6:08 am
24 Jun 2024

Watanabe Waltzes Into Biggest Tour Final At Optasia Championships

17 Mar 2024

Satomi Watanabe, Japan's highest-ranked player of all-time, cruised into the biggest PSA World Tour final of her career after ending home interest in the Optasia Championships at The Wimbledon Club in London.

The No.4 seed from Yokohama totally dominated her semi-final match against England's Jasmine Hutton, the sixth seed, wrapping up her 11-5, 11-4, 11-2 victory in 22 minutes.

Taking control from the outset, and firing in winners apparently at will, the world No.19 was completely in charge from start to finish with world No.24 Hutton never able to make an impression for more than a rally or two at a time.

"It was a really scrappy match yesterday," said 25-year-old Watanabe after the match. "When I got back to my room I watched what I did wrong yesterday. Today, my mind was more clear on what I needed to do, what I'm not supposed to do. I think it helped me and really pleased with the performance today."

Watanabe will now face top seed Nele Gilis for the title after the Belgian overcame Egypt's Nada Abbas in four games that took just over the hour to complete.

The world No.4 looked comfortable in the first game, holding an early lead then pulling away from 7-6 to take the lead with the game finishing on three consecutive strokes against Abbas.

Abbas, ranked 11 places below, struck back quickly though, as she did much the same in the second, levelling with a run of quick points from 7-6 to 11-6.

Gilis wasn't to be denied though as she regained control in the next two games, closing out the match 11-3, 11-6, finishing with an exquisite high volley drop on match ball.

"I have some improving to do for the final tomorrow," said Gilis after the match. "The court plays a lot differently in the morning compared to match time. The temperatures a lot different because there's more people in the crowd. It's not cold in here but for some reason the ball dies off very quickly."

In the men's PSA World Tour Gold event, Egypt's world No.1 Ali Farag defeated defending champion Karim Abdel Gawad to progress to his ninth successive Tour final, and the 67th of his career.

After an even start to the opening game, Farag pulled away from 4-4 to take the lead 11-6, but compatriot Gawad struck back to take a quick 3-0 lead in the second game.

The advantage was extended to 8-2, but Farag slowly started reeling in the points from 6-9 and earned a game ball as Gawad hit the tin. Gawad saved the game ball and got a game ball of his own, but Farag wasn't in the mood to let the game go and took the next three points to go 2/0 up.

The world No.1 marched on in the third game, opening up a 5-2 lead with Gawad beginning to look dispirited and finding too many tins. At 7-3, Farag scrambled to stay in the rally, hitting a miraculous but loose return from deep in the court, only for Gawad to hit the tin on a simple winning shot.

A look between the players said it all, and with three more Gawad errors in the final points, Farag was on his way to a final showdown with world No.2 Paul Coll.

"I think he played a lot better this time [compared to Windy City]," said Farag after the match. "Last time, i got off to a good start, this time it was neck-and-neck in the first and he got off to a great start in the second. I played a shot I don't even know how I played it. That was a turning point.

"He slowed it down very smartly in the second. I like to switch the play to Karim up high because he's so lethal at shoulder height. I think I used that too much and he got used to it. The fact that I won the second obviously gave me a huge boost and I capitalised on that in the second. I was lucky today to get the win, but I'm sure we're going to have more battles in the future."

2016 Champion Paul Coll beat No.3 Mostafa Asal in four games to reach the Optasia Championships final just an hour after fiancée Nele Gilis had reached the women's final.

For two games it looked as though a repeat of his performance at the Windy City Open was on the cards, as Coll controlled both opening games to take the lead 11-4, 11-8, reaping benefits from his accurate dropshots on both sides.

The Egyptian came out firing in the third game though, markedly upping the pace and hammering in nine winners as he romped to a 10-1 advantage with the crowd willing him on all the way. Coll saved three game balls but soon enough Asal had the game.

The fourth was an anticlimax for the crowd though, as Coll regained control with Asal hitting too many tins and conceding strokes through overaggressive shots. Coll maintained the scoreboard advantage, delightedly taking the game 11-5 after three successive tins from Asal.

"I knew the power that he possesses," said Coll after the match. "I've seen some of the comebacks he's put on. I'm very happy that after I lost one set, I attacked him and got it back on my terms."