Thu, Nov 05, 2009 - Page 18 News List

Gaultier shrugs off his squash World Open favorite’s tag

AFP , KUWAIT CITY

Gregory Gaultier, the new world No. 1, shrugged off his status as hot favorite to win the World Open title after an impressive performance in reaching the last eight in less than three-quarters of an hour.

The flying Frenchman overcame Ong Beng Hee, the world No. 13 from Malaysia, 11-4, 11-5, 11-9, and then dismissed the idea that the brevity of his victory told much about whether he can achieve his goal.

“I don’t think there is a favorite here really,” said Gaultier, who is the highest seed left following the defeat of the top-seeded Karim Darwish only a couple of hours earlier.

“Everyone could be the top seed who is in the top six. So there is no real favorite. I don’t really think about that. I just think about my next match,” he said.

Gaultier’s performance, full of beautifully balanced movement, relaxed and accurate rallying, and an alert focus to respond to any hint of danger, was quite unlike that of Darwish, who lost in four games to James Willstrop, the 11th-seeded Englishman.

Gaultier completely dominated Ong for two games, and the only moment which hinted that the Malaysian would find a more obstinate streak came in the penultimate point of the second game.

It went on and on, and Ong managed to suck a rare error from Gaultier to win it.

He also advanced to a two-point lead in the third game, rallying tenaciously, except for one moment when he produced a brilliantly volleyed return of serve which found the nick between the sidewall and floor and rolled dead.

It was at 7-9 down that Gaultier had to dig in for the first time, with five of the next eight rallies ending in lets as both men vied for control of the central position from where they could dominate.

The match ended with a brief argument between Gaultier and the referee, an error forced from Ong, and some confident words from the Frencman.

“I’ve started to read my squash much better,” he said.

“It was a long day because it was difficult to wait to play,” Gaultier added, referring to his match being schedule last on and finishing around 11pm. “But I feel fine, and I have had a good rest. I hope not to get too tired, even though we are playing late,” he said.

The lateness was made worse by vacillation over whether the matches would be played on the glass show-court close to the harbor, or indoors on a conventional club court to avoid the forecast rain.

The tournament director Paul Walters first decided to move it indoors, until Kuwait TV objected and everyone returned to the seaside venue one hour late. But that didn’t bother Gaultier.

“It was a big confusion,” he said. “But I tried to stay firm. You are not the one to decide where to play. You deal with it, and it is the same for both of us.”

Now though Gaultier has to play the only opponent who reached the quarter-finals quicker than he did.

That is Nick Matthew, the British Open champion from England, who conceded only 11 points against Cameron Pilley of Australia.

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