by Geoff Robinson
Motor City Open
Birmingham, Michigan—Two former champions of the Motor City Open presented by Suburban Collection were pushed to the brink during Friday’s quarterfinals – but only one survived in front of a capacity crowd at the Birmingham Athletic Club Friday.
Miguel Angel Rodriguez, the 2015 MCO champion from Colombia, staged a comeback for the ages against third-seed Mohamed Abouelghar of Egypt. Unfortunately for defending champion Ryan Cuskelly of Australia, the run at a title defense came to an end at the hands of second-seeded Kiwi Paul Coll.
Joining Rodriguez and Coll in Saturday’s semis are Egypt’s Marwan ElShorbagy and Nicolas Mueller of Switzerland, who both cruised to three-game victories.
Rodriguez was totally outclassed in the first two games – 11-2, 11-8 – against World #9 Abouelghar. The Egyptian was hitting winner after winner while Rodriguez (World #23) struggled to find his footing.
“He was a strong shot-maker today,” Rodriguez said. “He’s so talented and I don’t know how to describe it. I just thought to myself that he can’t keep hitting winners. At any time, he’s going to have some unforced errors.”
That line of thinking bore fruit in the fourth, where – to the surprise of the crowd – Rodriguez smoked Abouelghar, 11-2. After that, it was game on.
Abouelghar started finding the tin with regularity as he tried to shorten points and hit winners. He was still able to earn three match balls in the fourth, but Rodriguez kept working and chasing down everything. Abouelghar hit the tin five times over the last six points of the game, allowing Rodriguez to capture it, 13-11.
In the fifth, the Columbian jackrabbit was all over the place, delighting the crowd with behind the back shots and spin moves rarely seen on the squash court. Frustrated, Abouelghar continued to make unforced errors, and Rodriguez triumphed: 2-11, 8-11, 11-2, 13-11, 11-7.
“With a lot of heart, I did it again,” the 32-year-old Rodriguez said. “I’m proud to play my best right now. I think I’m finding my game again. I’m happy to play in a semifinal after my 2016 injuries. This is a big moment in my career.”
One court over, Coll and Cuskelly looked as if they would play into the wee hours of the night. In the end Coll outlasted a cramping Cuskelly: 6-11, 11-5, 9-11, 11-9, 11-2.
The first game lasted 23 minutes. At its end Rodriguez and Abouelghar were already well into their third game one court over.
And so the Aussie vs. Kiwi struggle went for 89 minutes. At one point it looked as if it would once again be Cuskelly’s night at the MCO.
Tied at a game apiece in the third, Cuskelly stormed back from a 7-1 deficit to capture the all-important game.
Coll made sure to keep his cool.
“I knew I had him pretty tired, but I was guilty of taking my foot off the pedal,” Coll said. “I was disappointed, but I was still confident that I could win the match on pure physicality.”
Coll was able to keep Cuskelly at arms-length in the fourth, never once trailing in the game. Towards the end, Cuskelly seemed to be cramping.
He wasn’t able to recover in the fifth.
“I knew I had him pretty tired,” Coll said. “I just needed to stay positive. He cramped the last time we played, so that was in the back of my mind. I just had to keep pushing, and I’m happy I closed it out.”
For his efforts, Coll will take on Mueller in the first semifinal on Saturday afternoon.
World #27 Mueller was able to run down some tough balls while ultimately pushing Campbell Grayson (World #39) to his breaking point in what was the fourth match in four days for the qualifier. Mueller emerged victorious: 11-6, 11-9, 11-8.
Top-seed and World #5 ElShorbagy left little doubt of the result from the outset of his 30-minute match with Hong Kong’s Leo Au (World #22), who had just been through a brutal five-game test the night before.
ElShorbagy looks to be in top form heading into his match with Rodriguez. The two will battle in out on Court 3 on Saturday with a spot in the final on the line.
You can watch all of Court 3’s main draw action at TheMotorCityOpen.com. Just scroll to the YouTube box at the bottom of the home page.
(2) Paul Coll (New Zealand) def (5) Ryan Cuskelly 6-11, 11-5, 9-11, 11-9, 11-2
(8) Nicolas Mueller (Switzerland) def Campbell Grayson (New Zealand) 11-6, 11-9, 11-8
Miguel Angel Rodriguez (Columbia) def (3) Mohamed Abouelghar (Egypt) 2-11, 8-11, 11-2, 13-11, 11-7
(1)Marwan ElShorbagy (Egypt) def (7) Leo Au (Hong Kong) 11-7, 11-5, 11-2
(2) Coll vs. (8) Mueller 4:30 pm-Court 3
(1) ElShorbagy vs. Rodriguez 5:30 pm-Court 3