January 2014

James Willstrop’s homage to Amr Shabana!

James Willstrop’s homage to Amr Shabana!
This article is a MUST – all credit to James Willstrop

The name Amr Shabana isn’t, I assume, one with which the readers of the YEP are too familiar, so this week is a good time to fill you in.

Racket sports require a very particular set of skills and Shabana is one of the subtlest and most individual racket players the game of squash has ever seen.

I would be pressed to put many ahead of him in terms of ability and watchability, in all racket sports throughout history. Not something to say lightly, especially as a fellow player.

He is the man on the PSA world tour who the other players would cite, if asked now, as a prime influence and inspiration. The comments from them speak for themselves. He is 34 now so for many of the tour’s younger members he will have been a hero, and his age means he has seniority. But even players of his own generation will, in their post match quotes against him, mention how much they have looked up to him in the past, and how good a squash player he continues to be. It is unusual for a figure to have such blanket admiration from peers or colleagues in the way he does.

Because of the manner he goes about his work, none of his contemporaries hesitate to shower the man they call The Maestro with such praise. Not only does he bedazzle with dexterous brilliance, but he is fair on court. Why is he so good? His racket work is in a league of its own. He does play incredible shots from unthinkable angles as Ramy Ashour does, and this is perhaps the obvious entertaining aspect of his play for the general squash public. For me though it’s the purity of his technique, clean ball striking and adroit rally building that is even more impressive. At times he displays pure mastery of the laws of geometry, and has an enviable knack of creating space from a position of deadlock, leaving opponents stranded in one area of the court.

There is a rare aesthetic element to what he does, when he makes world level sport look quite easy. Roger Federer definitely has this ability, and one of the great Pakistani squash players, Jansher Khan was all relaxation, rhythm and artistic style. Rally construction becomes an art form to such superstars.

Squash is one of the fastest games on earth, and at the top level you feel like you are being pulled from pillar to post. Mostly it shows in players’ movement or expressions, but Amr Shabana even seems able to make ‘making it look easy’ look easy.

And what’s more: he has achieved big things in the game playing this way, with four world titles to his name and lengthy spells at world number one. After last weekend he added another Tournament of Champions title to his collection.

Seeded seven, he beat Nick Matthew 3-2 in the quarters, myself in the semi-finals and then Gregory Gaultier in the final, a tournament win few saw coming.

Whilst his age is certainly no issue for him or the players having to deal with him, it is a big story for many in the public and media who have been expecting his power on the world stage to waver.

At least for now, any such thoughts of his regression have been decidedly squashed.

People keep saying things like ‘Shabana is back’ well, yes, it’s very dramatic and makes a good headline, but really, for those who know, he never went away.

For those who haven’t seen him, try YouTube or www.squashtv.com for plenty of snippets.

Like squash or not, no one can fail to at least admire and respect one of the racket sport greats.

The original article was released today in the Yorkshire Evening Post.


David and Shabana taking ToC title!

It was squash queen Nicol David and squash maestro Amr Shabana who dominated the finals at the 2014 JP Morgan Tournament of Champions (ToC) in New York.

David, the World No1 from Malaysia claimed her first ToC title with a 11-4, 13 -11, 11-8 victory over World No2 Laura Massaro on glass court in Grand Central Terminal. “The ToC is huge, there is something in the air here”, said the Malaysian superstar after the triumph over her English rival in the women’s climax.

Even though David now has 72 WSA titles to her name and has been at the top of the rankings for 90 consecutive months, the 2014 ToC champion is still enthralled with her sport: “I have learned so much from this sport, and I am continuing to learn,” said David.

In the men’s final the Egyptian 4-time World Champion and current World No9 upsetting the top seed Frenchman Gregory Gaultier in straight games (11-8, 11-3, 11-4) to seal the 1st PSA World Series title of the year. “Greg wasn’t maybe at his 100 per cent best tonight but I took full advantage of that,” said Shabana, who was in ominous form the very first point.

Shabana’s victory, his 1st PSA World Series event title since 2011, also prevents Gaultier from becoming world No1 outright in February – the Aix-en-Provence 31-year-old now goes level with England’s Nick Matthew at the top of the rankings.

Final:
[7] Amr Shabana (EGY) bt [1] Gregory Gaultier (FRA) 11-8, 11-3, 11-4 (42m)

Semi-finals:
[7] Amr Shabana (EGY) bt [4] James Willstrop (ENG) 11-5, 5-11, 11-5, 11-5 (61m)
[1] Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt [3] Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY) 5-11, 11-6, 11-8, 14-12 (75m)

Quarter-finals:
[7] Amr Shabana (EGY) bt [2] Nick Matthew (ENG) 9-11, 12-10, 11-7, 2-11, 11-9 (90m)
[4] James Willstrop (ENG) bt [6] Peter Barker (ENG) 11-7, 5-11, 12-10, 11-5 (66m)
[3] Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY) bt [8] Daryl Selby (ENG) 8-11, 11-7, 11-5, 11-8 (60m)
[1] Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt Simon Rosner (GER) 12-10, 11-6, 11-7 (57m)

Final:
[1] Nicol David (MAS) bt [2] Laura Massaro (ENG) 11-4, 13-11, 11-8 (46m)

Semi-finals:
[1] Nicol David (MAS) bt [4] Alison Waters (ENG) 11-8, 11-8, 12-10 (45m)
[2] Laura Massaro (ENG) bt [5] Camille Serme (FRA) 11-5, 3-11, 11-6, 11-9 (63m)

Quarter-finals:
[1] Nicol David (MAS) bt [8] Low Wee Wern (MAS) 11-5, 11-3, 11-4 (32m)
[4] Alison Waters (ENG) bt [Q] Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) 11-5, 11-6, 11-2 (28m)
[5] Camille Serme (FRA) bt Madeline Perry (IRL) 11-8, 11-4, 11-13, 11-8 (52m)
[2] Laura Massaro (ENG) bt [6] Joelle King (NZL) 9-11, 13-11, 11-3, 11-7 (52m)


Top seeds David and Massaro in ToC final!

The top 2 seeds will contest the final of the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions after Malaysian favourite Nicol David (front) and England’s World No2 Laura Massaro survived testing women’s semi-finals in the iconic Vanderbilt Hall at Grand Central Terminal in New York, where 4 of the 5 top-ranking WSA players battled for the privilege of competing for the coveted ToC title.

Laura Massaro had the upper hand over 5th seed Camille Serme, beating the French No1 in 4 games 11-5, 3-11, 11-6, 11-9.

In the 2nd women’s semi-final, world No1 Nicol David defeated Alison Waters, the 4th seed from England, in 3 hard-fought and closely-contested games. “It was pretty close all the way,” said David after the 11-8, 11-8, 12-10 victory which takes the 30-year-old from Penang into her seventh WSA World Tour final in a row – and the 91st of her career.

Today’s finals (head to head overall):
[1] Nicol David (MAS) v [2] Laura Massaro (ENG) – (21:5)


Gaultier and Shabana to contest ToC final!

Top-seeded Frenchman Gregory Gaultier and 4-time World Champion Amr Shabana will contest the final of the 2014 JP Morgan Tournament of Champions after impressive semi-final victories at Grand Central Terminal in New York.

Shabana (ri) , the World No9 from Egypt, defeated England’s 4th seed James Willstrop (le) with a great performance. Shabana, who impressed in his enthralling 4-game win over Willstrop, will also be hoping to end what has been a tough period of time for him – with injury and illness having interrupted his past few seasons – and win his first PSA World Series ranking event since 2011. “I’m really over the moon,” said Shabana after the 11-5, 5-11, 11-5, 11-5 victory which takes the 34-year-old into his 46th Tour final.

In the 2nd semi World No2 Gaultier removed 3rd seeded Egyptian Mohamed El Shorbagy to set up a final in which there is more than a title at stake. “Becoming world No1 again by winning this match was a big goal for me,” said Gaultier after his 5-11, 11-6, 11-8, 14-12 win in 75 minutes. Gaultier’s victory over El Shorbagy will draw him level with Nick Matthew – but a triumph in the final would see the Frenchman surpass the Englishman to become World No1.

Today’s finals (head to head overall):
[1] Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v [7] Amr Shabana (EGY) – (15:13)

Semi-finals:
[7] Amr Shabana (EGY) bt [4] James Willstrop (ENG) 11-5, 5-11, 11-5, 11-5 (61m)
[1] Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt [3] Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY) 5-11, 11-6, 11-8, 14-12 (75m)

Quarter-finals:
[7] Amr Shabana (EGY) bt [2] Nick Matthew (ENG) 9-11, 12-10, 11-7, 2-11, 11-9 (90m)
[4] James Willstrop (ENG) bt [6] Peter Barker (ENG) 11-7, 5-11, 12-10, 11-5 (66m)
[3] Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY) bt [8] Daryl Selby (ENG) 8-11, 11-7, 11-5, 11-8 (60m)
[1] Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt Simon Rosner (GER) 12-10, 11-6, 11-7 (57m)


Gaultier and Shorbaby grabbing ToC Semi Slot!

France’s World No2 Gregory Gaultier (front) booked his place in the JP Morgan Tournament of Champions semi-finals for the 3rd year in a row after defeating German Simon Rosner (back) in straight games (12-10, 11-6, 11-7 in 57 minutes) at Grand Central Terminal in New York. “It’s always good to win and Simon has been improving a lot recently,” said Gaultier after his victory which takes the top seed and 2009 ToC champion 1 match away from his 3rd appearance in the final.

Gaultier will now take on Mohamed El Shorbagy, the No3 seed from Egypt who earned his place in the semis with an 8-11, 11-7, 11-5, 11-8 win in 60 minutes over Daryl Selby of England. “I’m very excited to be in my first ToC semi-final. The match today was such a tough battle and Daryl played very well”, said El Shorbagy. ”

Today’s semi-finals (head to head overall):
[4] James Willstrop (ENG) v [7] Amr Shabana (EGY) – (13:19)
[1] Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v [3] Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY) – (7:0)

Quarter-finals:
[7] Amr Shabana (EGY) bt [2] Nick Matthew (ENG) 9-11, 12-10, 11-7, 2-11, 11-9 (90m)
[4] James Willstrop (ENG) bt [6] Peter Barker (ENG) 11-7, 5-11, 12-10, 11-5 (66m)
[3] Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY) bt [8] Daryl Selby (ENG) 8-11, 11-7, 11-5, 11-8 (60m)
[1] Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt Simon Rosner (GER) 12-10, 11-6, 11-7 (57m)


Shabana outs Matthew in ToC quarter-final!

Egypt’s 4-time World Champion Amr Shabana (le) pulled off a major upset in the JP Morgan Tournament of Champions when he beat England’s 3-time World Champion and World No1 Nick Matthew (ri) in a thrilling 5-game quarter-final in New York.

Despite victories by Matthew in each of their last four meetings, it was the 34-year-old from Cairo who showed his world class calibre this time to seal the 9-11, 12-10, 11-7, 2-11, 11-9 victory. “That was probably one of the best matches that I have played in a long time. Nick is the world champion and the world No1 and he’s beaten me in the last four or five games that we played – so I had to play at my very best to beat him. I had a game plan and I stuck to it and thankfully it worked,” said Shabana, the No7 seed.

Shabana will now ace England’s James Willstrop in Thursday’s semi-finals after the 4th seed from overcame fellow countryman Peter Barker 11-7, 5-11, 12-10, 11-5. ” It’s not been my best week of squash, but I improved again a little bit today. It excites me to be in the semi and I’m going to enjoy that for 48 hours. I like playing here and I like playing Shabs so I’m looking forward to it”, said 30-year-old Willstrop after the match.

Semi-finals:
[7] Amr Shabana (EGY) v [4] James Willstrop (ENG)

Quarter-finals:
[7] Amr Shabana (EGY) bt [2] Nick Matthew (ENG) 9-11, 12-10, 11-7, 2-11, 11-9
[4] James Willstrop (ENG) bt [6] Peter Barker (ENG) 11-7, 5-11, 12-10, 11-5
[3] Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY) v [8] Daryl Selby (ENG)
[1] Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v Simon Rosner (GER)


Rosner downs Darwish to make ToC quarters!

At day 2 of the split 2nd round format, Germany’s World No13 Simon Rosner (front) played against the odds, when he beat Egypt’s World No6 Karim Darwish (back) in straight games (11-2, 12-10, 11-5) to booked his places as the only unseeded player in the quarter-finals of the JP Morgan Tournament of Champions in New York. “The win is important but the performance is a huge confidence boost and I’m really looking forward to the next game now,” concluded Rosner.

The 7-times German Champion will now face World No2 Greg Gaultier in the quarter-finals on Wednesday after the top-seeded Frenchman despatched Botswana’s Alister Walker 11-5, 11-5, 11-7 in his second round match.

8th seed Daryl Selby made the quarter-finals by beating English compatriot Chris Simpson 11-6, 11-9, 7-11, 11-6 to take on Mohamed El Shorbagy, the No3 seed from Egypt. El Shorbagy came back from 1 game down to defeat fellow Egyptian Tarek Momen 9-11, 11-7, 11-8, 12-10 in 63 minutes.

Quarter-finals:
[2] Nick Matthew (ENG) v [7] Amr Shabana (EGY)
[4] James Willstrop (ENG) v [6] Peter Barker (ENG)
[3] Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY) v [8] Daryl Selby (ENG)
[1] Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v Simon Rosner (GER)

2nd round:
[2] Nick Matthew (ENG) bt Stephen Coppinger (RSA) 11-7, 11-2, 11-4 (34m)
[7] Amr Shabana (EGY) bt Laurens Jan Anjema (NED) 11-7, 11-3, 11-5 (39m)
[6] Peter Barker (ENG) bt Mathieu Castagnet (FRA) 11-9, 11-8, 3-11, 13-11 (81m)
[4] James Willstrop (ENG) bt Cameron Pilley (AUS) 13-11, 11-1, 13-11 (64m)
[3] Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY) bt Tarek Momen (EGY) 9-11, 11-7, 11-8, 12-10 (63m)
[8] Daryl Selby (ENG) bt Chris Simpson (ENG) 11-6, 11-9, 7-11, 11-6 (71m)
Simon Rosner (GER) bt [5] Karim Darwish (EGY) 11-2, 12-10, 11-5 (38m)
[1] Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt Alister Walker (BOT) 11-5, 11-5, 11-7 (44m)


Seeds making quarters in New York!

On day 1 of the split round format of the 2nd round matches all seeded players booked their places in the quarter-finals for the JP Morgan Tournament of Champions played in New York’s Grand Central Terminal.

Egyptian maestro and 4 times World Champion Amr Shabana (le) came through his 2nd round game, putting in a superb performance to despatch Dutch fellow Laurens Jan Anjema (ri) 11-7, 11-3, 11-5 and will meet World No1 and 3 times World Champion Nick Matthew from England, who defeated South African Stephen Coppinger 11-7, 11-2, 11-4.

England’s World No5 James Willstrop came through a challenging encounter with Cameron Pilley to beat the Australian in straight games (13-11, 11-1, 13-11). Willstrop will now face compatriot Peter Barker who overcame Frenchman Mathieu Castagnet in 4 games (11-9, 11-8, 3-11, 13-11) to earn his place in the quarters.

Quarter-finals:
[2] Nick Matthew (ENG) v [7] Amr Shabana (EGY)
[4] James Willstrop (ENG) v [6] Peter Barker (ENG)

2nd round:
[2] Nick Matthew (ENG) bt Stephen Coppinger (RSA) 11-7, 11-2, 11-4 (34m)
[7] Amr Shabana (EGY) bt Laurens Jan Anjema (NED) 11-7, 11-3, 11-5 (39m)
[6] Peter Barker (ENG) bt Mathieu Castagnet (FRA) 11-9, 11-8, 3-11, 13-11 (81m)
[4] James Willstrop (ENG) bt Cameron Pilley (AUS) 13-11, 11-1, 13-11 (64m)
[3] Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY) v Tarek Momen (EGY)
[8] Daryl Selby (ENG) v Chris Simpson (ENG)
[5] Karim Darwish (EGY) v Simon Rosner (GER)
[1] Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v Alister Walker (BOT)

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