Amanda Sobhy is first American to reach Grand Central semi-finals
By BETH RASIN and NATHAN CLARKE in New York
Team USA’s Amanda Sobhy put on a stellar display in the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions quarter-finals Tuesday afternoon, defeating world No. 9 Alison Waters in three games to become the first American male or female to ever reach the semi-finals in Grand Central Terminal.
In front of a packed and partisan New York crowd, Sobhy scored another stunning upset as she defeated sixth seed Waters of England, 12-10, 11-3, 11-9 in quarterfinal play this afternoon. The 22-year-old Harvard graduate had earlier eliminated the defending champion and No. 2 seed Raneem El Welily of Egypt on Sunday.
Waters, a Toc finalist last year, had three game balls in the first game when she took a 10-7 lead. Undaunted, Sobhy reeled off the next five points to snatch the game and take the upper hand in the match. “I just told myself that I had to keep fighting on every point. I knew that if I won the first game, it would change the momentum in a big way,” Sobhy said, and she indeed dominated the second game, winning it 11-3.
The more experienced English opponent regrouped in the third, but the American left-hander brushed back the challenge by winning the game 11-9 to earn a trip to the semi-finals on Wednesday. Commenting both on her victory and the incredible roar that emanates in the lofty Vanderbilt Hall confines from the vocal and supportive crowd, Sobhy said: “This is incredible. The crowd was amazing – their support gives me that second and third extra push. This is best place in the world to play.”
The highest-ranking American ever on the PSA World Tour, the Sea Cliff, LI native reached her highest world ranking of No. 8 as of January 1. With this victory, Sobhy also is assured of the best American finish ever in a PSA World Series event.
“This may be the single greatest day in American squash history,” said tournament promoter John Nimick, himself a former high-ranking professional player.
In Wednesday’s semi-final, Sobhy will face the tournament’s eighth seed, Nouran Gohar.
The 18-year-old Egyptian (right) registered her own upset in the afternoon’s first match when she defeated the current world no. 1 Laura Massaro by two points in the fifth game.
World No.10 Gohar had lost to Lancashire’s Massaro in all six of the pair’s previous meetings on the PSA World Tour but a virtuoso performance from the young Egyptian saw her end her losing streak with a 10-12, 11-9, 5-11, 11-8, 11-9 victory and add Massaro’s name to her list of scalps this season, which also includes Malaysian superstar Nicol David and World No.4 Camille Serme who she beat in August’s Stars on the Bund China Open.
Massaro, who had secured the top ranking spot at year-end by claiming two titles and a runner up finish in the last three PSA World Series events of 2015, took the early lead with a 12-10 first game win.
The reigning World Junior Champion responded by pounding the ball to the back of the court to win the second game 11-9 and even the match. The fearless teenager continued to go toe-to-toe with her 32-year-old opponent to claim a ToC semi-final berth by winning the last two games 11-8,11-9.
“I am so, so, so happy, I can’t feel anything right now,” said a wide-smiling Gohar after the match. “To beat the World No. 1 is just incredible.
“It’s my biggest win. Laura is the World No.1 and she beat me six times before so to beat her 3-2 in a very tough match like this is awesome. It’s unbelievable for me.
“Laura is so strong. You can’t give her any balls in the middle so I was trying to keep my shots in the back and then attack.”
As with her semi-final opponent, Gohar was buoyed by the crowd. “This is my first time playing here in Grand Central, and it is now my favourite. The crowd just gives me so much energy.”
She also received a confidence boost from being coached during the match by former world No 1 and three-time ToC champion Amr Shabana. “When I was getting tired towards the end, he just said ‘Just go and play. You do what you think you need to. You do it.”
And Gohar did.
In two more massive matches in the evening session, Nour El Sherbini overcame Camille Serme in 74 minutes and Nicol David hit back from 2-1 down to beat Omneya Abdel Kawy to complete a phenomenal day of women’s squash in this truly iconic location.
David, the 32-year-old Malaysian superstar who ruled women’s squash as world no.1 for 109 consecutive months, will make her second ToC semi-final appearance after defeating fifth seed Omneya Abdel Kawy in five games.
It was a testament to Serme’s strength of will that she fought back after losing the first two games to the two-time World Junior Champion to tie the match at two all. El Sherbini matched the 26-year-old Frenchwoman’s fighting spirit with her own competitive intensity in the fifth. It was nip and tuck most of the way through the last game, until El Sherbini nosed ahead from 7-all to and won the match on a tin by Serme.
“I don’t know how I won that match,” El Sherbini said. “I was so tired at the end; I was really glad to see that last bill hit the tin.”
El Sherbini’s semi-final opponent will be David after she resolutely eliminated Abdel Kawy in another five-game contest. After winning the first game 11-6 in 9 minutes, it looked like David, who had won her first two matches in 20 minutes or less, might have another short and efficient victory.
But Abdel Kawy, who is an extraordinarily skilled shotmaker, had other ideas and consistently pushed David to the back of the court enabling the Egyptian deploy her shooting game to great effect.
“I knew that in order to keep Omneya from being able to shoot so easily I had to hit the ball more cleanly and deeper to keep her behind me,” said David. The strategy worked as David took control of the T and steamrolled through the last two games 11-3, 11-5.
J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions, Grand Central Terminal, New York, USA.
 Nouran Gohar (EGY) bt  Laura Massaro (ENG) 3-2: 10-12, 11-9, 5-11, 11-8, 11-9 (77m)
 Amanda Sobhy (USA) bt  Alison Waters (ENG) 3-0: 12-10, 11-3, 11-9 (38m)
 Nour El Sherbini (EGY) bt  Camille Serme (FRA) 3-2: 11-4, 11-9, 8-11, 8-11, 11-8 (74m)
 Nicol David (MAS) bt  Omneya Abdel Kawy (EGY) 11-6, 10-12, 10-12, 11-3, 11-5 (56m)
 Nouran Gohar (EGY) v  Amanda Sobhy (USA)
 Nour El Sherbini (EGY) v  Nicol David (MAS)
Pictures by STEVE LINE (www.squashpics.com) courtesy of PSA