Semifinals day at the Delaware Investments U.S. Open at Drexel University, and the crowd were treated to a quartet of fine matches – two marathon women’s encounters which saw the top seed come back from the bring of defeat and the defending champion go out, followed by a pair of commanding performances from the men’s third and fourth seeds to defeat the top-ranked English pair.
Delaware Investments U.S. Open, Thu 11 Oct, Semifinals:
 Nicol David (Mas) bt [Q] Joelle King (Nzl) 11-8, 11-6, 5-11, 8-11, 11-7 (83m)
 Raneem El Weleily (Egy) bt  Laura Massaro (Eng) 7-11, 11-8, 11-9, 10-12, 11-4 (60m)
 Gregory Gaultier (Fra) bt  James Willstrop (Eng) 11-7, 11-2, 11-8 (53m)
 Ramy Ashour (Egy) bt  Nick Matthew (Eng) 15-13, 8-11, 11-8, 11-4 (74m)
Nicol back from the brink
For two games all looked well for Nicol David, who was bidding to reach her first U.S. Open final here at Drexel University in Philadelphia, as she went two games up against qualifier Joelle King, who was competing well enough but couldn’t stop the Malaysian top seed, world number one and world champion from keeping her nose in front with the patient, probing squash that is her stock in trade these days.
So, 11-6, 11-6 to the Malaysian.
But then the spectre of David’s last two tournaments, both of which she failed to win in a first since 2009, reared its ugly head as King struck back to take the next two games 11-5, 11-8, this time the Kiwi being the one who went, and stayed, ahead.
Not that the pattern of play had changed, but the odd unforced error or loose shot that heralded the end of the rally was now coming from Nicol rather than Joelle.
And so it continued into the fifth as Joelle took a 6-0 lead with Nicol seemingly unable to do much about it. She kept plugging away, as she does, and with Joelle perhaps playing a little too safe as she saw the upset on the horizon, the points started going the other way.
By the time Nicol got back to 6-all the momentum had well and truly turned again, and it was Joelle who was now struggling to find a way to finish off points.
From 6-all the end came quickly, Nicol resuming her dominant mode, playing more aggressively with even the lucky nicks at the back going her way now. It was only a loose shot resulting in a stroke at 10-6 that prevented 11 points in a row.
The winning shot was a crisply struck volley drop from midcourt, and Nicol was back from, if not the dead, then certainly the brink, and the unthinkable three losses in a row was averted.
“I just knew that it’s not over until it’s over,” said a delighted and relieved winner. “I’ve been there before and it’s just down to being determined not to let it go, not making any errors and getting my momentum back.
“I did that, I found my game, and I’m so pleased to win 3-2 and make the final!”
Raneem reaps revenge
Last night we lost the defending men’s champion as Nick Matthew won a five-game thriller against Amr Shabana to avenge his defeat in last year’s final, and tonight in the second women’s semifinal Raneem El Weleily also prevailed in five games to avenge her defeat in last week’s Carol Weymuller final and dethrone Laura Massaro in the process.
The match was a much sharper affair than the first, with fast-paced rallies and both players more than keen to exploit any openings they could create.
The Egyptian second seed amade a few errors, as she always does, but they became fewer and fewer as the match progressed and Massaro, who took the first 11-8, was having to work harder to stay in touch.
Raneem pulled clear from the middle of the second to take it 11-8, and came from 7-9 down to take the third 11-9 with four clean winners.
Laura held the advantage throughout the fourth, but was caught at 9-all after a series of perfect lengths fom the Egyptian racket. She earned a game ball with a dropshot but tinned her first chance. Raneem should have had match ball when she tinned the easiest of volleys with Laura stranded – “that’s one I’ll remember for a long time” she said afterwards – and there was no reprieve as Laura levelled 12-10.
“It feels great to be in the final,” said a happy winner, “she’s such a strong player I’m really happy I could beat her today.
“I was more balanced in my head today compared to yesterday,” she added. “It was still a bit up and down, but I was a lot calmer. Now I just need to get relaxed for the final …”
Gaultier gallops into the final
“I felt really good right from the start,” said Gregory Gaultier after a comprehensive straight-game win over top seed and world number one James Willstrop in the first men’s semifinal. “I felt that James wasn’t quite there, a little slow … or maybe I just played too well, I don’t know,” quipped the Frenchman.
And that just about summed up the match. Gaultier was always ahead, always seemed to be in charge of the rallies, and although many of them were long, Greg seemed to be the likely winner of them most of the time.
Three consecutive 80-minute plus matches can’t have helped Willstrop’s cause, but that’s not to detract from a fine performance from Gaultier, and a well-deserved 11-7, 11-2, 11-8 win and a place in the final
“He’s been playing so well and making all the finals,” added Gaultier, “and in the end it just takes its toll on your body, I’ve been there myself.
“It was fantastic to win a major event like this in 2006, and I’m pleased to be back in the final, it would be great if I could win it again, I just hope the next two play for five hours!”
Improved Ramy reaches the final
Ramy Ashour claimed the last remaining place in the finals with a display that very different from his showing last night when he beat Peter Barker by the skin of his teeth. Tonight he faced another Englishman in Nick Matthew, the second seed bidding to reach a second successive final.
It didn’t start too well for the Egyptian as Matthew took an early lead and increased it to 10-6. Ashour, seeming to be snapping his shots with mare angle and venom than last night, and skipping around court as well as ever, took the next five points and eventually took what proved to be a crucial lead 15-13 on his third game ball.
Matthew managed to contain his opponent in taking a second game he always led 11-8, but Ashour refused to be contained for the next two games in which he, this time, always led, taking the third narrowly 11-8 and the fourth more comfortably 11-4,
He finished it with a trademark volley drop that brought the appreciative crowd at Drexel University to its feet one final time.
“I’m happy with how I played tonight,” said Ramy,”I didn’t make the mistake I made yesterday of concentrating on what my opponent was doing. It’s always about how I deal with it mentally, and I was happy with that too tonight.
“I’ll need to make sure I can recover and be at 100% tomorrow, Greg looks to be on top form …”
Matthew reflected on the match: “It’s not the first time I’ve lost a lead like I had in the first to Ramy, so he must be doing something right. I thought I’d won it on a video review – that didn’t go my way but I still had four more chances. I think I should have won the first and if I’d gone 2-0 up it might have been different.
“He played well though, he adapted to tonight’s slower conditions better than me, and my defence wasn’t as good as Pete’s last night and the work he made me do took its toll and I faded a bit in the fourth. In the end he got on top and deserved to win.”