Egyptian maestro Ramy Ashour rekindled his love affair with Richmond in a hugely entertaining match against determined English underdog Chris Simpson in the first round of the Davenport North American Open, the second PSA World Series squash event of the year in Virginia.
“The advertising campaigns say Virginia is for lovers,” said event spokesman Alan Thatcher. “Well, the Virginians certainly love having Ramy in town for the Davenport North American Open, one of the elite group of PSA World Series events which has rocked up in Richmond for a tenth anniversary tournament this year.
“Ashour has a genius that can’t be coached, a touch and feel for the ball that not only his fans in the crowd wish they could emulate, but so too do most of the leading professionals who share the court with him,” explained Thatcher.
Having won the North American Open back in 2009, and lost the last three finals, Ashour returned as world champion, world number and top seed for a week of high-calibre squash on the glass court at the Westwood Club.
The 25-year-old from Cairo threatened to roll aside English challenger Simpson as he won the opening game 11-4 as Simpson nervously miss-hit three clear openings for winners.
However, the crowd got behind Simpson as the two 25-year-olds locked horns in the second game. The Englishman matched Ashour’s artistry at the front of the court and held game ball at 10-8.
But the Egyptian hit back and thought he had won the game, only for Simpson’s video review appeal to overrule the referee’s decision.
The Englishman closed out the game 14-12, the crowd roared and the smile disappeared from Ashour’s face for the first time in the match.
Back on court, Ashour ruthlessly set about his business in the third game, attacking at every opportunity to win it 11-4 in quick time.
Simpson battled heroically throughout the fourth, but Ashour’s skill level was in another galaxy as he clinched victory in 43 minutes.
The delighted Ashour told the Richmond crowd: “It’s great to be back but I might have to avoid the wonderful hospitality on offer this week because I need to keep in shape and stay focused.
“A lot of great players are in this tournament and Cameron Pilley will be a tough test in the next round. He is a very good player and I have to take it one match at a time.
“It’s great to be back at number one but a lot of stresses and issues come with that, and I need to keep the demons at bay.”
Ashour’s brother Hisham Mohd Ashour also booked a place in the second round against fellow Egyptian Karim Darwishwith a surprise win over the younger and fitter Indian number one Saurav Ghosal.
The 30-year-old Ashour looked a little rusty but still managed to produce a succession of blindingly powerful shots to overcome Ghosal.
Darwish heaved a sigh of relief after seeing off an immense challenge from French qualifier Mathieu Castagnet for the second year in a row in this tournament.
Castagnet won the second game and the 11-5, 10-12, 11-9, 12-10 scoreline illustrates just how hard he worked and how tantalizingly close he came to scoring a major upset.
England’s reigning champion James Willstrop looked in dazzling form as he won a Battle of Britain clash against Scottish number one Alan Clyne in straight games in just 28 minutes.
Australian Pilley was even quicker as he blitzed his way past Egyptian qualifier Mohd Ali Anwar Reda in just 27 minutes.
RESULTS: PSA World Series Davenport North American Open, Richmond, Virginia, USA
1st round (top half of draw):
 Ramy Ashour (EGY) bt Chris Simpson (ENG) 11-4, 12-14, 11-4, 11-6 (43m)
Cameron Pilley (AUS) bt [Q] Mohd Ali Anwar Reda (EGY) 11-3, 11-5, 11-4 (27m)
Simon Rosner (GER) bt Stephen Coppinger (RSA) 11-8, 10-12, 11-5, 11-8 (64m)
 Omar Mosaad (EGY) bt [Q] Shawn Delierre (CAN) 9-11, 11-8, 11-4, 11-8 (48m)
 Karim Darwish (EGY) bt [Q] Mathieu Castagnet (FRA) 11-5, 10-12, 11-9, 12-10 (65m)
Hisham Mohd Ashour (EGY) bt Saurav Ghosal (IND) 7-11, 11-6, 11-13, 11-9, 11-9 (59m)
Miguel Angel Rodriguez (COL) bt [Q] Mohd Nafiizwan Adnan (MAS) 11-9, 6-11, 11-8, 11-1 (44m)
 James Willstrop (ENG) bt Alan Clyne (SCO) 11-3, 11-6, 11-8 (28m)