By Mikhil Bhat/ Doha
Home hero Abdulla al-Tamimi brushed aside distractions and an often-resurgent-often-erratic world No 15 Gregoire Marche of France to become the first Qatari to reach the second round of the PSA Men’s World Squash Championships with a historic 3-1 (11-6, 11-9, 7-11, 11-9) win at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex in Doha yesterday.
Less than two hours earlier, top seed Mohamed ElShorbagy opened his campaign to regain the world title with a breezy 3-0 win at the same court.
In an unexpected turn of events, a second Qatar player –Syed Azlan Amjad – too made it to the second round.
Al-Tamimi had gotten off to brilliant start going one game up against the Frenchman when the referee asked the Aspire Academy graduate, who is ranked lower than Marche, to change his shirt, which looked similar to that of his opponent’s on television.
While his team looked for another shirt, al-Tamimi continued with his brilliant form to go up 2-0.
Just before the third game, al-Tamimi changed into a blue sponsor-less shirt and the nervy match began heading in the opposite direction with Marche forcing errors and the 24-year-old Qatari dropping a few balls. Partisan support egged al-Tamimi on to bounce back, even as Marche dropped points by slipping on the glass court. However, the Frenchman ran the Qatari close in his do-or-die game before going down 9-11.
Al-Tamimi will face French world No 28 Mathieu Castagnet, who beat Canadian Shawn DeLierre 3-0 (11-7, 11-8, 11-4), in the second round today.
“Ever since I began, it was a dream to play on this court, and when I finally did, there was yet another bigger dream to win in a major event here. It has taken me around seven years to do that,” said al-Tamimi, who won his first major match at the home court yesterday. “I lost a bit of concentration. I was leading 2-0 and he came back really strong. I had a few issues with the shirt, because he was a higher-ranked player, it was me who had to change the shirt. I played the third game with no sponsors on my shirt. It gets in your head sometimes. I was really happy that I was able to regain my focus and try and stay on top of him.
“He is obviously a good player, he is one of the quickest players on the tour. So I had to be ready for a longer match and stay focused. Even till the end he was picking up a lot of balls.”
Al-Tamimi has had the company of world No 2 ElShorbagy during training for the past month or so and the young Qatari was only thankful for the time.
“We had a month of training together before this tournament. That itself gives you a lot of confidence, that pace of play, playing with the best player in the world. It was really good, and I enjoy being on court with him,” he said.
Though back at the court, right after his win, while he thanked the audience and officials for their support during the match, in a light-hearted laughter-inducing moment, he remarked, “I am glad I am not playing an Egyptian. I think when I am playing an Egyptian, I don’t feel like I am playing at home sometimes.”
ElShorbagy, who has reached two World Championships finals in Doha – 2012 and 2014 – began his campaign to lift his second world title with an easy 3-0 (11-8, 11-6, 11-6) win over Frenchman Victor Crouin.
“I felt towards the end of the US Open (when he reached the final) I was feeling a bit flat mentally and physically, and it was nice to get a break, refresh again. I’m coming here feeling strong again,” the 28-year-old from Alexandria said.
Praising Crouin, he said, “I’ve been watching Victor for a while, since the World Juniors. He didn’t win it but he impressed me the most. The way he moves on court, the way he plays, he looks hungry, he looks like he wants it, and that’s what I look for in juniors.”
In an unexpected turn of events, a freak incident on the court meant that Qatar’s Syed Azlan Amjad too reached the second round, and will go up against Egyptian 12th seed Omar Mosaad tomorrow.
Amjad was trailing Spain’s Iker Pajares Bernabeu 1-2 (8-11, 12-10, 4-11), when in the fourth game, between points, Bernabeu smacked the ball towards the front wall only to realise that his opponent was in the line of fire. The ball had brought down Amjad after hitting him where it hurts the most physically, and the Team Qatar player was forced to take a medical timeout.
The Qatar player was unable to continue, and since Bernabeu had accidentally contributed to the situation, the rules meant that the Spaniard had to forfeit.
Also in second round is last year’s finalist and second seed Tarek Momen of Egypt, who beat Germany’s Raphael Kandra 3-1 (12-10, 10-12, 11-7, 11-4).
[WC] Syed Azlan Amjad (QAT) bt Iker Pajares Bernabeu (ESP) 3-2: 8-11, 12-10, 4-11, 2-0 rtd (60m)
Nicolas Mueller (SUI) bt Aqeel Rehman (AUT) 3-0: 11-6, 11-9, 11-7 (33m)
 Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY) bt Arturo Salazar (MEX) 3-0: 11-4, 11-3, 11-7 (22m)
Leo Au (HKG) bt Todd Harrity (USA) 3-0: 16-14, 11-7, 11-3 (36m)
Alan Clyne (SCO) bt Ryosei Kobayashi (JPN) 3-1: 12-10, 11-5, 7-11, 11-9 (52m)
 Mohamed Abouelghar (EGY) bt Tayyab Aslam (PAK) 3-0: 11-5, 11-4, 11-7 (25m)
Mostafa Asal (EGY) bt Campbell Grayson (NZL) 3-0: 12-10, 11-5, 11-5 (42m)
 Zahed Salem (EGY) bt Tsz Fung Yip (HKG) 3-1: 11-7, 3-11, 11-3, 11-6 (33m)
 Omar Mosaad (EGY) bt Baptiste Masotti (FRA) 3-1: 8-11, 11-9, 11-2, 11-8 (54m)
 Tarek Momen (EGY) bt Raphael Kandra (GER) 3-1: 12-10, 10-12, 11-7, 11-4 (52m)
Abdulla al-Tamimi (QAT) bt  Gregoire Marche (FRA) 3-1: 11-6, 11-9, 7-11, 11-9 (50m)
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) bt Victor Crouin (FRA) 3-0: 11-8, 11-6, 11-7 (33m)
 Paul Coll (NZL) bt [WC] Hamad al-Amri (QAT) 3-0: 11-4, 11-4, 11-3 (20m)
 Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) bt [L] Auguste Dussourd (FRA) 3-0: 11-4, 11-8, 13-11 (28m)
 Diego Elias (PER) bt Ivan Yuen (MAS) 3-0: 11-8, 11-9, 14-12 (45m)
 Simon Rösner (GER) bt Ben Coleman (ENG) 3-1: 12-10, 4-11, 11-2, 11-2 (54m)
James Willstrop (ENG) bt George Parker (ENG) 3-0: 11-4, 11-5, 12-10 (45m)
Cesar Salazar (MEX) bt Nathan Lake (ENG) 3-0: 14-12, 11-6, 11-6 (38m)
Edmon Lopez (ESP) bt [L] Kristian Frost (DEN) 3-0: 11-9, 11-4, 11-6 (42m)
Declan James (ENG) bt Vikram Malhotra (IND) 3-2: 8-11, 1-11, 11-5, 11-3, 11-6 (51m)
Greg Lobban (SCO) bt Max Lee (HKG) 3-1: 11-6, 11-6, 8-11, 11-8 (56m)
 Fares Dessouky (EGY) bt Eain Yow Ng (MAS) 3-1: 11-6, 9-11, 11-8, 11-5 (58m)
Youssef Ibrahim (EGY) bt Daryl Selby (ENG) 3-2: 11-5, 10-12, 11-5, 11-13, 11-9 (107m)
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