Updated: Saturday, 17 May 2014 05:22 | By Agence France-Presse

Ashour's British Open defence reaches semis

Ramy Ashour, the first Egyptian in almost half a century to attempt a defence of the British Open title, trampled his way into the semi-finals like a man determined to give cheer to his troubled nation.

Ashour's British Open defence reaches semis

Ramy Ashour of Egypt hits a return in Canberra in August 19, 2012 - by Mark Graham

Only briefly was Ashour slowed during his advance to a 11-5, 11-5, 11-7 victory over James Willstrop, the former world number one from England.

That was when the home hope led 5-2 early on, and then repaired a three-point deficit to reach 5-5 in the third game.

After two earlier long matches, however, Willstrop appeared too jaded to challenge any further and Ashour launched winner after brilliant winner, usually with drops or cut-off volleys.

"Especially during the time our country is living, making the people happy and giving them hope is very important," Ashour had said just before the tournament. Though seeded only third, he is increasingly looking like the unofficial favourite.

However he next plays Gregory Gaultier, the former British Open champion from France who recently regained the world number one ranking, and who fancies his chances after having the easier quarter-final.

He needed to contest only one game against Amr Shabana, the four-time former world champion from Egypt, who came on court with a stomach problem and quit after only eight minutes feeling even worse.

"He's my best mate on the tour, and it was bad enough to have to play him but now this happened," said Gaultier.

"So I shall hope that the other two play a match which doesn't finish till tomorrow morning," he said. In fact Ashour 's match lasted just 40 minutes.

The other men's semi-final will be between Nick Matthew, the top-seeded world champion, and Mohamed El Shorbagy, the 23-year-old Egyptian who has beaten the Englishman in their last two meetings, and whom some believe is about to make a breakthrough.

Shorbagy had to play well to halt the in-form Frenchman, Mathieu Castagnet, 11-7, 9-11, 11-6, 11-6, but Matthew needed to be close to his absolute best to deny the remarkable Fares Dessouki, an 19-year-old Egyptian who scraped into the tournament via the qualifying competition only after a late withdrawal.

Matthew's 11-4, 12-10, 11-9  victory required him to save a game point at 9-10 in the second game against an opponent whose talents were threatening to blossom luxuriantly and whose future looks exceptional

Earlier the prospect of a final between Nicol David, the Malaysian who has been world number one for almost eight years, and Laura Massaro, the Englishwoman who has succeeded her as World and British Open champion, came tantalisingly closer.

The top-seeded David grew in authority as she overcame Omneya Abdel Kawy, the brilliantly skilful Egyptian, 11-7, 12-10, 11-4 in a repeat of the 2010 world final. The favourite's superior mobility and patience always gave her the edge.

"I played much better today," said David. "It's great to come through to a big semi-final  again," she added, perhaps mindful of her upsetting semi-final loss in the world championships in Penang last month.  

Massaro, who is making a major title defence before a home crowd for the first time, now has some of the pressure of expectations which David constantly endures. She nevertheless overcame both her emotions and her compatriot Sarah Kippax in a tenacious but tense11-8, 12-10, 11-8 success.

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