Top seed downs exhausted Shabana; Barker impeccable in win over Pilley
By James Hawkins
Bloomfield Hills, Mich. — Mohamed Elshorbagy has always dreamed about the day he would earn his first victory over his idol – and fellow Egyptian – Amr Shabana. That day came Monday in the semifinals of the Motor City Open presented by The Suburban Collection, but it wasn’t as satisfying as the scenarios Elshorbagy had envisioned.
At the conclusion of the third game, Shabana —playing his eighth match in 10 days — hunched over, embraced Elshorbagy and explained that he couldn’t go any further because he felt light-headed. His retirement gave top-seed and World #4 Elshorbagy the match: 11-6, 12-14, 11-3 ret.
Elshorbagy will move on to Tuesday’s championship at 6:30 p.m. where he will face third seed and World #8 Peter Barker of England for the champion’s share of the $70,000 purse and a Rolex watch courtesy of Greenstone’s Jewelers.
“It’s of course a sad end for the crowd because the match was very high quality,” said Elshorbagy, who advanced to his second MCO final in four years. “I want to congratulate Shabana for an amazing two weeks. He played unbelievable squash the past two weeks and the tour is always happier when he plays better.”
After several long rallies at the start of Game One, Elshorbagy patiently picked his spots to attack. Coupled with four tins from Shabana, Elshorbagy held a 8-6 edge before a trickle boast and another unforced error gave him game point.
The pace picked up in Game Two as Shabana’s showed flashes of his wizardry with a series of tantalizing drop shots into the nick to jump out to a quick 5-2 lead. But his struggles with accuracy returned and four more unforced errors brought Elshorbagy back to 7-all. Shabana rediscovered his stroke when he needed it most, saving a game ball to tie it at 10-all. Back-and-forth they went until Shabana found another gear, gutting out the game after Elshorbagy saved two game balls.
Alas, Game Two appeared to take a heavy toll on the 34-year-old Shabana, He looked extremely fatigued at the start of Game Three, allowing Elshorbagy to repeatedly catch him out of position and cruise to a 5-1 lead.
“The first two games were so tough. He went for it at the end of the second game and I could see how tired he was. After that I didn’t worry much because I knew I still had the edge,” Elshorbagy said afterwards. “because the court is very bouncy, my tactic from the beginning of the match was, if I could play a rally that lasts 30 minutes, I will do it. I wanted to get him tired because he just came from the Tournament of Champions in New York and didn’t have any rest days. I knew that he would feel it during the match. But after the second game, I could feel there was something wrong in the third. Even when I was winning, I asked him during the game ‘Is there something wrong?’ I wouldn’t want to continue if I felt there was something wrong with him.”
Shabana joked with Elshorbagy about savoring the win (Elshorbagy’s head-to-head record against him is 1-8 in PSA Tour play).
“Shabana told me don’t worry. I know I’m tired but don’t worry because it won’t be any easier anymore. You’re going to have that one (win) and your dream came true now,” Elshorbagy said with a laugh.
In the other semifinal, 30-year-old Barker continued his remarkable return to the squash scene after 15- and 11-centimeter tears in his right calf muscle sidelined him for two months. While he admits he isn’t 100 percent, Barker looked in top form as he picked apart Aussie World #14 Cameron Pilley in straight games: 11-7, 11-6, 11-5.
“If someone said to me two weeks ago, you’d be in the quarterfinals of a major (tournament) and the final in another, I would’ve bitten a hand off. I’m really chuffed,” Barker said. “When you have an injury, it puts it into perspective because you lose that perspective when you’re so focused on winning. When you have a couple months off and aren’t able to do the thing that you really enjoy, it just makes you relax and enjoy it. I’m determined to enjoy squash now because I’m 30. I’m not going to be playing forever, so what’s the point of stressing? When I relax and enjoy it, that’s when I play my best squash.”
Pilley looked far from relaxed as Barker’s shots hit with impeccable precision, stretching out the court and make it seem much bigger for even Pilley’s lengthy frame to cover.
“If you get the ball on Pilley’s racket, he cranks it and he hits the ball so clean. I was just trying to make him reach a little bit further. You talk about space around the court but it’s also high and low. I was trying to lift it a bit, stretch him and make him hit outside his comfort zone,” Barker said.
Barker and Elshorbagy have met only twice in PSA play, splitting the matches. Barker won the most recent meeting in the second round of the 2010 Qatar Classic in four games (4-11, 13-11, 14-12, 12-10).
“Physically I’m in good shape and didn’t make many errors today, which is a good combination,” Barker said. “But tomorrow will be different because Elshorbagy is # 4 in the world and he’s playing great. I’ll have to raise my game again tomorrow, but I got no pressure because he’s the # 1 seed. I’ll just go out and do my thing.”
Monday’s semifinals results:
-  Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY) def.  Amr Shabana (EGY) 11-6, 12-14, 11-3 ret. (46m)
-  Peter Barker (ENG) def.  Cameron Pilley (AUS) 11-7, 11-6, 11-5 (48m)
Tuesday’s championship match:
-  Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY) vs  Peter Barker (ENG)