Semi-Finals at the NSC
Women’s 2019 Champion Joelle King meets Belgium’s Nele Gilis in the first match, then Men’s 2020 Champion Mohamed ElShorbagy meets Karim Abdel Gawad as the only two remaining Egyptians clash.
Top seed Sarah-Jane Perry continues her quest for a first Manchester Open title as she faces Wales’ Tesni Evans, and in the last match surprise package Patrick Rooney takes on last year’s runner-up Joel Makin.
Reports and Reaction
King books final spot after brutal 86 minute battle
Opening semi-final day at the Manchester Open was No.2 seed Joelle King and Belgium’s Nele Gilis. King was aiming to reach the final for the second time in her career after she lifted the title in 2019. Gilis was looking to make back-to-back finals, after she was runner up in the recent Annecy Rose Open in France.
Gilis’ energetic brand of squash was in full flow in the first game as she looked to capitalise on the slight injury King has been plagued with throughout the event. Gilis looked to extend the rallies and forced errors from the New Zealander’s racket to take the first game 11-7.
Despite King taking the second game, Gilis’ relentless movement was proving difficult for King to deal with. The World No.5 managed to recover to 8-9 but couldn’t stop the Belgian from taking a well deserved 2-1 lead.
In a tense fourth game, King developed a three point lead at 6-3 and kept this momentum going to go 9-6 up and look certain to force a fifth game. Gilis fought back to 9-9, but two expertly constructed rallies gave King the game 11-9.
The score reached 6-6 in the final game with nothing to split the two players. Both determined not to give an inch to one another and keep control of the middle. It was King who earned the first match ball at 10-9, but the stubbornness of Gilis denied King the win on that occasion. The video referee was called into action a couple of times in the tiebreak and had to make some crucial decisions.
King earned herself another match ball at 14-13 and this time converted after an error from Gilis. The crowd were enthralled throughout the 86 minute affair as the two players showcased a brilliant advert for squash.
“That was class from Nele, I think the first game she just got into my lungs,” said King.
“Before this tournament, my preparation wasn’t exactly how I wanted it to be. It’s been a while since the lungs were open and as you can see, she just fights and gets everything back and makes you play that extra shot. After the first, I thought I’m in trouble here, I’ve got to find a way to try and keep myself out of the corners and put her in them. She was just dominating me in the first and for massive parts of each game. One of us would get in front and the other would come back and that’s what you want to see in a semi-final. You don’t want to see a one-sided match, Nele came here to beat me today and I could see it in her face from the very first point. She came off another tournament where she lost in the final and class players come back and they play better, all credit to her.
“In the heat of the battle things get said and you’re asking for lets at pressure moments and I questioned her trying to play the ball and she was a bit disappointed I questioned it, which is only fair. It’s nothing personal, we’re both here on the court to try and win and get to the final. Hopefully, once things cool down, we can have a chat.
“I think it’s a credit to the women’s game at the moment. It just seems to get better and better every tournament and more physical, every time someone starts to play well and we think they’re pulling away from the pack, that next group comes through. Tomorrow is another tournament, it’s a big final, whoever I play, both have beaten me and I’ve beaten them. Let’s hope it’s another cracker.
“I’m feeling my age at the moment but there’s a good team of people out the back ready to take care of me and I’ll be ready tomorrow.”
Result :  Joelle King (NZL) bt  Nele Gilis (BEL) 3-2: 7-11, 11-8, 9-11, 11-9, 15-13 (86m)
ElShorbagy comes out on top in Gawad shoot-out
A battle between two former World Champions was next onto court at the National Squash Centre as ‘The Beast of Alexandria’, Mohamed ElShorbagy, took on ‘The Baby-Faced Assasin’, Karim Abdel Gawad for a place in the final.
The highly anticipated match was always likely to excite the Manchester crowd, and it didn’t disappoint. Gawad took the opening game 15-13 after firing off superb winners to save game balls and convert the game himself.
In typical ElShorbagy style, he responded. He took time away from Gawad and took him out of the middle, where he is at his most dangerous, and made the match physical. The No.1 seed twisted and turned Gawad and errors started to come from Gawad’s racket. ElShorbagy won the second and third games 11-4, 11-5 to lead 2-1.
With the skills that Gawad possesses, you can never write him off. The No.4 seed came back in style, holding the movement of ElShorbagy and dominating the middle of the court. Gawad steamrolled the fourth game, winning 11-4 to set up a decider.
ElShorbagy did an excellent job of defusing the Gawad pressure and showcased impressive movement to keep forcing his opponent to play one more ball. ElShorbagy got himself a lead in the final game and never let it go, winning the game 11-6 to take the match in 64 minutes.
ElShorbagy had this to say after his win: “We’ve been doing this to each other since we were nine-year-old kids and we are going to keep doing this to each other. I’m glad we’re in our 30s – not long to go.
“I watch a lot of squash, I’m a student of the game. In Washington, when I won the tournament, I wasn’t very happy with my first round performance, couldn’t play the court very well. I watch every game, I watch the women’s games, I watch the men’s games and actually to win that tournament I learnt from Lucy Turmel how to play on that court, I watched her play in the quarter final. It doesn’t matter who you watch, you learn every time you watch someone. Today, to win, I watched Joelle win the first match and because I know all of the behind the scenes stuff going on with her, she had no right to win but she just kept pushing mentally and she inspired me on court today. When I lost that first game, I told myself to learn from what she did.
“If you focus on them then it gets into your head [waiting to go on court]. You just focus on your match, it doesn’t matter if you are half an hour late or half an hour early, at the end of the day you are going on court and you have a job to do. I thought we played a high quality match today, I’m his No.1 fan and some of the shots he plays are out of this world. Before you go on court with him, I always accept he is going to make me look like a fool at times.
“Joel is my training partner, we train together at least twice a week. We train under the same fitness training, we know each other very well and we get along really well, we talk about the game a lot. He probably has the most inspiring story on Tour and I always think that me and all the other Egyptians we had it easier. I’m not saying it was easy but I grew up watching Shabana do it and I wanted to be like them. Joel didn’t have someone before him doing it, he had to create it all himself and it’s very inspiring.
“Then you’ve got Pat, who is very talented. It’s about time he does something like he has done this tournament, all of his generation has been doing really well. I’ve been playing with Victor [Crouin] first round, Eain Yow Ng, Youssef Ibrahim and they are all doing really well. They are all different characters and they all have something different about them. It’s exciting for the sport and Pat is part of that, who has a good charisma and presence about him and I think British squash needs someone like him. I’m really happy to see him doing well, but I’m very proud to be playing against different generations.
I played Lincou in 2008 here and I’ve played Victor here this year, I want to see how long I can keep up with them for. My time has not gone yet, I’m doing everything I can to get back to the level I know how to play. There were some changes before I came here, I’m working with someone was a great rival to me and is now my mentor in Gregory Gaultier. A lot of the guys have watched us compete, one of our matches was on this court and he’s been mentoring me for the past month. He’s given me so much energy, motivation and this is our first tournament together. I gave him a promise and when I left there he gave me a hug and said ‘make me proud’. So, I want to make him proud and I’m going to go all the way tomorrow.”
Result :  Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) bt  Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) 3-2: 13-15, 11-4, 11-5, 4-11, 11-6 (64m)
Perry produces stunning comeback to reach the final
In the first all-British battle, No.1 seed Sarah-Jane Perry impressively fought back from 2-0 down to defeat Wales’ Tesni Evans to reach the Manchester Open final.
The pair have met in all three previous Manchester Opens that have taken place so were no strangers to the task at hand on this Easter Sunday.
Evans has looked in top form throughout this event and carried that form into the start of the match, regularly firing the ball in short to test the movement of Perry. Evans’ crisp ball-striking never missed a target as she took the opening two games 11-3, 11-8 to place one foot in the final.
Perry remained focus however and started to move Evans into the four corners, hitting outright winners to gather momentum. She carried this on to take the third game and give herself hope in the match.
After securing the third game, Perry marched on in style. The England No.1 started to ooze confidence as she slotted winners left, right and centre. Perry convincingly took the fourth and fifth games both 11-4 to complete the comeback and reach another Manchester Open final.
“The start was pretty abysmal from me and immaculate from Tez,” said Perry.
“It’s not that I wasn’t expecting that, I’ve seen how well she has been hitting the ball this week and I have been on court with her a few times. She’s had some good matches recently and some nearly ones, so I knew she was dangerous. I wasn’t hitting my targets in that first and she just picked me off. I did get better in the second, but it still wasn’t good enough and I knew, I had to hope that she lost her accuracy and I sorted mine out. I just tried to knuckle down and get a few more balls back and get the ball into the corners.
“The more you do come back from that 2-0 deficit, the more you believe you can. It’s not an intentional thing but I think over the years I’ve learned not to panic in those situations. You’re not going to come back a lot of the time, but I just tried to focus on how I was playing and make it a lot more difficult for her than the first game.
“Joelle is a great competitor, she has got a wealth of experience and that doesn’t mean anything, if she comes out and hits her targets then that’s going to make it very difficult for me anyway. Rest up, recover and try and give everyone a really good final tomorrow.”
Result :  Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) bt  Tesni Evans (WAL) 3-2: 3-11, 8-11, 11-7, 11-4, 11-4 (56m)
Makin Reaches Second Manchester Open Final
Wales’ Joel Makin has reached his second Manchester Open final in a row after getting the better of England’s Patrick Rooney in straight-games at the National Squash Centre.
World No.26 Rooney had enjoyed a sublime week, downing the likes of Marwan ElShorbagy and Raphael Kandra to reach his biggest semi-final to date. However, the task of Makin proved to be one step too far as the Welshman was solid throughout to claim an 11-5, 11-5, 12-10 victory.
Makin executed his game plan to perfection to keep Rooney behind him, whilst also displaying his accuracy to leave the Englishman struggling to break up his tempo as he took a 2-0 lead.
Rooney got his confidence back in the third though and built up a 7-4 lead, before Makin showed his trademark resilience to get back on level terms. Rooney continued to apply the pressure though, much to the delight of the crowd, as he took the third all the way to a tie-break before Makin converted at the second time of asking.
He will face Egypt’s top seed Mohamed ElShorbagy in the final tomorrow.
“I was hitting the ball exactly how I wanted to,” said Makin.
“In the first two games I was getting such a good line on the backhand and I was nullifying his volley and I was getting him to force it. The start of the third was a difficult patch, he started coming out and he was firing. He made it really difficult but I would expect that, the first two games ran away and if he wants to push up to that next level then he has to do what he did in the third game and that’s get stuck in. You have to mix it and put in some long rallies and he did that and got back into it.
“You’ve got to nullify your opponent’s best areas and his is definitely the volley. He’s got that big wingspan and he gets across, he moves onto it and looks to take it early. If you can pin him back for a period time, he will try and move it behind you and that’s what you want to do.
On facing ElShorbagy in the final: “The guys in the first few rounds were happy to have a tight match with him, have a hug and a long rally and go off 3-1. Those guys have to push him and believe they can beat him. We train a lot together, it doesn’t make too much difference. I’ve seen the intensity he brings to a Tuesday morning, I know he’s going to be flying tomorrow.
“I had a much tougher run last year, I got off 3-0, which is an improvement for me. I’ve got to try and avoid getting caught up in two hour matches every round. I’m fresh and feeling good.”
Result :  Joel Makin (WAL) bt Patrick Rooney (ENG) 3-0: 11-5, 11-5, 12-10 (57m)