RESULTS: PSA World Series Davenport North American Open,Richmond, Virginia, USA
(1) Ramy Ashour (Egypt) beat (3) James Willstrop (England) 11-5, 11-8, 9-11, 11-8 (54 mins)
(2) Nick Matthew (England) beat (4) Gregory Gaultier (France) 11-6, 11-3, 8-11, 11-7 (63 mins)
Ramy Ashour gained revenge for his defeat in last year's Davenport North American Open final by beating reigning champion James Willstrop in four games of electrifying squash.
The Egyptian world number one meets old rival Nick Matthew in the final for the fourth time in five years after the Englishman overcame French ace Gregory Gaultier, also by a 3-1 scoreline. Ashour played high-octane, attacking squash throughout this semi-final at the Westwood Club in Richmond, Virginia.
Willstrop looked slightly subdued in the opening two games as a succession of stunning winners flowed from Ashour's racket.
He lost the first game in just under seven minutes and was in deep trouble at 9-5 down in the second. He fought back to 8-9 but Ashour closed out the game with less than 17 minutes on the clock.
Willstrop responded positively in the third and a run of three points from 4-4 put him in a commanding position. But Ashour suddenly hit a purple patch and a quick victory looked on the cards as he pulled back to 9-9. However, Willstrop finished strongly to win it 11-9 to delight the crowd, who were clearly expecting a closer match.
Willstrop maintained that form to lead 3-1 at the start of the fourth but Ashour again surged through a run of points to lead 8-4. He soon held match ball at 10-5 but Willstrop then produced one of the most outrageous and flamboyant shots ever seen in the game with a double feint winner that even had Ashour applauding.
Willstrop pulled back to 8-10 but Ashour finally closed out the match to reach his fifth consecutive Richmond final. After both players had received a deserved standing ovation, he said: "Playing James, it’s like a beast versus a mouse.
“I feel like a little mouse every time I play him. He is so big that I am always running round him, trying to find a gap to run through to get to the ball.
"He is not doing it deliberately but he is such a big guy that he is tough to play. He is always fair and we are happy to put on a great match for this wonderful Richmond crowd.
"The way promoter Gus Cook and his team look after us, especially physio Sara Heretick, it makes it easy to play.
"We always have great games and whoever I play in the final I am sure it will be another tremendous match.
"I just need to learn how to finish off these games when I am ahead because James kept coming back at me tonight. "That shot he played at the end was incredible."
Matthew meets Ashour in the final after a magnificent win over Gaultier.
Matthew surged ahead from 4-4 in the first game to win it 11-6, and was even more devastating as he advanced from 4-3 to 11-3 in a second game lasting just eight minutes. The drama began to unfold in the third game as Gaultier fought back from 5-2 down to dominate a large phase of the match.. He moved 9-6 ahead and successfully repelled Matthew’s late challenge. After a cautious start to the fourth game, the 32-year-old number two seed from Sheffield won five points in a row from 4-4 to put himself within touching distance of a place in the final. After another flurry of points from Gaultier, a delighted Matthew clinched victory.
He said: “I have lost to Greg a couple of times recently so it was good to get the win. Greg had started well against me last time we played and won the first game 11-3 in the final of the Swedish Open so I was determined to make a good start myself. “From 5-2 up in the third Greg suddenly turned it on and I was glad to get back on top in the fourth, and especially pleased to hit some Ramy shots at the end.
I’m looking forward to the final because we’ve played each other plenty of times here over the years. It’s an interesting contrast in styles and should be a great match.”
Once again the Richmond crowd gave both players a standing ovation. With the top two seeds in such excellent form, the final promises to be a classic.