• First Round Qualifying: Lee, Cuskelly, El Shorbagy advance

    Shahier Razik fell for the second year to Ryan Cuskelly. (MCO photo)

    Shahier Razik (left) fell for the second straight year to Ryan Cuskelly. (MCO photo)

    Injuries, bad weather lead to three defaults

    Bloomfield Hills, Michigan — The strongest Qualifier field in the history of the 15th Motor City Open presented by The Suburban Collection, took to the Birmingham Athletic Club courts Thursday with their sights set on gaining one of four spots in the Main Draw to start Saturday. By next Tuesday a new MCO champion will be crowned, taking home his share of the $70,000 purse and a Rolex watch courtesy of Greenstone’s Jewelers.

    And while temperatures were bone-chilling outside, the action inside the BAC sizzled as 10 of the world’s best squash professionals battled it out.

    Egyptian Marwan El Shorbagy and Aussie Ryan Cuskelly provided a packed house with a pair of thrilling victories, but none was as awe-inducing as the first match of the day between Hong Kong’s Max Lee and American Christopher Gordon.

    Meeting for only the second time in their careers, Lee (World #32) dropped the first game — a grueling 24-minute battle in which he fought off three game balls — to Gordon (World #52) but then bounced back to take the next three: 15-17, 11-9, 11-3, 11-7.

    “It was a very tough first game and the rallies were long, but I started getting my shots going and had a few lucky ones in the second,” said Lee. “I thought it was going to be a 50-50 match, so I just wanted to focus every point, hit shots and try to stay positive.”

    “Max is a good player and he played consistently the whole time. I used a lot of energy in the first game and just never got a second wind,” commented Gordon afterwards. “I wasn’t able to keep the pace and I thought especially in the third and fourth (games) I was playing catch up a lot of the time.”

    Max Lee downed American Chris Gordon in four tough games. (MCO photo)

    Max Lee (right) downed American Chris Gordon in four tough games. (MCO photo)

    British newcomer and World #57 Eddie Charlton had his MCO debut put on ice by World #29 El Shorbagy, who rolled to a 11-3, 9-11, 11-4, 11-6 win.

    “It was a tough draw but there’s no easy draws in this tournament,” said Charlton. “I didn’t feel like I played great today and I wasn’t moving too well. I felt that (Marwan) was always one step ahead and played more aggressively.”

    That aggressiveness showed as El Shorbagy jumped out to at least a 7-3 lead in each game he won.

    “I was focused from the first point and that’s the big reason I had a good leads,” El Shorbagy said afterwards. “I lost a little bit of concentration in the second game but from the third game on, I was in control and able to put him under more pressure.”

    In a rematch of their five-game, two-hour, eight-minute marathon in last year’s qualifying finals, Aussie Ryan Cuskelly beat Canadian Shahier Razik in nearly half that time: 11-9, 11-8, 11-9 (Cuskelly won last year as well).

    Despite winning the first game, Cuskelly got off to a sluggish start in Game Two, falling behind 6-2. But eventually he found his groove and rattled off eight-straight points to take a 10-6 lead en route to a commanding two-game advantage.

    “The first game was quite hard and it took me a while to get into it in the second,” Cuskelly said.

    “At 6-2 down I said I didn’t want to play again for two hours so I better win this one or it’ll go on forever. I looked at my racquet and told myself to concentrate, play smart points and wait for the right opportunities and before I knew it was game ball.”

    Also moving on is Egypt’s Omar Abdel Meguid (World #30) and Finland’s Henrik Mustonen (World #37), who advanced in dominating fashion, sweeping their opponents in straight games.

    Chris Simpson of England, Olli Tuominen of Finland, and Gregoire Marche of France all received byes after top-ranked American Julian Illingworth (World #40) and New Zealand’s Campbell Grayson (World #42) withdrew due to injuries and a third player canceled late due to travel complications caused by cold weather gripping the East Coast.

    Cuskelly shows his form. (MCO photo)

    Cuskelly shows his form. (MCO photo)

    Qualifying finals start Friday at 6 p.m.

    Thursday’s first qualifying round results:

    • Omar Abdel Meguid (EGY) def. Supreet Singh (IND) 12-10, 11-2, 11-8 (23m)
    • Max Lee (HKG) def. Christopher Gordon (USA) 15-17, 11-9, 11-3, 11-7 (61m)
    • Marwan El Shorbagy (EGY) def. Eddie Charlton (ENG) 11-3, 9-11, 11-4, 11-6 (52m)
    • Henrik Mustonen (FIN) def. Muhd Asyraf Azan (MAS) 11-9, 11-5, 11-5 (30m)
    • Ryan Cuskelly (AUS) def. Shahier Razik (CAN) 11-9, 11-8, 11-9 (54m)
    • Chris Simpson (ENG), Olli Tuominen (FIN) and Gregoire Marche (FRA) all advance on byes

    Friday’s qualifying finals match-ups:

    • Chris Simpson (ENG) vs Omar Abdel Meguid (EGY)
    • Max Lee (HKG) vs Gregoire Marche (FRA)
    • Henrik Mustonen (FIN) vs Marwan El Shorbagy (EGY)
    • Olli Tuominen (FIN) vs Ryan Cuskelly (AUS)

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