Willstrop and this Qatar show court are old friends
By ALAN THATCHER and MATT COLES
James Willstrop was in ruthless form as he he led six English winners through on the opening day of the Qatar QTerminals Classic in Doha.
Willstrop took just 18 minutes to ease past Faraz Khan (USA) 11-1, 11-4, 11-3 in this PSA Platinum event inside Doha’s Khalifa Tennis and Squash Centre.
Willstrop and the cool, air-conditioned Qatar show court are old friends. He imposed himself on the match with his precise play and accurate distribution the familiar key to a result that sets up a fascinating battle with world No.4 Tarek Momen in the next round.
Willstrop has been in a rich vein of form recently, beating Marwan ElShorbagy and Mohamed Abouelghar at the U.S. Open earlier this month to become the oldest ever Platinum quarter-finalist.
The 38-year-old dominated proceedings against Khan: “I had the experienced today. I’ve been here about 500 times.
“I’ve got experience on the court. It’s a tough court to play and if he hasn’t been here before that can be a tough prospect. I don’t take anyone lightly and I prepared really well. I hope it’s a sign of respect because if I let go for a couple of seconds then things can quickly change.
“You learn a lot from days like this and I’ve been there plenty of times before. You have to go away and think about how you can improve. I gave it everything and gave him a lot of respect.
“I work pretty hard at home and I try and look after my body so I can play more squash because I do love playing. To come out then and get wins against players like that (at the U.S. Open) was tremendous. I was incredibly happy to be able to play at a great venue and the best tournaments.
“We’re lucky and if I can play like that and the body responds OK then I can keep going and keep playing tournaments like this one.”
Willstrop also weighed in on Gaultier’s retirement, saying: “You know these things are probably going to come at some point. We were playing when we were 14 and 15 years of age, so to read his message the other day was sad.
“He had a phrase about the sands of time, it was pretty deep stuff and it’s sad when it comes to an end. What a wonderful player for the game. I hope he’s happy with the response on social media because he deserves it and people love him for his charisma and the fact that he’s different and expresses himself.
“He’s been a legend and it’s sad to see him go.”
Looking ahead to his meeting with U.S. Open finalist Momen, Willstrop believed his movement will be the key.
He said: “I’ll have to be quick and move well on here, and for a big galoot like me that’s not always easy.
“He’s going to take me in short, he always does. If I play at the level like I was in the U.S. Open, I’m in with a shout. I just need to take each game, moment and rally as it comes with him because he is too good.”
Declan James and Tom Richards also won in Straight games to remove Syed Azlan Amjad of host nation Qatar and the USA’s Shahjahan Khan.
James won 11-4, 11-5, 11-7 in 35 minutes to book his place in the last 32, where he will face Peru’s Diego Elias.
“I’ve missed it so much not being able to play the last few events since the start of August for different reasons,” said James in his post-match interview.
“I missed it so much, but it gave me a chance to go back and train for the last three months, work with my coach after the Manchester tournaments on what I needed to improve on. I’ve been watching on, these guys have been playing every week, so I’m glad to be back.
“It’s always a great match against Diego. He’s a fine player and world class and it’s always played to a high level when we play and I’m just looking forward to getting a match of that quality. I’m desperate for these matches, to learn as much as I can. I’m here to push hard this week.”
Elsewhere on the opening day, there were a spate of five-game thrillers on the side courts, with the English pair of George Parker and Adrian Waller coming from two games down to defeat Spain’s Bernat Jaume and compatriot Nathan Lake. Patrick Rooney also had to battle through a tough fifth game to overcome Tsz Fung Yip of Hong Kong.
Portugal’s World No.68 Rui Soares made history as he became the first Portuguese player to win a Platinum level match on the PSA World Tour.
Soares took on Mexico’s Arturo Salazar in his debut at the Qatar Classic, just two months after his first experience of a major tournament other than the PSA World Championships.
In a quick-fire encounter, Soares, who only entered the main draw on Thursday due to a withdrawal from England’s Richie Fallows, won 3-2 and will now take on New Zealand’s World No.3 Paul Coll in the second round.
“It’s unbelievable to play this tournament in Qatar,” said the Portuguese No.1.
“The organisation is unreal. I’ve heard a lot of good things, but it’s great to be here to play this tournament. I was really nervous to start with, it’s my first time on SQUASHTV, but I’m really happy to get that win.
“Once you start getting a couple of wins in a row you get more confidence and the wins start coming along one after the other. It’s different coming to this kind of event after playing Challenger events, it’s unbelievable.
“It’s going to be a great experience for me to play him [Coll] on a glass court. I’m going to enjoy it the best I can and hopefully I won’t be as nervous tomorrow. I’m really pleased to be in the second round and I’ll just make the most of it.”
Spain’s Borja Golan, 38, followed Willstrop’s example by beating America’s Todd Harrity 3-1. Golan fought hard to win the opening game 13-11 but he dominated the fourth to win it 11-2 to book his place in round two, where he will take on No.4 seed Marwan ElShorbagy.
Following Gaultier’s retirement, Golan is now the oldest man competing at the elite level of the PSA World Tour and the Spaniard paid tribute to his former opponent.
“I played with Greg since I was 14 or 15 and there is only one month between us,” Golan said.
“He’s the best of his generation probably and it was very tough to play against him. But it gave you more determination to train harder because every time you stepped on court against him it was so difficult. You had to raise your level to your maximum, he’s such a powerful player, he got all the balls back and his precision was unbelievable.
“He was tough to play but also enjoyable to watch and I was lucky to play him for so many years.”
Qatar QTerminals Classic.
George Parker (ENG) bt Bernat Jaume (ESP) 3-2: 3-11, 9-11, 14-12, 13-11, 11-6 (76m)
Ramit Tandon (IND) bt Greg Lobban (SCO) 3-2: 11-9, 11-7, 9-11, 12-14, 11-8 (60m)
Patrick Rooney (ENG) bt Tsz Fung Yip (HKG) 3-2: 11-3, 9-11, 11-6, 5-11, 11-9 (46m)
Iker Pajares Bernabeu (ESP) bt Dimitri Steinmann (SUI) 3-2: 11-4, 11-9, 10-12, 10-12, 11-7 (86m)
Declan James (ENG) bt [WC] Syed Azlan Amjad (QAT) 3-0: 11-4, 11-5, 11-7 (35m)
Sebastien Bonmalais (FRA) bt Cesar Salazar (MEX) 3-1: 12-10, 6-11, 11-3, 2-0 rtd (48m)
Raphael Kandra (GER) bt [WC] Abdulrahman Al-Malki (QAT) 3-0: 11-2, 11-7, 11-5 (22m)
Mahesh Mangaonkar (IND) bt Alan Clyne (SCO) 3-1: 11-7, 11-6, 3-11, 11-2 (48m)
Borja Golan (ESP) bt Todd Harrity (USA) 3-1: 13-11, 11-8, 7-11, 11-2 (50m)
James Willstrop (ENG) bt Faraz Khan (USA) 3-0: 11-1, 11-4, 11-3 (18m)
Lucas Serme (FRA) bt Mazen Gamal (EGY) 3-0: 11-4, 11-5, 11-6 (40m)
Tom Richards (ENG) bt Shahjahan Khan (USA) 3-0: 14-12, 11-5, 11-5 (41m)
Adrian Waller (ENG) bt Nathan Lake (ENG) 3-2: 5-11, 6-11, 11-7, 11-7, 11-9 (66m)
Mohamed ElSherbini (EGY) bt Christopher Gordon (USA) 3-2: 3-2: 11-9, 12-10, 10-12, 9-11, 11-3 (75m)
Nicolas Mueller (SUI) bt Ryosei Kobayashi (JPN) 3-2: 11-9, 8-11, 7-11, 11-9, 11-7 (63m)
Rui Soares (POR) bt Arturo Salazar (MEX) 3-2: 7-11, 11-6, 4-11, 11-6, 11-6 (39m)
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) v Youssef Ibrahim (EGY)
Mazen Hesham (EGY) v George Parker (ENG)
Ramit Tandon (IND) v Patrick Rooney (ENG)
Iker Pajares Bernabeu (ESP) v  Joel Makin (WAL)
 Diego Elias (PER) v Declan James (ENG)
Sebastien Bonmalais (FRA) v Gregoire Marche (FRA)
Raphael Kandra (GER) v Mahesh Mangaonkar (IND)
Borja Golan (ESP) v  Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY)
 Tarek Momen (EGY) v James Willstrop (ENG)
Lucas Serme (FRA) v Tom Richards (ENG)
Youssef Soliman (EGY) v Omar Mosaad (EGY)
Saurav Ghosal (IND) v  Mostafa Asal (EGY)
 Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) v Mohamed Abouelghar (EGY)
Adrian Waller (ENG) v Mohamed ElSherbini (EGY)
Nicolas Mueller (SUI) v Baptiste Masotti (FRA)
Rui Soares (POR) v  Paul Coll (NZL)
Pictures courtesy of PSA