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12 Jul 2024

Watanabe & Gilis Upsets Set Up Surprise Manchester Open Semi

20 May 2023

Belgium's Nele Gilis and Japan's Satomi Watanabe scored notable seeding upsets on day three at the Manchester Open to set up a surprise women's semi-final clash in the PSA World Tour Silver event at the National Squash Centre.

Watanabe defeated England's No.4 seed Sarah-Jane Perry in round two and carried her confidence into the quarter finals as she overcame another British player Tesni Evans in a quality four-game encounter.

Watanabe has been displaying aggressive play from round one this week and maintained that as she started in great style to take the opening game 11-4 against the eighth seed.

Evans, who was runner-up in 2019, started to come back at Watanabe in the second game and drew on her great length hitting that has served her so well throughout the years to claim the second game and equalise. The 24-year-old Japanese player continued to hit her corners however and impressively took the third game 11-9 before running away with game four to win 11-6 and book her place in her first Silver event semi-final.

"I was just thinking 'do your best, whatever you can do'. I gave everything I have and I'm really happy to get through today," Watanabe said afterwards.

"I think one of the first tournaments I won was in New Zealand and from there I started learning how to play against the top players. I watch a lot of top players playing on SQUASHTV. I don't know how I've got here. I love squash so much. I think the passion I have has brought me here.

"I really struggled with her lobs today and her change of pace is so good, I couldn't play my game of fast punching drives. She has a bit of chat on court and I really love playing her."

Watanabe will now face Belgium's Nele Gilis, who overturned last year's semi-final loss to Joelle King by defeating the defending champion in straight games to score her first win over the top-seeded New Zealander.

Gilis looked sharp and focused as she tried her best to move King into all four corners of the court and assert herself in the middle. World No.4, King, possesses great skill and touch and utilised this to earn the first game balls of the game at 10-8. The Belgian No.1 recovered however to win the next four points and steal the first game 12-10.

From here, Gilis found extra gears to move into and made life extremely difficult for the defending champion. The pace from the world No.10 was relentless as she never gave King a second to settle on the ball and regroup. Gilis stormed to a 2/0 lead and secured her straight games victory winning 11-7 in the third.

Afterwards, Gilis said: "I haven't forgotten about that match [at the Manchester Open last year]. I think I've thought about it every day since!

"Joelle is someone I've looked up to since I was 10 years old. I've always admired her strength and the way she plays. She was one of my favourites for sure and to be able to compete with her is such an honour for me.

"I've believed for a while that I can compete with the top girls but to actually beat one of my idols today is unreal and amazing.

"I finished last season with an injury and really wasn't enjoying squash in the last few months of the season. I was forced to take time off and at one point wasn't sure if I was ever going to play pain-free again, so when I started training pain-free I found a new enjoyment for the game and ever since then I've really been enjoying stepping on the court."

Nour El Tayeb and Georgina Kennedy will play in the other women's semi-final as they claimed comprehensive victories over Malaysia's Sivasangari Subramaniam and Wales' Emily Whitlock to move into the final four.

2023 World Championship runner-up Karim Abdel Gawad produced the only upset in the men's draw as he defeated No.4 seed, world No.8 Victor Crouin, in straight games to reach a third semi-final in four tournaments.

The Egyptian only returned from injury in March this year and has been in excellent form in every event he has played since. After claiming the Optasia Championship title, he then reached the final eight of the British Open, before putting together a sublime run at the World Championships in Chicago to reach the final.

Gawad displayed his silky-smooth front court abilities in front of a packed crowd at Manchester's National Squash Centre and after securing two tight opening games 11-9, 11-8, he then toyed with the Frenchman as he won 11-4 in the final game to again progress to the semi-finals.

The other top four men's seeds didn't have things their own way as they booked their semi-final spots. Both No.2 and No.4 seeds Tarek Momen and Joel Makin came through tough five-game matches against Nicolas Mueller and Fares Dessouky to progress to day four. Later, recently crowned World Champion Ali Farag silenced the home crowd as he defeated the only remaining Englishman in the daw, Patrick Rooney, in four games.