Both players have struggled with fitness during 2021 – Ibrahim suffering a knee injury, while Gawad’s ongoing problems with plantar fasciitis have ravaged his season – but it was the lower-ranked Egyptian who emerged victorious with a 15-13, 11-3, 11-9 victory in 50 minutes.
Ibrahim has climbed into the top 20 this season, and his win over former World No.1 Gawad sees him continue a fine campaign that has also seen him upset current World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy back in November’s Qatar Classic.
“I feel very happy, Karim and I train with the same coach – Omar Abdel Aziz – and he’s one of the people that was my idol, along with [Amr] Shabana, that I’ve followed since I was very young,” said Ibrahim.
“He’s the guy that played the best squash on tour, he’s the guy that I watched the most, and that’s a bit of an advantage because I know how he plays and he hasn’t seen me play that much. I will take that as an advantage, but we play a lot in practice as well. He’s unbelievably talented and we play a similar style, I’m left-handed but we are both very attacking.
“I had a really bad injury since the beginning of the year, I wasn’t able to train properly or get strength and conditioning because I had a really bad knee injury, so I wasn’t giving it 100 per cent. Thankfully before Chicago, my knee was fine and my body was fine, so I was able to get a few months of good physical training.”
Ibrahim will line up against fellow Egyptian Mohamed Abouelghar next, while Qatar’s Abdulla Al Tamimi will also battle for a place in the semi-finals after he dispatched No.5 seed Miguel Rodriguez following a lengthy 48-minute battle.
“Miguel’s a really experienced player, one of the fittest guys on tour,” Al Tamimi said.
“I like the way he plays, he likes to open the court and play the angles, which is how I like to play, too, but today I had a gameplan to stick to basic squash and tried to counter when he opened the court. The strategy worked for most of the match, I totally lost concentration in the second game… but I was really happy to get it back in the third and fourth.”
Elias will play Omar Mosaad following the former World Championship runner-up’s 3-2 win against Malaysia’s Eain Yow Ng, while Welshman Joel Makin and Egypt’s Mazen Hesham will go head-to-head in the other men’s semi-final.
Two of the top eight seeds also fell in the women’s event as No.4 seed Joshna Chinappa and No.8 seed Nadine Shahin lost out to France’s Coline Aumard and Wales’ Emily Whitlock, respectively.
It was an emotional victory for Aumard, who has suffered through an eight-month spell on the sidelines due to a foot injury and had to deal with being away from her family due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Am I dreaming? I don’t know. I felt good before the tournament started. I was just in a happy zone for the last two weeks. I believe in myself and I am so pleased I won, it was a massive battle,” Aumard said.
“I am just super happy. I will try to focus for tomorrow, but for now, I just want to enjoy it. I wish I could go and give them [family and friends in the crowd] a massive hug, but I will have to wait until I can go home. Thanks so much for coming to watch me and I love you.”
Aumard and Whitlock will do battle for a place in the semis and, speaking after the match, World No.23 Whitlock said: “I feel good. It was a bit of a slog at the back of the court, but I feel fit. Once I got off after each game it was like a clean slate, so I just thought: start as you mean to go on and if you have an 8-2 lead, finish it.”
“I carried on throughout instead of letting it get close again.”
No.1 seed Hania El Hammamy got her tournament off to a winning start with a comfortable victory against Malaysia’s Rachel Arnold, and she will take on Belgium’s Tinne Gilis in the last eight, while home favourite Sarah-Jane Perry beat compatriot Jasmine Hutton to ensure she will play Malaysia’s Sivasangari Subramaniam in the next round.
2019 runner-up Tesni Evans is also through after downing Scotland’s Lisa Aitken in straight games, and her quarter-final opponent will be Gilis’s older sister – Nele – following her win against USA’s Haley Mendez.