JAMES Willstrop insists he will have to be at the peak of his game if he is to stand any chance of qualifying for the North American Open semi-finals.
The 28-year-old world No 2 is top seed for the event in Richmond, Virginia, and could yet find himself facing fellow Yorkshireman Nick Matthew in Saturday’s final.
But, after being given a stern reminder of how well he will need to play to get there by former world No 1 Thierry Lincou in the second round on Wednesday night, the Leeds star has been handed another tough challenge to overcome in the last eight.
It took Willstrop 50 minutes to get past Lincou at the Westwood club, with the Frenchman proving an extremely difficult obstacle to overcome, partocularly in the first game where he held game balls at 10-8, 12-11 and 14-13 before Willstrop dug deep to win it 16-14 in 27 minutes.
The Frenchman again led 6-5 in the second game but Willstrop finished strongly to win 11-7 and then took the third 11-6.
Shabana, regarded almost as one of the world PSA Tour’s elder statesman, beat Willstrop in the last four at the World Series Finals in London last month, and ensured another meeting with the Yorkshireman after edging out England’s Adrian Grant 11-8, 11-5, 4-11, 11-6 in a match lasting just shy of an hour.
Willstrop, who is likely to meet France’s Gregory Gaultier should he see off Shabana, said he would be allowed no slack in his quarter-final clash with former world No 1 Shabana.
“We are fortunate to have such great players in our game, men who are fantastic competitors, gentlemen both on and off the court and act as superb role models and ambassadors in our sport,” said Willstrop.
“Thierry has always been an inspiration for the way he plays the game and conducts himself, and the way he is still competing deserves enormous respect.
“As for Amr, he has won four world titles and is still continuing to operate at the highest levels.
“Some people attempt to write off these guys, simply because of their age, but that is just a number, nothing more. They continue to inspire but I have just beaten one of them and have a job to do on Thursday night and will have to be at my best to win again.”
Sheffield-born world No 1 Matthew acknowledged he would have to improve his game in order to reach the last four after struggling to get past Finland’s Olli Tuominen in their second round encounter.
The 31-year-old took 55 minutes to defeat his opponent 11-9, 4-11, 11-8, 11-2 and now faces Germany’s world No 20 Simon Rosner, who overcame Botswana’s Alister Walker 11-6, 11-6, 11-6.
It was the second tough match for Matthew, winner of the Tournament of Champions and British National Championships in recent weeks, with him having to endure a 92-minute marathon in the first round against stubborn Colombian Miguel Angel Rodriguez.
“It’s not what I wanted with all these long matches on the midnight shift, having seen guys like Greg and Ramy winning quickly in the afternoon matches,” said Matthew.
“I know I will need to play better against Rosner. He is playing well and looking relaxed. We played each other in the World Team Championships in Paderborn and it felt like the whole of Germany was against me!”
Should he win, Matthew will likely come up against former world No 1, Ramy Ashour, the man he succeeded at the top of the rankings at the start of 2011.
The 24-year-old Egyptian has been out for the past few months with injury problems but has looked impressive so far in Richmond, booking a last eight clash with countryman Karim Darwish after defeating Australia’s Cameron Pilley 11-6, 11-7, 11-9.
2nd round results.
 James Willstrop (ENG) bt Thierry Lincou (FRA) 16-14, 11-7, 11-6 (50m)
 Amr Shabana (EGY) bt Adrian Grant (ENG) 11-8, 11-5, 4-11, 11-6 (59m)
[Q] Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) bt  Mohd Azlan Iskandar (MAS) 11-8, 11-4 ret. (26m)
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt Shahier Razik (CAN) 11-1, 11-4, 11-4 (29m)
 Ramy Ashour (EGY) bt Cameron Pilley (AUS) 11-6, 11-7, 11-9 (28m)
 Karim Darwish (EGY) bt [Q] Zac Alexander (AUS) 11-5, 11-4, 11-3 (30m)
Simon Rosner (GER) bt Alister Walker (BOT) 11-6, 11-6, 11-6 (46m)
 Nick Matthew (ENG) bt Olli Tuominen (FIN) 11-9, 4-11, 11-8, 11-2 (55m).
 James Willstrop (ENG) v  Amr Shabana (EGY)
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v [Q] Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY)
 Ramy Ashour (EGY) v  Karim Darwish (EGY)
 Nick Matthew (ENG) v Simon Rosner (GER)