R3 : Afternoon matches

Round Three (bottom) afternoon matches

[9/16] Rowan Elaraby (Egy) 3-0 [7] Joelle King (Nzl)          11-6, 12-10, 11-8 (28m)
[9/16] Gregoire Marche (Fra) 3-1 Raphael Kandra (Ger)  6-11, 11-3, 11-9, 11-9 (56m)
[8] Salma Hany (Egy) 3-0 Olivia Fiechter (Usa)                         11-3, 11-4, 11-6 (27m)
[5] Karim Abdel Gawad (Egy) 3-0 Karim El Hammamy (Egy)  11-6, 15-13, 11-6 (70m)

[9/16] Rowan Elaraby (Egy) 3-0 [7] Joelle King (Nzl)

Joelle commented today “this is probably the worst match I played for a long time”.

And she was blanking right. I had the impression to see the ‘Old’ Joelle, the one before Hadrian Stiff and Bristol training. In and out of the match, making errors on simple shots. Then back full blast, giving it all.

To be honest, the second game is the crucial one, as the Kiwi was mentally and physically back in there with “what she had today” as she said. Nothing between the players the whole way, she had a chance to take it at 10/9, but a few funny bounces that she couldn’t handle, and despite diving to try and compensate the bounce, it’s a 2/0 lead 12/10 in 10m for Tinkerbell.

Now, yesterday, when I asked Rowan who she was playing the next round, she had a lovely light smile when she said the name of Joelle King – she had played her in 2019 and beat her then in 5. I saw in her body, in her eyes, that she knew she could do it but without having the pressure to do it.

And when Rowan is 2/0 up, at home, against a better ranked player, she is very hard to beat.

Up she went 8/3, a silly no let at the point seemed to get her out of focus, that’s Joelle’s cue to come back threatening and bursting with energy, 8/8. But out of the blue, Tinkerbell is back and strings the next three winner in no time.

Joelle :
Probably the … game I played for a long time to be honest. From the get go, I felt like off. Sometimes, you feel like that, not tracking the ball. I was hitting the ball half court, I felt really flat, the movement wasn’t there… I just felt really really off.

I was trying to get into it with what I had, and it wasn’t enough. Sometimes, it just happens.

I don’t know what to say today except that it was just not good enough… Back to the drawing board.

Tinkerbell :
When I was talking to my mental coach Mohamed Shoukry, I told him I just want to enjoy my squash. And he told me, trust the work you have produced during those past weeks, and just be who you are.

So I told myself, play as freely as if you were at the stadium, playing anyone, just enjoy, relax, and play your squash. And that’s what I did, I enjoyed every single point.

I know Joelle has wonderful hands, she volleys so well, she loves being in control, so my coach had told me to make the shots are accurate as possible, not being too passive, or/and as wide as possible when crosscourting.

In the last game, I started getting tense again, so I kept reminding myself to relax, and I just played three winners.

Gregoire Marche (FRA) 3-1 Raphael Kandra (GER) 

For Fork sake !!!! What an incredible match. I haven’t had so much fun for a long time!!! Two absolute lunatic gladiators, fighting for their life/quarters on the glass. The rallies, incredibly fast from start to finish, with two different styles.

Rafi, finally getting his confidence back in his squash, and the pleasure that comes with it, was boasting and volley dropping everything under the Gouna sun.

While Grégoire, trying to pin him at the back with spending glued lines and lobs, hammering the German backhand, was giving all his physicality – the match reminded me of his encounter with Mazen Hesham in Nantes a few years ago.

An advert for squash: fair match, clean players, respectful, clever squash, attacking and still patient, minimum of errors.

More of those please. Incredible moment out there. Watch it on replay SquashTV

Rafi :
I’m actually not too disappointed because I know where I’m coming from in this tournament and how long my journey was.

I reached the third round, that was already a big achievement, Greg is an up and coming player, he is playing so well, he is knocking at the top 10 at the moment. So I knew I had to play my A game to beat him.

And I was nearly there to be honest. In patches I had the feeling that I was frustrating him, that he didn’t know what to do, he was a bit scared to come to the front, and that gave me a lot of confidence as well.

On the other hand it’s very physical against him, he makes you run a lot, I felt fine actually, it was hard but not too bad. And overall, I realise already that it was a good match, and that I finally have the feeling I appreciate the way I’m playing, like I said two days ago, I’m enjoying it. And that’s the most important thing.

Coming back in my next tournaments, I’ll have more confidence in my game, and I hope I can start where I finished this tournament.

Greg :
First game, I couldn’t find the right balance, was struggling to find my lengths, and I found myself wanting to finish the point too soon, hence silly unforced errors, the opposite of what I wanted to do.

I think the pressure had gotten to me a bit. First time I had an opportunity to reach a quarter without having to outplay a top 5. And I didn’t play a quarter for a long time. So a bit tense.

I really wanted to win that match, so from the second onwards, I find a find a way to relax and settle down, found my length, knowing that Rafi was coming back playing at a very high level, one doesn’t beat Lucas Serme 3/0 by playing poor squash!

I think it was a very mental match. And that’s where I really improved, before I would have let go for easy points at crucial times, whereas now, I’m far more solid on those points, thanks to my work with Mathieu Benoît and of course, my coach Thomas Adriens. Work that you do day in day out, physically and mentally.

So now I show my opponent that he’ll have to come and win the points from me, cause I ain’t given them away for free! And that makes the difference, he is getting frustrating while I am getting my confidence back.

It feels forking good. And I don’t intend to stop there.

[8] Salma Hany (EGY) 3-0 Olivia Fiechter (USA)

Salma: I was up and ready for a battle today. I know how Olivia is dangerous, she just had a great win against Nele, I know I had to come up with a very solid mindset and sticking to my game.

I was not really happy with my first match, but it was only upwards, I was focusing on my movement, I was trying to move smoothly, working on my accuracy, I was not holding back my shots at all, and I had the confidence in myself.

I’m really glad with the way I approached that match…

The score doesn’t say how hard it was on that court to contain her, to stay solid the whole match, and trying not to let her in. She always tried to come back, but I’m glad I managed to hold her off.

Happy with the way I played today, I wanted to prepare myself for my up and coming matches and looking forward to be on the glass.

So happy also I had my mum watching me, my sparring partner, although I couldn’t see them, I could feel how supported I was, and that is very important for me, I’m happy that I am finally playing better in Egypt…

[5] Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) 3-0 Karim El Hammamy (EGY)

Funny you know. My job. You have no real pleasure doing it for days, and then suddenly, you are reminded why you are doing it. Last night, the pleasure of being at the glass court, the beautiful setting, the fresh air, the great matches, fair and intense, and today, two amazing men’s matches.

Completely different though. With Kandra and Marche, it was fast and furious, forking fast ridiculous pace throughout out. Here, between the two Karims, we had at times Jahangir and Jansher alive and well in Gouna!

Only kidding but completely different pace. Slow, gruelling, grinding…

First game well, Hammamy didn’t show up to start with, while Gawad was just finding all the corners, there was nothing wrong with his wrist bless him. 9/1, 10/3, 11/6 finally, in 10m, a few too many errors from Hammamy, 4, only one from the BFA, very clinical.

All that clinical approach went out of the window in the second. Hammamy was not full blast, and controlling the rallies, making them long and twisting turning Gawad. 3/1, 5/2, 8/4. And it looked like we were going for one game all quite quickly.

Famous last words.

Gawad decided to fight and fight he did. Levelling at 8/8, 9/9, he couldn’t contain Hammamy, game ball, 10/9. In came JK and Jansher. Endless up and down the wall rallies, both testing the patience of the other one. And when Gawad was taking it to the front, Hammamy kept retrieving it, diving numerous times, I counted 6 dives in 4 points – actually more than that as we played numerous lets…

During one of the dives, Hammamy injured one of his fingers and blood went on this shirt. Quite cleverly, the BabyFace Assassin asked the ref if Hammamy could change his shirt and have the blood injury attended to. That was at 12/11, about 25m into that second game.

Hammamy wasn’t happy with the fact that his opponent was obviously looking for a break, but the blood rule being what it is, he didn’t have any other choice that having his finger wrapped up. That gave the BFA about 5, 6m rest.

Still, the fun wasn’t over, another few dives, another few lets, another few endless rallies.

A bit of a tense moment when at 13/12 game ball still to Hammamy, apparently Gawad asked his opponent “not to cheat” in Arabic. That didn’t go well – quite rightly – with Hammamy. But seconds later, Gawad went straight to his younger opponent, asked for his forgiveness, apologised and embraced him.

“As happy as you are, let’s get on with things, shall we” went John Masserella. We all – including himself – chuckled.

I love my Egyptians. They just erupt. And then calm down, apologise. I guess that’s why I get on so well with them. As I’m a bit the same…

And as often, after 4 unsuccessful game balls for Hammamy, Gawad closed the game 15/13.

As I announced the length of the game, 46m, Gawad turned around to me and said “46m? Can we all go home now?”. Bless him.

Mentally drained, Hammamy still kept coming back in the rallies, but he was the one running now, Gawad fluid and relaxed. Close start of the third, 3/3, 4/4, but after that, the BFA was just a couple of points away, until he finally got a nice lead, and closes the 8m last game, 11/6.

El Hammamy:
I’m not happy with myself about the second game. I was 8/4 up, and not only that, the amount of game balls that I had… so I don’t want to say that I was a coward, but I was so conservative. I should have had attempted at least one of the 4 game balls I had, going for the nick or something. And that’s very poor in my eyes.
All credit to him for being mentally fit to absorb all that pressure.

In the third, I could feel his movement was not too good, he was struggling, but I was also a little bit down from the loss of the second game, it was very long, 46 m, it’s a match on its own.

So really I want to congratulate him for winning, all credit to him today.


Karim AG : I’m really happy with the second game, how it went because as I said yesterday, I’m not 100% ready mentally for competition matches. But in the middle of the second, when I was 8/4 down, I told myself that I was not going to let that one go easily, even if I lost it. Because if I did that, I wouldn’t be improving my match fitness and my mental side and would get into the next game even weaker.

So I pushed till the end. And when we got into the tie-break, I knew that when you have had so many chances to take the game, it happens that you actually lose a bit of focus, so I did my best to stay focused, and very happy to be back in the game, taking it eventually after being so much behind.

I’m really happy with the way I dealt with it and you know what? I miss those matches… and I just want to be on court, and I know of course I’m not 100% fit, in a year and three months, I trained 20 days.

So that’s why today, I didn’t want to take him to the front too much, hence our long up and down the wall rallies, because he is so skilled, he would just make me run all the time.
Very happy to live another day…