“He’s got my number at the minute,” admitted a dejected James Willstrop after the English hope went down in four games to Egypt’s world number one Ramy Ashour in the final of the ROWE British Grand Prix, the biggest squash event in Europe this year at the National Squash Centre in Manchester.
The climax of the $92,500 PSA Super Series event was the eleventh meeting of the pair’s careers, and their fourth this year – Yorkshireman Willstrop winning the first in the Tournament of Champions final in New York to take the first PSA Super Series title of the year, and Ashour twice gaining his revenge in his home town Cairo and last month in Hong Kong.
Willstrop, the world No6 who claimed his unexpected place in the final after outlasting France’s world No5 Gregory Gaultier in a 100-minute semi-final marathon, led 7-3 in the opening game.
But Ashour, the 22-year-old from Cairo who reclaimed the world number one ranking this month from Willstrop’s England team-mate Nick Matthew, immediately turned things round by taking the next eight points in a row to win the game.
In a remarkable reversal of fortunes, it was crowd favourite Willstrop who then came out firing – racing to game ball at 10-0 before Ashour picked up a couple of points to prevent a whitewash.
At one game apiece, a more assured Ashour returned for the third and Willstrop seemed unable to match the speed and accuracy of Egypt’s latest squash star. After 40 minutes, it was second seed Ashour who raised his hands in triumph to celebrate his 11-7, 3-11, 11-3, 11-5 victory.
“It’s such a letdown when you can’t produce,” said the distraught runner-up afterwards. “It was too physical – he was just too good.
“I wasn’t physically good enough today – I don’t know why,” explained 27-year-old Willstrop, from Leeds. “I expected to come out stronger. I gave it everything I could.”
A jubilant Ashour expressed his delight at competing in the event – and winning his 17th PSA Tour title: “I’m really glad I came here and really glad to win. I think it was a really good match, but I think we were both tired – James had a very long game yesterday for more than 100 minutes.
“I was a bit stuffed mentally when I arrived here – I was OK physically – but I really pushed myself during the week. My brother (Hisham) has done a great job – I’ve learned a lot from him.
“And I have been able to phone my parents every day – and that helped me a lot too.
“James is a great player – I played him in Hong Kong last month, but this was tougher. He has a special kind of game – a mixture of Egyptian and English.
“It’s always great to play him,” concluded the new champion Ashour.
 Ramy Ashour (EGY) bt  James Willstrop (ENG) 11-7, 3-11, 11-3, 11-5 (40m)
Updated PSA Super Series Rankings
|1||2||Ramy Ashour (EGY)||435|
|2||1||Nick Matthew (ENG)||375|
|3||3||James Willstrop (ENG)||295|
|4||5||Gregory Gaultier (FRA)||220|
|5||4||Karim Darwish (EGY)||185|
|6||6||Amr Shabana (EGY)||155|
|7||7||Thierry Lincou (FRA)||140|
|8||10||David Palmer (AUS)||125|
|9||8||Peter Barker (ENG)||105|
|10||9||Wael El Hindi (EGY)||95|
|11||11||Alister Walker (ENG)||85|
|12||12||Adrian Grant (ENG)||80|
|13=||18||Daryl Selby (ENG)||60|
|13=||18||Saurav Ghosal (IND)||60|
|15=||18||Aamir Atlas Khan (PAK)||50|
|15=||18||Hisham Mohd Ashour (EGY)||50|
|15=||17||Julian Illingworth (USA)||50|
|15=||13||Ryan Cuskelly (AUS)||50|