Today I've decided to discuss the semifinal match of the World Open between Gregory Gaultier and Ramy Ashour. The first game was one of the most entertaining games I've ever seen. It really felt like 2 full games and after 35 minutes Ashour finally took the game 17-15. Unfortunately this was it for the match. I know the first game is crucial, but it was quite disappointing if you're a Gaultier fan.
I know this first game took a lot out of Gauliter, but I'm sure he had more in him. Would the same mental collapse have taken place if he had won the game? Gaultier didn't make a push in the third game either. Ashour looked very suspect against Goaln the night before. So if nothing less, Gaultier just needed to extend the match and fight all the way through. Ashour has been out of competition and unable to train as hard for 6 months. Surely the longer the match the better for Gaultier, right?
I've seen this type of collapse from Gaultier before. He had a similar dismal performance against Shorbagy in the semifinal of the U.S. Open. I think once a top player has beaten him the next time they play he appears more fragile. If Gaultier goes down in the next match he tends to get negative and stops believing in himself. He played such a wonderful first game it's a pity he had nothing left to offer in the last two. Even if he just slowed the pace down and kept the ball in play maybe Ashour would show signs of slowing down himself.
Ashour didn't look very positive against Golan. I thought maybe he wasn't 100% healthy. Even in the 3rd game against Gaultier his shoulder seemed to be bugging him. I feel Matthew would have matched up better because psychologically he is tougher and never gives up. I know it's easy sitting here on the couch watching, but I find it surprising that a former #1 player in the world could be so easily mentally defeated. We all have a physical and mental breaking point, but in the semifinal of the World Open I can't believe it only took 1 game (yes I know it was a mega-game) to break him. This shows the importance of the mental game in squash. Ashour talked in his pre game interview about always fighting the demons, the negative thoughts that arise in his head. I don't think Gaultier was very good at that on this occasion. He almost lost in the 1st round and has a poor record against Ashour. But really, if he was ever going to beat him again it should have been tonight. In Gaultier's pregame interview he admitted that he didn't know what to expect out of the match. Gaultier didn't sound very confident to me. Ashour looked so shaky the night before. Gaultier should have picked up on that and should know that Ashour is not confident in his body or his movement.
So what can we learn from this? First and foremost is the importance of staying positive. No matter the situation, you have to do everything you can to be positive about the situation. Don't get ahead of yourself and think it's over no matter what. I don't think any amount of extra physical training or drills will help Gaultier. He just needs to be more positive when things aren't going his way and he gets behind. I also think we learned the just how important that first game can be. It can be extremely psychologically damaging when it is a long game and goes into extra points. Sometimes you feel like you played your best squash and to lose it can be disheartening. So you begin thinking there is no hope. These are the negative demons you need to fight. Instead focus on one shot and one point at a time. The tougher the situation you're in, look at it as a challenge and always believe in yourself, and that you can come back. Of course if you start doubting yourself and you don't believe you can do it you likely won't.
So who's your pick in the final? I'm a little worried about Ramy's shoulder. He really looked to be favouring it and stopped hitting the ball hard. I think Shorbagy is going to be nervous. To my knowledge he hasn't beaten Ramy before and as I said a couple of posts ago, you're not really #1 in the wold until you beat Ramy when he's healthy. I just don't think Ramy is healthy and I don't feel he'll have enough in the tank. I'm picking Shorbagy, but I think it will all come down to his nerves. If Shorbagy can relax and play his game he should win. I hope they both play like they did in the semis and if they do it should be a great match. Whoever is going to be World Champion better win that first game!