Belgium’s Nele Gilis has reached the biggest semi-final of her career to date after she beat Wales’ Emily Whitlock 3-0 to reach the last four at the Manchester Open, taking place at the National Squash Centre this week.
A nervy start from both Gilis and Whitlock saw the score reach 5-3 to the Welshwoman. From this moment, Gilis stepped 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.
That momentum continued for Gilis as her relentless hitting proved to be too much for Whitlock as the Belgian No.1 moved from strength to strength and confidently took the second and third games 11-3, 11-9 to move into the semi-finals at the PSA World Tour Silver event.
“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 and every match is an opportunity in my eyes and I’m going to grab it with both hands.”
New Zealand’s Joelle King will be Gilis’ opponent in Sunday’s semi-final, after she defeated Malaysia’s Aifa Azman in straight games to reach the last four at the Manchester Open for the second time in her career.
King and Azman had met once previously on the PSA World Tour, with King claiming a 3-0 victory over the World No.29 at the Squash On Fire Open in February this year. World No.5, King, started the match in terrific style, hitting crisply to the back and confidently to the front.
She continued to hit her targets and didn’t allow Azman a chance to find any rhythm in the match, as she closed out the subsequent games to book her semi-final place in just 23 minutes.
“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,” said King following her win. “Sometimes you’re forced to bring out your brain and play good squash. I’ve been pleased with my first two outings and have been really solid.
“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.”
In the men’s draw, top seed Mohamed ElShorbagy has set up a repeat of the 2020 Manchester Open final with compatriot Karim Abdel Gawad after they claimed respective victories over Malaysia’s Eain Yow Ng and France’s Mathieu Castagnet to reach the last four.
ElShorbagy and Eain Yow had played each other three times previously on the PSA World Tour, with the Malaysian yet to score a win over ElShorbagy. Eain Yow took the opening game, by moving the Egyptian into all four corners of the court and forcing errors from his racket.
With the score level at 1-1, ElShorbagy clinched a crucial third game 13-11 to place one foot in the last four. The World No.3 took confidence from that and confidently moved towards the finish line to close the match out in 53 minutes to reach the semi-finals.
“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.
“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.”
Former World Champion, Gawad, closed out a closely contested 18-minute first game by displaying his amazing attacking abilities to continually test the movement of his French opponent.
World No.40, Castagnet has always been renowned for his fighting spirit and showed this once again as he always made the Egyptian play one more shot. Despite levelling the match at 1-1, Castagnet couldn’t stop the momentum of Gawad as the World No.12 took the match 3-1 to advance.
“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.”
The quarter finals of the Manchester Open continue tomorrow (April 16). The bottom half of the draw will be in action and play begins at 14:00 (BST). All of the matches will be shown live on SQUASHTV.
Men’s Quarter Finals (Top Half) Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) bt  Eain Yow Ng (MAS) 3-1: 7-11, 11-8, 13-11, 11-5 (53m)
 Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) bt Mathieu Castagnet (FRA) 3-1: 12-10, 4-11, 11-4, 11-8 (55m)
Women’s Quarter Finals (Top Half) Joelle King (NZL) bt Aifa Azman (MAS) 3-0: 11-3, 11-5, 11-6 (23m)
 Nele Gilis (BEL) bt  Emily Whitlock (WAL) 3-0: 11-5, 11-3, 11-9 (34m)
Men’s Quarter Finals (Bottom Half) – To be played April 16 Joel Makin (WAL) v  Youssef Soliman (EGY)
 Raphael Kandra (GER) v Patrick Rooney (ENG)
Women’s Quarter Finals (Bottom Half) – To be played April 16 Georgina Kennedy (ENG) v  Tesni Evans (WAL)
 Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) v Jasmine Hutton (ENG) v