Day NINE, and we were at the semifinal stage with four matches in the PSA and WSA World Series draws—offering equal prize money for the first time ever—in Drexel University’s John A. Daskalakis Athletic Center in Philadelphia.
Four of the players enjoyed healthy leads in the head to head records going into tonight’s matches, and it was those four who won through to the finals—but it was easier for some than others.
Laura Massaro reached a second final in three years with a marathon five-game victory over Low Wee Wern, but the Malaysian fans will have someone to cheer on tomorrow after defending champion Nicol David beat Joelle King in a repeat of their 2012 semifinal, but 3-0 this time around.
In the men’s semis top seed Gregory Gaultier looked in great form as he beat Karim Darwish in straight games, and in the final he’ll meet Nick Matthew after the 2011 finalist maintained his winning record over fellow Englishman James Willstrop with a solid 3-0 victory.
 Laura Massaro (ENG) bt  Low Wee Wern (MAS) 11-6, 9-11, 11-6, 9-11, 11-7 (86m)
 Nicol David (MAS) bt  Joelle King (NZL) 14-12, 11-4, 11-6 (38m)
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt  Karim Darwish (EGY) 11-7, 11-4, 12-10 (46m)
 Nick Matthew (ENG) bt  James Willstrop (ENG) 11-3, 11-6, 11-5 (42m)
Massaro outlasts Low
Second seed Laura Massaro reached her second U.S. Open final in three years, but my, how she had to work for it to get past Malaysia’s Low Wee Wern, who yesterday put out third seed Raneem El Weleily in another five-setter.
This was a cat and mouse type of match, lots of long, patient rallies, one or the other upping the pace when a chance arose, or scrambling to retrieve a shot then settling down again. And there was little to split them, either within the rallies or on the scoreboard.
For the record, Massaro recovered from 1-4 to take the first 11-6; Low was a point or two ahead for most of the second, taking it 11-9; Massaro pushed ahead from 3-all in the third to a 7-3 lead which she converted 11-6; Low came from 4-1 down in the fourth to level at 6-all, then led before taking it 11-9.
Massaro took the lead 8-7, appealed a let which was over-ruled into a stroke for 9-7, hit a winning boast from deep for 10-7 and a loud “C’mon,” then won the match with just about the only shot she had been consistently winning points with, a little crosscourt flicked dropshot.
“I started well, it’s just a pity I couldn’t carry on like that for the whole match,” she said. “But Wee Wern played well, she’s like a human sponge, she just keeps soaking everything up and you end up just having to go for something.
“It’s great to be back in the final in a big event like this. It was a long break over the summer so it feels good to be back playing these events again.”
David Back in the Final
Looking calm and playing with her usual authority, David denied King the opportunities to attack that had taken the Kiwi to a 6-0 lead in the deciding game of last year’s semifinal at this same venue.
David led 8-2 in the opening game, but now, a year later, it was King’s turn to mount a comeback as she levelled at 8-all and earned a game ball at 10-9, helped along the way by some uncharacteristic errors from David.
The world number one held firm though, took the game 14-12 and played the next two games the way she had the first half of that first game, bossing them 11-4, 11-6 and a place in the final. No doubt the sizeable and noisy Malaysian crowd will be back for that.
“I started well but Joelle came back strong at the end of the first,” said David. “I told myself I couldn’t let her get that one, so I dug in, then managed to push through in the next two games.
“It’s good to be back in the final, I’ll just rest up, focus on what I need to do and go out and give it all …”
Greg on Song
The top-seeded Frenchman was in control from the outset, controlling the pace, controlling his opponent’s movement, slotting in crisp winners when the chance arose, and led 6-3. Darwish, although subdued compared to last night’s performance, threatened a comeback but, from 7-6, Gaultier eased away again.
Darwish managed to break free of the shackles in the third—Gaultier was always ahead, but never comfortably so. Darwish appealed a let that became a stroke to level at 9-all, then saved match ball on another stroke.
“I stuck to my game plan and was pleased with how I played in the first two games,” said Gaultier. “He played unbelievable squash to beat Shorbagy 3-0 yesterday, I was aware of that and knew I had to be focused from the start.
“In the third I went short too early, and he’s better at the front than me, so it became tough and I was just lucky enough to win the points at the end.
“I’m happy to win in three and really pleased to be in another final, it’s what we’re all here for.”
Matthew in Three
The seedings and the world rankings put Willstrop ahead, but when these Yorkshire rivals meet, Matthew has won every time since December 2007, and not just in their 15 PSA meetings since then.
Matthew certainly seems to have Willstrop’s number. He seems to know where to go for each of Willstrop’s shots, patiently controls the rallies and builds a situation where James is out of position enough to force an easy winner or a stroke. It’s never as easy as that sounds, of course; we’re talking about two of the best three players in the world here, but in a lot of their exchanges there’s a sense of inevitability about it.
Matthew started well, taking a 6-1 lead in the first and closed it out 11-3. The second was level up to 5-all but then Matthew pulled away again, taking it 11-6. Willstrop came out strongly for the third, led 4-2 but Matthew took seven points in a row before closing out the match 11-5 after 42 minutes.
“It’s good to get through in three, Greg’s in great form so I’ll need to be as fresh as possible for the final. I’m not putting any pressure on myself, he’s played seventy-five matches this season and I’ve played four, so he’s much more match sharp than I am! I’ll just go out to express myself and enjoy it, and if I happen to win that would be great!”
Head to Head stats from SquashInfo.com