Doha: France`s Gregory Gaultier survived a nasty first round scare to advance at the World Open squash championship in Doha on Friday.
No top seed has ever lost in the first round, but when the 31-year-old stood 6-6 in the fourth game against Egyptian qualifier Andrew Wagih Shoukry there looked a real possibility it would happen.
Gaultier worked patiently towards safety and to a 6-11, 9-11, 11-6, 11-7, 11-3 victory in a mature and considered recovery by the man from Aix-en-Provence.
Shoukry, one of a record 14 Egyptians in the main draw, played pressure-free and tenaciously excellent squash, but Gaultier`s ability to analyse what was happening and to adapt was decisive.
For the first half of the match he had no rhythm, perhaps partly because of a new court on which he had never competed before.
He also had legs which felt "wooden" after three weeks` hard training, he said, and for a while these difficulties affected his attitude.
"I had no patience when my shots weren`t working," Gaultier admitted. "I had to find patience, and get a few things going. I thought `just play as if it`s 0-0` at the start of the third game, and once I got on top in the third I thought `that`s it`".
Despite this his opponent managed to come back from a four-point deficit to reach parity in the fourth game, and it required Gaultier to produce three steely-minded, feather-light backhand drops in the top left corner to ease him to relative safety.
Gaultier may also have been nervous at the start of a tournament in which he has lost four times in the final, and which may now be offering him a last chance to fill the only significant gap in his trophy cabinet.
True or not, Shoukry sensed an opportunity, and responded with passion and self-belief, though he claimed to be "tired from the first point".
It was the Egyptian support, he said, which made his fine performance possible. "They made me want it, They made me feel I was playing back home," he said.
Gaultier next plays Mohamed Nafiizwan Adnan of Malaysia, who beat Mazen Hesham, a promising young Egyptian 13-11, 11-7 9-11, 11-5, and faces a possible last 16 meeting with Omar Mosaad, the ninth-seeded Egyptian, who ended a spirited performance by local wild card Abdulla al Tamimi 11-8, 11-8, 10-12, 11-5.
Gaultier could also have a semi-final meeting with Ramy Ashour, the fourth-seeded twice former World Open champion from Egypt, who saved two game points in the second game against Ivan Yuen, a Malaysian qualifier, to win 11-5, 12-10, 11-5.
Ashour next plays England`s Adrian Grant, whose compatriot Nick Matthew starts his World Open title defence Saturday against German qualifier Raphael Kandra.
World number one Mohamed El Shorbagy of Egypt begins his bid to succeed Matthew against Malaysian qualifier Muhamed Asyraf Asan.