Aboelkheir reaches first World Tour semi-final
Egypt’s Fayrouz Aboelkheir continued her dream run at the Open de France de Squash on Wednesday evening, as she made it into her first PSA World Tour semi-final thanks to a come-from-behind victory over compatriot Nour Aboulmakarim in the last eight in Nantes.
The two teenagers went head-to-head with a huge opportunity to make the semi-finals of the Bronze level event, and it was 16-year-old Aboelkheir that came into the contest with a 2-1 head-to-head record over her compatriot, with the pair having played three times in Egyptian Challenger Tour events in 2021.
The rallies were short and sharp between the two with not much attritional squash taking place. In typical Egyptian style, the winners and errors were flowing from both rackets but it was Aboulmakarim who took the lead in the match, closing out the game 11-8 in just eight minutes showcasing her incredible finishing abilities.
The second game followed the same pattern as the first with both players firing the ball in short from the start of the game, looking to find winners at any opportunity. Aboulmakarim managed to pull ahead in the middle of the game to earn a two point lead and set herself up with three match balls. Back came the 16-year-old though, and she turned her aggressive play up a notch and thanks to some errors from Aboulmakarim, she equalised.
Aboelkheir managed to keep her focus in the crucial third game with the mental strength of her older opponent being put under stress. Aboulmakarim tried her best to battle her way back into the match but her concentration faded throughout the third. The 16-year-old kept a lead throughout the third game and closed it out 11-5 to move into the biggest semi-final of her career to date.
“In the second game when she was 10-7 up I just said to myself that I had nothing to lose,” Aboelkheir said. “I tried to organise the way I was playing at the front and all credit to Nour, we’ve been training together back in Egypt and I know it’s not going to be easy. Thanks to the crowd and my team back in Egypt.”
Aboelkheir will face second seed Tinne Gilis in the semi-finals on Friday evening at Hangar 24, after the Belgian No.1 overcame Canada’s Nicole Bunyan in the opening match of the evening, winning in straight games.
In the men’s draw, top seed Marwan ElShorbagy had to dig deep to overcome 2018 Open International de Nantes de Squash champion Declan James in a tight two-game battle.
The Egyptian took the win last week in five when the pair met at the QTerminals Qatar Classic. This contest in Nantes was a high-quality affair, with both players finding their lengths and hitting some incredible winners. In the end, ElShorbagy took the win 11-8, 11-9, and will move through to the semi-finals.
“I played Dec last week in Qatar and it was very close, I’m really happy to get through today,” said ElShorbagy. “I think he’s back playing at his best today which is good to see, he’s had a few seasons where it’s not gone well so I’m happy to see him back. I really enjoy watching him play.
“Playing in a venue like this and with a crowd like this, it’s just amazing. I’ve been playing PSA for the past 10 years and I’ve never played in a venue like this. It’s my first time here and I just have to thank all the sponsors and people who got this event on and I’ll be back for sure.”
ElShorbagy will now do battle with Indian No.1 Saurav Ghosal in the semi-finals on Friday night, after the third seed overcame Spaniard Iker Pajares in a tight two-game battle. He won the first 11-4, before a 25-minute second game saw 30 points played. Ghosal saved several game balls before going on to win it 16-14 to advance to the last four.
The quarter finals continue at Hangar 24 on Thursday, September 15, with the bottom half of both draws taking to the glass court.
 Tinne Gilis (Bel) 2-0  Nicole Bunyan (Can) 11-6, 11-7 (19m)
Fayrouz Aboulkheir (Egy) 2-1 Nour Aboulmakarim (Egy) 8-11, 12-10, 11-5 (33m)
 Marwan ElShorbagy (Egy) 2-0 Declan James (Eng) 11-8, 11-9 (36m)
 Saurav Ghosal (Ind) 2-0  Iker Pajares (Esp) 11-4, 16-14 (42m)