England and Egypt underlined their dominance at the ATCO PSA World Series Finals when the two rival nations hogged the four semi-final berths for Friday’s matches at The Queen’s Club in London.
Yorkshire’s Nick Matthew, the world No1, will play arch rival James Willstrop, while Egyptian duo Amr Shabana andRamy Ashour face off in the other semi-final after the quartet progressed from the group stages in contrasting circumstances.
Matthew, who beat Willstrop in last month’s World Open final to become the first Englishman to lift the title, edged past his gritty compatriot Peter Barker 12-14, 11-3, 11-7 in 51 minutes. It was the second time that Matthew had played beyond 50 minutes in the fast-paced, best-of-three pool format.
Matthew lost the opening game of his final group match – at 23 minutes, the second longest of the week – but used his physical strength and mid-court dominance to edge out the left-hander from London. Barker, playing his best squash of the week, matched Matthew in all departments as the world No8 forced the world champion into a number of uncharacteristic errors to the tin.
With both players realising that defeat would end their World Series bid, Matthew took the initiative in a seven-minute second game as the 30-year-old racked up seven points in a row to take the match into a decider.
Barker was clearly saving himself but still managed to raise a smile on both sides of the court mid-game. Having been denied a let at 4-3 down, the Londoner, who had only beaten Matthew once in nine meetings, remonstrated with the referee but was told to close the door and continue the ensuing slog-fest. Barker couldn’t resist: “I’m just trying to get a rest in here.”
Matthew, never adventurous, kept plugging away at Barker’s resolve with trademark rallies that had been a feature of the Englishman’s play in 2010. Errors soon crept in and, despite saving two match-balls, Matthew finished the game with a stroke.
“If you lose the first game it is pretty hairy and not that enjoyable,” Matthew said afterwards. “You can never let up in this format and it will continue to eat away at my nerves.”
Enjoyment was not an attribute handed out to Ashour, the leading player in the 2010 PSA World Series rankings, as the Egyptian moved edgily into the semi-finals following his 15-13, 11-3 win over England’s Alister Walker, the former Leeds-based player who now resides in New York.
The Egyptian admitted afterwards that he was still feeling the effects of a hamstring injury that forced him out of last month’s World Open in Saudi Arabia.
The ‘Cairo King’ stormed into a 4-1 lead as he aimed to quell Walker’s own attacking instincts. But Ashour soon showed his frustration as Walker clawed his way back, saving two game balls at 10-8 down, before the Egyptian, yet to find his rhythm, found enough resolve to clinch the opener 15-13.
The second was in stark contrast as Ashour found renewed belief, rattling off eight points in a row from 3-3 to finish Walker’s campaign.
“I’ve done a lot of physio and there are still a lot of things missing from my body,” Ashour, the 2008 world champion, said. “I’ve had to think more this week in how I’ve played my shots, but I’m really glad I’m through.
“It is not enjoyable when you’re not 100 per cent but all I can do is keep pushing myself.”
Ashour will have to be at his best to beat Shabana – a repeat of the 2009 World Open final when the young Egyptian left the court in tears against his older rival.
Shabana, the four-time world champion, has never won on British shores but looks in good shape here with a convincing 11-9, 11-9 win over compatriot Wael El Hindi.
The formidable Egyptian has looked a real threat this week and took just 25 minutes to seal his semi-final berth as El Hindi lost his third straight group match.
In the final match of the night, Thierry Lincou of France knew he had to beat Willstrop 2/0 to take his place in the semi-finals.
At times, 34-year-old Lincou defied his tag as the world tour’s elder statesman. But Willstrop played a tight and controlled match to win his third match of the week, along with Shabana the only player to do so.
Willstrop said, after his 12-10, 11-7 victory: “There was a big contrast from playing Ramy last night. Thierry’s tightness was impeccable and, as always, it’s always good to beat him two-love.”
3rd & final pool round:
 Ramy Ashour (EGY) bt  Alister Walker (ENG) 15-13, 11-3 (20m)
 James Willstrop (ENG) bt  Thierry Lincou (FRA) 12-10, 11-7 (32m)
 Amr Shabana (EGY) bt  Wael El Hindi (EGY) 11-9, 11-9 (25m)
 Nick Matthew (ENG) bt  Peter Barker (ENG) 12-14, 11-3, 11-7 (51m)
 James Willstrop (ENG) v  Nick Matthew (ENG)
 Amr Shabana (EGY) v  Ramy Ashour (EGY)