Amr Shabana, the elder statesman of world squash, produced a magical transformation of his second round match on Monday which suggested his chances of winning his fifth World Open title may yet be alive.
The 35-year-old Egyptian was slipping into trouble against Nicolas Mueller, the gifted world number 19 from Switzerland, but in four amazing minutes turned a potentially exhausting defeat into a marvellous victory.
One moment Shabana was 0-3 down in the fourth game, having disappointingly lost the third; the next he had conjured a 11-7, 20-18, 8-18, 11-4 victory which took him into the last 16.
“I just decided that I am going to try to finish the point before he does,” Shabana said. “We were both a bit spent in the fourth game.”
Spent energy was however more crucial for the 10 years older man. Hence Shabana’s legendary racket skills, which produced eight winners in the next 11 points, have not often delivered a more important match-changing reward.
It began with an outrageous volley into the sidewall nick, which made the ball roll dead, it continued with a drop-drive winning combination and an angled boast winner, and it finished with a lob-kill combo setting up a match point that was converted immediately with a perfect length drive.
Shabana acknowledged that he was a little bit relieved. “You get matches like this. It makes you stronger for the next win if it doesn’t kill you,” he said, perhaps unsure how the often hectic 62-minute tussle will leave him feeling on Tuesday.
“Hopefully I can carry on this performance. I don’t think many people play at the pace he does, so maybe it will be easier now, going forward.”
That is by no means certain. Shabana next plays Max Lee of Hong Kong, the first Chinese player to make the world’s top 20, who upset the seedings with a 13-11, 3-11, 11-7, 6-11, 11-8 win against Karim Gawad, the 15th seeded Egyptian.
Lee has David Palmer, the twice former world champion as his mentor, and appears to have some of the Australian’s fiercely competitive qualities. He is also likely to emerge from his 76-minute struggle at least as fresh as his famous next opponent.
However if Shabana does prevail again he could have a quarter-final with Nick Matthew, the 34-year-old defending world champion from England, who was due to face Gregoire Marche, the improving Frenchman. Both Matthew and Shabana have been harbouring hopes of becoming the oldest male world champion in the event’s 38-year history.
If Shabana were to win a fifth world title, he will also exceed the achievement of Geoff Hunt of Australia, leaving only the two legendary Pakistanis, Jansher Khan (8) and Jahangir Khan(6), who have won more.