Quarter-Finals at the NSC
In the first pair of matches Belgium’s Nele Gilis takes on Wales’ Emily Whitlock, then former World Champion Karim Abdel Gawad meets surprise quarter-finalist Mathieu Castagnet.
Then two previous Manchester Open champions take to the court as Joelle King – winner of the inaugural event in 2019 – meets unseeded Aifa Azman, and Monahem ElShorbagy – winner of the first men’s event in 2020 – faces training partner Eain Yow Ng.
Reports and Reaction
Gilis through in three
Opening the first day of quarter-final matches was a match between Belgium’s Nele Gilis and Wales’ Emily Whitlock.
Whitlock reached the semi-finals in last year’s event and was looking to replicate that in today’s match. Whitlock has beaten Gilis in the last two matches they’ve played, both in 2019. But Gilis has gone from strength to strength since then and showed that in today’s match.
A nervy start from both saw the score reach 5-3 to Whitlock. From this moment, Gilis stepped it up a gear and dominated proceedings, winning the next 12 points to take the first game 11-5 and set up a good lead in the second game.
The Belgian No.1 only dropped three points in the second game as she took it 11-3. Her hitting to the back was relentless as she pinned Whitlock deep in the back corners and gave her no time to attack.
Gilis secured her place in the semi-finals winning the third game 11-9. A late flurry of great attacking shots from Whitlock troubled Gilis, but the pace of the Belgian’s game was simply too much on the day and Gilis moved through to the last four, where she will play either Joelle King or Aifa Azman.
“I feel like I’m just getting started even though I’ve been around for a while,” said Gilis.
“I’m enjoying my squash these days and I’m looking to progress to the later stages.
On Belgian flags being in the crowd: “It’s so nice, I never have any supporters anywhere! I mean, I’m sure I do but not from Belgium, so it’s very nice and I’m very happy. I might have to get them a beer after the match.
“I feel like technically I’m improving. Emily wasn’t making it easy for me, lifting everything, it’s tough on there, especially on a dead court, but I’m happy with how I dealt with it.
“I’m trying not to think about that [chances of winning the title]. I’m trying to take it one match and one day at a time, look after my own squash and my body. Every tournament is an opportunity, every match is a new opportunity in my eyes and I’m going to grab it with both hands.
“Both Joelle and Aifa are fantastic players and I hope it goes to five. May the best player win, but it’s going to be a really good match.”
Result Nele Gilis (BEL) bt  Emily Whitlock (WAL) 3-0: 11-5, 11-3, 11-9 (34m)
Gawad beats Castagnet to reach semi-finals
Next onto court was the turn of 2020 Manchester Open runner up, Karim Abdel Gawad and World No.40 Mathieu Castagnet. Gawad defeated USA’s Shahjahan Khan 3-0 in round two, whereas Castagnet scored an upset over India’s Saurav Ghosal to advance.
In an 18 minute first game, it was attack versus defence as the skills of Gawad had the Frenchman covering a lot of the court. In typical Castagnet style, he continued to fight throughout the game and make it tough for the Egyptian. Gawad managed to hang on and take the opening game 12-10.
Castagnet responded in the second game and used his superb movement to frustrate Gawad and force errors from the Egyptian’s racket. Castagnet moved on to Gawad’s attacks and hit accurate counter drops to drag Gawad up the court and expose his movement. Castagnet levelled 11-4.
The former World Champion bounced back immediately and got back to his silky smooth style of play in no time. His holding of the ball was making anticipation impossible for the Frenchman. Gawad hit superb drives to the back of the court that set up chances to showcase his excellent skills at the front of the court.
‘The Baby-Faced Assasin’ took the third and fourth games 11-4, 11-8 to win the match in 55 minutes and take his place in the semi-finals yet again here in Manchester.
“It was very tough but it’s nice to see Castagnet back,” said Gawad afterwards.
“He was just unlucky with different injuries but I’m glad to see him back and to see him as fit as he is now. I always enjoy playing him, we have actually only played once on the Tour, for me it’s a bit strange but I don’t like saying it as it means we will play more now. He’s a very good player and it was a tough match, I’m glad I got through. If you give Mathieu a chance then he will just run away with points as it did in the second and it was happening in the fourth, but I kept my focus and I was just thinking point by point and I’m glad I got through.
“It’s nice to be in the semi-finals here in Manchester, I just had a tough time last season and the season before I was losing in the earlier rounds but I’m glad that I’m coming back now stronger and just focusing on how I’m playing with different tactics for each match that I work on with my coaches. I’m glad to be back playing well and reaching the semi-finals.
“I was just unlucky with a chronic injury that will last forever, but I had to find a way to come back and play again. Every doctor said it’s tough be back playing as a professional player but I’m glad I’m back and how I’m ready mentally for every match. I’m grateful for every moment I spend on court and I’m just trying not to think about the injury.
“Anything can happen in squash. Yow is a very good player and Mohamed is of course one of the best to ever play the sport. It’s going to be a tough match and I’m glad that tomorrow is a rest day and whoever I’m playing, I’m just focusing on how I play and myself.”
Result Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) bt Mathieu Castagnet (FRA) 3-1: 12-10, 4-11, 11-4, 11-8 (55m)
King powers past Azman to advance
King raced out to a 7-2 lead in the opening game, hitting powerfully to the back and not missing a corner. Azman struggled to find any kind of rhythm and spent most of the game stuck behind the New Zealand No.1. King secured the opening game 11-3 in just six minutes.
The momentum continued for King in the second game as she maintained her accurate hitting and severe attacks. Azman was forced to do multiple tough movements that only gave King a further advantage.
After securing the second game 11-5, King booked her place in the last four closing out the match 11-6 in the third game. King has set up a semi-final clash with Belgium’s Nele Gilis, who has looked on top form in this event.
“Similar to yesterday, she is a young up and coming player and she has already won a big event and I knew she would be eager to get out here and beat me,” said King.
“This whole tournament is about just being mentally strong, playing smart squash and sometimes I revert to physicality and forget about hitting the corners and playing squash and sometimes you’re forced to bring out your brain and play good squash. I’ve been pleased, my first two outings and have been really solid and looking forward to the semis in a couple of days.
“I’ve got a great team here that are working on me after matches, it’s one of those things more mentally than anything. I’m here for a reason and I chose to play the tournament, so I’m out here to win.
“It’s an exciting year [with the Commonwealth Games], I actually have a British passport so I’m a dual citizen, so hopefully there will be a bit of support for me down in Birmingham. It’s no secret that the Commonwealth Games is a big target, especially for the Commonwealth countries and I’m looking forward to the challenge of defending my gold medal.
“I just need to take care of the body and the mind this week. There’s so many good players in the draw, there’s no easy matches from the first day. There have been players seeded to win that have gone out, every day is a new day and you have to turn up sharp and put your best squash on court.”
Result Joelle King (NZL) bt Aifa Azman (MAS) 3-0: 11-3, 11-5, 11-6 (23m)
ElShorbagy Battles Past Eain Yow
World No.3 Mohamed ElShorbagy was forced to come from a game down against Malaysia’s Eain Yow Ng to book his place in the semi-finals of the PSA World Tour Silver event at the National Squash Centre.
Going into today’s match, World No.20 Eain Yow had never got the better of his Bristol training partner, but he got off to the dream start to put the Egyptian under pressure and convert the opening game, 11-7.
It continued to be a big battle between the two from there on as ElShorbagy forced his way back into the match, often getting frustrated with himself for the number of errors, but he held his nerve to turn the tide of momentum and draw back level.
The experience of the former World No.1 proved to be the difference at the key moments as the match went on with errors creeping increasingly into the Malaysian player’s game as ElShorbagy maintained a narrow advantage to take the lead for the first time in the match.
That third game looked to have caused the damage for Eain Yow as he rued his missed opportunities in the match with ElShorbagy fully settling into his rhythm to close out 11-5 in the fourth in 53 minutes.
ElShorbagy has now set up a mouthwatering semi-final with former World Champion Karim Abdel Gawad on Sunday.
“When you play someone that you train a lot with it can be comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time,” said ElShorbagy in his post-match interview.
“Today it was definitely uncomfortable. He took the game to me, he’s someone that came to Bristol a few years ago, it takes a lot of courage to leave your country as a young man and you want to improve and you want to see something different. It takes a lot of courage to do that and he’s someone that I took under my wing from his first day in Bristol. There are a lot of players that came out of the Doubles event last week exhausted and lost first match, the way I teach the players I train with in Bristol is that when you step on court there are no excuses, I don’t care what you went through, the moment you step on court you are both equal.
“Him and Joelle, SJ and Gina are the four players that have really impressed me and have backed up well after the Doubles event. They showed their mental strength and that’s what the game is all about, it’s easy to play well when you are feeling well but the best players are the ones that can win when you’re not playing well and that’s what he did yesterday, he had a tricky opponent and all credit to him.
“The third game was crucial. I think I gifted him the first game, he started well but I gave him a lot of errors. At 5-4, two errors off the serve is not acceptable at this level and I gifted him the first game, very similar to what I did yesterday. It’s ok to lose the first game but not in five minutes and that really put me under pressure for the match because I knew I needed to win the next three games as I didn’t want it to go to five. He had his chances, I had my chances, a little bit of experience here and there, I’m proud to win a match how I did yesterday and dig in today and back it up to win a comfortable fourth game and it shows my physical side is improving.
“It’s experience, I’ve used only one review the whole match because you want to use it when it matters most and maybe he used it at 10-10 when he could have saved it. I thought it was an obvious let but he could have maybe changed that decision at 11-10. I don’t think it’s luck, I think it’s experience.”
Result: Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) bt  Eain Yow Ng (MAS) 3-1: 7-11, 11-8, 13-11, 11-5 (53m)