Monday, May 20, 2024

James Willstrop marks record 18th ToC appearance with win over high-flier Greg Lobban

‘You start slowing down but that’s when the strategy becomes important,’ says willing veteran Willstrop
By ALAN THATCHER – Squash Mad Editor

James Willstrop celebrated his 18th appearance in the Tournament of Champions by beating Scotland’s Greg Lobban in the first round.

Willstrop savoured another success after taking centre stage in one of squash’s most awe-inspiring theatres of competition, but typically spared a thought for his opponent.

Both had flown across the Atlantic after competing in the European Team Championships in Eindhoven, where Willstrop clinched victory for England by beating old rival Gregory Gaultier in the deciding tie.

Lobban, meanwhile, had helped Scotland to a third-place finish by beating Germany, with Lobban winning a massive match against Raphael Kandra.

The Scotsman arrived in the Big Apple just a few hours before his match but showed few signs of jetlag as he stepped on court with 2010 ToC champion Willstrop for the final match of the day.

Both players served up an entertaining contest, with the 38-year-old Willstrop winning in four games.

Willstrop, who received a special award from tournament promoter John Nimick, admitted: “I’ve had some incredible experiences here and some of the best of my career. When I think of not being here each year, it’s pretty upsetting to me, so I don’t know how I’m going to cope.

“It just shows the regard in which the players hold this event. We’ve all flown over from Eindhoven and Greg’s done an amazing thing today having to fly and then play. I don’t know how he’s done that and he played so well – it was an incredible effort.”

Addressing the eternal question of how much longer he will continue to compete on the PSA World Tour, Willstrop added: “The one thing with age is that you get to know a squash court better every week and every month.

“You start slowing down, probably, but you start to understand the strategies. I’m doing a bit of coaching now, so I’m having to think about other people for once in my life, which is an interesting situation.

“You know the squash court, you’ve been on it so many times, which helps a little bit. I love playing, and especially here. It’s truly an incredible venue. There’s nothing like it playing here, and the atmosphere was unbelievable tonight; it’s such a thrill.”

Willstrop’s next opponent will be world No. 2 and top seed Ali Farag, who will face off on Wednesday evening at 7pm.

It promises to be another classic encounter between two of the game’s great stylists. Farag is working hard to return to the peak of his powers after losing the world No.1 ranking to New Zealand’s Paul Coll.

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Balancing upcoming finals and competing on the pro tour, graduating college squash seniors Youssef Ibrahim, Victor Crouin and Sivasangari Subramanium all recorded first round victories.

What began as a close contest between world No. 23 Frenchman Crouin and England’s Nathan Lake ended in unfortunate fashion as the Chicago-based Lake was forced to retire with the game score at one-all due to a back injury.

Following the match, Crouin was presented with the Skillman Award, a College Squash honour bestowed each year to a senior men’s squash student-athlete who has displayed exemplary sportsmanship and skill during his career.

Crouin reflected: “When I came to Harvard, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of professional squash. I took a gap year after high school to play professionally and I really enjoyed it. I came to Harvard with the goal of graduating and turning pro afterwards.

“My goal was to stay in the top 100 during the four years, and I continued to go up, so I decided to keep balancing my academics and squash. I was playing on the professional tour and I was also really excited to play the college season from November to March.

“I spent three years at Harvard because of Covid and those three years have definitely transformed me in many ways. I’m going to look back in 10, 20, 30 years and I’ll be really grateful to have had this opportunity to go there.”

Crouin will face a difficult second round with his first PSA match against 2017 ToC champion Karim Abdel Gawad.

In an all-French encounter, Auguste Dussourd overcame the higher-ranked Baptiste Masotti to gain his first PSA World Tour Gold level victory.

Switzerland’s Nicolas Mueller celebrated his climb to 15 in the world rankings by beating France’s Lucas Serme.

In the women’s event, Malaysia’s Sivasangari Subramaniam, who reached a career high world No. 20 ranking this month, beat Enora Villard, following up on her British Open win against the same opponent with another clinical three-game victory against the French international.

“I feel relieved,” said Subramaniam, who will take on USA No.2 Olivia Fiechter next. “Enora played really well today. I played her a month ago at the British Open and it was definitely harder this time.

“The court is really different too and I’m just really happy to get through. I just made a couple of easy errors in the middle of the game, so I needed to refocus and get my length to the back. I think I did really well to come back and finish it in three.”

She told the crowd: “Thank you so much for making this happen. I see a few Cornell supporters here. It’s a really nice venue and I’m looking forward to my next match.”

Subramaniam will set up an Ivy league match against Princeton graduate and world No. 10 Olivia Fiechter in the second round.

Elsewhere in the women’s draw, Penn grad Melissa Alves recorded her first career ToC win against Australia’s Donna Lobban in three games.

In the longest match of the day, England’s Lucy Turmel secured her first ToC victory as she battled her way past Hong Kong’s Tze Lok Ho, who won a tough fourth game 14-12.

The pair met in Boston in January, with the Englishwoman winning 3-0 on that occasion, but this time it was far from easy. Turmel led twice in the contest, after winning both the first and third games, but was pegged back each time.
Eventually, after 71 minutes, Turmel completed the victory, and she will now face Canada’s Hollie Naughton in the second round.
A relieved Turmel, another who flew across the Atlantic from her winning performance for the England women’s team in Eindhoven, said: “I’m just really happy. Matches like that are sometimes the most rewarding because I felt quite flat in several parts. I’m just happy to win.
“After I lost that fourth I just really concentrated on trying to get the ball into the back. Ironically that created more lets. It was the right game plan in the end because I could see she was tiring and it gave me the openings at the front.”

J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions, Grand Central Terminal, New York, USA.

Men’s First Round:
James Willstrop (ENG) bt Greg Lobban (SCO) 3-1: 11-3, 11-5, 8-11, 11-2 (46m)
Auguste Dussourd (FRA) bt Baptiste Masotti (FRA) 3-1: 8-11, 12-10, 11-9, 12-10 (55m)
Victor Crouin (FRA) bt Nathan Lake (ENG) 3-1: 11-5, 8-11, 7-0 rtd (30m)
Shahjahan Khan (USA) bt Sebastien Bonmalais (FRA) 3-0: 11-9, 14-12, 11-6 (44m)
Nicolas Mueller (SUI) bt Lucas Serme (FRA) 3-0: 11-8, 11-8, 11-4 (36m)
Youssef Ibrahim (EGY) bt Dimitri Steinmann (SUI) 3-0: 11-9, 11-8, 13-11 (42m)

Men’s Second Round (Tuesday, May 3):
[7] Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) v Victor Crouin (FRA)
Shahjahan Khan (USA) v [4] Mazen Hesham (EGY)
[3] Diego Elias (PER) v Moustafa El Sirty (EGY)
[8] Saurav Ghosal (IND) v [WC] Timothy Brownell (USA)

Men’s Second Round (Wednesday, May 4):
[1] Ali Farag (EGY) v James Willstrop (ENG)
Auguste Dussourd (FRA) v [6] Miguel Rodriguez (COL)
Nicolas Mueller (SUI) v [5] Gregoire Marche (FRA)
Youssef Ibrahim (EGY) v [L] Dimitri Steinmann (SUI)

Women’s First Round:
Danielle Letourneau (CAN) bt Anna Serme (CZE) 3-1: 11-5, 9-11, 11-5, 11-4 (29m)
Lucy Turmel (ENG) bt Tze Lok Ho (HKG) 3-2: 11-6, 8-11, 11-7, 12-14, 11-4 (71m)
Sivasangari Subramaniam (MAS) bt Enora Villard (FRA) 3-0: 11-7, 11-5, 11-8 (32m)
Melissa Alves (FRA) bt Donna Lobban (AUS) 3-0: 11-5, 11-8, 11-6 (27m)

Women’s Second Round (Tuesday, May 3):
Sabrina Sobhy (USA) v [4] Rowan Elaraby (EGY)
[3] Salma Hany (EGY) v [WC] Chan Sin Yuk (HKG)
[7] Nadine Shahin (EGY) v Nada Abbas (EGY)
Farida Mohamed (EGY) v [2] Amanda Sobhy (USA)

Women’s Second Round (Wednesday, May 4):
[1] Nouran Gohar (EGY) v Danielle Letourneau (CAN)
Lucy Turmel (ENG) v [8] Hollie Naughton (CAN)
[5] Olivia Fiechter (USA) v Sivasangari Subramaniam (MAS)
Melissa Alves (FRA) v [6] Olivia Clyne (USA)

Pictures courtesy of PSA World Tour and US Squash


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