All change at Grand Central as Matthew masters Rodriguez to meet Elshorbagy in men’s final, while Waters powers past El Sherbini to face El Welily
By KRISTI MAROC, Squash Mad USA Editor
Catching a glimpse of Miguel Angel Rodriguez jogging through the food court at Grand Central Station isn’t something you see every day, unless the Tournament of Champions is in town.
As one of the most spectacular displays of squash in the world, the JP Morgan Tournament of Champions has the ultimate location, the extravagant chandeliers and the electric atmosphere that make it a truly breathtaking event. But given it is held in one of the world’s busiest train stations, one thing sometimes lacking is much space to move.
So, as Mohamed Elshorbagy and Amr Shabana were on court fighting an arduous and lengthy Egyptian battle in their semi-final showdown in New York tonight, Rodriguez warmed up for his imminent match against Nick Matthew by running laps of the busy terminal.
Alison Waters beat Nour El Sherbini
The semi-final night at the 2015 ToC began with the women’s matches, as England’s Alison Waters took on Egypt’s Nour El Sherbini in a gruelling match that ended in a remarkable 13-11 win to Waters in the fifth game.
Waters had defeated the rarely beaten world #1 Nicol David the previous night to set up this semi-final against the 19-year-old El Sherbini.
Both El Sherbini and Waters played a heavily attacking match, taking turns winning game-for-game to level out at two games all.
In the fifth, El Sherbini took the lead to capture match point 10-8, and what looked like an imminent victory, until Alison suddenly dug deep and hammered ball after ball back deep at El Sherbini, powering out an incredible five points needed to secure a place in the final.
Traditionally a power hitter who likes a fast-paced game, Waters demonstrated some new versatility, especially in the last two games, as she added more lift and lobs to her usual hard-hitting game. The 30-year-old also displayed a new attitude. “I have made some big improvements in my mental game,”explained the four-time British national champion. “I am not allowing myself to get annoyed with the officials’ decision and I have been working on not getting petulant with myself.”
Raneem El Welily vs Laura Massaro
Next on court was England’s Laura Massaro, current world #3, taking on world #2 Raneem El Welily from Egypt.
Massaro seemed sluggish for much of the match, likely a result of her five-game quarter-final against Camille Serme the previous night, and El Welily took full advantage of the opportunity, attacking every shot and keeping the pace fast to take the first two games.
Massaro managed to win a tight third game 13-11, before El Welily stepped back on to convincingly claim the fourth game – and the match – for her place in the ToC final.
Both finalists will be making their debuts in the climax of the 2015 Women’s ToC – El Welily additionally also becoming the first Egyptian to make the women’s final.
Mohamed Elshorbagy vs Amr Shabana
Former world #1 and defending champion Amr Shabana was next on court against Egyptian compatriot and current world #1 Mohamed Elshorbagy.
The 35-year-old Shabana went game-for-game against 24-year-old Elshorbagy in an intensive battle of talent, athleticism and experience, leading the match into the fifth game.
Both players looked equally exhausted during the final game, taking mutual extended time between points as they attempted to recoup some lost energy.
Elshorbagy kept the points at a comfortable distance ahead in the fifth game, and at 9-7 down Shabana took a chance and attacked a return of serve with an attempted volley crosscourt nick that hit the tin, gifting the match point to Elshorbagy at that crucial moment.
Elshorbagy described the semi-final match as a battle between ‘two warriors’, laughing that “When you play against Amr you have to accept that he will make you look like an idiot on court at times and I accepted that today.
“You can never look good when you play him because he is the most talented player on tour. To beat him I just had to hit and run and keep going and giving everything to get the ball back and it worked.
“He was very tired in the end, and I was too, but I’m glad I was able to push through in the end because I’m in my first ever final here and I’m looking forward to playing in front of this great crowd here in Grand Central Terminal once again.”
Rounding out the match secured Elshorbagy a place in his very first ToC final tomorrow evening.
Nick Matthew vs Miguel Angel Rodriguez
The match between England’s Nick Matthew and Colombia’s Miguel Angel Rodriguez had the fans excited before it even began.
Rodriguez had already ousted two higher competitors – Peter Barker and Gregory Gaultier – in his previous matches of the tournament through a range of outstanding shots, securing an enthusiastic following among New York squash fans.
Within the first few points against Matthew, Rodriguez had already wowed the audience with an incredible leap and remarkable reflex shot that had the stands gasp and then erupt with cheers. For the third evening in a row the crowd pleaser of the night award went to Rodriguez, as he showed off some of the quickest hands in the game.
However, Matthew was cool calm and collected. He kept the pressure on, pounding away at the ball, shot after shot, moving Rodriguez around the court consistently and smoothly, excelling at his trademark style with a remarkably strong, solid performance.
By the third game Rodriguez was noticeably slower, and Matthew continued pounding and pressuring, using his consistency and experience to secure the win in three games.
“It felt like there were four of him on the court,” joked Matthew after the match.
“I really had to use my tactical experience tonight.”
Results: Semi-finals – 2015 J.P Morgan Tournament of Champions