COMING into the British Open in Hull, Sheffield’s Nick Matthew would have snapped your hand off if you’d have offered him a place in the semi-finals.
Given he’s a three-time winner of the ‘Wimbledon of squash’ you’d be forgiven for thinking that was a lowering of expectations from the world No 2 and third seed for the event.
But, given where Matthew has come from more reecntly, his meeting with Mohamed Elshorbagy in the last four represents quite a startling achievement.
Just over a month ago, Matthew was writhing around an Egyptian court in agony after suffering an ankle injury and his hopes of appearing at the Airco Arena in Hull appeared slim.
His performances earlier this week have suggested he is still some way from being 100 per cent fit – the 34-year-old has admitted he needs to avoid similar, tentative starts – but he has called upon his reserves of experience and legendary reserves of endurance to get him through to the business end.
It was in a semi-final in El Gouna against today’s opponent that Matthew suffered his ankle injury, the Yorkshireman having started well by winning the opening game.
But, while there was sympathy from his opponent at the time of the injury, world No 1 Elshorbagy will be in less friendly mood today being desperate to live up to his pre-tournament billing as favourite and reach his first final at the event.
But, having now reached the last four, Matthew believes he can go on to clinch a fourth title.
“The competitive animal that I am, I wouldn’t have played just to make up the numbers,” said Matthew after impressing in yesterday’s 11-7, 11-7, 11-7 quarter-final victory over France’s Mathieu Castagnet.
“I guess if you’d offered me a place in the semi-finals before the tournament I’m sure I would have taken it because it means I would have been feeling healthy.
“But once you get to a semi-final anything can happen – the four guys who get to that stage are all capable of winning it.”
After a hard-fought second round triumph over French No 3 Gregoire Marche, Matthew – who lost in last year’s final to Gregory Gaultier –encountered little trouble from world No 11 Castagnet.
And while he is confident of repeating the victory he enjoyed over Elshorbagy in this year’s Windy City Open in Chicago, Matthew acknowledges he needs to set out his stall early and impose himself on the Egyptian if he is reach tomorrow’s final.
“I definitely need to start games stronger,” he added.
“I felt like in each game (on Friday) that I was four or five down before I got going, so considering that, I was delighted to win in three.
“There’s not too many English players left in the draw so the crowd can save their voices for the home players that are left and hopefully it will be packed out for the semi-final.”
Shorbagy ensured his dream of a first British Open title remained alive with a straight-games victory over seventh seed Simon Rosner from Germany, winning 11-6, 11-6, 11-5 in 37 minutes.
Defending champion Gregory Gaultier made it safely through to the other semi-final, easing past Egypt’s Mazen Hesham 11-7, 11-7, 11-9. He will face Colombia’s Miguel Rodriguez, the fourth seed who beat Hesham’s compatriot Tarek Momen 11-8, 5-11, 11-5, 11-7 .
In the women’s draw, there was a major upset in the afternoon session when qualifier Delia Arnold, from Malaysia, ousted second seed Raneem El Welily, from Egypt.
Arnold, ranked 29th in the world, came from behind twice to beat the world No 2 4-11, 16-14, 10-12, 11-6, 12-10 in 69 minutes.
“I can’t believe I’m standing here, I don’t know what to feel,” said 29-year-old Arnold afterwards. “I’m really surprised, I haven’t done anything different, I’m doing exactly the same things, but this week, it all seems to work.”
Arnold will face Camille Serme in today’s semi-final after the Frenchwoman also took five games to go through, seeing off fourth seed Nour El Sherbini 6-11, 11-7, 7-11, 11-9, 11-9 in just over an hour.
England’s Laura Massaro will face world No 1 Nicol David.