Gregory Gaultier and Camille Serme derail Egyptian champions in dramatic night at Grand Central
By NATHAN CLARKE
French duo Gregory Gaultier, Men’s World No.3, and Camille Serme, Women’s World No.4, derailed the challenge of 2016 tournament winners Mohamed ElShorbagy and Nour El Sherbini to come through two dramatic and enthralling semi-final encounters at the 2017 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions yesterday (Jan 18).
Gaultier meets world champion Karim Abdel Gawad in the final, while the women’s showdown will be an all-European affair after Laura Massaro halted fellow English player Sarah-Jane Perry.
Inside Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall, Gaultier, the 2009 champion, prevailed 12-10, 11-9, 9-11, 4-11, 11-7 in an 84-minute encounter with 2015 and 2016 winner ElShorbagy that had the theatrics, drama and intrigue befitting a Broadway classic.
The 34-year-old Gaultier strutted extravagantly around court, playing with pace, precision and guile to take a 2-0 lead, delighting the crowd with his theatrical celebrations before a contentious referee decision at 8-7 in the third swung the match.
The Frenchman capitulated, first mentally and then physically – as a troublesome left glute hampered his movement – allowing ElShorbagy to level 2-2. But a stunned crowd, silenced by what they were witnessing, watched on as Gaultier, playing on one leg, displayed all the traits of his ‘General’ moniker to regain control and seal a dramatic victory.
“I felt my glute go during my match with Tarek (Momen) and it was sore this morning – but after warming up today it was fine and I had no problem in those first two games,” said Gaultier.
“In the third game I could feel it tighten and then at 8-7 that decision should have gone my way and I lost my dynamic. I could have gone through to win 3-0 and then it was 2-2. At that point I just wanted to shake hands – I was in a lot of pain.
“But my coaches told me just to fight for every point. I played smart and it maybe got in his head and he got a little shaky. I was injured all year in 2016 – so I am very determined to come back. This is a beautiful place to play squash and you want to give your all in these kind of locations.
“There’s a lot of talk about Egyptian players dominating at the moment but there are players from other countries here as well, and we’re showing that we are still competing and that our names deserve to be on trophies as well.”
Gaultier will face Egypt’s World Champion Karim Abdel Gawad in the title-decider after he produced a sublime performance to beat James Willstrop in straight games.
On a drama-fuelled night, Gawad cut a cool and calculated figure as he put in an understated performance of sublime skill to stop the charge of England’s Willstrop.
Gawad won 11-6, 11-8, 11-6 after 42 minutes to reach the ToC final for the first time in his career. It will be his third consecutive major final, where he will be aiming to add to the World Championship and Qatar Classic crowns he won at the back end of 2016.
“I’ve played here a few times before and I’ve never made it beyond the second round stage before so to be in the final is an amazing achievement and a dream come true,” said Gawad.
“James is such a great player that I knew I had to start very strong today and make sure I didn’t let him get into his game. I feel like I’m playing well so hopefully I can play well here again tomorrow and win another big title.”
Gaultier’s compatriot, Camille Serme, captured attention in the Women’s draw with a 3-1 defeat of World No.1 Nour El Sherbini.
Serme beat World No.2 Nouran Gohar yesterday and injected pace from the off today to unsettle El Sherbini, working her favoured backhand with relentless accuracy, to win 11-7, 7-11, 11-6, 11-6 and secure her first appearance in the iconic event’s title-decider.
“I was so focused on the match and making sure I played as well as I could that it hasn’t really sunk in that I’m into the final yet,” said 27-year-old Serme.
“I dreamt of playing this event – the venue is unbelievable – so it’s amazing to know I will be playing in the final here tomorrow with a chance to win. I’ve beaten the #1 and #2 players so I have to take confidence that I’m playing some of my best ever squash.
“I feel like there’s still improvements to be made but I’m on the right track. Tomorrow will be a different challenge again so I’ll give it my best and see what happens – it’s very exciting.”
Serme will face England’s Laura Massaro, the 2014 runner-up, in the decider ensuring a new Women’s champion will be crowned.
Massaro, the world No.5, triumphed in an all-english semi-final encounter with tournament surprise package Sarah-Jane Perry, prevailing 3-0 to secure her place in the 2017 Tournament of Champions title-decider.
The 33-year-old put in a polished 40-minute display to down world No.11 Perry, who had beaten No.6 Amanda Sobhy and No.3 Raneem El Welily to make the last four, and set up a showdown with in-form Serme when she’ll be aiming to gain revenge for her quarter-final defeat to the Frenchwoman in the 2016 U.S. Open.
“I’m massively happy to reach the final, Sarah-Jane has been in great form this week beating some of the very top players so I’m very proud with the way I played today,’ said Massaro.
“I struggled against Joelle (King) in the second round and that match made me sit up and make sure I kept intensity high in play. I’ve done that for the last two matches and my focus is on getting the best level I can out of myself tomorrow to try and finish the week on a high.
“I haven’t won here before so I’m very motivated for the match. Camille has been playing well and I’ll go away tonight to work on my strategy. With my career at the stage it is I’m determined to try and add more titles to my name.
“But that’s a long way away just now, I’ll take tomorrow point by point and give my all.”
2017 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions, Grand Central Terminal, New York, USA.
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt  Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) 3-2: 12-10, 11-9, 9-11, 4-11, 11-7 (84m)
 Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) bt James Willstrop (ENG) 3-0: 11-6, 11-8, 11-6 (42m)
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v  Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY)
 Camille Serme (FRA) bt  Nour El Sherbini (EGY) 3-1: 11-7, 7-11, 11-6, 11-6 (49m)
 Laura Massaro (ENG) bt  Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) 3-0: 11-6, 11-6, 11-9 (40m)
 Camille Serme (FRA) v  Laura Massaro (ENG)
Pictures courtesy of PSA