‘I needed to come here on my own to do it by myself’
By ELLIE MAWSON in Chicago
American World No.30 Amanda Sobhy cemented her return to top form following a career-threatening injury with an emotional win over World No.6 Nouran Gohar in the second round of the 2018 Windy City Open presented by the Walter Family & EquiTrust Life Insurance Company.
The charismatic US star endured a 10-month injury lay-off following a torn achilles in the early stages of 2017, during which time a return to the upper echelons of the World Rankings seemed beyond reach.
After an under-par return to action earlier this year at New York’s Tournament of Champions, she showed that she is back to her best as she recovered from dropping the first game to prevail 8-11, 11-6, 11-6, 11-5.
Gohar took the first game to put Sobhy on the defensive, but she battled back in the second showing impressive resolve and went from strength to strength from there. This left the Egyptian struggling to find an answer to her attacking onslaught as she booked a place in a third successive quarter-final berth in the Windy City Open, which this year offers a record high prize fund of $250,000 in both the men’s and women’s draws.
“It’s been such a long journey,” said an emotional Sobhy following her win. “I know I came back at ToC but I really had my eye set on this tournament. I really wanted to prove to myself that I’ve got this and told my coaches that I wanted to go on my own to do it by myself.
“I wanted to prove to myself that I’ve come all this way and I’ve fought back from injury and I can still beat the top people.
“The fact that I’ve come so far and gone through so much and built myself back up from the ground and got this win against a top six player, I’m really happy.
“I have a massive team around me and it has been a major team effort. I couldn’t have done it without all of their help and support. It has been a long process, but they have stuck by me and I can’t thank them enough.
“If there was ever a tournament to win then this would be a good one. I love Chicago – being the home girl is awesome and having everyone’s support.”
Elsewhere in the women’s event, England’s former World No.1 Laura Massaro was knocked out by New Zealand’s Joelle King after the World No.9 produced a phenomenal comeback to reach the quarter-finals of this year’s tournament.
King looked down and out in the first game as a confident Massaro took full control before the Kiwi regained her composure and used her athleticism to full effect to win 6-11, 11-9, 11-6, 8-11, 11-6 in 70 minutes.
“Playing Laura is never easy,” said the 29-year-old. “I’ve only beaten her once, and that was last year, so it’s always a tough mental battle. I had to dig deep to come back so I’m really proud of that win.”
Defending champion Raneem El Welily also kept her title defence alive as she conquered England’s Emily Whitlock in straight games, while England’s Alison Waters had to battle hard to beat giant-killer Hannah El Hammamy in five games.
El Hammamy played fast and relentless squash to take a 2-1 lead before Waters’ experience shone through and she was able to claw back and take the victory by an 12-10, 8-11, 5-11, 11-7, 11-7 scoreline in 62 minutes.
“It was tough,” said Waters. “Seventeen! She’s an amazing player and she’s got a great future ahead of her. As one of the oldies, I’ve got to keep these young ones behind me!
“I tried to mix it up as much as possible and tried to lift it and I just had to keep in front because when she was in front she was very dominant. I felt really good out there and moving well, and I’m so happy to be in the quarter-finals.”
In the men’s draw, Colombia’s Miguel Angel Rodriquez and Hong Kong’s Max Lee played out one of the matches of the tournament so far as they brought the crowd inside the University Club of Chicago’s Cathedral Hall to their feet during a 78-minute thriller.
Rodriguez took the opener, before Lee – who dumped World No.9 Mohamed Abouelghar out in round one – battled back to take a 2-1 lead forcing Rodriguez to dig deep to claim an 11-7, 11-13, 10-12, 11-5, 11-6 victory in a humdinger of a match.
“We are good friends and I’ve played with Max many times before,” said Rodriguez.
“He was 2-1 up and mentally it is very tough to come back from that but I think I stayed positive. I saw at the end of the fourth he was tired so I had to come back stronger.
“I’m pleased to see that he is back at his best. He is a fantastic player. We enjoyed the game and I think the crowd did too but I’m happy to win and to be in the quarter-finals and with my performance.”
Rodriguez will go up against soon-to-be World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy in the next round after he sailed through, defeating France’s Mathieu Castagnet in straight-games, while Egyptian pair Tarek Momen and Karim Abdel Gawad also prevailed – with Momen securing his first ever victory over three-time World Champion Ramy Ashour.
Ashour started the match strongly, moving with grace and ease as he unleashed an array of sublime winners, but as the match wore on it was clear to see that the Egyptian was struggling with his movement as Momen – who has reached the Qatar Classic and Tournament of Champions finals this season – maintained his focus to close out the win.
“It’s a very tricky match playing against Ramy,” said Momen. “We grew up in the same generation and he is only a few months older than me and for the past 25 years I haven’t beaten him once.
“The way he played the first game is a taste of what he can do on court. He’s had some struggles for the past few years and he’s trying to come back and so, I’m always on edge because I don’t know what to expect.
“I’m very happy with the way I played today and how I handled the situation because I couldn’t tell if something was going to happen. I felt like we both played some good squash and I’m happy that I’m through.”
PSA $500,000 2018 Windy City Open presented by the Walter Family & EquiTrust Life Insurance Company, Cathedral Hall, University Club of Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Men’s Second Round:
 Tarek Momen (EGY) bt Ramy Ashour (EGY) 3-1: 10-12, 11-6, 11-2, 11-5 (42m)
 Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) bt Diego Elias (PER) 3-0: 11-7, 11-7, 11-5 (38m)
Miguel Angel Rodriguez (COL) bt [Q] Max Lee (HKG) 3-2: 11-7, 11-13, 10-12, 11-5, 11-6 (78m)
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) bt Mathieu Castagnet (FRA) 3-0: 11-5, 11-5, 11-9 (33m)
Men’s Quarter-Finals (To be played February 26):
 Simon Rösner (GER) v  Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY)
 Ali Farag (EGY) v Cameron Pilley (AUS)
 Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) v  Tarek Momen (EGY)
Miguel Angel Rodriguez (COL) v  Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY)
Women’s Second Round:
 Amanda Sobhy (USA) bt  Nouran Gohar (EGY) 3-1: 8-11, 11-6, 11-6, 11-5 (39m)
 Joelle King (NZL) bt  Laura Massaro (ENG) 3-2: 6-11, 11-9, 11-6, 8-11, 11-6 (70m)
 Alison Waters (ENG) bt Hania El Hammamy (EGY) 3-2: 12-10, 8-11, 5-11, 11-7, 11-7 (62m)
 Raneem El Welily (EGY) bt  Emily Whitlock (ENG) 3-0: 11-4, 11-2, 11-2 (20m)
Women’s Quarter-Finals (To be played February 26):
 Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) v  Camille Serme (FRA)
 Nour El Sherbini (EGY) v  Nour El Tayeb (EGY)
 Joelle King (NZL) v  Amanda Sobhy (USA)
 Alison Waters (ENG) v  Raneem El Welily (EGY)
Pictures courtesy of PSA