Hong Kong Deny Hosts In Major Upset In Marseille
Hong Kong China relegated France to their lowest finish in the WSF Men’s World Team Squash Championship for at least 16 years after upsetting the hosts in the quarter-finals of the biennial World Squash Federation event in front of a capacity French crowd at Salle Vallier in Marseille.
The third seeds, led by world No.1 Gregory Gaultier, were expected to survive this early encounter en-route to reaching their predicted place in the semi-finals, before then fully exploiting home advantage in Sunday’s final by winning the title for the first time.
Hong Kong were the fifth seeds – bidding to achieve their highest ever position since finishing in 8th place in 2003.
Gaultier was in his usual defiant form as he put France ahead with his fourth successive straight games win in the championship.
The match against the Hong Kong number one Max Lee, however, ended in controversial circumstances when, some 10 minutes after winning match ball at 10-9, he and Lee returned to the court to play out the finish again after it was realised that the referee had miscalled the score at 9-8 when it was in fact eight-all.
The crowd went silent when Lee moved ahead to game ball at 11-10 – but the French ‘General’ was in no mood to drop his first game of the tournament and snatched the next three points to close out the match 11-6, 11-5, 13-11 to wild applause from the partisan crowd.
After celebrating this early lead, the crowd was silenced again when Hong Kong drew level when third string Yip Tsz Fung fought back from 2/1 down to beat France’s world No.27 Mathieu Castagnet 11-7, 7-11, 9-11, 11-2, 11-4 in 67 minutes.
The decider had the crowd on the edges of their seats – with home favourite Gregoire Marche facing four-time Hong Kong champion Leo Au (both pictured above), with just seven positions between them in the world rankings.
It was a nail-biting affair in which Marche wins were greeted by deafening applause and Au successes by silence. After 57 minutes of tense action on the all-glass showcourt it was Au who emerged victorious, winning 11-6, 7-11, 11-8, 11-2 to end the French dream.
“It is a very special achievement for Hong Kong,” said 27-year-old Au minutes later. “We put a lot of effort into our preparations for this and really wanted to do well here.
“The crowd was really behind France, but I had my team-mates in my corner and that helped me a lot.”
Chris Robertson, who only took over the mantle of Hong Kong national coach a few months ago, was understandably delighted with his team’s success: “It all started when Max was 2/0 down in the first match, during which time he had been outplayed by Gaultier.
“He then showed a lot of character to take the third game to a tie-break – and, even though he lost, this gave confidence to the rest of the team.
“When Tsz Fung was 2/1 down in his match, I said to him that he needed to stay calm and trust his skills – and he kept up the pressure in the fourth and fifth and won.
“Leo is in good form and he handled the pressure brilliantly in the decider.
“We are really delighted with this success, but we want to build on this, going forward. They’ve created history already – but we can relax now when we play Egypt tomorrow.”
Event favourites Egypt, now boasting a squad with three players in the world top five (based on the new December PSA world rankings), cruised into the semis courtesy of a 3/0 win over surprise opponents Scotland, the 10th seeds.
Karim Abdel Gawad put the three-time champions into the lead following a 12-10, 11-6, 11-6 win over Alan Clyne. Scot Kevin Moran had few answers to the mercurial skills of the ‘Artist’ that is Ramy Ashour as the former world number one took just 24 minutes to win 11-5, 11-9, 11-4.
“It’s an honour to be here,” Ashour (pictured above in Marseille action with Moran) told the crowd afterwards. “I have all the members of the team, and the coach, in my head while I’m playing – I am really enjoying this kind of team spirit.”
Egypt national coach Ashraf Hanafi echoed Ashour’s message later: “The most important thing is the team spirit.
“If we meet France tomorrow, the pressure will be on us as they will have the crowd behind them. But our players are experienced enough to deal with that.
“We will be watching their matches tonight. It’s our homework – we have to do it!”
Defending champions England, the No.2 seeds, were the first team to secure a place in the semi-finals – incredibly, the country’s 18th successive appearance in the event’s last four. But the five-times champions were given a hard ride in the opening first string match against eighth seeds India when Saurav Ghosal twice drew level with England’s seasoned campaigner Nick Matthew (both pictured below) and, in the decider, was only points away from his first ever win over the former world number one.
When the two players clashed at match ball in the fifth, the referee awarded a let – which Matthew questioned, requesting a ‘video review’. The video review official overruled the decision and awarded the Englishman a stroke, thus putting England ahead after 76 minutes in an 11-6, 6-11, 11-7, 10-12, 11-9 scoreline.
It was Matthew’s second five-game battle in a row after the 37-year-old world No.6 staged a mighty recovery from two games down in the last 16 round to beat Swiss number one Nicolas Müller.
A consummate 3/0 win by the English number three Daryl Selby over Harinder Pal Singh Sandhu in the second match put England into the semis – and James Willstrop beat Vikram Malhotra in the dead best-of-three rubber to give England maximum points.
“Nick wasn’t happy with his performance yesterday but we thought it would serve him well here today,” explained England coach David Campion afterwards. “Saurav played incredibly well today – his recent results have been really good, he is certainly playing above his ranking. Nick had to dig deep today to get through – he is playing on a different level today.
“Daryl played a good game – you always know what you’re going to get with him, it was a hard and solid display.
“We are not looking to peak too soon here – but we are very ambitious in our aims,” continued Campion.
“Now we have to go and relax and get ready for tomorrow.”
Indian national coach Cyrus Poncha was also full of praise for his number one: “Saurav really outshone himself today – he really worked Nick hard. For his whole life he has been hammered by Nick and today he had a little window! In the fifth game it was neck and neck.
“Today he showed that he is without doubt the greatest Indian squash player ever.”
England will face Australia after the fourth seeds recovered from a match down to beat Trans Tasman rivals New Zealand.
“We beat one of our great sporting rivals tonight and we now face another one tomorrow,” said Australian team manager Paul Price. “We’re ready to throw everything we’ve got at England to beat them!”
 EGYPT bt  SCOTLAND 3/0
Karim Abdel Gawad bt Alan Clyne 12-10, 11-6, 11-6 (34m)
Ramy Ashour bt Kevin Moran 11-5, 11-9, 11-4 (24m)
Marwan Elshorbagy bt Greg Lobban 11-7, 11-8 (32m)
 HONG KONG CHINA bt  FRANCE 2/1
Max Lee lost to Gregory Gaultier 6-11, 5-11, 11-13 (45m)
Yip Tsz Fung bt Mathieu Castagnet 11-7, 7-11, 9-11, 11-2, 11-4 (67m)
Leo Au bt Gregoire Marche 11-6, 7-11, 11-8, 11-2 (57m)
 AUSTRALIA bt  NEW ZEALAND 2/1
Ryan Cuskelly lost to Paul Coll 8-11, 11-8, 6-11, 11-9, 9-11 (97m)
Zac Alexander bt Evan Williams 11-4, 11-6, 12-10 (35m)
Cameron Pilley bt Campbell Grayson 11-3, 11-8, 11-9 (49m)
 ENGLAND bt  INDIA 3/0
Nick Matthew bt Saurav Ghosal 11-6, 6-11, 11-7, 10-12, 11-9 (76m)
Daryl Selby bt Harinder Pal Singh Sandhu 11-2, 11-4, 11-2 (37m)
James Willstrop bt Vikram Malhotra 11-4, 9-11, 11-8 (26m)