Ramy Ashour’s thunderous performance in reaching the third round of the World Open has fuelled hopes that squash’s most charismatic player may at last be making a long-term rescue of his injury-ravaged career.
Ashour’s brilliant changes of direction and notoriously well-masked kills were all in evidence during an 11-6, 11-5, 11-9 win over Adrian Grant, the in-form former top ten Englishman.
More encouraging however was the Egyptian’s relative freedom of movement, which raised hopes that even after six months on the side-lines with chronic hamstring problems the sport’s biggest draw might still make a challenge for his third world title.
“Yes I’ve rescued my career several times. But this time I hope it may be the last time, that this time it will really work,” said 27-year-old Ashour, referring to the treatment he received at Delaware, followed by rehab in New York.
This involved plasma rich platelet injections which began the repairs on a hamstring which, according to Ashour, had a tear fully 30 centimetres long.
This was hard to believe after seeing the way he responded to the pressure Grant applied in the third game, mixing velvety drops with fierce drives which helped him to leads of 7-6, 8-7, and 9-8.
Prolonging a match against a man who has not competed since the British Open in May might have opened an inviting door for Grant, and Ashour was concerned to slam it shut.
A disguised kill got him to 9-9, a fast angled boast got him to match point, and a forehand drive which took a deep sidewall nick, closed the match out.
“The body feels good, and it’s mostly mental at this stage,” Ashour said.
But he admitted that he had been told the injury was “almost healed” when he started his preparations three-and-a-half weeks ago.
Whether or not that means he has started again too early may be better judged when he plays a last 16 match against Miguel Angel Rodriguez, the speedy 12th seeded Columbian, on Tuesday.
Meanwhile Ashour, who is seeded fourth is content to revel in reborn hopes.
“Of course I would like to win the tournament,” he said. “But for me at the moment to come out of the court without limping is success.
“Winning is a dream for anyone. But for me success is to end up without limping. I’m just trying to stay positive. Every time (I have treatment) I say it’s the last time. So I really hope this time it is. It’s done the job so far.”
If he continues to play like this Ashour could go on to a quarter-final with either Fares Dessouki, his 20-year-old Egyptian compatriot whom some say is a future world number one, or Borja Golan, the sixth-seeded Spaniard who won 8-11, 11-2, 11-4, 11-2 against Greg Lobban, the steadily improving Scottish qualifier.
Another who looked to be moving better was Gregory Gaultier, the top-seeded Frenchman, who also struck the ball with more customary flair during a 11-4, 11-7, 11-3 win over Mohamed Nafiiazwan Adnan of Malaysia.
Gone were the heavy-legged struggles which saw him go two games down against Andrew Wagih, an Egyptian qualifier, in the first round , to be replaced by a strident, confident player who still looks capable — despite four times having lost in the final — of winning the world title aged almost 32.
The man from Aix-en-Provence now takes on Omar Mosaad, yet another Egyptian, who seeded nine, in what will be Gaultier’s 50th match in the World Open since his debut in 2002.
Later a third seed went out when Peter Barker, ranked at seven, lost to Cameron Pilley, the world number 20 from Australia, by 12-10, 11-6, 9-11, 6-11, 11-5.
Pilley’s success ensured an unseeded quarter-finalist, as he now plays the unseeded Alister Walker, of Botswana.