• El Gouna International Squash Open • 10-18 April 2014 • El Gouna, Egypt •

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TODAY at the El Gouna International ...
Sun13th April, Day FOUR - Round One, Top

Qualifying complete, the main draw of the PSA $115k World Series event got under way today, with four matches at the Movenpick followed by the opening ceremony and then four more matches on the Glass Court at the New Marina.

It was another good day for Egypt as the Elshorbagy brothers, Mohamed and Marwan, both progressed, joined by qualifier Mazen Hesham who produced the upset of the day in beating Mathieu Castagnet from a game down.

Englishmen Peter Barker and Daryl Selby recorded contrasting wins, Barker easing past qualifier Henrik Mustonen while Selby needed to come from behind in the fifth to see off wildcard Zahed Mohamed, thereby securing his first ever win in Egypt! Switzerland's Nicolas Mueller denied an English hat-trick as he beat Chris Simpson in a lengthy three-game encounter.

Top seed Gregory Gaultier survived a scare as speedy Indian Saurav Ghosal took the world number one the full distance, while in the final match of the day South African Steve Coppinger beat qualifier Ong Beng Hee in three close games.

Action continues tomorrow with four more first round matches at each venue.

Round One, Top Half:

Marwan Elshorbagy (Egy)  3-0 Cameron Pilley (Aus)           11/9, 14/12, 11/9 (38m)
[7] Peter Barker (Eng) 3-0 [Q] Henrik Mustonen (Fin)            11/4, 11/3, 11/6 (31m)
[8] Daryl Selby (Eng) 3-2 Zahed Mohamed (Egy)  9/11, 11/9, 11/2, 8/11., 11/6 (74m)
Nicolas Muller (Sui) 3-0 Chris Simpson (Eng)                      18/16, 15/13, 11/2 (60m)

[3] Mohamed Elshorbagy (Egy) 3-1 Miguel Angel Rodriguez (Col)    11/5, 14/12, 8/11, 11/9 (63m)
[Q] Mazen Hesham (Egy) 3-1 Mathieu Castagnet (Fra)                       7/11, 11/9, 11/8, 11/7 (52m)
[1] Gregory Gaultier (Fra) 3-2 Saurav Ghosal (Ind)               11/9, 8/11, 10/12 , 11/4, 11/8 (91m)
Stephen Coppinger (Rsa) 3-0 [Q] Ong Beng Hee (Mas)                              11/8, 11/6, 11/9 (53m)

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Marwan Elshorbagy (Egy)  3-0 Cameron Pilley (Aus
         ) 11/9, 14/12, 11/9 (38m)


I don’t think Cameron truly enjoys this court in El Gouna. A traditional court that probably doesn’t let his hit so hard squash shines as bright as a glass court would. I think to remember that he lost here first round against Thierry Lincou 2 years ago (again, Cam, if I’m wrong, don’t hesitate to correct me!) And again today, he never felt that comfortable. Not that he played badly at all, but not as splendidly I’ve seen him play normally.

Marwan had no pressure (well, not on paper anyway, as Cam is #17 former 11, while he is #21), but playing home for an Egyptian player is pretty special. I’m not sure people that never came here can grasp how important it is for them. And playing any Egyptian on homeground is a daunting task, even for more established players with younger ones…

The Egyptian played extremely well, but had a few lapses in concentration that could have been very costly indeed. Marwan was up 9/4 in both the first and the third, allowing every time Cameron to come back in the match by playing far too many unforced errors and not watching his opponent closely enough. He was truly lucky to get away with it, twice, and the score could easily have been reversed.

The second on the other hand was close from start to finish, you thought that one player would take the lead, but the other one would catch up. Marwan saved 3 games balls, 10/8, 10/9, 12/11, and Marwan needed 2 as well to close that crucial second.

A very pleasant match indeed, very fair, very few decisions and no discussions. Excellent start of the day (don’t think Cam would agree though…)

I think I played really well at the start, I was here to try and play high quality squash, but also to enjoy my squash, instead of putting pressure on myself, just play my game. Cameron is such a good player, always been creating a lot of trouble for the top 5 guys, so for me, beating such a player is a big thing.

I’m not happy with my lapses in concentration in the 1st and 3rd. That’s something that could cost me dearly and I need to work at it, being more patient and not that desperate to win the rally, but I’m happy I went through it and found a way to come back.

It’s such an honour and a special feeling to play in my country. I really want to thank my friend Amr Mansi who organised such an amazing tournament yet again, and of course, my brother for his help today and always.

[7] Peter Barker (Eng) 3-0 [Q] Henrik Mustonen (Fin)
            11/4, 11/3, 11/6 (31m)


I completely forgot that Pete was actually playing against Henrik when he got that terrible injury in the World Champs in Manchester a few months ago. “I was 2 love up, and I slipped, injuring my calf, probably the worst injury I ever had”.

Today, none of that. It was one of those games where you don’t really see anything exceptionally good, or bad for that matter. No bad squash from Henrik – far from it. No dazzling winners from the back of the court for Peter. And yet, 11/4, 11/3 for the first two games!

In the third, Henrik seemed to get used a bit more to Peter’s pace and weight in the ball, and at 6/1, suddenly found a few nice answers to claw back to 5/6, 5/7. But Peter feeling the danger and in no mood for a 4th, just found his back of the court again, and 11/6 it was.

“I was actually a bit nervous today, as it was against Henrik that I got my injury. It was just in my head, a bit apprehensive really. Because of that injury, I missed the three biggest tournaments in the season, so although I missed the tournament 2 years ago, this one was imperative for me, and to be honest, I wish there were more tournaments!!!!

Today, game plan was pretty simple, trying to keep him behind me and create space. When you are able to create enough space with your opponent, you don’t have to play such a great drop shot, it’s only when you feel him breathing on your shoulder that you’ve got to play a spectacular shot to win the point…

[8] Daryl Selby (Eng) 3-2 Zahed Mohamed (Egy) 
             9/11, 11/9, 11/2, 8/11., 11/6 (74m) +15m blood


CLOSE THAT BLEEPING FACTORY, PEOPLE!!!! I tell you, at every corner, you have one of those amazing talented players that appear! I’ve seen Zahed play in the Misr Open in Cairo in November, and I noticed his game, all around very solid, plus the Magic Egyptian Touch that we all know and love…

Daryl didn’t know what to expect, and he was not disappointed! From the first point – Zahed led 4/0, Daryl had to be on his best focused to read that young man (21)’s beautiful attack shots. Still, if I may, there is still room for a few tweaks here and there, like sometimes, he didn’t volley enough and let himself locked at the back, and also, he is a pretty strong boy, still not using that power in his shots enough in my opinion.

First game, Daryl kept playing catch up, 0/4 to 4/4, then 6/9 to 9/9. A stunning rally, and an accident, truly one, and Daryl is hit on the nose. Blood injury, we stop for 15 minutes. The initial stroke decision is changed to let with a “please don’t play that kind of shots next time”. Still, Zahed takes the next two points, 11/9.

The second was soooo close, and very cleverly, like he did in the first game, Daryl made him do a heck of a lot of work. The Englishman takes it 11/9. Dividends were paid in the 3rd, where the young man just let it slide 11/2 to come back refresh and take that fourth. Not that a simple affair, as Zahed was leading 9/5, and let the experience of Daryl talk, four game balls saved. But still, a superb winner to finish, and 11/8, we were in the 5th.

And I truly thought that was it for Daryl when he was down 5/2. I guess that Zahed made the basic mistake to think he’d won.

“Daryl NEVER loses that kind of match” whispers Grégoire Marche who is watching the matc (he once lost a crucial League match 10/5 match ball up against the English).

And he was right. Daryl just scored 7 points in a row to match ball 10/5. Despite all his valorous efforts, Zahed couldn’t save more than one match ball, and it’s 11/6 for Daryl.

It was a good game. It was hard and physical, not too physical, and when he hit me it was truly an accident, things like that just happen. It just happen to be at a crucial time, 9/9, where the momentum was with me, but he deserves to win that game. He truly surprised me, I didn’t know what to expect, never saw him play.

I think the hard work we produced in the first two games took its toll in the third. In the 4th, he attacked more, and took me by surprise.

And in the 5th, well, again I came back, I seem to do that a lot, I’m used to it! I guess it was just a question of quality and experience at the end…

Now, I’m going to enjoy the day of rest, and I’m happy to say you’ve witnessed my first ever win in Egypt! I’ve never been that successful here…

Nicolas Muller (Sui) 3-0 Chris Simpson (Eng)
             18/16, 15/13, 11/2 (60m)


Very little time to comment about a very intense match! Long story short. At 16/16 in the first, after a very close/disputed/fair/intense game, Chris plays a superb drop shot. Did Nicky ask for a let or not, not sure. Anyway, he was awarded one, and it didn’t look to the players that were watching that it should have been a let… Nicky wins it 18/16…

In the 2nd game, at 13/13 this time, Chris’ shot is called not up (don’t ask me, I was not on sight), refs called it not up, a few players saw it good, and a few other saw it not up. Anyway, in Chris mind, it was a good shot, and it really got under his skin, again at such a crucial time.

Add to that he actually broke 3 racquets’ strings in a few rallies, he was not a happy bunny.

From Nicki's point of view, a new Nicolas Mueller is born. He has been training hard on court, he is hitting very hard – and not like a little girl like I once told him – and as he is very fit, he makes much less errors and is able to accept rallies. His game has improved a lot…

Since Finland that I won, I have been full of confidence, been playing much more matches in tournaments than I did for a long time (I was losing first round every time). Because of my injury (foot) that kept me away from a court for 3 months, my confidence had gone, no feel of the ball, but after Finland, it all came together.

Plus, I didn’t do any tournament in March, except the Nationals, and I spent an awful time on court, and that was really great, I did a lot of court training, moving around the court, and I feel very comfortable now, my touch is coming back.

Today, I won two pretty close games, the Old Nicki would have lost 2/0, then the third, and would be enjoying the pool for the rest of the week. Whereas the New Nicki hang in there, and won 2/0. It’s amazing actually, in the 2nd, I was dominated completely for the first 4 points, I was given a squash lesson by Chris, and still, I managed to win each rally to lead 4/0. That is a great feeling…

[3] Mohamed Elshorbagy (Egy) 3-1 Miguel Angel Rodriguez (Col)
            11/5, 14/12, 8/11, 11/9 (63m)


In a beautiful setting (on the marina, facing the water), we had a cracker of an opener, with Miguel taking a game to get used to Mohamed’s pace and court conditions but after that, what a match!

Truly beautiful rallies, nothing between the players all along, Rubber Ball throwing himself to save Mohamed beautiful winners (or should have been winners) and the Egyptian starting a bit a bit nervous when he lost the 3rd.

At the beginning of the 4th, he started to attack a bit more, and it worked wonders. Still Miguel got a few no lets that were really uncalled for, as Mohamed was definitely slow to move out of his opponent way.

A very good game from both again, but the Egyptian manages to set up 3 match balls at 10/7. Miguel wouldn’t say die, and I could have how the Shorbagy’s support group was starting to get a bit edgy when Miguel started clawing back, 8/10, 9/10.

A magnificent block to finish bless Mohamed, that got a remarkable no let… Bless the refs too…

The court is amazing, but the conditions are pretty tough, the ball is extremely bouncy, and playing Miguel on a bouncy court on the first round – which I think was the toughest first round anyway – is a nightmare!!! But that’s what we train for.

At the start of my season, I had some poor results in the first rounds, I was struggling a bit, and Jonah [Barrington] gave me a few things to work on. So today, I’m happy that I managed to play a good match.

In the first game, I don’t think he played that well, I didn’t do anything special, I played the first three games the same way. But at the end of the third, my mum came and talked to me. She told me to step up and volley more, and play more drop shots, and she was right I think, it helped me a lot. I guess he was a bit surprised with my change of tactic.

I’m happy with the way I handle that first round, I’m happy with the way I prepare mentally as well. I gave him full respect, he is a top player, and I am a happy player now.

Yes, I was ill last week, a bad cold but I felt ok today. He is such a gifted player, he’s going to have such a great career I’m sure. It’s quite amazing how fast hands those players have, and even in their movement towards the ball, their muscles are build such a way, you just hit the ball and they have anticipated and are already on the ball. And what’s frustrating for me, is that I know for a fact – tests prove it – that I never that that physical explosiveness, I have other qualities, but that one, I don’t. And I have to find solutions to win despite that….

Shame, I really wanted to win that match, it would have taken me to the top 20, I worked very hard for it, but that sport for you. It’s like when you play young Abouelghar, you don’t have the right to make any mistakes….

[Q] Mazen Hesham (Egy) 3-1 Mathieu Castagnet (Fra)
         7/11, 11/9, 11/8, 11/7 (52m)


You must think I’m beginning to sound like a parrot, constantily telling you how wonderful those young Egyptians are. But they are, I’m truly sorry!

Today, I was sitting next to Grégoire Marche and Lucas Serme, and they like me were amazed at the quality of the shots Mazen found. Yes, there were a few tins along the way, it’s a very high percentage game. But the Egyptian was in the zone, as those young players often are when they play home…

After a poor start in the first game, Mazen found his marks, 7/0. Mathieu came back to 9/9, but a winner and a stroke, and he levels it at one game all.

The second is also a walk in the park to start with for Mazen, 5/1 and Mathieu trying very hard to keep up with the score, and nearly managing to come back after some stunning long and disputed rallies, 7/8. But Mazen is on a cloud, and takes it 11/8.

Mathieu who last week had a bad cold, just didn’t have enough oxygen to come back blasting today in the 4th, as I’ve seen him do so many times. And Mazen, flying up there in the clouds of touch/talent, just led the whole way to match ball 10/5. Mathieu, not losing his nerves, tried and clawed back.

As the young man was trying to finish the point too soon, Mathieu was able to save 3 match balls. His mates next to me were still hopeful the Frenchman would make it. But no, Mazen was not to be denied. And with that result, 20 years old Mazen is probably top 30. As you are when you are Egyptian….

It’s the first time I’m on PSASquashTV, Mum, are you watching!!!?

I know I play a bit too short too soon, I’m trying to get better!

I need to thank Karim Darwish who have been my coach for 5 months now, and Haithan Effat, and of course my fitness coach from forever, Mohamed Defrawy….

Before the match, I was not feeling well, my body was feeling tired, but the second I started to play, it was absolutely fine [note from Fram: it’s called butterflies, dear].

I played on this court already at the Sky Open against Mohamed, and I think I got better quicker than last time. The second game, I really played well, 7/0, until he started playing really well, he is so fast, and much fitter than me!!!!

This match is definitely the best PSA match I ever played.

And you know the scream I did at the end when I won?? It was so loud, my head is hurting now.. Next time, I’ll scream less loud…

[1] Gregory Gaultier (Fra) 3-2 Saurav Ghosal (Ind)
              11/9, 8/11, 10/12 , 11/4, 11/8 (91m)


What that boy retrieved today is astonishing. And if Greg play an uncharacteristic number of unforced errors, I suspect it’s mostly because all the sublime attacks the Frenchman was playing kept coming back to him with a vengeance, again, and again and again.

Whatever you are doing Saurav, keep doing it, it’s working wonders! Truly stunning squash.

We had a bit of drama still, as two accidents on the court impaired my compatriot. First, as the games were one all, and Greg 2/1 in the second, Saurav accidentally hit him with his racquet on the left eye.

Nothing nasty as such no blood, but a bit of swelling that prevented Greg to seem the ball properly and distracted him he told me after the match. Saurav clinched that one 12/10 on his 3rd game ball.

And another accident at 6/3, Greg played a backhand drop shot, and on his way to the ball in the left corner, Saurav took Greg’s left leg in passing. So both of them on the floor, and Greg struggling to recover for at least 15m. He was clearly in pain at the end of the match, but still managed to win on his 3rd match ball, 11/8 in the fifth.

Yes, a few changes Fram… I have now moved to India, and I’ve definitely been working very hard.

I think I got more structure in my game, I’m now working with Damon Brown (that works with James Willstrop as well) on the fitness side of things, and although he is based in Philadelphia, hence I can’t be with him all the time, we speak a lot on the phone, he tells me what to do. It gave me that structure I needed, as you know, sometimes success is just a question of fine tuning and attention to small details.

Plus, if a player beats me, he’ll have to do it because he played a better game than I, not just because I got tired…. And I’m also dating that lady, you saw her in Hong Kong, I feel good and happy in my life…

Also, mentally, I believe I can get good performances against top players, and it doesn’t get more top player than Greg! So, yes, today is encouraging, a lot of positive to take from it, but I don’t want to keep on losing 3/1, 3/2 against the big boys. I want to keep entertaining the crowd and stay in the even longer!

In the 4th, he stepped up, and although I tried and resist, I just couldn’t stop him from running away with the score. That’s something I need to work on, I’ve got to be able to hang in there for a few minutes, just to stay in touch score wise.

In the 5th, I don’t think I played badly, but I didn’t manage to put the doubt in his brain for long enough. So I’m going to go and working hard, and sooner than later, hopefully, I’ll win those matches. But tonight is probably the closest I’ve been to beat one of the Big Boys..

Stephen Coppinger (Rsa) 3-0 [Q] Ong Beng Hee (Mas)
                       11/8, 11/6, 11/9 (53m)


Sorry people, it’s 1.14am as I’m starting typing this one, and I have another one to type after, so making it pretty short and sweet.
Bottom line. Coppinger was always in front, and Beng Hee was playing catch up.

 I was impressed by the change in Steve’s game, he now has a range of attack shots (in particular his backhand volley drop shot) that finds the front corner beautifully.

Beng Hee was probably lacking match fitness – and his focus seemed to wobble a bit at times, in particular in the second, where he found himself 6/1 down before coming back at 6/8. He probably lost a bit of adrenaline there…

Still the 3rd was extremely close all the way this time, 2/2, 3/3, 4/4, then Steve cruising at 8/5, Beng Hee playing some superb Beng Hee shots, sublime little attacks combined with slow nice lobs, 8/8, 9/9, but a tin give Steve a match ball, that he quickly takes….

We played in a ToC, so I knew what to expect, but he is really hard to play, he doesn’t generate any pace and I like playing at with a lot of it, plus, playing that late [we started the 3rd at 00.03, note from Fram] was really difficult.

There were not many people left at that time, but I can tell that the crowd in the stands was completely different from the crowd I had in my head, I just kept thinking about the people watching… And very happy to get through.

And yes, Palmer gave me a looooot of tricks to play BH…

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