Gregory Gaultier (FRA) def Zahed Mohamed (EGY) 11-5 11-6 11-8 (47-min)
Gregory Gaultier is now 34-years-old. He has won virtually every imaginable trophy the game offers…but hasn’t played competitive Tour-level squash since the World Series Finals in June. Zahed Mohamed is 25, on the rise, and comes into his 3rd Qatar Classic with a career-high ranking of #20 in the World. The two have never played before.
Gregory Gaultier’s Run Through the Gauntlet
Gregory’s career stats are mind boggling. He’s one of the most decorated athletes on tour. A 3-time World Series Finals Champion, he now owns 15 career World Series titles, 40 PSA Tour titles overall, and has held the World #1 ranking for a combined 16-months. He’s a 5-time World Championship Finalist, and won the biggest purse in the sport back in 2015.
Last season, Gregory Gaultier regained the World #1 ranking while on a tremendous hot-streak. After falling in the Tournament of Champions Final last January, Greg won a remarkable 27 consecutive matches. He captured the Swedish Open title, then three successive World Series titles at the Windy City Open, the British Open, and El Gouna International. He picked up two more titles at the Grasshopper Cup and Bellevue Classic before the start of the World Series Finals in Dubai.
By the time Dubai rolled around, he was depleted. He lost all three of his matches in the round robin stage, and stayed away from the tour for nearly four months. Greg’s first Tour-level match since the World Series Finals was on Sunday, where he bested Mexico’s Cesar Salazar in 37-minutes to reach the Qatar Classic Round of 16.
Zahed Mohamed. Close Losses are become Close Victories
Karim Abdel Gawad won the 2016 Qatar Classic, but he almost didn’t make it past the Round of 16. Zahed Mohamed took the eventual champ to a deciding game in the Round of 16, winning the second and fourth games 11-9 in a 58-minute tussle. But it was another “close loss.”
The 25-year-old is now turning those losses into “close victories.” On Sunday, Zahed won the match of the day, defeating Frenchman Gregoire Marche in an hour-long, five-game battle, dominating the decider 11-2. Last year, he was a finalist at the Egyptian National Championship in Cairo and went on to win the CNS International in Islamabad. Then in February, he won his 4th career PSA Tour title at the Pittsburg Open; and in May, reached his 14th career final at the Internacional Sporta Open in Guatemala.
Today’s match was the opportunity of a lifetime: A chance to face a rusty World #1 – completely unfamiliar with Zahed’s game – in a World Series Round of 16.
Experience trumps Youth
Even after four months away, the French General still knows how to win matches. He certainly didn’t dominate the court as he did during last season’s 27-match win-streak, but he found a way to make his opponent make mistakes. He found a way to win. Both Karim Abdel Gawad and Nick Matthew spoke brilliantly about this after their 1st-Round wins yesterday:
Karim Abdel Gawad defeats Borja Golan: I truly believe like during a whole season, there is only 20% of the time where you are playing your best squash. The rest of the time, you are trying to win by experience and pushing hard when you are scrapping around: that’s what I’ve learned, that in squash, you can win without playing your best.
Nick Matthew defeats Raphael Kandra: I was hitting hard and running with him which was silly because he’s much younger, but finally at the end I started to use my brain and my experience which shows you it’s never too late, even 8-8 in the 5th! I got out of jail today, but in the middle of the game I was mentally booking my flight back home…then I told myself come on, you can win, just win ugly, just win ugly.
Only 6 errors from Gregory Gaultier vs. Zahed Mohamed
Like yesterday, Greg focused on playing simple squash. No doubt, a strategy we’ll most likely see as he continues to advance. He built early leads, and played patiently through rallies, allowing Mohamed to make most of the mistakes. The approach could have backfired. With so many long rallies, Gaultier was clearly drained by the third. Up 5-2, Zahed closed the gap and got it to 5-all. Mohamed then lost a tough decision on the next point, and never regrouped mentally. Greg took full advantage and played every remaining point like the match was on the line, advancing to the Quarterfinals with another three-game victory. (FULL MATCH RECAP)
Though he’s still struggling to find his rhythm, Gregory Gaultier has to be pleased with how the comeback has begun: Two matches. Six games. Quarterfinals.
Gregory Gaultier: A few years ago, we had easy first rounds, but now, you have to be completely focused from day one. The level now is much tougher than in the past – you have to prepare like it’s a final from day 1. It was tough today, he’s a good player with good shots and these matches are needed to help me get back to where I want to be. I managed to win which is the most important thing at the end of the day.