For all of the vegetable jokes that were made Oct. 4-10, the U.S. Open of Squash took a serious turn Oct. 11 as the tournament headed into its final rounds. By the completion of the matches Oct. 5, Nicol David had cemented her position as the No. 1 female squash player in the world, while Ramy Ashour avenged his 2009 U.S. Open finals loss.
The adventures began in the semifinal rounds. In the first women’s semifinal, the top-seeded David took on unranked Jeanne King of New Zealand, who had just knocked off third-seeded Jenny Duncalf in the quarterfinals. David got off to a quick start by winning the first two games without much difficulty, but King fought back with a strong third game and then proceeded to even the match at two games apiece. In the decisive fifth, King had a 6-0 lead with David on the ropes in the seventh point, but she missed consecutive chances to hit home a winner and eventually dropped the point. David used it as a springboard to reel off 10 straight points to win the 83-minute match by a final score of 11-8, 11-6, 5-11, 8-11, 11-7.
After the match, David was asked about the rollercoaster fifth game.
“I just knew it was not over until it’s over, and being 6-0 down, I’ve been in that situation before … and I just kept my composure and my game and was pleased to win 3-2.”
In the other women’s semifinal, the second- and third-seeded women, Laura Massaro and Raneem El Weleiley, faced off in another five-game match. This was the most evenly balanced match of the tournament through four games, with the two only separated by a single point heading into the fifth match. But then, in the fifth game, everything came together for El Weleiley, who started hot and dominated to win the match 7-11, 11-8, 11-9, 10-12, 11-4.
In the women’s final, the match began with an epic 14-12 game that saw David save numerous chances from El Weleiley. In the second game, El Weleiley came out and imposed the strength that had been on display in the semifinals, and she started the third game with a 5-0 lead. But from there on, El Weleiley’s game was plagued with too many mistakes and too much tin. David showed her prowess and capitalized on the mistakes to win the championship 14-12, 8-11, 11-7, 11-7.
When asked about how she brought home her world record 63rd Women’s Squash Association event victory, David was tactical.
“I just got my act together, became more positive and stronger on my shots, and played my game, not hers,” David said.
Over on the men’s side of the bracket, the semifinal matchups were to be expected; they involved the top four seeds in the tournament. The unexpected parts came once play began.
In the first men’s semifinal, third-seeded Gregory Gaultier defeated top-seeded James Willstrop in absolutely dominant fashion by a score of 11-7, 11-2, 11-8, one of the most surprising results of the tournament. This came after Willstrop needed five games to get past eighth-seeded Mohammed El Shorbagy, bringing up the factor of fatigue on a man who’s often expected to be seen in the finals of each and every squash tournament.
After the match, Gaultier explained his approach to Willstrop this time around.
“I analyzed my matches at the British Grand Prix two weeks ago and adjusted a few things,” Gautier, who lost a 118-minute semifinal against Willstrop there, explained. “He’s been playing so well and making all the finals, and in the end it just takes its toll on your body.”
The second men’s semifinal was far more competitive. In a fiery first game, fourth-seeded Ramy Ashour came back from a 6-10 deficit to second-seeded Nick Matthews to win 15-13 well into overtime. From then on, each point was hotly contested, and although Matthews was able to control the second game, Ashour came back unfazed in the third game and then took the fourth game without much trouble to win the match 15-13, 8-11, 11-8, 11-4.
In the men’s final, Ashour came out hot and jumped on a foggy Gaultier, winning the first game 11-4 with extreme ease. After the first game, Gaultier seemed to find his feet and get his game going, but it was never enough to match Ashour, who clearly brought his A game to the Open this year. The match ended in an 11-4, 11-9, 11-9 victory for Ashour.
“I lost in this final three years ago, so to win a prestigious title like this against such a great player as [Gaultier] feels just unbelievable,” Ashour said immediately after the match.
Throughout the tournament, players often commented on how well they thought the Open had been run at Drexel, which bodes well for the third run of the tournament next year. Ashour said after his victory, “It’s been a great week. Everyone here does a tremendous job and makes us all feel so welcome, so thanks to everyone involved, and we’re all looking forward to next year already!”