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A Night of Shock and Awe

Courtside Blog ImagePlus semifinals previews and predictions

Tuesday night’s two big quarterfinals upsets had very different vibes to them.

I haven’t heard anything to confirm it, but it sure looked like something was not right with Nicol David—she was a step slow, and wore a defeated expression I’ve never seem from her before. My guess is that she’s contending with the same illness that took Chris Simpson out of the tournament earlier in the week. But that’s just a guess, and even if it’s true I wouldn’t be surprised if David never lets on. Regardless of the circumstances, Alison Waters deserves full credit for earning the win. Pulling off an upset can be a test of nerves—maybe even more so when the opponent isn’t 100%—but Waters was the picture of composure through to the very end, and she played really well.

Rodriguez over Gaultier was pure drama. Each game could be used as the plot line for a suspense novel. In all of the first four the Colombian jumped out to the lead, then Gaultier reeled him back in, twice winning, twice failing to execute the comeback. By the end of the fourth Gaultier looked thoroughly exhausted, and it seemed unlikely he’d put up a fight in the final game. Instead, improbably, for the first time in the match he was the one who took the early lead. When he got up 9-5 I thought, “Wow, Greg’s going to pull it out after all.” A few minutes later he was hitting a service return into the bottom of the tin to give Rodriguez his upset.

Rodriquez’s energy seems boundless. We’ll find out how close that is to the truth tonight. It has to take some toll on him to get back out on the court with less than 24 hours downtime, and if there’s one opponent you don’t want to play under those circumstances it’s Nick Matthew. He’ll go into the match with one strategy: run Rodriguez ragged.

SEMIFINALS PREVIEWS AND PREDICTIONS

5:00: Laura Massaro (England, age 31, rank 3) vs. Raneem El Welily (Egypt, age 26, rank 2).Yesterday’s upset of Nicol David gives an added layer of tension to this match, as the world #2 and #3 know that whichever of them wins won’t have to face the world #1 in the final. The differences between these two are a classic example of the differing styles attributed to English and Egyptian squash: Massaro is patient and calculating, while El Welily likes to be the aggressor and play high-risk, high-reward squash. They played three times in 2014, and in each match Massaro came out on top, which could give her an added boost of confidence. Prediction: Massaro, 3-2.

6:00: Nour El Sherbini (Egypt, age 19, rank 4) vs. Alison Waters (England, age 30, rank 5).Waters, the levelheaded veteran, seemed more surprised than elated by her win over Nicol David last night. She’s not content with notching the upset—tonight she’ll be fully focused on El Sherbini. The young Egyptian is the harder hitter and tends to both win and lose points in streaks, but both women like to keep the pace fast and attack when they get the chance. That means this match could turn into a shootout. Prediction: El Sherbini, 3-1.

7:30: Mohamed Elshorbagy (Egypt, age 24, rank 1) vs. Amr Shabana (Egypt, age 35, rank 3).Defending ToC champion Shabana had a tough match against a young fellow Egyptian in the quarterfinal, and things only get tougher tonight. The quick and powerful Elshorbagy has an imposing presence on court that can faze even the game’s elder statesman. When they met most recently in last fall’s U.S. Open, they split two tight games and then Elshorbagy steamrolled through the next two, 11-3, 11-3, to take the title. That match will be in the backs of both their minds tonight. Prediction:Elshorbagy, 3-1.

8:30: Nick Matthew (England, age 34, rank 4) vs. Miguel Angel Rodriguez (Colombia, age 29, rank 8). Rodriguez has been the revelation of this year’s tournament. In the previous two rounds he’s had the two biggest wins of his career, and there was nothing fluky about either of them—along with his usual jaw-dropping court coverage he’s shown great shot-making, tactical savvy, stamina, and cool under pressure. Meanwhile, Matthew has simply been as focused and determined as ever, and he’ll be a heavy favorite. Whether Rodriguez can threaten to pull off another upset may depend on how much he’s still feeling the effects of last night’s draining win. Prediction: Matthew, 3-2.

– Matt Lombardi

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