But the 30-year-old Frenchman certainly made him fight for it as Ashour had to pull out his very best squash to come back from 2-1 to win it 11-4, 7-11, 7-11, 11-3, 11-2.
The Egyptian, 26, said: “Playing Greg is never easy. He gets better and better every time we play, he gets mentally stronger and we’re getting closer and closer. So I keep trying to push myself to maintain my position.It takes a lot of dedication and there’s a lot of pressure.
“I always think it’s a blessing just to be among these incredible athletes, playing at such a high level in such a beautiful sport and in such a good spirit. It’s something that everyone appreciates.
“We play at some of the most amazing places and events in the world. It’s good to be there and I’ll keep pushing myself until my body wears out.”
On this evidence, it will be a fair while before this happens.
The third point showed Gaultier just what he was up against, when, from right in the corner, Ashour played an audacious skid boast to escape, sending his opponent into the other corner, and then developed the point well until the world No2 missed a squeeze drop.
Whilst Ashour is renowned for his lightning-fast pace and outrageous trickery, he is also a fantastic retriever.
And this, shown in the third point, perhaps forced Gaultier into some of his early errors; the Frenchman seemingly trying – and in some sense, having – to hit smaller and smaller margins to win points.
Gaultier, recently much-improved mentally, came out in a much better frame of mind in the second, composing himself to win some points about three times over effectively, so good was Ashour’s retrieval.
The third saw both players pull out increasingly deft and outrageous flicks and drops to outwit their nimble adversary – Gaultier just getting the better of some of the rallies with an impressive low, flat kill.
Ashour injected some of his trademark pace into the game in the fourth, taking a 9-1 lead, with Gaultier increasingly saving his energy for what he thought the fifth.
The score-line might suggest the fifth was just as straight-forward for Ashour, but it was far from it. The world No1 had to play some ferociously fast and clever shots at the front to outfox Gaultier.
There was a pivotal moment when Ashour was serving at 2-1 and Gaultier found himself in the shut-out position (in the middle of the court, with the opponent boxed out), but tinned a relatively straight-forward backhand drop.
The next two points saw Ashour granted back-to-back strokes, with Gaultier not happy about the second especially, where the ball was quite low, but the decision was probably right given the speed and retrieval Ashour had shown all game.
And just the next point, Gaultier had a chance for almost a carbon copy of Ashour’s stroke two points earlier – a standard stroke of a player playing the ball down the line but not clearing enough space for the opponent’s shot – but instead hesitated for crucial split second and played a different shot, and ended up losing the rally.
Gaultier was angry at the umpire, but only had himself the blame because he didn’t call it (or not clearly anyway), when the ref was almost bound to give it due to consistency.
The next point saw Ashour develop the point well and then show some great trickery, as, with Gaultier’s shot looping off the back wall, he ran in, shaping for the a delicate drop volley, but at the last second, with the Frenchman haring in, stepped back, let the ball bounce and drove it cross court.
A typically audacious, improvised backhand drive volley saw him take the game – and match – 11-2.
Ashour’s record may pale in comparison to Pakistan’s Jahangir Khan’s astounding 555 straight wins from 1981 to 1986, but compared to other sports – Arsenal’s 49 games in English football, say, or Björn Borg’s 49 matches in tennis – it appears remarkable.
And especially so given the quality of his adversaries – chiefly, Gaultier, James Willstrop, Nick Matthews (all former World no.1s and far from over the hill) and Mohamed El Shorbagy.
Hopefully this victory will help him gain a few more well-deserved fans outside of squash.
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BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge
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