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Top seeds march on in New York

Seeds Advance in Second Round of Play at J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions

From BETH RASIN in New York

The players on court in the second round of play at the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions represented a mix of styles, strategy and temperament. By the time  the evening’s last match had been played in Grand Central Terminal, the draw held true to form as the seeds advanced to the quarterfinals.

The day’s play started with veteran David Palmer, who has played in every Tournament of Champions since 1995, demonstrating the form that kept him in the PSA top ten for a full decade.

“David takes everything early,” said Palmer’s opponent Tom Richards after the match. “He is always in front, taking your game away.”

The players exchanged the lead several times in the first game until Palmer snatched the victory at 12-10. As they played further into the match, Palmer’s precision on the rails and depth to the back court forced Richards back on his heels. Unable to get ahead of Palmer, both literally and figuratively, Richards’ Tournament of Champions debut ended as Palmer won the second game and third games, 11-9,11-8.

“I played pretty well at the end of the games,” said a satisfied Palmer after the match. Referring to the fact that his next opponent is top seed Ramy Ashour, he continued. “It is nice to make it to the quarterfinals – there’s no pressure now going forward.”

The top-seeded Ashour dropped the first game to Australia’s Stewart Boswell. “He went for a lot of shots in the first game and missed,” said Boswell after the match,” but I l knew that he was only going to get better as the match progressed.”

The creative, shot making Egyptian did find his stride in the second game and, for the remainder of the match, the 32-year-old Australian only held the lead once more at 7-6 in the fourth.

“I really enjoyed playing today,” said Ashour, who struggled with injuries at the end of 2010.  “I haven’t been enjoying myself for the past two or three months. But this court and these fans and this atmosphere give you the energy to produce better squash.”

Ramy’s older brother Hisham was not as happy at evening’s end when he found himself on the losing end of a five-game, physical barnburner with England’s Peter Barker, the tournament’s fifth seed. With the first four games being decided by a mere two point margin (three in tiebreaks), it was truly either player’s match to win.

“Hisham has been playing awesome squash in the past few months, and I was thinking too much about winning and losing in the first two games,” said Barker. “When I was down 0-2, I had to dig deep and just focus on not losing.”

The 27-year-old Englishman used solid, straight length to counter Ashour’s dynamic shotmaking and broke open the match in the fifth game, winning it 11-2.

Barker’s next opponent is world No.1 Nick Matthew, who defeated friend and training partner Alister Walker 11-5,11-8,11-5. As Walker was cooling down on the training bicycle after the match, Matthew walked by and Walker called him over. “Your length was amazing tonight,” Walker said to Matthew. “That is the best you have ever played against me – it was pure measured squash.”

Another player who felt he had an especially good showing was fourth seed Amr Shabana.  “I played three games as well as I could play,” said the two time Tournament of Champions titleholder after defeating England’s Daryl Selby 11-6, 11-8, 11-8. His opponent concurred.

“Today Amr showed why he was world No.1,” said Selby. “Any ball that I hit loose, he put in the nick.” The 31-year-old Egyptian will next face Dutchman Laurens Jan Anjema, who defeated Swiss qualifier Nicolas Mueller 11-9, 11-4, 11-3. Anjema attributed a bit of a sluggish start to jet lag and waiting for the 81-minute Ashour- Barker match to end. “The first game was a good shock to my system to get me going,” he said with a wry smile after the match.

Seventh seed Mohammed El Shorbagy rounds out the trio of Egyptians in the quarterfinals after defeating Canada’s Shahier Razik 11-9, 11-5, 11-6. He will contend with defending champion James Willstrop, who defeated qualifier Borja Golan 11-6, 11-4, 11-6.

The day’s play earned a total of $2,800 to be donated by J.P. Morgan to StreetSquash in conjunction with the inaugural J.P. Morgan Charity Challenge – Scoring Points for Urban Youth Education for the benefit of tournament charities StreetSquash and CitySquash.

For every game won in the championship, J.P. Morgan is donating up to $150 to the tournament charities. The players in the top half of draw are playing for the benefit of StreetSquash; the other half is competing for CitySquash. Each player will earn $100 for his charity for every game he wins and an additional $50 for every game won in a tiebreaker. With a total of 31 matches to be played, the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions competitors will earn a minimum of $9,300, up to a maximum of $15,500, to be donated J.P. Morgan.

J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions

Grand Central Terminal

Second round results:

[8] David Palmer (AUS) def Tom Richards (ENG)    12-10,11-9,11-8  40 mins
[1] Ramy Ashour (EGY) def Stewart Boswell (AUS) 8-11,11-6,11-8  35 mins
[7] Mohamed El Shorbagy (EGY) def. Shahier Razik (CAN)              11-9,11-5,11-6  35 mins
[4] Amr Shabana (EGY) def Daryl Selby (ENG)       11-6,11-8,11-8    44 mins

[3] James Willstrop (ENG) def Borja Golan (ESP)     11-6,11-4,11-6   31 mins

[2] Nick Matthew (ENG) def Alister Walker (ENG)    11-5,11-8,11-5   43 mins

[5] Peter Barker (ENG) def. Hisham Ashour (EGY)  10-12,13-15,11-9,12-10,11-2  81 mins

[6] Laurens Jan Anjema (NED) v Nicolas Mueller (SUI)  11-9,11-4,11-3     34 mins           

Schedule of play  at Grand Central Terminal, New York

Monday, January 24, 2011
[1] Ramy Ashour (EGY) v. [8] David Palmer (AUS)                          6:45pm
[3] James Willstrop (ENG) v. [7] Mohamed El Shorbagy (EGY)       8:15pm

Tuesday, January 25, 2011
[4] Amr Shabana (EGY) v. [6] Laurens Jan Anjema (NED)              6:45pm
[2] Nick Matthew (ENG) v. [5] Peter Barker (ENG)                         7:45pm

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