World Squash Championship 2013: Elshorbagy upsets Britain’s Willstrop

World Squash Championship 2013: Mohamed Elshorbagy beats home favourite James Willstrop to reach the semi-finals

James Willstrop
Beaten Brit James Willstrop

Mohamed Elshorbagy sprang the surprise upset of the quarter-finals as he defeated James Willstrop 12-10, 11-6, 2-11, 11-9.

In a reprisal of the Egyptian’s shock win against Willstrop in the World Championship in Qatar last year, a five-game thriller in the semi-finals, Elshorbagy won in a tense affair – not least on matchball.

Willstrop had played a fairly loose shot, high down the middle; Elshorbagy shaped to play the volley, but at the last second stepped back into Willstrop and called the let – evidently deciding for himself that it was a stroke as he shouted and raised his arm in celebration before the ref had given his verdict, let alone Willstrop decide whether to use his review.

The ref did give a stroke, Willstrop reviewed, leading to a very tense video referee decisions. But the video ref upheld the decision.

Such types of lets/strokes are a common occurrence in squash and a bone of contention in the squash world; is moving back genuinely changing one’s mind or cynically engineering the stroke?

Indeed, Elshorbagy attributed much of his play this play this week to his current reading material, Winning Ugly by tennis player and, latterly, coach Brad Gilbert.

However, even if supporters (and this observer) were not happy with the decision – unsurprisingly, given the combination of an enticing potential fifth game, the home crowd and Willstrop’s fightback – the Brit admitted the decision was correct.

“I would have expected a stroke, but I had a review so I had to use it. There was a chance one referee might have overturned it so I had to try it,” a sullen James Willstrop said.

“The rest of it was fine; just when you do that [lose 11-9] from 8-6, it’s not good. Two errors on the trot – you can’t do that at this level.

“That’s what makes me so upset about losing, regretful about the whole thing.

“That means you don’t get to enjoy the great atmosphere in your home town. Instead you go home and think about it all.

And, referring, not entirely enthusiastically, to his and Vanessa’s [Atkinson, former World No.1 herself] imminent arrival, he added: “It’s a nice bit of perspective. Which I hope will sink in soon. It hasn’t at the minute but it’s a World Championship, isn’t it.

“If it means I’m feeling it, then I suppose that’s good because it means I care.”

But take nothing away from Elshorbagy – even if Willstrop was not at his best, and the game was won in a close, arguably fortuitous, manner, Elshorbagy played some very strong squash, as Willstrop admitted.

The game started in edgy fashion with four lets – two each way – in the first seven rallies, before Willstrop opened up a 6-3 lead.

But Elshorbagy fought back and took the first game, which was, as he said, “crucial” and gave him “such huge confidence”.

He carried this into the second, which he won 11-6 – Elshorbagy saying he felt he was beating Willstrop at his own game.

“I was playing actually in his game, taking him on the backhand side, which I felt comfortable on.

“So when I felt I had stopped him in his game, I was able to go for more shots and play the game I wanted.”

But Willstrop got into his rhythm in the third, seeing success particularly with many of his trademark backhand drops, even from the back of the court.

Elshorbagy went off with a blood injury at 4-4 in the fourth, which he felt was, in terms of the momentum of the game, not good. But his brother, fellow pro Marwan, who often coaches Mohamed (and vice versa), said the opposite.

He admitted this might have been a white lie, but it turned out to be true, as Willstrop took, but then surrendered, an 8-6 lead.

In tomorrow’s semi-finals, Elshorbagy will meet Gregory Gaultier, after the Frenchman saw off a spirited performance from Daryl Selby, who had gameball in the third, to win 11-7, 11-4, 12-10.

Selby, as usual, had a lot of legs and a lot of fight but, ultimately, did not quite have the same killer instinct and trickery as Gaultier, who had his very own consolation message for Willstrop.

“I think I got off a little bit of a slow start, but that was just Greg’s ferocious hitting,” Selby said.

“I thought Greg played really well. Without doubt, he’s in the form of his life. The way he played against Nick [Matthew] in the US Open was spectacular squash.”

“I knew it was going to be tough, but the crowd were fantastic. I was trying to give them something to cheer about in the first two games. There were a lot of positives in the third, but Greg closed it out well.”

And a very pleased Gaultier had his own consolation message for Willstrop.

“James is a bit stressed at the moment, so all I wish for him and Vanessa is for the best baby in the world,” he said.

“This week the baby is going to come and that’s going to be his trophy. Because, being a dad, having my baby is better than being World Champion!”

Though it’s pretty clear from his play this week – where he has not dropped a game, and still claims he has a few things to improve to make him “100%” – that he wouldn’t mind both.

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