Thursday, November 30, 2023

Richards rocks Beng Hee in ToC shock

Qualifiers Richards and Golan Into Second Round
at J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions; Seeds Advance

By BETH RASIN at Grand Central Terminal, New York

New York, NY – Qualifier Tom Richards registered the first upset at the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions as he eliminated Malaysia’s Ong Beng Hee in three games in the first round of play in Grand Central Terminal.

The unassuming 24-year-old Englishman secured the first game without too much difficulty, winning 11-6. Although pushed to a tiebreak in the second and third games by the more experienced Malaysian, who had defeated Richards in their prior two outings, Richards remained calm and secured the victory with identical 12-10 winning scores.

“Our other matches were close, so I knew I had a shot to win today,” said Richards after the match.  Although it was his first time on the iconic glass court in Grand Central Terminal, Richards was remarkably composed.  “I was a little bit nervous, which is a good sign for me,” he said after the match.

He was most surprised by the size of the mid-afternoon crowd, which filled the nearly 500 seats. “Having a full crowd for a first round match like we had today is pretty amazing,” Richards explained. “It really helped lift my game.”

Richards will next face the oldest player in the draw, 34-year-old David Palmer, who has played in every Tournament of Champions since it was first staged in Grand Central Terminal in 1995. Palmer, who beat Richards at the ToC last year, eliminated the lone American in the draw, Julian Illingworth.

With the boisterous crowd enthusiastically applauding every point, the 24-year-old American drew even with his seasoned opponent at nine- all in the third game, but the veteran shut the door on the match by winning the next two points. In his post-match analysis, Palmer noted, “I felt in control for most of the match, but I did struggle to pull away. I definitely did not want to go into a fourth game.”

The evening prior to his Tournament of Champions debut, 20-year-old Mohammed El Shorbagy  was recognized as the 2010 Young Player of the Year at the World Squash Awards. El Shorbagy, who had been unable to compete in the Tournament of Champions in prior years because the tournament dates conflicted with school exams, made sure to finish his exams a week early this year so he could make it to New York City for the tournament so revered by the players.

The young Egyptian lived up to his award-winning status in his 3-0 first round win over the more experienced Azlan Iskandar. El Shorbagy enjoyed fairly comfortable leads in the first two games which he won 11-8, 11-8. Although Iskander pulled even at 10-all in the third game, El Shorbagy stepped up to close out the match 12-10.

“I was really excited to be playing my first match here in Grand Central and in the first game I was trying to hit a lot of winners to please the crowd,” the fast-talking El Shorbagy said after the match. ”Then I realized I needed to focus and vary the pace.”

Like his fellow Tournament of Champions rookie Richards, El Shorbagy was amazed by the capacity crowd at his evening match. “You never see a crowd like this at a first round match,” he said. “It makes a player want to be his very best.”

El Shorbagy will next play his good friend Shahier Razik. The 33-year-old Canadian needed five games to overcome qualifier Chris Ryder to make it to the second round. The two had never met in competition before.

“I am always a little nervous playing someone I have never played, because you don’t know quite what to expect,” said Razik. Referring to his 11-6 first game win, he continued, “I started pretty well and thought I was going to make it through, but then Chris changed his game and I didn’t adjust right away.”

After losing the next two games 6-11, 8-11, Razik picked up the pace with which he was hitting the ball and made sure to hit into the deep corners in the back of the court.

The change in strategy turned the match around and Razik won the next two games 11-7,11-5.   After his win, the veteran Canadian reflected on the appeal of the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions for the players.

“The Grand Central venue, which is amazing, stays the same, but every year the tournament gets bigger and better,” Razik said. “There is always a big build-up to this event for the players starting in December; as we go on our December holiday break, everyone says ‘I’ll see you at the ToC.’”

Defending champion James Willstrop limited his time on court in his first round match against fellow Englishman Jonathan Kemp to just under 30 minutes. It was a commanding performance by the 27-year-old; he did not fall behind in the entire match, winning 11-5, 11-7, 11-5.

“My dad has said that you are most likely to perform well in the places in which you are most comfortable,” said Willstrop, who is coached by his father Malcom, after the match.

“That is certainly true for me here at the Tournament of Champions. Coming here is special, even more so this year after having won last year.”

Willstrop’s next opponent, Borja Golan, must be feeling comfortable in New York City. After winning two qualifying matches to make it into the main draw, Golan defeated fellow qualifier Tarek Momen in their first round encounter, 11-9,11-7,11-8.

“I have never won so many matches in New York City,” the exuberant Spaniard said after the match. Although Momen took an early lead in all three games, Golan caught up to tie the score at the midway mark of each. The players exchanged the lead over the next few points in each game until Golan surged slightly ahead to secure victory.

Australian Stewart Boswell and India’s Suarav Ghosal played the first and the longest match of the opening day of play. Boswell won the first game by a five point margin after which the 24-year-old Ghosal jumped out to a 6-1 lead in the second.

The 32-year-old Aussie surged back to secure the game 11-8. Boswell was unable to convert two game balls in the third, which was tallied 16-14 in Ghosal’s favor.

The fourth was all Boswell, who took the lead at 2-1 and then didn’t relinquish it, winning the game 11-5 to seal the match in his favor after 70 minutes of play. The veteran Australian was pleased with the victory.  “For as long as I play squash, I want to be here at the Tournament of Champions and make the most of it.”

Boswell will face top seeded Ramy Ashour in the second round. The 23-year-old Egyptian defeated 34-year-old Olli Tuominen of Finland in straight games. “It was a good first round match,” Ashour said.

“It was a balanced test- not too easy and not too hard.” The 2008 titleholder was determined be playing for the 2011 title, despite some injuries in the latter part of last year.  “I am really excited to be here,” he said. “I did not want to miss this tournament.”

The prodigiously talented Ashour even put a positive spin on his recent injuries. “Being injured has had some advantages,” he noted. “It has made me more mature on court and it has put me in touch with how to really take care of my body.”

The players in the opening day of play earned a total of $2,950 to be donated by J.P. Morgan to CitySquash 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.

ToC FACT FILE: The first round features nine English players and nine Egyptians. 

J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions Grand Central Terminal First round results – Wednesday, January 19, 2011

[1] Ramy Ashour (EGY) def Olli Tuominen (FIN)   12-10, 11-3, 11-8        34 mins
Stewart Boswell (AUS) def. Saurav Ghosal (IND)  11-6,11-8,14-16,11-5  70 mins
Tom Richards (ENG) def. Ong Beng Hee (MAS)    11-6,12-10,12-10       51 mins
[8] David Palmer (AUS) def. Julian Illingworth (USA) 11-8,11-7,11-9      57 mins
[7] Mohamed El Shorbagy (EGY) def. Mohd Azlan Iskandar (MAS)   11-8,11-8,12-10   38 mins
Shahier Razik (CAN) def. Chris Ryder (ENG)  11-6,6-11,8-11,11-7,11-5 71 mins
Borja Golan (ESP) def. Tarek Momen (EGY)   11-9,11-7,11-8  45 mins
[3] James Willstrop (ENG) def  Jonathan Kemp (ENG)  11-6,11-7,11-5  29 mins

Schedule of play – Saturday, January 22 at Grand Central Terminal, New York

[4] Amr Shabana (EGY) v Mohammed Abbas (EGY)                      12:45pm
Daryl Selby (ENG) v Ryan Cuskelly (AUS)                                     12:00pm
Adrian Grant (ENG) v Nicolas Mueller (SUI)                                    3:45pm
[6] Laurens Jan Anjema (NED) v Miguel Angel Rodriguez (COL)    3:00pm
[5] Peter Barker (ENG) v Mohd Ali Anwar Reda (EGY)                    6:45pm
Cameron Pilley (AUS) v Hisham Ashour (EGY)                               8:15pm
Wael El Hindi (EGY) v Alister Walker (ENG)                                     7:30pm
[2] Nick Matthew (ENG) v Omar Mosaad (EGY)                              6:00pm

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