English world No6 James Willstrop was highly impressed by the facilities at the Nad Al Sheba Sports Complex and hopes the exhibition he played there on Wednesday night with Egyptian world No4 Ramy Ashour can help boost the sport across the UAE.
The clash that took place between the two former world No1’s as part of the ongoing Nad Al Sheba Sports Festival which has brought together hundreds of athletes to compete in cycling, running, futsal, volleyball, squash and padel tennis.
The padel tennis event features a host of the world’s best players from Spain, Argentina and seven other countries and coincides with the founding of a new UAE Padel Tennis Association and the launch of the new 800-seat padel arena at the complex.
Ashour and Willstrop also played a short exhibition with the finalists of the residents’ squash tournament Aamir Khan and Mubarak Mohsin and Willstrop hopes the sport can experience a surge in the UAE, similar to that of padel tennis at the moment.
“It’s an amazing sport facility. Incredible… out of this world really. You don’t see a lot of things like this back in England,” Willstrop told Sport360 at the Nad Al Sheba Sports Complex.
“We’re trying to get some interest going here and hopefully what’s happening with padel will happen with squash.”
Ashour and Willstrop represent squash’s most riveting rivalry which has developed between Egyptian and British players at the very top of the sport and the 30-year-old Englishman says the contrast in style between players from both nations is what makes it particularly exciting.
“Egypt and England are having probably their strongest periods ever in the game at the same time, so there’s just a really nice contrast,” said Willstrop.
“If you’re putting into a stereotype you’re thinking England is more sort of reserved conservative game. I don’t really like it when we do that. The Egyptian players obviously have a lot of flair. But the English players have moved with the game, they’re very attacking players and are very good to watch as well.
“It is a good contrast and we’re having a great time with it, both nations at the moment. The team events recently have been close and shared. The world titles are getting shared out. So it’s good, so hopefully it will help expand the squash audience.”
Racquet sports fans are in for a real treat as two of the biggest names in international squash, Ramy Ashour and James Willstrop are set to square off in an exhibition match at the Nad Al Sheba (NAS) Sports Complex tonight, where the world’s best players will also be in action.
Willstrop, 30, a former world No1, current world No6 and the son of squash legend Malcolm Willstrop, has had a sensational career as a junior and owns 17 titles on the senior tour and three gold medals at the World Team Championships.
The Englishman reached the final of the World Open in 2010, before losing to compatriot Nick Matthew, and is a three-time runner-up at the British Open.
Ashour, 26, is also a former world No 1, and is the youngest man to reach the top of the PSA rankings since the 1980s.
A two-time world junior squash champion, the Egyptian has won the World Open twice – in 2008 and 2012 – along with 30 other titles, including the 2013 British Open. He is believed to be one of the most talented players to ever compete in a racquet sport.
According to Malcolm, “Ashour’s movement is better than anyone in the game, and allied to his unique racket skills and vision, he lights up the sport. Not only that, but his modesty and engaging smile make him a rare commodity.”
The country’s squash fraternity is, understandably, excited about seeing these two stars in action and is hoping it will give their sport a boost.
“I am really excited because this is the first time we will see two top players in action here,” said Asif Khan, who was the No3 seed at the NAS 2014 squash tournament.
“Fans will get an opportunity to see what world-class squash is really about and I am sure it will attract many people to the sport.”
The squash tournament wrapped up on Tuesday night at NAS with Aamir Khan taking home the title. But the action has not slowed down as the International Padel Exhibition tournament has kicked off, bringing some of the world’s top players, representing 10 teams and nine different countries.
Star players like Andoni Bardasco and Gonzalo Rubio of Spain and Martin de Nenno and Franco Stupaczuk of Argentina will take to the courts at NAS, where a competition for UAE residents will also take place.
The group stage concludes today, with matches scheduled from 16:00 to 19:00 and 22:00 to 1:00 while the semi-finals will be staged tomorrow (22:00) and the final is on Friday (23:30).
Attendance is free and open to the public. Seating is limited for the squash exhibition but organisers are urging fans to come down and watch Ashour and Willstrop on the big screen in the arena.
“Padel is a combination of four different racquet sports and it’s so much easier to pick up than tennis or squash,” says Sandy Farguharson, the head of racquet sports at NAS.
“You can just go with your friends and have a good time and it’s also really fun to watch. These will be the very best players in the world and we’ve also included two teams of UAE residents to join them in the tournament.
“There are daily giveaways as well, including ipads, iphones and Samsung Galaxy phones and there’s also a raffle for cars.”
What: Ramy Ashour v James Willstrop squash exhibition, International Padel Exhibition tournament
Where: Nad Al Sheba Sports Complex, Dubai
When: Squash exhibition tonight at 22:30, Padel action today through Friday
Entry fee: Free
Aamir Khan is already looking forward to coming back and defending his crown next year after becoming Nad Al Sheba Ramadan Tournament’s first squash champion.
The 22-year-old Pakistan expatriate, born and brought up in the UAE, was in cruise mode on Monday night as he defeated compatriot, and a familiar opponent, Mubarak Mohsin in straight games 11-5, 11-7, 11-8.
“I was mentally prepared for this match and I was looking forward for a clean sweep,” said Khan, a former world junior No4 who is now ranked No246 in the world.
“It is a really big tournament and I am really glad to win this for the first time. It is a really big achievement and I am looking forward to coming back and defending my crown. I hope they will have squash next year as well,” he added.
Determined to seal it in three games, Khan was off the blocks and up 5-0 before Mohsin could win his first point.
Khan eventually took the game 11-5.
The second game was a closer tussle, with Khan and Mohsin level at 6-6, before the champion raced ahead to win 11-7.
The third game followed the pattern of the first as Khan sped to a 5-0 lead before pulling up with a slight twinge in his thigh.
As he returned to the court after a medical timeout, Mohsin started hunting him down, erasing the early deficit and then going toe-to-toe until 7-7.
But he made a few errors towards the end, which helped Khan seal the title with a 11-8 win.
“It was pretty close last time [against Mohsin], but this time I was much better prepared,” Khan said, adding that his thigh problem was nothing serious. “I am having this problem since last month. It’s not that bad, but it’s just there.”
On the volleyball court, Zabeel and Expo2020 have made their way into the last four with straightgame wins.
Zabeel knocked out My Dubai, while Expo2020 cruised past Saqoor Al Asifa.
The NAS Ramadan Tournament, held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai and president of the Dubai Sports Council, features more than 3,000 participants in six different sports.
The three-week events boasts prize money in excess of Dh7m.