RAIN may have ‘stopped play’ in the British Open at the KC Stadium on Thursday night, but it didn’t prevent Yorkshire’s James Willstrop from edging closer to a showdown with the seemingly unbeatable tournament favourite Ramy Ashour.
The well-worn phrase - no doubt to be applied to the Test match at Headingley Carnegie which starts on Friday - isn’t one you would naturally associate with squash, it being an indoor sport. But, with the main stage in Hull being a covered all-glass court at one end of the football pitch, it was always possible the elements might have an adverse effect at some point during the week.
Willstrop was only 10 minutes into his second round clash with Germany’s Simon Rosner when rain began dripping through on to the court, ultimately making it unplayable.
With some of the hardy souls in the football stand fearing the match would have to be postponed until Friday, organisers quickly sourced an alternative venue five minutes down the road at the Hull and East Riding squash club.
Around 100 spectators made the short trip just before 10pm to witness Willstrop - trailing 6-5 at the time of the unscheduled delay - turn the match around to go on and defeat his opponent 11-9, 11-1, 11-6, the match finishing shortly after 11pm (see video footage of Willstrop v Rosner at the top of this page).
It sees Willstrop line-up in Friday’s quarter-finals against Australia’s Cameron Pilley, who staged a magnificent comeback from two games down to cause an upset by defeating Egypt’s Mohamed El Shorbagy, seeded sixth, 3-2.
At stake for Willstrop is a likely appointment with Ashour, whose comprehensive 11-2, 11-4, 11-9 defeat of Harrogate-based Chris Simpson took his unbeaten run to 38 games - his last reverse coming in the final of this event last year against Sheffield’s Nick Matthew.
Ashour faces Spain’s Borja Golan in his quarter-final with the eighth seed needing to produce something remarkable to prevent the Egyptian from reaching the weekend.
Willstrop said after his win that he hoped all the remaining games could be staged at the intended venue, although a dismal weather forecast for most of the day on Friday means a return to the accommodating Hull and East Riding club cannot be completely ruled out.
“It’s not ideal, we all want to play on the glass court and hopefully we’ll get the weather we need to see this tournament out,” he said.
“It’s great that so many people stuck with us and came over here to watch us at this time of night.”
Earlier in the day, Harrogate’s Jenny Duncalf swept into the quarter-finals of the women’s draw to earn a shot at gaining revenge against the player who beat her at the same stage in last year’s event.
The 30-year-old eighth seed enjoyed a second successive clean sweep, following up Tuesday’s comprehensive defeat of Latasha Khan in the first round with an equally simple victory over Egypt’s Nour El Tayeb, taking just 25 minutes - one more than against Khan - to win 14-12, 11-4, 11-4.
First on court on Thursday, Duncalf will have a bit more time to prepare for her encounter with third seed Raneem El Weleily, with the pair due on court at around 6pm for a repeat of their last eight match at the O2 Arena last year.
On that occasion, Duncalf went in as the higher seed, but came unstuck against the Egyptian, losing 3-0 in under half an hour.
An injury-struck 2012 saw Duncalf slip down the world rankings after more than three years as the world No 2. But her form so far this year, and in particular this week, gives her the belief that she can reverse last year’s result and move her way back up the list.
“Last year, I was the higher seed but lost,” said Duncalf. “So, hopefully, that can repeat itself this year - obviously in my favour.
“Raneem is a good player, she looked good in her match which I watched after I had played and, on paper, she’ll be favourite going in.
“But I feel like her equal and I feel like I’m in some good form this week. It would be great if I can make it through to the weekend - because it is the British Open and particularly because it’s here in Yorkshire.”
El Weleily, who was given a slight scare by Malaysia’s Delia Arnold in the first round at Pontefract on Tuesday, had less trouble against Ireland’s Madeline Perry, taking just 25 minutes to win 11-7, 12-10, 11-4.
Second seed Laura Massaro found it tough going against India’s Dipika Pallikal before prevailing 7-11, 12-10, 11-9, 11-6 to set up a quarter-final tie with Omneya Abdel Kawy, who defeated fellow Egyptian Nour El Sherbini.