Diego Elias has been on a roll off late.
The 20-year-old Peruvian had defeated three-time world champion Nick Matthew to reach the NetSuite Open semi-finals before losing out to current World Champion Karim Abdel Gawad in a hard fought five-game battle.
Elias seems to have carried that form to the Qatar Classic, being played at the Khalifa Tennis and Squash Complex here, as he created the first upset on the opening day of the World Series event yesterday. Elias sent former champion James Willstrop crashing out (3-0) 12-10, 11-5, 11-8 in 46 minutes.
The pulsating opening round clash was expected to go the distance, but the two-time world junior champion gave no chance to the veteran Englishman after a close first game. He easily won the next two games with some fast and accurate squash.
In the first game, a huge rally at 3-2 gave Willstrop a four-point lead (7-3) and it looked like that the game had been decided. But out of the blue, Elias reversed the position on the court, sent Willstrop on a run and closed the gap (8-8 and 9-9) and won the game on his second chance. Both the players struck six winners each, but Willstrop also had five unforced errors.
In the second, Willstrop seemed very much in the game again, but a little drop in energy allowed the Peruvian to take a healthy lead at 7-4 and later at 11-5. Willstrop came back blasting all guns, finding some amazing long drop shots. However, Elias’ backhand length was perfect and his court coverage was stunning in the latter part of the game.
“It’s always hard to play against such a big star I just tried to apply as much pressure as I could throughout the match and maintained my concentration. The first game was very crucial, I think, I was down 8-3, I was just running too much for no reason… So just tried and volleyed as much as I could,” Elias said.
“I am confident of my game as I managed to beat six top 10 players this season. I feel good and today, I think I played well. I hope this would be a good tournament for me,” he said.
Qatar’s Abdulla Mohamed al-Tamimi, hoping for a flying start to his campaign before home crowd, went down fighting against Egypt’s Fares Dessouky. Dessouky beat the wild card entrant 11-7, 11-8, 11-5 in 111 minutes.
In the other upset of the day, Hong Kong’s qualifier Leo Au rallied to stun world No 16 from Australia, Ryan Cuskelly 7-11, 11-7, 11-8, 11-4.
For Cuskelly, it was a return to the venue that saw him achieve a long awaited breakthrough into the top 20 in 2015, but it proved to be an unhappy hunting ground this time around as he fell flat against an inspired Au, who put in a performance of note and one that could lay the foundation for his own long awaited surge into the top 20.
The opening game saw the two probing and testing, opening up all four corners of the court through a series of patient rallies before Cuskelly took the initiative and opened up a one game lead before Au matched him in the second.
The Australian looked certain to restore his lead on the scoreboard in the third only to see Au rally from 4-8 to snatch the game. It was a run that dented Cuskelly’s confidence and in the fourth game it was one-way traffic for Au as he out-hustled Cuskelly.
“I had no expectations today,” said Au. “Ryan is a good player, he’s very solid and consistent. Today I don’t think I had any pressure and I played well and that third game was key.”
The tournament top-seed and world No.1 Gregory Gaultier defeated Mexico’s Cesar Salazar 3-0 (11-6, 11-2, 11-9) later in the evening yesterday.
The Frenchman, who is making his comeback, took only 37 minutes to win his first round match. This is his first appearance of the 2017-18 season, after suffering with an ankle injury that saw him forced to withdraw from both the NetSuite Open and US Open.
“It’s been tough recently with the ankle injury so I came here happy to be back on court,” said Gaultier.
“I haven’t played on a glass court for long; it felt a bit weird to start, and Cesar has been playing well and had some good wins recently. I’m pleased to come through. I just tried to find my mark and not do anything too crazy. I need these kind of matches to help me get back to fitness.”
Gaultier could face two-time champion Mohamed El Shorbagy, who also won his first round match easily against English qualifier Chris Simpson 3-0, in the semi-finals.
“I like playing here. I come back year-after-year and would love to get my name on the trophy again. This is where I won my first ever World Series title back in 2013 and I feel this year the event has raised the bar and I’m looking forward to hopefully having a good week,” El Shorbagy said.
US Open champion and current leader in the World Series standings, Egypt’s Ali Farag, also marched into the second round defeating compatriot Karim Ali Fathi 11-7, 11-5, 11-1.
Qualifier Saurav Ghosal from India also won his first round match against England’s Daryl Selby 11-4, 11-8, 11-2.
*(1) Gregory Gaultier (Fra) bt Cesar Salazar (Mex) 11-6, 11-2, 11-9
*Zahed Mohamed (Egy) bt Gregoire Marche (Fra) 11-6, 5-11, 11-6, 8-11, 11-2
*(Q) Saurav Ghosal (Ind) bt Daryl Selby (Eng) 11-4, 11-8, 11-2
*Diego Elias (Per) bt (7)James Willstrop (Eng) 12-10, 11-5, 11-8
* Ali Farag (Egy) [Q] Karim Ali Fathi (Egy) bt 11-7, 11-5, 11-1
*(Q) Leo Au (Hkg) bt Ryan Cuskelly (Australia) 7-11, 11-7, 11-8, 11-4
*Fares Dessouky (Egy) bt [wc] Abdulla al-Tamimi (Qat) 11-7, 118, 11-5
*(3) Mohamed Elshorbagy (Egy) bt [Q] Chris Simpson (Eng) 11-7, 11-9, 11-5
England’s James Willstrop (foreground) plays a shot during their first round Qatar Classic match against Peru’s Diego Elias at Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex in Doha yesterday. PICTURE: Jayan Orma