Day of upsets as Annie Advances to semi-finals

18th November 2011

Women's Quarter-Finals:

[1] Nicol David (Mas) bt [5] Laura Massaro (Eng)    11/5, 11/8, 6/11, 11/6 (50m)
[8] Annie Au (Hkg) bt [3] Rachael Grinham (Aus)    8/11, 11/9, 4/11, 11/6, 11/4 (58m)
[10] Raneem El Weleily (Egy) bt [15] Joey Chan (Hkg)   11/7, 11/3, 7/11, 9/11, 11/8 (43m)
[13] Low Wee Wern (Mas) bt [7] Camille Serme (Fra)    11/7, 9/11, 11/9, 5/11, 11/4 (54m)

Men's Quarter-Finals:

(5] Gregory Gaultier (Fra) bt [1] Nick Matthew (Eng)   7/11, 11/9, 13/11, 11/5 (90m)
[3] James Willstrop (Eng) bt [6] Peter Barker (Eng)    11/3, 11/8, 3/0 rtd (27m)
Azlan Iskandar (Mas) bt [4] Amr Shabana (Egy)    11/9, 11/5, 11/6 (40m)
[2] Karim Darwish (Egy) bt Stewart Boswell (Aus)   11/5, 11/4, 11/6 (39m)
A day of 50% upsets as Annie advances, Greg and Nicol close in on repeat finals

Well, what a start to quarter-finals day as Hong Kong's own Annie Au continued the trend of upsets in the women's event as she came from 2/1 down to beat third seed Rachael Grinham to delight the packed crowd at the Hong Kong Squash Centre.

The first two games were close, but when Grinham eased through the third the crowd looked worried. Their fears were allayed as Au took a lead in the fourth, their hopes raised when she did the same in the fifth, and were finally realised as she ran away with it in the end.

"I felt quite comfortable when I was getting her into rallies in the second and the third," said Grinham, "but from the end of the fourth and the fifth she was chopping the ball away and I just couldn't get any rallies going. It was frustrating, and the harder you try the worse it gets when it's like that - I was still feeling fresh at the end."

Annie was understandably happy: "Very happy, and excited for tomorrow! I was a bit nervous at the end of the match, I tried to not think about it being the last game, just tried to win a point at a time."

The second match was also a five-setter, and also provided an Asian winner as Low Wee Wern repeated her World Open win over seventh seed Camille Serme.

It seemed that whoever got the early lead won the game - although Camille led the second 10/4 and only took it 11/9 - and although the Frenchwoman threatened to come back a couple of times in the decider, unforced errors proved her undoing. It was a crisp winner though that took the Malaysian into the semis.

"I knew it was going to be tough, because in the worlds, she was not in it in the first, but after, every game was a battle. Today, she was much quicker into the match," said Wee Wern. "What made the difference I think today, was that I was just a bit more patient at the end of each game."

The first men's quarter-final was always going to result in an English winner as James Willstrop met Peter Barker for the third time in the space of a few weeks, but after Willstrop had taken the first comfortable and the second with a run of points from 8-all, Barker conceded early in the third.

He had been grimacing on a few stretches, was in pain after stretching for one ball at the end of the second, and it was no great surprise when he couldn't continue.

"I really feel for him," said Willstrop, "but you can't take any risks when it comes to the knee and you can't play squash if you can't run."

The upsets resumed with the second men's match as Gregory Gaultier, losing finalist in the last four Hong Kong Opens, gained a measure of revenge for his defeat in the World Open final just a few days ago at the hands of Nick Matthew.

The first two games were shared, but the Frenchman mounted a fine comeback from 9/4 down in the third to take it 13/11 before taking the fourth game 11/5 after an epic 90 minutes to stay on course for a fifth final, or better.

"I think we were both tired today," admitted Gaultier. "Everybody knows that we were playing in the final of the World last week, and that I lost. So today, I was dying for a reveng ..."

Nicol David, on the other hand, has appeared in each of the last six Hong Kong finals, and she's won them all. The newly crowned six-time world champion stayed on course with her 33rd Hong Kong win in a row as she too gained a measure of revenge, beating England's Laura Massaro, who had beaten her in two of three meetings this year, 11/5, 11/8, 6/11, 11/6.

Massaro mounted a too-late comeback in the second but kept that momentum to pull a game back in the third, but Nicol regrouped and looked a solid as ever as she closed the match out in the fourth.

"I came out so fast in the first two, I just dropped a little in the third and she found some good shots and played well to take it," explained David. "I knew I had to come out strong in the fourth and my lengths and volleys were working well."

"I know there might be some bad weather tomorrow but it would be great to play at the harbour again, it has so many good memories for me. But it's the semi-final, we just need a court to play on!"

The unlikely dream of four Asian and two Hong Kong semi-finalists didn't come about, but it wasn't down to a lack of effort on the part of Joey Chan or the crowd, that's for sure. Raneem El Weleily weathered the early storm, and from 5/7 down in the first took 18 of the next 21 points to establish a commanding-looking two game lead.

But a few typical errors in the third let Joey back in, and the left-hander needed no encouragement - although she got plenty - as she levelled the match with some scintillating and determined play.

Raneem was never behind in the decider, but never far enough ahead to be comfortable, so when Joey called her own ball out at 10/8 the Egyptian was both grateful and relieved.

"I couldn't believe she called that out when three refs missed it, all credit to her for that," said Raneem. "I felt good at the start then played a few poor shots and let her back into it. I was nervous in the third and fourth, I was trying to tell myself the crowd were behind me too but it was hard!

"In the fifth it was already two-all so I had nothing left to lose and I relaxed more. It's great to play squash in front of a crowd like that whether they're supporting you or your opponent, and I'm really looking forward to the harbour tomorrow.

After that brief respite, where the 10th seed reaching the semi-finals was the expected result, the upsets continued as Malaysia's Azlan Iskandarcontinued his impressive form here as he removed fourth seed and five-time champion Amr Shabana.

The Egyptian was disappointed to lose out in a close finish to the first, and some early errors in the next kept the momentum on Iskandar's side. A 9/1 lead was converted to go two games up, and he maintained control to finish the match 11/9, 11/5, 11/6 to reach his first Hong Kong semi-final.

"I don’t think Shabana was at his best today, but I’ll take it," said a delighted winner. "My first semi in HK, a good day for Asia, 1 Hong Kong, 3 Malaysians…"

Concluding the day's play - which lasted eight and a half hours - with a typically efficient performance, second seed Karim Darwish despatched Stewart Boswell11/5, 11/4, 11/6 in 39 minutes  to move into his third successive Hong Kong semi-final, and make it a day with four upsets and four 'expected' victories.

"Overall, happy with my performance," said the Egyptian. "Last time I played Azlan was in the US Open, I was not 100% at my best, but normally, we have great matches, he is a good mate and a fair player. Looking forward to it…"

Semi-finals commence the Cultural Centre on Victoria Harbour at 18.00 on Saturday, weather permitting - adverse forecasts mean that a decision will be taken at 15.00 as to whether play can go ahead there, otherwise matches will be played at Hong Kong Squash Centre.