Tournament of Champions qualifying draw attracts strong field for World Series opener
By MICHAEL CATLING (Squash Mad Reporter) & Kristi Maroc (Squash Mad New York Reporter)
Nour El Sherbini and Sarah-Jane Perry will make their much-anticipated returns from injury in the first qualifying round at the Women’s J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions in New York on Saturday.
El Sherbini, who finished runner-up to Nicol David in the 2012 British Open, has been sidelined since the summer due to a series of niggling injuries, while world number 17 Perry suffered a fractured vertebrae in September.
The 23-year-old Englishwoman will have to overcome home hope Olivia Blatchford in her opening qualifying round, while 18-year-old Egyptian El Sherbini meets world number 24 Sarah Kippax.
With two rounds of qualifying scheduled over the weekend, all players will be fighting for an opportunity to play under the chandeliers on the prestigious center court at Grand Central in the main rounds starting Monday.
Heading up the first round of qualifying as the top seed is Indian number one Dipika Pallikal, who will take on 19 year old Emily Whitlock from England at midday.
Pallikal, who lost to Natalie Grinham in the 2012 final, is in one of the strongest positions of her playing career to date, and Whitlock, at world number 26, has steadily risen through the ranks in recent years with a host of solid performances.
Following their encounter is an all-lefty match up between world number 13 Annie Au of Hong Kong and 27 year old Aussie Donna Urquhart.
The match is sure to be tightly contested with Au following up on the biggest win of her career at the Hong Kong Open in December when she upset current world number two Laura Massaro.
Meanwhile, Urquhart will be pumped to kick this year off on a high after a break for ankle surgery that led to a disrupted 2013.
El Sherbini and Kippax are third on court, before 20 year old Amanda Sobhy and world number 84 Cecelia Cortes will have the home crowd divided as the two Americans compete for a position in the main draw.
Former world number one Rachael Grinham, a WSA veteran at 36 years old, will then open her campaign against Hong Kong’s Joey Chan, before Blatchford and Perry contest the penultimate match at the Princeton Club.
In the last encounter on Saturday afternoon, 28-year-old Egyptian Omneya Abdel Kawy takes on Fernanda Rocha of Argentina – the highest ranked qualifier in the draw.
First qualifying round:
Dipika Pallikal (IND) v Emily Whitlock (ENG) – 12:00pm
Annie Au (HKG) v Donna Urquhart (AUS) -12:45pm
Nour El Sherbini (EGY) v Sarah Kippax (ENG) – 13:30pm
Amanda Sobhy (USA) v Cecelia Cortes (USA) – 14:15pm
Line Hansen (DEN) v Sabrina Sobhy (USA) – 15:00pm
Rachael Grinham (AUS) v Joey Chan (HKG) – 15:45pm
Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) v Olivia Blatchford (USA) – 16:30pm
Omneya Abdel Kawy (EGY) v Fernanda Rocha (ARG) – 17:15pm
Pictures by Michael Catling