Lifelong rival holds Matthew’s hand aloft after epic battle in New York
By ALAN THATCHER and NATHAN CLARKE
Nick Matthew, one of the greatest champions of them all, bade an emotional farewell to Grand Central Terminal with his arm held aloft by Gregory Gaultier, the man who had just clinched victory in an epic battle beneath the chandeliers in Vanderbilt Hall.
New York’s J.P.Morgan Tournament of Champions, one of the game’s most iconic events and jaw-dropping venues, provided a fittingly dramatic backdrop for a moment Matthew knew would come around as he planned his farewell season on the PSA World Tour with his usual meticulous eye for detail.
Still competing at the highest level at the age of 37, Matthew gave everything against a career-long rival who followed in his footsteps as world champion and world number one.
Gaultier, who was up against Matthew for the 36th time on the PSA World Tour, recovered from losing a 30-minute opening game to prevail 12-14, 11-6, 12-10, 11-7 in what will go down as one of the finest matches in the history of the event.
Probing back and forth from the off, the pair engaged in rally after rally of physically and mentally testing squash that saw them move the ball, and each other, into all four corners of the court. Gaultier struck a crucial blow when he came from behind to take the third-game from under the nose of Matthew and go ahead on the scoreboard for the first time.
From then on the Frenchman tried to inject pace into the play to tire Matthew. The tactic worked as he eventually prevailed to inflicting defeat upon the 37-year-old in what was his last ever appearance under the chandeliers inside Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall.
“We’ve been playing each other for 20 years, since we were kids, and he definitely made it tough today,” said 35-year-old Gaultier after their 90-minute thriller which delighted the New York crowd.
Nick Matthew: ‘It was the best I’ve played all season’
“He was dominating the centre of the court with his accuracy and made it very hard for me. He was hurting me on there. I just tried to dig in and retrieve as much as I could to keep the rallies going and make him work as hard as possible.
“We both gave everything. Of course we are rivals but we are friends as well and have a huge respect for each other. Playing here in this atmosphere is amazing and we both emptied the tank – hopefully I can recover well for my next round match now.”
After the match Matthew said: “Today he just came out on top even though I think it was the best I have played all season, which shows there’s more to come from me over the next few months.”
Gaultier will now go up against Simon Rösner of Germany for a place in the title-decider after the 30-year-old from Paderborn beat Switzerland’s Nicolas Mueller – his friend and training partner – 3-1 to reach only the second PSA World Series tournament semi-final of his career.
The win comes just three months after Rösner secured his maiden appearance in a major semi-final during October’s Qatar Classic.
“It’s hard to play someone who you know so well so I’m just relieved to get through the match today,” said Rösner.
“I am a little disappointed I couldn’t close it out in three, but I’m happy that I got it back in the fourth.
“I had been waiting for a big quarter-final win for a long time and finally managed to get one in Qatar to reach my first World Series semi-finals. To be in a second semi this season here in New York – for the first time in this great venue – is very special.”
In the women’s draw, defending champion Camille Serme had to call on all her fighting spirit to recover from a 2-1 deficit and come through a difficult clash with Australia’s Donna Urquhart in one of four women’s second round matches to go the distance.
Serme became the first Frenchwoman ever to win the Tournament of Champions last year when she beat England’s Laura Massaro in the final, but the number three seed was on the brink of an early elimination after conceding a one-game advantage following some superb squash from Urquhart.
The World No.16 outplayed Serme for large parts but the 28-year-old from Creteil showed her resilience as she came from 4-1 down in the fourth game to keep the match alive and, after taking the match into a crucial fifth, she maintained her composure to complete the victory.
“When you are losing, you start thinking about not playing again and being out of the tournament, so that’s when you fight even more,” said Serme.
“You think that you have nothing left to loose and that’s when you relax a bit. At the end I got a lucky bounce and I just fought as hard as I could.
“I knew today would be tricky. Donna is in really good form and she put on a great match. She made me struggle a lot so I’m happy to be through.”
Serme will go up against Malaysian squash icon Nicol David in the quarter-finals after the eight-time World Champion impressed in a 3-1 victory over New Zealand’s Joelle King, while current World Champion Raneem El Welily will take on compatriot Nour El Tayeb after scraping through a difficult five-game battle with Welsh number one Tesni Evans. After more than an hour on court, it all came down to the final flourish of the fifth game, with El Welily squeezing home 12-10 to deny the rising Welsh star another major scalp after beating Laura Massaro in the World Championships in Manchester in December.
El Welily suffered a nasty looking ankle injury during her first round win over Jenny Duncalf and was still feeling the effects of that injury during the early exchanges. But the Egyptian managed to find her footing in the second and raced through the gears to produce some spellbinding play that was equally matched by Evans.
The duo traded points through a series of thrilling exchanges, going all the way to a decisive tie-break finish in the fifth game, which El Welily converted to a standing ovation from the crowd.
“Tesni played fantastic today and I think I was a little flat at the beginning,” said El Welily. “It was mentally hard for me today. It felt like I was playing a final, which it isn’t, but at least I get to live for another day in this tournament. It definitely wasn’t easy at the beginning with my ankle – I just tried to adjust to it.
“The physios put in a lot of work and really helped me to recover for today and I’ll need to do a lot of work again to be ready for the match tomorrow.” Evans, meanwhile, knows that she pushed the world champion all the way and will be hungry to come back and deliver more performances like this of the highest quality in the game’s most imposing surroundings.
Elsewhere World No.1 Nour El Sherbini set up a last eight clash with England’s Sarah-Jane Perry with Laura Massaro and Nouran Gohar both prevailing in their second round battles to set up a last eight meeting.
J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions, Grand Central Terminal, New York, USA.
Men’s Quarter-finals (top half):
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt  Nick Matthew (ENG) 3-1: 12-14, 11-6, 12-10, 11-7 (92m)
Simon Rösner (GER) bt Nicolas Mueller (SUI) 3-1: 11-7, 11-7, 13-15, 11-6 (59m)
Quarter-finals (bottom half) to be played Jan 23:
 Ali Farag (EGY) v Ramy Ashour (EGY)
 Tarek Momen (EGY) v Ryan Cuskelly (AUS)
Women’s Second Round:
 Nour El Sherbini (EGY) bt [Q] Mariam Metwally (EGY) 3-1: 11-5, 7-11, 12-10, 13-11 (41m)
 Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) bt  Olivia Blatchford (USA) 3-2: 7-11, 8-11, 11-9, 15-13, 11-7 (66m)
 Nouran Gohar (EGY) bt  Alison Waters (ENG) 3-0: 11-7, 13-11, 11-7 (40m)
 Laura Massaro (ENG) bt Victoria Lust (ENG) 3-2: 6-11, 11-8, 8-11, 11-6, 11-3 (52m)
 Camille Serme (FRA) bt Donna Urquhart (AUS) 3-2: 11-5, 6-11, 8-11, 11-6, 11-8 (53m)
 Nicol David (MAS) bt  Joelle King (NZL) 3-1: 11-9, 2-11, 11-7, 11-9 (53m)
 Nour El Tayeb (EGY) bt  Amanda Sobhy (USA) 3-0: 11-5, 11-6, 11-8 (24m)
 Raneem El Welily (EGY) bt  Tesni Evans (WAL) 3-2: 8-11, 11-3, 15-13, 7-11, 12-10 (67m)
Women’s Quarter Finals:
 Nour El Sherbini (EGY) v  Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG)
 Nouran Gohar (EGY) v  Laura Massaro (ENG)
 Camille Serme (FRA) v  Nicol David (MAS)
 Nour El Tayeb (EGY) v  Raneem El Welily (EGY)
Pictures courtesy of PSA