Top-seed El Shorbagy, Castagnet, Golan roll
by Geoff Robinson
Bloomfield Hills, Mich. – Friday’s Main Draw first round of the Motor City Open presented by The Suburban Collection delighted a capacity crowd at the Birmingham Athletic Club, as the world’s best squash players went at it for more than five grueling hours.
World #3 Nick Matthew, the tournament’s second seed, survived a big-time scare from 22-year old Egyptian phenom Mohamed Abouelghar. Matthew joins his next opponent (and fellow Englishman) Chris Simpson, in the quarterfinals. Also moving on is top seed and World #1 Mohamed El Shorbagy of Egypt, countryman Ali Farag, England’s Chris Simpson, France’s Mathieu Castagnet, Ryan Cuskelly of Australia, Spaniard Borja Golan, and Hong Kong’s Leo Au.
Matthew faced some tough points in the early going against an amped-up Abouelghar, but he took the first two games, 11-8, 11-9, and appeared on cruise control for a straight-set win.
In the third game, everything changed.
World #26 Abouelghar – regarded as the next star in an endless wave of Egyptian stars – found another gear, moving Matthew around and keeping him off balance. The Egyptian got out to a 7-4 advantage before Matthew stormed back to take the next six points and give himself three chances to finish the match. But Abouelghar wouldn’t let go, forcing Matthew into uncharacteristic unforced errors. The Egyptian fought off three match balls – then earned one of his own. Matthew hit the tin, and the match was headed for a fourth game.
In the fourth it seemed that veteran Matthew’s seasoning would finally take over. Dropping the first two points, the Englishman took the next six. Abouelghar again fought back – using a drop shot to earn game point before slamming home a winner to send it the distance, 11-9.
Matthew appeared to wobble to start the fifth, going down 2-5. The MCO’s second seed was all but on his way out – playing tentatively before realizing that the only way to win was to go for the kill. Fighting back to a tie at 9-9, he powered to game point – finishing on a deft drop shot.
“By the skin of my teeth,” Matthew said afterards. “I was thinking about tomorrow, and that’s what happens in this sport. He took the momentum and was hitting great shots out of thin air. He had no fear. In the end, I used my experience to hit the shots I needed to win.”
If Matthew and Abouelghar set the bar for all other matches this weekend, Chris Simpson and Nicolas Mueller set the bar for a single game. Simpson finished off Mueller in straight sets, but not before an exceptional, 19-17 final game.
“It was really brutal,” Simpson said. “It would have been very disheartening to lose a game like that and have to play another.”
Simpson said he thought Mueller outplayed him in Game One, which the Englishman game back to win, 13-11. He then dismantled his Swiss opponent in the second game, 11-1.
“I just managed to steal the (first) game from him,” Simpson said. “I think he was probably living in the past.”
The night’s first match saw seventh-seed Farag of Egypt take out qualifier Diego Elias of Peru in straight sets: 11-9, 11-4, 11-2. After a tough first game, it was smooth sailing for Farag in the second and third.
Top-seed El Shorbagy fended off Englishman – and friend – Adrian Waller in four games: 11-9, 11-9, 6-11, 11-8. The two seemed to really enjoy their match, having known each other since their junior days. They routinely joked in the middle of some intense action.
Castagnet of France had the dubious task of facing BAC crowd favorite, qualifier, and former MCO champ, Olli Tuominen. Tuominen was coming off two consecutive, grueling qualifying matches. Despite putting up a good fight and proving a pain in Castagnet’s side, the 37-year old Finn eventually fell in four games: 11-4, 11-6, 9-11, 11-4.
Golan, the 2009 MCO champ, was smooth as silk inside the four walls, moving around Frenchman Gregoire Marche at will. Golan won easily: 11-3, 11-8, 11-4.
Chalk up the Au vs. Max Lee contest as the night’s lengthiest match – despite only lasting three games. Not only were the rallies long, but the match was put on hold after Lee suffered a bloody nose that he couldn’t seem to stop. The two were granted a stay with Au leading 2-0 (4-4). Play didn’t resume until the end of the epic Matthew- Abouelghar match. By the time Au finished off Lee in straight games, more than three hours had passed.
One match never happened. Pakistan’s Nasir Iqbal, winner of two intense five-gamers in the qualifying rounds, had to retire due to an elbow injury. His opponent, Ryan Cuskelly of Australia, advanced to the quarterfinals to take on Castagnet.
(7) Ali Farag (Egypt) def. Diego Elias (Peru) 11-9, 11-4, 11-2
(1) Mohamed El Shorbagy (Egypt) def. Adrian Waller (England) 11-9, 11-9, 6-11, 11-8
(3) Mathieu Castagnet (France) def. Olli Tuominen (Finland) 11-4, 11-6, 9-11, 11-4
(5) Ryan Cuskellly (Australia) def. Nasir Ibal (Withdraw due to injury)
(6) Borja Golan (Spain) def. Gregoire Marche (France) 11-3, 11-8, 11-4
Leo Au (Hong Kong) def. (4) Max Lee (Hong Kong) 11-6, 11-7, 11-9
Chris Simpson (England) def. (8) Nicolas Mueller (Switzerland) 13-11, 11-1, 19-17
(2) Nick Matthew (England) def. Mohamed Abouelghar 11-8, 11-9, 10-12, 9-11, 11-9
Elshorbagy vs. Farag (4:30)
Cuskelly vs. Castagnet (4:30)
Au vs. Golan (5:30)
Simpson vs. Matthew (5:30)