of quick rallies as Ashour and Willstrop traded points to 3-all.

England’s number one then began to assert himself on the game by slowing the pace and using his height advantage to neutralise Ashour’s attacking instincts as he had done to win the North American Open in February.

Willstrop established a 6-3 lead with perfect width which produced opportunities to win points at the front of the court.

Ashour came back to 7-7 thanks in part to some uncharacteristic errors from the Englishman’s racket before taking a 10-8 lead.

Willstrop fought back to level at 10-all and send the game to extra points but the Egyptian took it 12-10 after a brutal rally which eventually left the Yorkshireman stranded at the back of the court.

The second game saw Willstrop start brilliantly to take a 3-0 lead before an outrageous topspin forehand drop shot and his trademark backhand volley cross-court nick got Ashour back in touch and the crowd roaring.

From 4-2 down the Egyptian won eight consecutive points as Willstrop struggled with his movement and another cross-court nick sealed the second 11-5.

At 5-2 down in the third the world number one could no longer carry on and he offered Ashour his hand and his first World Series win of 2012.

Willstrop will be hoping to make amends at the Allam British Open at London’s O2 in May where the pair are seeded to meet in the semi-finals of the historic tournament which returns after a two-year absence.


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