By Mikhil Bhat/ Doha
For the second time at a PSA Men’s World Squash Championship, Qatar’s Abdulla al-Tamimi beat Frenchman Mathieu Castagnet for a spot in the last 16.
But this one is special, because it isn’t in Manchester, it’s at home in Doha.
The 24-year-old had to wait for seven long years to pick up a major victory at his home court in Doha, but only 24 hours more to make it two-in-a-row, with the Aspire Academy graduate overcoming early nerves and an athletic world number 28 to pick up a massive 3-0 (12-10, 11-8, 11-8) victory at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex yesterday.
On the first day of the tournament on Friday, al-Tamimi had beaten another Frenchman and world number 14 Gregoire Marche.
“It feels really good,” al-Tamimi said right after his win, which meant that he now leads the head-to-head with Castagnet 2-1, having lost to him in a thrilling five setter in 2018 in Chicago.
“I didn’t really think this morning that I would be playing that well today because the hardest part of winning a big match is to back it up. In Manchester two years ago, I played (current German world number six) Simon (Rosner) in the first round and won the match 3-2. I had to play Castagnet there as well. Really glad it worked well today (as well).”
Al-Tamimi had beaten Castagnet then 3-1, before falling to former three-time world champion Nick Matthew of England in the third round.
Yesterday, al-Tamimi started slow in the match, which he attributed to being “nervous” and his body not being “warm enough”.
But once the match picked up pace, both the players were at it with gladiatorial tenacity with the rallies pushing the audience to the edge of their seats.
With the scores locked at 10-10 in the first game, two Castagnet hits to the tin handed the audience some relief.
“He was picking a lot of balls up, and I played the ball back to myself a few times,” al-Tamimi said of the first game.
“I wasn’t controlling the ball in the first half of the first game. After that I stopped holding the ball, and going for the full swing to get the nerves out of the system, and that’s what happened. After the first game I felt very comfortable down there at the court.”
In the second, al-Tamimi showed some amazing fighting spirit winning five straight points after being 6-8 down, to wrap up the game at 11-8 in 11 minutes.
In the third, the Doha-born world number 47 mixed the pace up well off the lobs, often leaving his second straight French opponent at the championships wanting. With the score at 10-7 in the third game, a stroke call in favour of Castagnet drew a review call from al-Tamimi but the Frenchman came within two points after it was turned down.
However, al-Tamimi’s closed it out with a shot to the lower left corner of the wall, with Castagnet’s desperate dive not enough to keep the ball in play.
With a standing ovation from the audience, al-Tamimi thanked the home crowd for the support. “I wasn’t expecting to see a few people, some of them I had not seen in years. It is always good to see old friends supporting, even though I didn’t talk to them for the last few years. It was really good to see them, to see the happiness in their eyes,” al-Tamimi said later.
He added: “I expected to play well, and I thought that if I played well, I had a chance to win. It is really hard to beat Mathieu Castagnet in three. It’s always a relief to get out of the court after winning three games. Really glad I did that.”
After the victory on the first day, al-Tamimi, who reached as high as 23 in the world rankings in November last year, had joked about how facing Egyptians even at home can be daunting given the support they get.
“People thought I was serious. But I enjoy playing against Egyptians; they are the best in the world at this sport, and to be the best, you got to play the best,” al-Tamimi said.
As the draw would have it, the Qatari will be up against world number three and last year’s world championships finalist Tarek Momen, who beat Egyptian compatriot Mazen Hesham, 3-0 (11-9, 12-10, 11-5) yesterday.
The two have played each other just once, but the match was a thrilling five-setter in the US Open second round last month, where Momen had to dip into his reserves to beat a resurgent al-Tamimi 3-2 in 65 minutes.
“He will have his game plan and I will have mine. He is one of the top players in the world, he is ranked third in the world, so I have no pressure. It will be on him. I am only looking forward to play well again. If I play well, I have a chance to win again, if I don’t I will lose. I think that’s how it is for every player,” al-Tamimi said.
Earlier in the day, Rosner beat Englishman Declan James 3-1 (11-9, 9-11, 11-8, 11-9) in 70 minutes to set up a last 16 match with Welshman Joel Makin, who beat Egyptian Mohamed ElSherbini 3-1 (11-3, 6-11, 11-9, 14-12) in 74 minutes.
Also through to the next round are Englishman James Willstrop and 2016 world champion Karim Abdel Gawad.
ROUND II RESULTS
3-Tarek Momen (EGY) bt Mazen Hesham (EGY) 3-0: 11-9, 12-10, 11-5 (35m)
Abdulla al-Tamimi (QAT) bt Mathieu Castagnet (FRA) 3-0: 12-10, 11-8, 11-8 (43m)
13-Fares Dessouky (EGY) bt Edmon Lopez (ESP) 3-0: 11-5, 11-3, 11-5 (24m)
6-Diego Elias (PER) bt Greg Lobban (SCO) 3-2: 6-11, 11-3, 11-4, 9-11, 11-4 (59m)
5-Simon Rosner (GER) bt Declan James (ENG) 3-1: 11-9, 9-11, 11-8, 11-9 (70m)
11-Joel Makin (WAL) bt Mohamed ElSherbini (EGY) 3-1: 11-3, 6-11, 11-9, 14-12 (74m)
James Willstrop (ENG) bt Youssef Ibrahim (EGY) 3-0: 11-7, 11-8, 11-4 (24m)
3-Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) bt Cesar Salazar (MEX) 3-1: 10-12, 11-6, 11-5, 11-7 (44m)
TODAY’S MATCHES (Round II)
Noon: Alan Clyne (SCO) v 8-Miguel Rodriguez (COL)
1pm: 14-Zahed Salem (EGY) v Mostafa Asal (EGY)
2pm: WC-Syed Azlan Amjad (QAT) v 12-Omar Mosaad (EGY)
3pm: 7-Mohamed Abouelghar (EGY) v Leo Au (HKG)
4pm: Nicolas Mueller (SUI) v 9-Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY)
5pm: 10-Saurav Ghosal (IND) v Lucas Serme (FRA)
6pm: 4-Paul Coll (NZL) v Borja Golan (ESP)
7pm: Adrian Waller (ENG) v 1-Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY)
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