JAMES Willstrop – long regarded as one of the most stylish players in the men’s game – proved yesterday that he can also win ‘ugly’ after clinching a place in the semi-finals of the World Championships in Qatar.
The world No 1 and top seed for the tournament defeated Spain’s Borja Golan 11-7, 11-7, 11-5 in 65 hard-fought and gruelling minutes.
It leaves the 29-year-old Yorkshireman just one step away from a second successive world final, following last year’s defeat to long-time rival Nick Matthew, the Sheffield-born player who maintained his bid for a third straight title with a four-game win over Egypt’s Amr Shabana.
Waiting for Willstrop in today’s first semi-final (around 3.30pm UK time), will be an unexpected opponent in the shape of Mohamed Al Shorbagy, the eighth seed who caused something of an upset in defeating fellow Egyptian and fourth seed Karim Darwish.
Willstrop admitted yesterday’s win over the unseeded Golan wasn’t the “prettiest”, but will be aware he is firm favourite going into today’s match, having won six of his previous seven encounters against 21-year-old Shorbagy – the last one coming in the quarter-finals of the US Open in October.
“It wasn’t pretty and not the best match to be involved in,” said Willstrop. “People have had recent issues with movement but I’m not meaning to block. Sometimes squash brings out these issues.
“But you need to win these ropey matches. People think I am a rhythmical player – but I showed I can win scrappy too.”
As for Matthew, he will be reunited with Ramy Ashour, the man who defeated him in the semi-finals of the recent Hong Kong Open.
Matthew was given – as expected – a stern test in the last eight yesterday, losing the first game against former world No 1 Shabana before bouncing back in confident style to triumph 11-5, 9-11, 11-5, 11-4 in 64 minutes.
“I’m just extremely happy to get through,” said the No 2 seed, bidding to become the first player since Pakistan legend Jansher Khan to win the world title three times in a row.
“The top half of the draw is difficult enough, but the bottom half of the draw is just very hard.”
Fifth seed Ashour – aiming for a second world title – overcame third seed Gregory Gaultier 12-10, 10-12, 11-6, 9-11, 11-3 in an exhilarating 92-minute clash.