Squash fans in Dubai were treated to another thrilling day’s play in the group stages in the PSA Dubai World Series Finals, and by the end of the day’s play the first semi-finalists had been decided.
The early session saw two players move one step closer to the title, with French World No.3 Camille Serme and Marwan ElShorbagy posting their second wins, all but guaranteeing them a berth in semi-finals.
Serme prevailed in a thriller with World Junior Champion Nouran Gohar after beating England’s Alison Waters on Day 1, while Marwan got the better of Simon Rosner, after defeating Nick Matthew.
Also in the early session, World Champion Karim Abdel Gawad and World Number two Raneem El Welily registered their first wins, keeping them both in the hunt for a semi-finals spot.
Gawad inflicted Nick Matthew’s second defeat in the event, and El Welily did the same for Alison Waters. Waters and Matthew are now only an outside chance of surviving the group rounds.
The second session of play saw World Champion Nour El Sherbini recover from yesterday’s shock defeat at the hands of Sarah-Jane Perry to defeat eight time world champion Nicol David.
El Sherbini – who reached the semi-final stages last year – has now got the better of David in nine of their 13 meetings on the PSA World Tour and was on a roll from the first point as she attacked with conviction and found her targets well at the front of the court.
El Sherbini cut a composed figure as she withstood David’s attempts to recover from a game down and she held firm to record an 11-6, 11-9 victory in just 21 minutes.
“Yesterday I hadn’t had a lot of time on the court, so I wasn’t really playing at my best,” said El Sherbini.
“I feel comfortable playing Nicol and I don’t feel any pressure playing against her. I still see her as being at the top and that I’m the young one playing against her, so that’s why I just want to play against her and do everything I can.
The second match of the evening saw England’s former World No.1 James Willstrop overcome defending champion Gregory Gaultier to move into contention for a semi-final spot and leaving the Frenchman’s hope of defending his title in tatters.
With just one defeat in 2017 prior to the tournament, Gaultier had looked in imperious form with 27 matches unbeaten but, like in his day one defeat to Ali Farag, he looked out of sorts after a heavy schedule in recent months and Willstrop took full advantage with a vintage display as he shut out an increasingly frustrated Gaultier to seal the victory by an 11-9, 11-4 margin.
“If you get a result over Greg then something is clearly going well,” said Willstrop.
“Nobody is beating him at the minute and it’s difficult for me not to point out that he’s had a tough season. I know how difficult it is mentally to have to get yourself up for every tournament for a whole season.”
Defending champion Laura Massaro became the first woman to qualify for the semi-finals after she beat compatriot Sarah-Jane Perry in the third match of the evening.
With four game wins under her belt, Massaro can finish no lower than second in Group B after she followed up an impressive opening day win over Malaysia’s Nicol David with a 2-0 victory over World No.7 Perry.
A confident display from Massaro saw her take the opening game before overturning five game balls in the second to seal the victory by an 11-6, 14-12 scoreline.
“I’m really happy, maybe it’s better that I need to go in and get a result tomorrow,” said Massaro.
“I’ll still want to win tomorrow regardless of whether I’m qualified or not. It’s great to know that I’m in the semi-finals, but there’s still a job to do tomorrow.”
Massaro takes on El Sherbini next, while Perry will play David. A win for Perry and a defeat for El Sherbini will see both Englishwomen reach the semi-finals.
The last match of the evening rewarded the crowd who stayed late to watch it, with a thrilling tussle between World No.3 Mohamed ElShorbagy and compatriot Ali Farag which saw ElShorbagy become the first man to seal his place in the last four.
Farag had the better of the early exchanges to go a game ahead, but ElShorbagy shot out of the traps in game two and built on his strong start to level the scores.
Then in a nail-biting third game, ElShorbagy managed to rise above his frustrations with some of the decisions to seal it on the tie-break, meaning he will definitely appear in the semi-finals of the tournament for the third time in a row.
Farag must now defeat Willstrop to join his compatriot in the last four, while ElShorbagy’s win means that Gaultier has fallen to a shock group stage exit for the first time in his career.
“I’m happy that I won using my own strengths, which is something I did when I was World No.1,” said ElShorbagy.
“I was challenged, but I threw myself into that challenge and being 1-0 down and one game away from losing the match was tough mentally. When I was at my best that’s what I was good at and that’s what made me different from other players because I could get through those kind of situations.”
The World Series Finals brings together the top eight players on the Men’s and Women’s PSA Road to Dubai Standings who are then split into two groups of four, with matches played in a best-of-three games format.
The action continues tomorrow, with the final day of the group stage matches taking place at 3:00pm, 3:45pm, 16:45pm and 17:30pm (Group A) and 21:30pm, 22:15pm, 23:15pm and 00:00am (Group B).
The top two players in each group will progress to the semi-finals, which will take place from 21:30pm on Friday 9 June, with the finals being played at 21:30pm on Saturday 10 June.
Entry to the afternoon sessions tomorrow is free for families, to book the free seats email [email protected]
Tickets to the evening sessions, semi-finals and finals can be purchased at https://dubaiopera.etixdubai.com/shows/show.aspx?sh=PSAUMB