Squash: Ramy Ashour wins a thrilling third World Open title

Ramy Ashour (above) won one of the greatest World Open finals on Friday when he saved a match point to triumph 13-11, 7-11, 5-11, 11-5, 14-12 against his Egyptian compatriot Mohamed El Shorbagy. ST FILE PHOTO
Ramy Ashour (above) won one of the greatest World Open finals on Friday when he saved a match point to triumph 13-11, 7-11, 5-11, 11-5, 14-12 against his Egyptian compatriot Mohamed El Shorbagy. ST FILE PHOTO

DOHA (AFP) - Ramy Ashour clinched his third World Open title on Friday when he saved a match point in a marathon 13-11, 7-11, 5-11, 11-5, 14-12 triumph against Egyptian compatriot Mohamed El Shorbagy.

Shorbagy, who became world No. 1 for the first time only this month, proved a hero himself, saving five match points in a row from 5-10 down in the final game, and six altogether.

After 90 minutes of sensational ups and downs, contentious incidents, and a wonderful contrast in styles Ashour’s brilliant creativity prevailed by the narrowest margins over El Shorbagy’s power and strength.

“I said I had been in a dark place and I wanted it so much. Actually I am speechless, I can’t find words,” Ashour said, describing something which is a great rarity for him.

Later he said: “It was dramatic and brutal at the same time. It was a fight.”

“Both of us were trying to get each other into our own game, I don’t think either of us succeeded,” he added referring to the way he tried to play short, slow it down, and change direction, while El Shorbagy tried to ramp up the pace and make it a contest of power and strength.

When Ashour’s final backhand drop shot slipped like a quiet dagger into an empty space at the death, he erupted into a display of extravagant emotion with victory coming at the end of a frustrating six-month injury absence.

First he tried to walk up the front wall, did a little dance, and eventually lay coiled up in a ball on the floor.

It earned him his third world title and certainly his most memorable, though there were moments when it seemed he might fall foul of the referee, and that, in a match decided by such narrow margins, this might cost him.

Once Ashour was warned for taking too long to get back on court, once he got a code of conduct warning for trying to influence the video review process by talking, and once he was told he would be docked a conduct stroke if he continued to occupy his opponent’s space.

But in almost every crisis he found something special.

Most significantly, after an error-prone start he found enough brilliance to pull himself back from 4-8 down to win the first game.

That, El Shorbagy acknowledged, had been very important.

Ashour also managed to keep going when his shoulder, which had started troubling him during his semi-final win over the top-seeded Gregory Gaultier, began to bother him again.

Then he found a way to create a dazzling mixture of short and long attacks to dominate the fourth game and advance to 10-5 in the decider.

And finally he kept his head when so many chances to finish it had gone.

Or, if you were to believe Ashour, he actually lost his head, for he claimed not to remember any of the match points at all. Instinct, it seems, took over.

El Shorbagy was already more than philosophical. “I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said.

“I think it’s Ramy’s best performance of the tournament and I played my best of the tournament as well.

“I will be disappointed for a while. But I gave it my best for sure. I always said if there is one person capable of stopping me winning it had to be Ramy.”