Pontefract squash star James Willstrop’s comeback after hip surgery in early September gathered momentum in the El Gouna International in Egypt.
He faced a difficult first round match against South Afican number one and world number 14 Steve Coppinger and reversed the 3-1 loss he had had to Coppinger in his first tournament since his injury, the Swedish Open in February.
The next day he beat practice partner and fellow Harrogate resident Chris Simpson who had put out the legendary Amr Shabana, 3-1, quite comfortably.
So to the quarter final and the match everyone wanted to see with Willstrop against world champion Ramy Ashour, himself returning from injury.
Matches between Ashour and Willstrop have never disappointed and even though they have both been injured their quarter final in El Gouna was exceptional. They are mutually respectful of each other and friends too, so the match was played, as it always is, in the best of spirits. Ashour won the first 11-7 but Willstrop, moving freely, levelled the score, winning the second 11-9, both players playing with real freedom and racket skill.
The third was to prove crucial and Willstrop lost it on a tiebreak 12-10, unlucky when a strange decision went against him in the late stages.
A 2-1 lead is very significant in matches of top world class and Willstrop’s intensity level dropped marginally in the fourth game but sufficient for Ashour to take advantage to run out a 3-1 winner after a match which was widely acclaimed.
The championship was very encouraging for Willstrop, justifying the patience he has shown in his recovery. Even more significant was that Ashour went on to take the title, beating world number one Mohammed El Shorbagy 3-2 in the final.
Willstrop has been selected for England for the European Team Championships in Denmark later this month which will be followed by the Allam British Open in Hull from May 9 to 17. Because his injury has caused him to drop out of the world’s top ten for only the second time in ten years the British Open draw has him matched with El Shorbagy in the first round, a match perfectly acceptable as a final before Willstrop’s injury.
After his performance in Egypt, Willstrop’s chances have improved dramatically and the Egyptian will not be relishing the thought of his first round enncounter.