‘This is a unique, amazing venue and it was a dream come true to have my name on the trophy’
By SEAN REUTHE
Title holder Karim Abdel Gawad is looking forward to returning to one of squash’s most unique locations when he lines up at New York’s iconic Grand Central Terminal to compete at the 2018 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions between January 18-25.
The 26-year-old, ranked at World No.4, wowed spectators inside Vanderbilt Hall last year as he defeated current World No.1 Gregory Gaultier to lift the coveted title for the first time in his career, keeping the men’s trophy in Egyptian hands for the fifth year in a row.
That title win came during something of a purple patch for the man from Giza, who had lifted the PSA World Championship title and the Qatar Classic crown just two months earlier, and Gawad says it was a special moment when he finally got his hands on the trophy.
“Since the first time I entered the venue, I noticed how special this event and the unique location is and I dreamed of having my name on the trophy and my picture with all the legends of the sport at the venue,” said Gawad.
“The venue is amazing, it’s one of the most unique venues I have ever played at beside Al Ahram [which is held in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza]. It’s always nice to play in front of a big audience but in Grand Central it’s different because you have thousands and thousands of people passing by the court every day, and you never see a seat empty during the tournament.
“I remember when I was in college, I would watch all the matches online in my break during studying because I always had my final exams exactly at the same time as the Tournament of Champions and I never had the chance to play the tournament until I finished college.
“I always look forward to playing this specific tournament. I love the city and I even visit New York a lot during my holidays. I love being there and I love being on court and playing in front of all the people there.”
Gawad will face a qualifier in the opening round and is seeded on the same side of the draw as Gaultier, who he is seeded to meet in the semi-finals. The other half of the draw features World Champion Mohamed ElShorbagy, who is predicted to take on World No.3 Ali Farag in the last four as he bids to overtake Gaultier at the summit of the World Rankings.
The women’s event – which starts two days later on January 20 – sees World No.1 Nour El Sherbini and World Champion Raneem El Welily drawn on opposing sides of the draw, with defending champion Camille Serme and last year’s runner-up Laura Massaro also favourites to reach the latter stages.
There is also a welcome return to court for Boston-based former World No.6 Amanda Sobhy – the 2016 runner-up – who marks her comeback from a 10-month injury layoff due to a ruptured achilles tendon with a first round fixture against a qualifier.
The Tournament of Champions will also see players battle for points on the PSA World Series Standings as they try to qualify for a top-eight berth that will see them qualify for June’s PSA World Series Finals.
Glass court matches from the main draw will be shown live on SQUASHTV (Rest of World) and Eurosport Player (Europe Only), while the semi-finals and finals will also be shown on mainstream broadcasters such as BT Sport, beIN Sports, Fox Sports Australia and Astro.
Tickets for the tournament start from just $8 and can be purchased via the tournament website: www.tocsquash.com
2018 Men’s J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions, Grand Central Terminal, New York:
Men’s First Round:
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v [WC] Todd Harrity (USA)
Saurav Ghosal (IND) v [Qualifier]
James Willstrop (ENG) v Cameron Pilley (AUS)
[Qualifier] v  Nick Matthew (ENG)
 Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY) v Cesar Salazar (MEX)
Simon Rösner (GER) v Daryl Selby (ENG)
Nicolas Mueller (SUI) v [Qualifier]
[Qualifier] v  Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY)
 Ali Farag (EGY) v [Qualifier]
Borja Golan (ESP) v [Qualifier]
Ramy Ashour (EGY) v [Qualifier]
Zahed Mohamed (EGY) v  Paul Coll (NZL)
 Tarek Momen (EGY) v Mohamed Abouelghar (EGY)
Diego Elias (PER) v [Qualifier]
Ryan Cuskelly (AUS) v Omar Mosaad (EGY)
Leo Au (HKG) v  Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY)
Women’s First Round:
 Nour El Sherbini (EGY) v Joey Chan (HKG)
[Qualifier] v  Joshna Chinappa (IND)
 Olivia Blatchford (USA) v [Qualifier]
[Qualifier] v  Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG)
 Nouran Gohar (EGY) v [WC] Marina Stefanoni (USA)
Salma Hany (EGY) v  Alison Waters (ENG)
 Emily Whitlock (ENG) v Victoria Lust (ENG)
Fiona Moverley (ENG) v  Laura Massaro (ENG)
 Camille Serme (FRA) v [Qualifier]
Donna Urquhart (AUS) v  Annie Au (HKG)
 Joelle King (NZL) v [Qualifier]
[Qualifier] v  Nicol David (MAS)
 Nour El Tayeb (EGY) v Dipika Pallikal Karthik (IND)
[Qualifier] v  Amanda Sobhy (USA)
 Tesni Evans (WAL) v Hania El Hammamy (EGY)
[Qualifier] v  Raneem El Welily (EGY)
Picture courtesy of PSA