Biggest win of her career, and a huge lift for US Squash
By NATHAN CLARKE in New York
Team USA’s 2015 triple-PanAm Games Gold medal winning hero Amanda Sobhy pulled off the biggest win of her career, and arguably one of the most significant triumphs in the history of US Squash, as she eliminated defending champion and World No.2 Raneem El Welily in the second round of the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions – the prestigious PSA World Series tournament currently taking place in her home city of New York.
In the stunning setting of Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall the recent Harvard graduate, who only transitioned to life as a full time pro last summer after completing a degree in Social Anthropology, played with devastating attacking precision as she reeled off winner after winner to complete a 3-1 victory in 40 minutes and send the capacity crowd into raptures.
“I knew I had nothing to lose against her and I couldn’t have done any worse than the last time we played in Hong Kong (when Sobhy lost 3-0 in 22 minutes) so I just went out there and tried to stick to the game plan. I had to go out of my comfort zone and mix up the pace to get her on the back foot and I’m very, very pleased that it paid off.
“It’s definitely one of, if not the single, biggest wins of my career. She’s a phenomenal player, she won here last year and she’s been World No.1 but I felt relaxed and knew I had my coach, my friends and the crowd behind me so I was excited to go in there and do my best.”
El Welily, who held the World No.1 mantle from September to December, was a hot favourite to retain the title she won in convincing fashion 12 months ago but it was Sobhy, playing without fear, who wrote her name into TOC folklore.
After taking the opening game 11-5 she pressed on the front foot throughout the encounter, and despite dropping the second, looked every bit the genuine title contender her current career high ranking of No.8 suggests.
“I was nervous when we played here last year, which was the only time I took a game off her, but I wasn’t nervous tonight,” added the 22-year-old who currently trains in Boston under the guidance of former Men’s World No.1 and World Champion Thierry Lincou.
“Thierry has made a huge difference to my game. I started working with him when I was a junior and his experience and knowledge has been amazing and both he and my other coach, Shahid Zaman, have really helped me push on. Hopefully I can back it up now in the quarters on Tuesday.”
Sobhy will face Alison Waters in the last eight after she recorded a comfortable 3-0 victory over Delia Arnold while fellow Englishwoman Laura Massaro, the current World No.1, was forced to call on all her mental strength to come through a difficult second round match with Frenchwoman Coline Aumard during which she struggled to find her best form.
Massaro looked on course to seal a straightforward victory after she dominated the first game, taking it 11-3, but found herself embroiled in a tense battle from there on in and had to use her big match experience to save game ball in the fourth and progress after a hard-earned 3-1 win.
“I didn’t feel at my best on court but I’m very happy to come through because winning is the important aspect,” said Massaro.
“I’m relieved and honestly just happy to still be in tournament. I have a rest day now to work on the things and come back better in next match because I know I need to raise my level.”
In the men’s draw hard-hitting German Simon Rösner pulled off one of the most impressive wins of his career to defeat 2010 champion James Willstrop and book a quarter-final beth against crowd favourite Gregory Gaultier, the current World Champion.
Rösner and Willstrop treated the capacity crowd to an 80-minute thriller which came to a crescendo during a fourth game that saw the German squander four match balls before saving three game balls to finally to secure the win 9-11, 11-4, 11-3, 16-14.
“To beat James, in the form he has been in recently, on this stage is one of the most significant wins of my career in recent years and especially so as I struggled a bit at the end of last year,” said Rösner.
“I had a few tough defeats at the end of 2015 and was maybe losing a little bit of confidence so to be moving well on court again and winning a big match like this is very important for me. I’m really happy that I managed to close it out in the end and move into the quarter-finals here.”
In another tough battle, No.8 seed Marwan Elshorbagy won a desperately close match against Australia’s Ryan Cuskelly, edging home 12-10 in the fourth after 78 minutes.
No.2 seed Gregory Gaultier and No.3 seed Nick Matthew both beat Egyptian opponents in straight games. However, while Matthew took 48 minutes to see off Karim Abdel Gawad, Gaultier was kept on court for 62 minutes by Fares Dessouki.
J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions, Grand Central Terminal, New York, USA.
Men’s Second Round (January 10, 2016):
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt Fares Dessouki (EGY) 3-0: 11-5, 11-9, 11-2 (62m)
 Simon Rösner (GER) bt James Willstrop (ENG) 3-1: 9-11, 11-4, 11-3, 16-14 (80m)
 Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY) bt Ryan Cuskelly (AUS) 3-1: 12-10, 12-14, 11-9, 12-10 (78m)
 Nick Matthew (ENG) bt Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) 3-0: 11-8, 11-9, 11-3 (48m)
 Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY) v  Omar Mosaad (EGY)
 Mathieu Castagnet (FRA) v Borja Golan (ESP)
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v  Simon Rösner (GER)
 Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY) v  Nick Matthew (ENG)
Women’s Second Round (Top Half):
 Amanda Sobhy (USA) bt  Raneem El Welily (EGY) 3-1: 11-5, 6-11, 11-5, 11-6 (41m)
 Alison Waters (ENG) bt  Delia Arnold (MAS) 3-0: 11-5, 11-8, 11-6 (29m)
 Nouran Gohar (EGY) bt Heba El Torky (EGY) 3-1: 7-11, 11-7, 11-2, 11-5 (41m)
 Laura Massaro (ENG) bt [Q] Coline Aumard (FRA) 3-1: 11-3, 8-11, 11-2, 12-10 (51m)
Women’s Second Round (Bottom Half):
 Camille Serme (FRA) v  Emily Whitlock (ENG)
[Q] Mariam Metwally (EGY) v  Nour El Sherbini (EGY)
 Omneya Abdel Kawy (EGY) v  Joshna Chinappa (IND)
 Annie Au (HKG) v  Nicol David (MAS)
The 2016 Men’s J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions, PSA World Series tournament, takes place in New York’s iconic Grand Central Terminal from Jan 7 – 14, with the 2016 Women’s tournament taking place from Jan 9 – 14.
Ticket prices range from $8 for early round matches, going up to $170 for the sought-after Men’s and Women’s Finals on the evening of Thursday, January 14th. Tickets are available online at ToCSquash.com or by calling (718) 569-0594.
Pictures by STEVE LINE (www.squashpics.com) courtesy of PSA