England’s Willstrop Stuns Gawad in Doha to Reach PSA Men’s World Championship Quarters
36-year-old former World No.1 James Willstrop rolled back the years as he put in a spellbinding performance against the in-form World No.4 Karim Abdel Gawad to book his place in the quarter-finals of the 2019-20 PSA Men’s World Championship currently taking place in Doha, Qatar.
Willstrop, a World Championship runner-up in 2010, has taken a short break from the sport in recent weeks to star in a production of ‘Hangmen’ in his native Yorkshire – and his fixture with 2016 World Champion Gawad yielded the kind of drama that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a theatre.
He played with precision and freedom in a supremely accurate display that saw him win two of the first three games on offer against an opponent who captured a PSA Platinum title in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza just two weeks ago with victory over World No.1 Ali Farag in the CIB Egyptian Squash Open title decider.
The crowd were on tenterhooks in the fourth as Willstrop and Gawad went toe-to-toe in a gripping contest, with the former squandering two match balls as Gawad came back to force a tie-break. But the Englishman wasn’t to be denied as his next match ball was met with a tinned drop from Gawad, sending Willstrop through to an 11th World Championship quarter-final.
“I am absolutely thrilled,” World No.18 Willstrop said afterwards.
“It is hard to say because I am on a rush of adrenaline, particularly in these conditions where it is shootout squash. The intensity is cranked up and you haven’t got any time to settle. The mental intensity of the squash that has been played is heavy, so the adrenaline is high, I didn’t know whether I was capable of doing it.
“I know what I am doing in training, and I know I can play alright and I know I can hit the ball alright, but it is whether physically I can cope with these players in a match situation. To be here [the quarter finals], and with a rest day, that is quite positive. It is a fabulous prospect, and hopefully I can get recovered well and do it justice on Wednesday.”
The Commonwealth Games gold medallist will play World No.6 Simon Rösner for a place in the semi-finals of the biggest tournament on the men’s tour. The German put in arguably his best performance of the season to take out World No.12 Joel Makin by an 11-8, 11-8, 11-5 margin.
The pair have had contrasting fortunes in the opening months of the season, with Rösner dropping out of the top five after two quarter-final appearances in four tournaments, while Makin was coming off the back of a first ever PSA Platinum semi-final at the CIB Egyptian Squash Open last week. But the formbook went out of the window in Qatar as Rösner played some sublime squash to book his spot in the last eight.
“Having not had the best few weeks lately, it’s very good to get a win against someone who is in form like Joel at the moment, beating Tarek last week [at the CIB Egyptian Squash Open],” Rösner
“It’s a big confidence boost for me and I need to take this kind of form into the next rounds and I’m looking forward to it.”
The home crowd came within a whisker of witnessing a home winner in the final match of the evening as Qatari No.1 Abdulla Mohd Al Tamimi relinquished a 2-1 lead against No.2 seed Tarek Momen to narrowly miss out on a quarter-final spot.
Al Tamimi has been one of the surprise packages of the tournament so far, beating French duo Gregoire Marche and Mathieu Castagnet on home soil to set up the meeting with 2018-19 World Championship runner-up Momen.
Roared on by the home support, Al Tamimi played some breathtaking squash at times to overturn a one-game deficit, before going 6-3 up in the fourth to put himself within touching distance of a massive upset. But he was unable to capitalise as Momen refocused to draw level, before the Egyptian held his opponent off in the decider to book his spot in the last eight.
“I am quite happy, because it was a very tough match,” Momen said.
“Halfway through the fourth game, I knew things were critical because I was 6-3 down. I had no solutions at the time so I had to just really grind it out. I am really happy with the way I fought to come back and win, and I have to recover now, stop thinking about what happened and move forward and prepare for my match against Diego [Elias].”
Peru have a player in the quarter-finals of this tournament for the first time as World No.7 Diego Elias came back from a game down to beat Egypt’s Fares Dessouky to set up a quarter-final clash with Momen.
Elias and Dessouky have had some fractious matches in the past – not least a highly-charged affair during the quarter-finals of the 2017 El Gouna International – but there were less fireworks this time around as both players kept their composure in a clean contest. Elias fell a game behind but the 22-year-old outplayed Dessouky and displayed superior racket skills in the final three games to book his place in the next round.
“I started a bit nervously, it’s my first time in the last 16 of a World Championship,” Elias said.
“But then I started to play better, more consistent squash, and I think I did really well at the end to close it out.
“Every time it’s better, we are pretty close in the rankings, we’ve been playing all of our lives now. It’s always a tough match, so it’s hard to be pretty good friends off court, but we’re trying to be as good as we can.
“One of my goals was to make it to my first quarter-finals of the World Championship. I’m feeling great and I feel like I’m playing good squash, so I think I can go all the way.”