Pilley and Lee are giant killers; Coppinger, Rodriguez also score gutsy wins
By James Hawkins
Bloomfield Hills, Mich. — Less than 24 hours after conquering the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions in New York City, World #1 Mohamed Elshorbagy was back on court Saturday outside Detroit, Michigan looking to defend his title at the Motor City Open presented by The Suburban Collection.
But his unprecedented run at a third title at the Birmingham Athletic Club was dashed in the opening round. Elshorbagy retired at the end of Game Three to Aussie World #18 Cameron Pilley: 12-14, 11-4, 11-7 (ret.).
After a string of brutal ToC matches and little to no rest, the top seed looked spent after a pair of long rallies in the first game left him hunched over and breathing heavily. Yet Elshorbagy dug deep and executed an array of brilliant shots to take Game One.
In stanza two, trying to conserve energy after he fell behind 5-2, the Egyptian star conceded the game. But in Game Three Pilley’s plan of working Elshorbagy back-to- front began to take its toll.
“I think (Game One) took a lot out of him. I wanted to get the first, but the amount of work we both did was beneficial to me,” said Pilley, only the second player in MCO history to oust the top seed in the opening round. “After Game Three he said, ‘I’m done. My body is absolutely wrecked.’ I said, ‘Yeah, mate you had a good week last week.’ I think his body was in pieces. Every time he lunged I could hear him grunt.”
A similar fate befell #2 seed Amr Shabana. The 35-year-old former World #1 lost a brutal, five-game semifinal to Elshorbagy in New York on Thursday. Paired against World #16 Max Lee of Hong Kong in the MCO first round, Shabana looked out of sorts from the get-go, then began grimacing late in Game Two. He retired giving Lee his forst win over the World #4: 11-6, 11-5 (ret.).
“My back hit the wall in my quarterfinal match at ToC. I came here yesterday and did the best I could push through but sometimes the body won’t let. My mind was ready but there was no signal to my muscles,” said Shabana, who also retired in last year’s semifinals due to fatigue. “There is a shooting pain any time I bend too far, so I don’t want to mess up the spine.”
Aside from Elshorbagy and Shabana, the star-studded field battling for the champion’s share of the $70,000 purse and a Rolex watch — courtesy of Greenstone’s Jewelers — featured seven of the top 15 players, three former MCO champions, and a pair of MCO finalists.
Those numbers dwindled further thanks to World #21 Stephen Coppinger of South Africa. After dropping the first two games, Coppinger mounted a furious comeback to upset Egyptian World #14 Marwan Elshorbagy in five games: 8-11, 4-11, 11-5, 12-10, 11-6.
Coppinger struggled to find his range early in his match. But his shots started landing in the fourth and fifth games when he needed them the most. Tied at 7-all in Game Four, Elshorbagy was on the verge of moving on after three straight winners. But Coppinger fought off three straight match balls — highlighted by a gutsy drop shot — to even it at 10. After Elshorbagy left his next two shots short, Coppinger evened the match at 2-all.
In the deciding fifth Elshorbagy jumped out to a 4-0 lead Coppinger battle back to go up 9-5. On match ball Coppinger buried with another well-placed drop shot.
“I think in the fourth I was really lucky,” Coppinger said afterwards. “I got my act together toward the end and I think his energy level dropped off after being so close and not quite getting there. In the fifth he was looking for the first out. It just wasn’t there.”
The one player who didn’t seem to be hampered by a deep run in New York was Colombian World #12 Miguel Angel Rodriguez. Fresh off his pair of five-game upsets over World #6 Peter Barker and World #2 Gregory Gaultier, Rodriguez outlasted World #23 Saurav Ghosal in yet another epic five-game battle: 11-8, 11-8, 5-11, 9-11, 11-5.
Much like last year’s opening round match that Rodriguez also won in five games, the two speedsters wowed the crowd with their quickness and determination.
“Yesterday I was very tired but I was preparing myself mentally. When I started the first game my legs were feeling fine and I wasn’t thinking about the pain,” Rodriguez said. “In the fifth, I just had to pick up the pace a little bit and give it everything I had.”
World #6 Peter Barker, World #7 Borja Golan and World #15 Mathieu Castagnet all swept their opponents to advance to the quarterfinals, which begin 4 p.m. Sunday.
Saturday’s first round results:
– Cameron Pilley (AUS) def.  Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY) 12-14, 11-4, 11-7 ret. (39m)
–  Miguel Angel Rodriguez (COL) def. [Q] Saurav Ghosal (IND) 11-8, 11-8, 5-11, 9-11, 11-5 (97m)
–  Mathieu Castagnet (FRA) def. [Q] Alan Clyne (SCO) 11-7, 11-9, 11-3 (62m)
–  Borja Golan (ESP) def. [Q] Cesar Salazar (MEX) 11-2, 11-6, 11-7 (42m)
–  Peter Barker (ENG) def. Nicolas Mueller (SUI) 11-3, 11-9, 11-4 (31m)
– Stephen Coppinger (RSA) def.  Marwan Elshorbagy (EGY) 8-11, 4-11, 11-5, 12-10, 11-6 (62m)
–  Omar Mosaad (EGY) def. [Q] Olli Tuominen (FIN) 11-7, 11-5, 11-5 (28m)
– Max Lee (HKG) def.  Amr Shabana (EGY) 11-6, 11-5 ret. (11m)
–  Peter Barker (ENG) vs Stephen Coppinger (RSA)
–  Borja Golan (ESP) vs  Mathieu Castagnet (FRA)
–  Omar Mosaad (EGY) vs Max Lee (HKG)
–  Miguel Angel Rodriguez (COL) vs Cameron Pilley (AUS)