Magnificent Shabana Wins Aon US Open

Amr Shabana overcame a phenomenal fightback from top seed and fellow Egyptian Ramy Ashour in the final of the Aon US Open final to win the $52,500 5-star PSA World Tour squash title in Chicago.

The three-time world champion raced through the opening two games with some astonishing winners to delight a sell-out crowd around the glass court set up in the open air off Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, known as the Magnificent Mile.

Number two seed Shabana was certainly in magnificent form and a quick finish seemed on the cards as he won the second 11-2.  Shabana opened up a 4-0 lead in the third game but Ashour began to work his way into the match, taking control from 4-6 down to win 11-7.

Despite that confidence booster, the 21-year-old reigning world champion made a slow start to the fourth game and Shabana won the first five points and maintained that lead to stand within three points of the title at 8-3.

However, Ashour stepped up the pace and produced a succession of blinding winners as the crowd roared their encouragement.  Shabana held match ball at 10-7 but Ashour won five points in a row to force the tiebreak and lead 12-11.  Shabana levelled at 12-12 but Ashour maintained his push to clinch the game 14-12.

The crowd, boosted by hundreds of spectators enjoying a free view of the action through the front wall, were delighted that the match was heading for a fifth game.  Ashour led 3-1 at the start of the final game but Shabana regained control to lead 9-5.  Ashour won the next two points and then sportingly conceded that a backhand drop shot was down as Shabana screamed at the referee.

That gesture gave Shabana match ball at 10-7 and, although Ashour claimed one more point, the 30-year-old closed out an entertaining contest in 57 minutes of spellbinding squash.

“Ramy is such a great player and as a world champion at 21 years old he seems to have been around for years,” said Shabana after his epic 11-7, 11-2, 7-11, 12-14, 11-8 victory.

“He came back very strongly to win the third and fourth games and I was pleased to win the fifth game.

“The players have all enjoyed this tournament in Chicago and it’s great to see such big crowds around the court every night.”

The players earned warm applause for providing an evening of outstanding entertainment and Ashour was given an extra ovation for his sportsmanship.

He said: “As professional players, we have to be honest with each other on court, even though it gave Shabana match ball.  Shabana played very well tonight and made it hard for me in large parts of the match.

“I know I should be angry for losing but I am happy that we made the match very entertaining for the crowd.”

The triumph extends Shabana’s tour title tally to 24 – and also endorses the latest September Dunlop PSA World Rankings in which the former world number one leapfrogged younger rival Ashour to take third place.

The win, which also extends his head-to-head count against Ashour to 7-5, will boost Shabana’s hopes in this week’s  British Open in Manchester, where the third seed is expected to face compatriot Karim Darwish – his successor as world number one – for a place in the final.  Runner-up in 2004, Shabana has yet to win the longest-standing title in world squash.

[2] Amr Shabana (EGY) bt [1] Ramy Ashour (EGY) 11-7, 11-2, 7-11, 12-14, 11-8 (57m)


[1] Ramy Ashour (EGY) bt [3] David Palmer (AUS) 11-8, 12-10, 11-8 (32m)
[2] Amr Shabana (EGY) bt [7] James Willstrop (ENG) 11-7, 11-4, 11-9 (42m)

Top-Seeded Egyptians Ashour & Shabana In US Open Final

Egyptian superstars Ramy Ashour and Amr Shabana blitzed their way into the final of the Aon US Open after straight-game victories over David Palmer and James Willstrop , respectively, in the semi-finals of the $52,500 5-star PSA World Tour squash event staged on an all-glass court set up in the open air in downtown Chicago.

Shabana took 42 minutes to beat seventh-seeded Englishman Willstrop 11-7, 11-4, 11-9 and Ashour took ten minutes less to overcome Palmer, the No3 seed from Australia, 11-8, 12-10, 11-8.

Those two dazzling performances underlined Egypt’s global dominance in the sport and set up a mouth-watering clash between the tournament’s top two seeds.

Willstrop, who took 85 minutes to beat England team-mate Peter Barker in the quarter-finals the previous evening, started sluggishly and Shabana raced to a 6-0 lead. Once Willstrop settled he threatened to turn the tables and pulled the score back to 6-8 but Shabana quickly closed out the game.

Shabana kept the ball fast, tight and low as he had the 6ft 5in Willstrop at full stretch and the three-time world champion from Cairo raced through the second game 11-4, bringing a huge cheer from another sell-out crowd with an outrageous angled kill shot.

Willstrop battled bravely in the third game but Shabana finished strongly to reach the 35th PSA Tour final of his career – but his second final of the season after winning the Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur last month.

He will need to be at his brilliant best to stop compatriot Ashour, who is nine years his junior.  The reigning World Open champion produced one of his best career performances to overwhelm Palmer, a two-time former world champion, with a stunning display of high-speed attacking squash.

Ashour won the opening game in just eight minutes but Palmer responded solidly in the second to reach game ball, only for Ashour to claw back the points to win the tiebreak 12-10.

As well as Palmer played, he was unable to stem the tide as Ashour conjured up more magical shots in the third game.

“I am so happy to be in the final,” said a smiling Ashour, now in his 19th career final and one match away from his third Tour trophy of the year.  “Amr and I always have great matches and we are just pleased to be able to entertain such a fantastic audience here in Chicago.

“This has to be one of the best venues for squash anywhere in the world and the crowds have been great all week. That applause helps us to play better.”

Shabana was extremely gracious in victory, acknowledging Willstrop’s valiant efforts on his return from an ankle injury. He said: “James has come back very quickly after a serious operation and he is always a very difficult opponent.

“It is always a good feeling to be in a final, and I know Ramy is playing brilliantly at the moment.  We hope to put on a great final for this wonderful crowd.”


[1] Ramy Ashour (EGY) bt [6] Wael El Hindi (EGY) 11-4, 11-6, 13-11 (38m)
[3] David Palmer (AUS) bt [8] Olli Tuominen (FIN) 14-12, 11-6, 11-8 (46m)
[7] James Willstrop (ENG) bt [4] Peter Barker (ENG) 11-8, 13-15, 11-9, 11-13, 11-8 (85m)
[2] Amr Shabana (EGY) bt [5] Adrian Grant (ENG) 11-5, 5-11, 11-8, 11-8 (48m)

Rampant Ramy Roars Into Last Four Of Aon US Open

Top seed Ramy Ashour was in devastating form as he powered into the semi-finals of the Aon US Open in Chicago. The 21-year-old world champion produced a dazzling array of spectacular winners to beat fellow Egyptian Wael El Hindi in straight games in the quarter-finals of the $52,500 5-star PSA World Tour squash event staged on an all-glass court set up in the open air in downtown Chicago.

Ashour launched a blistering attack from the start of the match and won the opening two games in quick fashion with a succession of unplayable shots.

Sixth seed El Hindi led for much of the third game but Ashour clinched the tiebreak 13-11 to book a place in the last four against Australia’s David Palmer.

“I was very happy with the way I played and I hope it was entertaining for the crowd,” said Ashour.  “I am still learning new ways to play the game and I always enjoy trying new shots.”

Palmer, the 2002 US Open champion, also won in straight-games against eighth seed Olli Tuominen.  It was a repeat of Palmer’s semi-final victory over the Finn en-route to winning last week’s Colombian Open in Bogota.

This time Tuominen started strongly but he wasted several game balls as Palmer took the opening encounter 14-12 on a tiebreak after 20 minutes of physical play littered with lets and penalty strokes.

Third seed Palmer dominated play in the second and third games to book his place in the last four against Ashour and said: “I knew it would be tough because I have played Olli so many times and knew what to expect.  We seem to play each other seven or eight times a season so I’m not quite sure what’s happening with the PSA computer!

“I was very pleased to beat Olli on a plaster court at altitude in Colombia last week because I thought those conditions might favour his game, but I like playing on this glass court and always felt conditions this week would favour me.”

In the day’s only upset, No7 seed James Willstrop triumphed against fellow Englishman Peter Barker in the longest match of the night in front of a sell-out crowd around the open-air glass court off Michigan Avenue.

Willstrop won a brutal battle 11-8, 13-15, 11-9, 11-13, 11-8 in 85 minutes of high-quality squash against fourth seed Barker, who won last year’s Sweet Home Chicago Open at the same stunning venue.

The result left Barker still seeking his first win against Willstrop after 15 defeats, but this was one of their closest ever encounters as Barker won two tie-breaks to take the match the full distance.

After closing out the first game, Willstrop wasted four game balls in the second before Barker won the tiebreak 15-13.  Willstrop edged the third but Barker hit back again to win the fourth game tie-break. Willstrop started the fifth game strongly and withstood a spirited recovery by his international team-mate to reach the semi-finals.

Willstrop, who played the game with his right ankle heavily strapped, admitted: “This is such a crazy game.  The damage we do to our bodies is ridiculous.  We throw ourselves all over court, we wake up the next day with aching bodies, and then we show up the next night and do it all again.”

Willstrop faces No2 seed Amr Shabana in the semi-finals after the three-time world champion from Cairo overcame England’s Adrian Grant.

Grant tried to match fellow left-hander Shabana’s shot-making ability but fell in four games of high-quality squash.

Shabana said:  “Adrian looked on fire tonight.  He is a very good player and was attacking a lot more than usual.  James and I always have crazy matches and it should be a very entertaining semi-final.”

With another sell-out guaranteed for the semi-finals, organisers were looking into the possibility of installing more temporary seating before tonight’s programme gets under way.


1st round (bottom half):
[7] James Willstrop (ENG) bt [Q] Julian Illingworth (USA) 11-9, 11-9, 7-11, 11-9 (63m)
[4] Peter Barker (ENG) bt Gilly Lane (USA) 12-10, 11-6, 12-10 (44m)
[5] Adrian Grant (ENG) bt Saurav Ghosal (IND) 11-8, 11-9, 12-10 (46m)
[2] Amr Shabana (EGY) bt Shahier Razik (CAN) 11-9, 11-3, 11-4 (26m)

Willstrop Survives In Chicago

England’s James Willstrop, returning to competition at the Aon US Open after an ankle operation in the summer, survived an injury scare and a phenomenal challenge from American qualifier Julian Illingworth to reach the quarter-finals of the $52,500 5-star PSA World Tour squash event in Chicago.

Seventh seed Willstrop, who had a four-month layoff after playing the ISS Canary Wharf Classic in London in March, won 11-9, 11-9, 7-11, 11-9 in 63 minutes of physically demanding combat and admitted:  “I was very relieved to get off court with a win in my first match back.  You never know how you are going to shape up in your first match of the season, especially after being out of action for so long.

“First round matches can sometimes be one-sided but I knew that was never going to be the case with Julian.  He played out of his skin and showed what a good player he can be.  The crowd were on his side and Julian gave them plenty to cheer,” added the world number nine from Leeds.

Willstrop entered the open-air glass court with his right ankle heavily strapped and within a handful of rallies he was limping after an accidental collision in mid-court.  Willstrop said: “Julian’s knee caught me in the calf and the last thing you want is a dead-leg that early in any match, let alone in your first match back after injury.”

The match featured several astonishing twists and turns as Willstrop hit back from 6-3 down in the first game and 6-1 down in the second to open up a two-game advantage. The effort seemed to take its toll as Illingworth won the third game but Willstrop hit back solidly to lead 8-2 in the fourth.

Then it was Illingworth’s turn to mount a spectacular recovery and he won six points in a row to draw level after a succession of brutal rallies.  However, he failed to press home the advantage and some tired mistakes gifted the match to Willstrop.  The home crowd immediately rose to their feet to give both players a thoroughly deserved standing ovation.

Illingworth said: “I was disappointed not to do better but it seemed that James was putting me under huge pressure for most of the match, and I was unable to do the same to him.”

Willstrop faces England team-mate Peter Barker in the quarter-finals after the left-hander from London removed the second American in the main draw.  Wild card Gilly Lane, from Philadelphia, was 10-6 up in the third game but produced a succession of errors to give Barker a straight games victory.

World number 77 Lane said: “It was always going to be difficult against a player like Peter and I just got a bit over-excited at the end of that third game.  I was pleased with the way I played and it was a wonderful experience to appear on the glass court against such a good player.”

Adrian Grant made it three Englishmen in the quarter-finals after beating Indian No1 Saurav Ghosal 11-8, 11-9, 12-10.  The 28-year-old Londoner now faces the prospect of meeting fellow left-hander Amr Shabana, the three-time world champion who was in devastating form as he achieved a lightning-quick victory over Canadian No1 Shahier Razik.

Quarter-final line-up:
[1] Ramy Ashour (EGY) v [6] Wael El Hindi (EGY)
[3] David Palmer (AUS) v [8] Olli Tuominen (FIN)
[4] Peter Barker (ENG) v [7] James Willstrop (ENG)
[2] Amr Shabana (EGY) v [5] Adrian Grant (ENG)


1st round (top half ):
[1] Ramy Ashour (EGY) bt [Q] Adrian Waller (ENG) 11-2, 11-8, 11-6 (23m)
[6] Wael El Hindi (EGY) bt [Q] Aaron Frankcomb (AUS) 11-9, 15-13, 10-12, 11-5 (87m)
[3] David Palmer (AUS) bt [Q] Tom Richards (ENG) 5-11, 11-6, 11-4, 11-6 (44m)
[8] Olli Tuominen (FIN) bt Hisham Mohd Ashour (EGY) 11-9, 11-2, 11-5 (26m)

World Champion Ashour Leads Egyptian Attack In Aon US Open

Top-seeded Egyptian Ramy Ashour powered through his first round clash in the Aon US Open Squash Championship, beating 19-year-old English qualifier Adrian Waller 11-2, 11-8, 11-6 inside 23 minutes on the opening day of main draw action in the $52,500 5-star PSA World Tour event in Chicago.

The Aon US Open, the first major glass-court tournament of the new season, has a familiar feeling with a dominant Egyptian contingent, led by world champion Ashour.

The 21-year-old from Cairo was pleased with his first outing on the glass court set up in the open air in downtown Chicago.  “This is a fantastic setting for a big squash tournament,” said Ashour.  “After playing the Windy City Open two years ago, this is my second visit to Chicago and I love it here.  The people are so warm and friendly – it’s just like being back home in Egypt.

“I love the architecture of the city and it’s a very special place.  I enjoyed my match with Adrian and he played very well after making a nervous start.”

Ashour’s victory clinched a quarter-final tie with fellow Egyptian Wael El Hindi.  The number six seed also faced a qualifier – but was kept on court for 87 minutes by Australian Aaron Frankcomb before winning 11-9, 15-13, 10-12, 11-5 in a match littered with stoppages caused by lets and the early evening sun casting shadows across the court.

Like Ashour, El Hindi is enjoying a love affair with the USA.  He is touring professional at the City View Squash Club in Queen’s, New York, and is promising to unveil a new Rafa Nadal-style clothing range when he takes to the court against Ashour.

After sporting a plain white T-shirt with the City View emblem, he said: “No, I’m not dropping the sleeveless shirts.  I will be wearing a new range against Ramy in the quarter-finals.”

The only Egyptian casualty on the open-air glass court was Ashour’s older brother Hisham Mohd Ashour, who was despatched in straight games by Finland’s Olli Tuominen.

Australia’s former world champion David Palmer made a sluggish start against England’s Tom Richards and was clearly feeling the effects of his marathon victory over Spain’s Borja Golan in the final of the Colombian Open on Sunday.

Palmer lost the first game against Richards and later admitted: “That was my first glass-court tournament since winning at Canary Wharf in London in March and I struggled to see the ball at all.  I wasn’t feeling well and I hope I will be OK for the quarter-finals against Olli.”

Thursday sees the bottom half of the draw with Americans Julian Illingworth and Gilly Lane taking centre stage against English opponents James Willstrop and Peter Barker, who won last year’s Sweet Home Chicago Open against Palmer at the same venue.

Remaining 1st round matches:
[7] James Willstrop (ENG) v [Q] Julian Illingworth (USA)
[4] Peter Barker (ENG) v Gilly Lane (USA)
[5] Adrian Grant (ENG) v Saurav Ghosal (IND)
[2] Amr Shabana (EGY) v Shahier Razik (CAN)


Qualifying finals:
Julian Illingworth (USA) bt Liam Kenny (IRL) 11-4, 12-14, 11-7, 11-5 (67m)
Adrian Waller (ENG) bt Joe Lee (ENG) 11-7, 11-9, 11-9 (44m)
Aaron Frankcomb (AUS) bt Martin Knight (NZL) 11-4, 11-5, 11-5 (49m)
Tom Richards (ENG) bt Christopher Gordon (USA) 11-6, 11-4, 11-8 (32m)

Home Hope Illingworth Powers Into US Open Draw

Home hope Julian Illingworth powered into the first round of the Aon US Open Squash Championship after beating Ireland’s Liam Kenny in the qualifying finals of the $52,500 5-star PSA World Tour event in Chicago.

The 25-year-old from Portland, Oregon, won 11-4, 12-14, 11-7, 11-5 in an absorbing contest lasting 67 minutes to clinch a first round clash with England’s James Willstrop, the number seven seed, on Thursday.

Kenny was overwhelmed by Illingworth’s high-paced attack in the opening game but fought back strongly to lead throughout the second.  Illingworth clawed his way back to take the game to a tiebreak and held game ball when Kenny struck a volley into the tin.  However, the Irishman showed great composure to win the next three points to close out the game 14-12 after some phenomenally brutal rallies.

That enormous effort clearly took its toll on Kenny as Illingworth regained control in the third game, maintaining his form throughout the fourth to clinch his place against Willstrop.

“I was really happy with how I started the match but I don’t really know what happened in the second,” explained Illingworth.  “I was behind all the way there until I held game ball. I was glad to get it together again in the third and fourth.”

Illingworth knows he faces a tall order in stopping the 6ft 5in Willstrop, who is returning to the PSA World Tour after an ankle operation five months ago.

Illingworth added: “I know James is one of the most talented players in the world so I am expecting a tough match. We did a summer coach camp together in Boulder, Colorado, but I have never played him in a tournament before. He was ranked two in the world not so long ago and obviously he has a false ranking at the moment because of his injuries last season. It will be nice to have some home support on the glass court. I might need it!”

Fellow American Christopher Gordon failed to join his compatriot in the main draw after falling in straight games to rising English ace Tom Richards, who won 11-6, 11-4, 11-8 victory in 32 minutes to book a first round tie against Australia’s David Palmer, winner of the Colombian Open in Bogota on Sunday.

The tournament top seed, world champion Ramy Ashour of Egypt, meets English qualifier Adrian Waller, who beat compatriot Joe Lee in straight games.  Waller, 19, becomes not only the youngest player in the main draw, but also the lowest-ranked by a considerable margin.  The teenager from Enfield, ranked 128 in the world, is celebrating his first appearance in a 5-star PSA championship.

Aaron Frankcomb, of Australia, beat Martin Knight of New Zealand to book a first round meeting with number six seed Wael El Hindi of Egypt.

The Aon US Open is the only tournament in America to be staged in an open-air setting, and the spectacular surroundings of Pioneer Court in downtown Chicago will be echoing to the sound of the world’s leading professionals crashing the ball against the all-glass McWil court throughout the rest of this week.

Tournament promoter Imran Nasir said: “We had some tremendous matches in the qualifying competition and now it’s down to the serious business in the main draw. We had some terrible weather for the tournament last year, with the tail-end of a hurricane disrupting the event, but we are keeping our fingers crossed that today’s glorious sunshine lasts for the rest of the week.

“It’s good to see Julian Illingworth in the main draw. Last year he lost 11-9 in the fifth to John White in one of the longest matches of the tournament and we all hope that he can produce a major career breakthrough with a victory against James Willstrop.”