Rising England squash star Tom Richards came desperately close to a shock win over No2 seed Ramy Ashour in the second round of the North American Open in Richmond, Virginia.
Richards won the opening game but squandered game ball in the second and let slip a 9-4 lead in the fourth before the Egyptian maestro clinched victory 6-11, 12-10, 11-6, 11-9 to earn a place in the quarter-finals of the second PSA World Series event of the year at the Westwood Club.
Richards dominated the opening game and held game ball in the second at 10-9 but was unable to close it out. Ashour squeezed home 12-10 and from 5-4 down he won the third 11-6.
However, the 24-year-old world No31 roared back in the fourth and looked set to take the match the full distance as he led 9-4, but world No2 Ashour put together an astonishing run of seven points without reply to clinch victory.
“Tom played a great game and was ahead in all of the games,” said Ashour afterwards. “I am a little bit disappointed with the way I played but all credit to Tom. He played very well. But I will need to play a lot better in the next round.”
Richards said: “I am very disappointed to have lost because I was in some very good positions in the second and fourth games and should have finished them off. But in a couple of days I might feel a bit differently.”
James Willstrop meets England team-mate Peter Barker in the quarter-finals after both players crushed qualifiers.
Sixth seed Barker took just 28 minutes to beat Malaysian Mohd Nafiizwan Adnan and Willstrop, the third seed, took two minutes longer to beat New Zealander Martin Knight in straight games.
With world champion Nick Matthew already through, the quarter-final schedule features three Englishmen.
The draw features four outstanding contests, with Ashour facing Frenchman Gregory Gaultier, who outclassed Finnish No1 Olli Tuominen 11-6, 11-6, 11-1.
Matthew meets Australia’s David Palmer, and four times world champion Amr Shabana tackles Malaysian Mohd Azlan Iskandar, who has looked impressive this week at the Westwood Club.
2nd round (lower half of draw):
 James Willstrop (ENG) bt [Q] Martin Knight (NZL) 11-7, 11-7, 11-5 (30m)
 Peter Barker (ENG) bt [Q] Mohd Nafiizwan Adnan (MAS) 11-2, 11-3, 11-5 (28m)
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt Olli Tuominen (FIN) 11-6, 11-6, 11-1 (36m)
 Ramy Ashour (EGY) bt Tom Richards (ENG) 6-11, 12-10, 11-6, 11-9 (45m)
Matthew Masters His Demons To Reach Richmond Quarters
England’s world champion Nick Matthew admitted to “getting the demons out of my head” after he and Egyptian superstar Amr Shabana advanced to the quarter-finals of the North American Open in contrasting styles at the Westwood Club in Richmond, Virginia.
The two are seeded to meet in the semi-finals of this $115,000 PSA World Series squash event, the second of the year, on Friday.
Matthew, the reigning NAO champion, beat Canadian No1 Shahier Razik in straight games, but Shabana had to fight back from 2/1 down to overcome England’s Jonathan Kemp.
Matthew looked uncomfortable during his first round match with Julian Illingworth, having complained about a slippery floor, but he encountered no such problems against Razik, who tried his hardest to slow the game down.
“It was a battle of contrasting styles,” said Matthew after his 11-7, 11-4, 11-8 win. “Shahier was trying to slow the ball down and I was trying to speed things up. He is a very tricky opponent and I was much happier with the way I played tonight. I was more relaxed after getting the first match under my belt and I managed to get the demons out of my head.
“There are so many good players around that competition is always tough, no matter what round you play in – and the pressure is always on to deliver your best,” explained the 30-year-old from Sheffield. “Sometimes you have to take stock and remember just how much you love playing this game for a living.”
In the quarter-finals Matthew meets Australian veteran David Palmer. The former world champion showed that he can still play phenomenal squash at 34 as he overpowered England’s Alister Walker in four games, 11-6, 3-11, 11-6, 11-9.
Palmer admitted: “I relaxed a bit at 8-2 up in the fourth and Alister showed what a dangerous player he is. It was very hard and I lost the plot a bit in the second game but I’m happy to be playing well and pleased to be in the quarter-finals.”
Shabana was forced to battle all the way by Kemp, finally winning 11-8, 13-15, 8-11, 11-7, 11-8 after a brilliantly entertaining match, full of dazzling shots at the front of the court.
Kemp matched Shabana’s magical qualities for most of the match and recovered well to win the second game tie-break after trailing 10-8. The 29-year-old from Halifax in Yorkshire maintained the momentum to win the third and a shock looked on the cards as he led 3-0 in the fourth. But fellow left-hander Shabana showed confidence and composure in a crisis and strung together a run of points to win the game.
At 5-5 in the fifth it was wide open, but Shabana’s experience shone through as he clinched his place in the quarter-finals.
After the match, the four-time world champion from Cairo was typically gracious to his opponent, saying: “The way Jonathan has come back from hip and back surgery to continue his career in squash is a phenomenal achievement.
“Those injuries would have finished the careers of many athletes and he is a very talented player – always difficult to play against.
“At 5-5 in the fifth I wasn’t really worried. I just knew that the player who would win would be the one who could keep to his game and not make too many mistakes. Fortunately that was me.”
Shabana now meets Mohd Azlan Iskandar, who followed up his first round win over new British champion Daryl Selbyby beating German No1 Simon Rosner. The Malaysian changed his approach after losing the opening game and simply crushed his opponent 11-1 in the second.
The cool court suited his attack at the front of the court and Rosner admitted: “I was hopeless. He changed his tactics and got in front. After that I simply couldn’t get the ball past him to the back of the court.”
Iskandar admitted: “They weren’t big changes, just a few subtle alterations. I knew that I couldn’t play anything loose because Simon is such a good player these days that he was able to punish all my mistakes.
“He has improved so much in the last few months and there are a lot of guys like him who are putting pressure on the top guys. The cool court may have looked like it suited my game but I grew up in Malaysia with 100 per cent humidity so it’s not something I’m used to.”
2nd round (top half of draw):
 Nick Matthew (ENG) bt Shahier Razik (CAN) 11-7, 11-4, 11-8 (34m)
David Palmer (AUS) bt Alister Walker (ENG) 11-6, 3-11, 11-6, 11-9 (61m)
Mohd Azlan Iskandar (MAS) bt Simon Rosner (GER) 9-11, 11-1, 11-5, 11-7 (48m)
 Amr Shabana (EGY) bt Jonathan Kemp (ENG) 11-8, 13-15, 8-11, 11-7, 11-8 (54m)
Remaining 2nd round matches:
 James Willstrop (ENG) v [Q] Martin Knight (NZL)
 Peter Barker (ENG) v [Q] Mohd Nafiizwan Adnan (MAS)
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v Olli Tuominen (FIN)
 Ramy Ashour (EGY) v Tom Richards (ENG)
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