The second El Gouna International Squash Open sees international sport make a welcome return to Egypt for the first time since last year’s revolution which meant the 2011 tournament was not held.
The top-quality draw for the third PSA World Series event of 2012 includes seven players who have held the number one ranking and nine of the world’s top ten, with only England’s world number seven Peter Barker missing.
Willstrop and Matthew, the third seed, will lead the charge for England, but face a huge challenge from France’s Gregory Gaultier, the world number two, and a host of Egyptians spearheaded by 2010 champion Karim Darwish.
Egypt’s leading quartet are seeded four to seven, with Darwish followed by 2008 world champion Ramy Ashour, four-time world champion Amr Shabana and two-time world junior champion, 21-year-old Mohamed El Shorbagy. Laurens Jan Anjema from the Netherlands completes the seeds.
Willstrop, 28, starts as the form player of the tour having reached the finals of all three tournaments he has entered this year, despite losing out to Matthew in New York’s Tournament of Champions and the Canary Wharf Squash Classic.
In between those events the Leeds player was crowned the North American Open champion with a clinical 3-0 victory over Ashour, who had comprehensively beaten Matthew 3-0 in their semi-final.
Willstrop’s run of defeats against Matthew now stands at 20 matches on the PSA tour, but he will be buoyed by a victory over his arch rival in a German league encounter last week.
One of Willstrop’s biggest hurdles this week will be a potential last-four clash with reigning champion Darwish.
The Egyptian was on the receiving end of some unbeatable squash from England’s number one towards the end of last year as he lost out in the finals at Hong Kong and Kuwait.
Egypt will expect Darwish, 30, to perform on home soil and win his first title of the year but his 2012 form has been up and down.
He suffered a first round exit at the hands of England’s Daryl Selby at the Tournament of Champions and only reached the quarters at the North American Open but did finish runner up to Gaultier at the CASE Swedish Open.
Gaultier is getting back to somewhere near his best after a tough few of years.
After becoming world number one in November 2009 the Frenchman’s form disappeared overnight and he had dropped back to number six just four months later.
A succession of injuries followed but the 29-year-old is now fully fit and will need to show all his artistry to reach the final as Ashour stands in his way in the quarters before a possible semi-final with Matthew who will be full of confidence after his win in London last month.
Matthew endured a torrid end to 2011 when injury left him a bystander as his Yorkshire team-mate Willstrop claim one title after another before climbing to the top of the world rankings in January.
The Sheffield man is desperate to reclaim the number one spot he commanded for the whole of 2011 and a win here will take him closer to achieving this goal but his route to the semis will include Shabana who, at 32, is not the force he once was but can never be discounted, especially in front of a home crowd.
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BIOGRAPHY: Mohamed Salah