‘I’ve worked hard this summer and want to get my ranking back’ says Sobhy
By NATHAN CLARKE in San Francisco
There were mixed fortunes for America’s two top ranked female squash players Amanda Sobhy and Olivia Blatchford in the first round of the 2018 Oracle NetSuite Open as the PSA World Tour event got underway in San Francisco.
Sobhy, the highest ranked American-born female player of all-time, was in scintillating form as she romped to a straight-games victory over Australia’s former World No.1 Rachael Grinham.
The 25-year-old, who missed most of the 2017-18 season after rupturing her achilles tendon, played with aggression from the outset and utilised her full attacking arsenal to secure an 11-5, 11-4, 11-4 win after just 22 minutes of play.
“I’ve worked really hard this summer and had a good training block to work on the issues that developed after the injury and on any imbalances in my movement,” said Sobhy, who will now face number three seed Camille Serme of France in the second round.
“Rachael in incredibly tricky to play and hits some incredible shots, so I’m just happy to get a decent performance in and get that first win. I’ve played a few team events in the last month but its a completely different vibe at a major event so I’m happy to get that first one out of the way.
“I’m excited to play Camille tomorrow. I’m the underdog now and have no pressure on me but I want to go out there and prove that I belong on this stage. I want to get my ranking back to where it was before the injury and I’ll have the home crowd, and some friends, behind me so there’s even more incentive to win.”
Blatchford, who, following injury to Sobhy, has overtaken her as the US No.1, however fell to a 3-1 defeat to Frenchwoman Coline Aumard on a day that also saw Milou van der Heijden, Donna Lobban, Fiona Moverley, Salma Hany, Hollie Naughton and Nadine Shahin book their places in the second round.
In the men’s event the opening round featured a compelling all-French battle between Mathieu Castagnet and Lucas Serme which went the way of Castagnet after 63-minutes of compelling, attritional squash.
The opening game alone lasted 20 minutes as the pair probed for openings before the more experienced Castagnet struck the first blow as he sneaked the opening game. The 31-year-old then doubled his lead courtesy of an equally tight second game and while Serme struck back to take a comfortable third, Castagnet regrouped to take control in the fourth game and complete the win.
“I’ve had a lot of injuries over the past few years so I’m just enjoying being on court and I’m trying to have fun out there as much as possible,” said Castagnet.
“We are friends but we both train very hard every day to win matches so we have to go on there and do a job. It’s a nightmare to play someone you know very well, but I’m just happy to have won and be in the next round, which I’m excited about.”
Egyptian Karim Ali Fathi prevailed in arguably the match of the day as he outlasted Mexican Cesar Salazar in a 68-minute five-game thriller, coming back from 6-3 down in the decisive fifth to clinch a second round berth where he will take on Germany’s Simon Rösner.
“I lost in my first tournament of the season in Pakistan before I came here so I was a bit nervous at the beginning,” said Fathi.
“I was trying to give it everything I’ve got. I was chasing everything and that got to his head, and I think that’s how I won. Sometimes you just have to throw tactics out the window and fight for everything. We were both tired and breathing hard at the end but I guess it went my way this time.”
England’s former World No.1 James Willstrop was among the other winners on the opening day as he beat Scoland’s Alan Clyne 3-0 with Abdulla Mohd Al Tamimi, Saurav Ghosal, Ryan Cuskelly, Gregoire Marche and Mazen Hesham also triumphing. Willstrop now faces a fascinating encounter with No.2 seed Ali Farag.
2018 Oracle NetSuite Open, San Francisco, USA.
Women’s First Round:
Milou van der Heijden (NED) bt Millie Tomlinson (ENG) 3-0: 11-4, 11-9, 11-5 (25m)
Donna Lobban (AUS) bt Amanda Landers-Murphy (NZL) 3-1: 8-11, 11-6, 11-9, 11-8 (41m)
Fiona Moverley (ENG) bt Danielle Letourneau (CAN) 3-0: 11-9, 11-5, 11-6 (25m)
Salma Hany (EGY) bt Rowan Elaraby (EGY) 3-0: 11-8, 11-6, 11-2 (24m)
Hollie Naughton (CAN) bt Yathreb Adel (EGY) 3-1: 11-6, 6-11, 11-6, 11-7 (42m)
Nadine Shahin (EGY) bt Dipika Pallikal Karthik (IND) 3-0: 11-7, 11-7, 11-9 (23m)
Amanda Sobhy (USA) bt Rachael Grinham (AUS) 3-0: 11-8, 11-4, 11-5 (22m)
Coline Aumard (FRA) bt Olivia Blatchford (USA) 3-1: 11-3, 6-11, 11-7, 11-2 (38m)
Draw – Women’s Second Round:
 Raneem El Welily (EGY) v Hollie Naughton (CAN)
[9/16] Olivia Blatchford (USA) v  Alison Waters (ENG)
 Nicol David (MAS) v [9/16] Fiona Moverley (ENG)
Donna Lobban (AUS) v  Laura Massaro (ENG)
 Camille Serme (FRA) v [9/16] Amanda Sobhy (USA)
Milou van der Heijden (NED) v  Annie Au (HKG)
 Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) v Salma Hany (EGY)
Nadine Shahin (EGY) v  Joelle King (NZL)
Men’s First Round:
Abdulla Mohd Al Tamimi (QAT) bt Omar Abdel Meguid (EGY) 3-0: 11-7, 13-11, 11-8 (42m)
Saurav Ghosal (IND) bt Campbell Grayson (NZL) 3-0: 11-9, 11-7, 11-5 (49m)
Karim Ali Fathi (EGY) bt Cesar Salazar (MEX) 3-2: 11-9, 8-11, 11-9, 4-11, 11-7 (68m)
Mathieu Castagnet (FRA) bt Lucas Serme (FRA) 3-1: 11-9, 11-9, 5-11, 11-5 (63m)
Ryan Cuskelly (AUS) bt Nathan Lake (ENG) 3-0: 11-9, 15-13, 11-7 (52m)
Mazen Hesham (EGY) bt [WC] Charlie Johnson (ENG) 3-0: 11-8, 11-7, 11-7 (32m)
James Willstrop (ENG) bt Alan Clyne (SCO) 3-0: 11-8, 11-4, 12-10 (34m)
Gregoire Marche (FRA) bt Joel Makin (WAL) 3-0: 11-7, 11-6, 11-5 (55m)
Draw – Men’s Second Round:
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) v [9/16] Gregoire Marche (FRA)
[9/16] Mazen Hesham (EGY) v  Miguel Angel Rodriguez (COL)
 Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) v Abdulla Mohd Al Tamimi (QAT)
Saurav Ghosal (IND) v  Tarek Momen (EGY)
 Simon Rösner (GER) v Karim Ali Fathi (EGY)
Ryan Cuskelly (AUS) v  Gregory Gaultier (FRA)
 Diego Elias (PER) v Mathieu Castagnet (FRA)
[9/16] James Willstrop (ENG) v  Ali Farag (EGY)
Pictures courtesy of PSA