Ali Farag looks in supreme form as he reaches men’s final against Diego Elias
By ALAN THATCHER – Squash Mad Editor
American Amanda Sobhy continued her progress through an incredible year by reaching the final of the Tournament of Champions in New York City.
The world No.4 and No.2 seed beat Egypt’s Salma Hany 11-13, 11-6, 13-15, 11-0, 11-9 in an extraordinary match at Grand Central Terminal.
In the final she will play Egypt’s top seed, the world No.1 Nouran Gohar, who ended the dramatic run of another American, holding off a comeback by the hard-working Olivia Fiechter in a four-game battle.
In the men’s draw, top seed Ali Farag reached the final without dropping a game and he will line up against Peru’s Diego Elias.
For Sobhy, reaching the ToC final in her former home town of New York is a magnificent achievement in an incredible phase of her life.
As she moved to Philadelphia to be based at the new Arlen Specter National Center, Sobhy made a deeply emotional revelation that she had suffered from a debilitating eating disorder that began while she was a student at Harvard University.
After years of psychological turmoil, getting such a deeply personal message out into the open seemed to provide her with the mental stability to focus on her playing career.
She is getting closer to the top of the rankings and today’s New York final offers another chance of redemption against a ruthless opponent who delivered a crushing defeat to her in the recent semi-finals of the British Open.
This time Sobhy will enjoy the backing of a New York crowd who will cheer her every effort under the glistening chandeliers hanging from the ceiling of the Vanderbilt Waiting Hall.
They helped her across the line yesterday as she got the better of Egypt’s World No.7 Salma Hany, coming back from a game down to win in five, sending the home crowd into raptures as she advanced to the finals of the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions finals under the iconic chandeliers of Grand Central Terminal in New York City.
Sobhy had won all six of her previous meetings on the PSA World Tour with the Egyptian, and was aiming to continue that 100% record here. In a competitive first game, the momentum shifted several times with both players hitting quality lines to the back of the court and hitting clinical winners to the front. Hany saved two game balls at 10-9 and 11-10 on her way to securing the opening game 13-11 and shock the home crowd.
Despite taking the second game in convincing fashion, Sobhy found herself trailing at 2-1 after an extremely tight third game went the way of the Egyptian. Similar to the first game, the scoreline remained neck and neck throughout as the game reached a tiebreak yet again.
In a topsy turvy end of the game, Hany’s drops from the back of the court were both her downfall and saviour. After a couple of errors, she then hit two winners to take a marathon game 15-13 and lead 2-1.
Following a dive, and an injury break between games, Hany failed to offer serious competition in the fourth as Sobhy took complete control. With the help of the pumped-up New York crowd, Sobhy completely dominated play to win 11-0 and set up a decider.
The American got ahead early in the fifth game by moving onto Hany’s attacks quickly and running a straight drop in tight to the wall. As well as this was working, Hany found an alternative approach and started to fire the ball deep and straight with plenty of pace to drag Sobhy into the back corners.
The score remained close throughout the game until Sobhy earned the first match ball at 10-9 and took the match at the first time of asking on a stroke decision.
Sobhy sounded relieved and bewildered immediately after the match, saying: “I don’t know what happened in this match, I’m kind of just blanked right now.
“It was nip and tuck the whole way through, apart from the fourth. I wish every game was like the fourth. But I’m just so happy that the last call was a stroke. We finally know the referee rules, and that stayed a stroke because that was anybody’s game and I’m just so relieved to be through and in the final tomorrow.”
Discussing her opponent, Sobhy added: “I think she does really well when the momentum is broken up. Every time she went to the towel she won the next point.
“I’m not used to opponents taking injury breaks so I just try to keep my composure and stay pumped up and keep the momentum going, but she came back really strong. I told myself to chase every ball and if you’re going to go out then go out on your terms and just relax and play.
“I’m going to rest and recover and talk to my coach about a game plan for tomorrow. I played her (Gohar) in the British and got smoked pretty badly so I don’t think I could do much worse, but I’m just looking forward to redeeming myself and playing in front of a packed house.”
Sobhy will play the tournament’s top seed and World No.1 Nouran Gohar in the final after the Egyptian defeated another home favourite Olivia Fiechter in a four-game battle.
Gohar earned a 2-0 lead, but backed by the home crowd, Fiechter took the first game off Gohar all tournament in the third. The player known as “The Terminator” then regained her composure to reach her first career ToC final in 11-6, 11-6, 7-11, 11-5 in fifty-one minutes.
“I’m very happy to be in the final, for sure,” Gohar said. “I haven’t been in the final of TOC before, I’m very happy but I’m far from done.”
Gohar, who has made numerous trips to the States to work with Australian legend Rodney Martin, offered a respectful response when asked about Fiechter, adding: “The crowd helped her a little bit. Playing in front of an energetic crowd who is on your side takes your game up at least ten times.
“Not taking anything away from her, she played well. She’s gaining more confidence and I think she’s realising that she can beat players in the top ten now and having that belief helps a lot.”
The men’s final will be between the top two seeds, Egypt’s Ali Farag and Diego Elias of Peru.
Another Harvard alumni, world champion Farag enjoyed the smoothest road to the final, maintaining his perfect record with an 11-5, 11-4, 11-4 in under half an hour over compatriot and No.4 seed Mazen Hesham.
The 2019 ToC champion will vie for his second title in just his second career final in Vanderbilt Hall.
Ever respectful, Farag told the crowd how much it meant to him to reach the final in one of the game’s premier locations.
He said: “Every time you introduce the tournament, it gives me goosebumps with how prestigious it is, the history it has and the players that have lifted this trophy.
“John Nimick and his team have been doing such a great job and look at this crowd – what’s not to love! We don’t get these vibes everywhere we go so you need to appreciate it every time you’re on this court.”
Peru’s world No.5 Diego Elias had to dig deep and give it everything he had to come from behind in his match with India’s world No.17 Saurav Ghosal, fighting back from a game down to win in five after 70 minutes of high-quality squash.
Elias started strongly, taking the first game 11-3. However, the 35-year-old Ghosal fought back with some incredible play, moving Elias around the court in both the second and third games, as he turned the match on its head to lead 2-1.
Elias regained the momentum to win the first five points of the fourth game, and won 11-5 to send the match into a decider.
Ghosal was unable to live with the extra pace injected by Elias as he powered through the fifth game 11-3.
Elias said: “Saurav is playing amazing this week. I think he was struggling with an injury a couple of months ago, but now he is back at his best. He is always tough to play and I am just very happy to be through.
“It was very tough physically. Every time you play Saurav, he is very fit and it is always long rallies. I am just happy I could keep running and keep pushing, and I am just happy to be in the final.
“I watched a little bit (of Farag’s win over Hesham). He is looking great. We always play great matches, so I need to recover and get ready for tomorrow!”
The finals of the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions will take place at Grand Central Terminal this evening, with action getting under way at 7pm local time (GMT-4). Both finals will be streamed live on SQUASHTV and will be screened by broadcasters around the world.
2022 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions, Vanderbilt Hall, Grand Central Terminal, New York City, USA.
 Ali Farag (EGY) bt  Mazen Hesham (EGY) 3-0: 11-5, 11-4, 11-4 (28m)
 Diego Elias (PER) bt  Saurav Ghosal (IND) 3-2: 11-3, 9-11, 6-11, 11-5, 11-3 (70m)
Men’s Final (Saturday, May 7):
 Ali Farag (EGY) v  Diego Elias (PER)
 Nouran Gohar (EGY) bt  Olivia Fiechter (USA) 3-1: 11-6, 11-6, 7-11, 11-5 (51m)
 Amanda Sobhy (USA) bt  Salma Hany (EGY) 3-2: 11-13, 11-6, 13-15, 11-0, 11-9 (66m)
Women’s Final Draw (Saturday, May 7):
 Nouran Gohar (EGY) v  Amanda Sobhy (USA)
Pictures courtesy of PSA World Tour and US Squash