Day 1: A Showcase of Champions, with Previews and Predictions
As the curtain goes up on this year’s ToC, if you’re interested in some deeper thoughts about what it all means, check out the overviews in the previous two blogs.
Day One is all men’s matches, and it feels like a Hall of Fame showcase, featuring four former ToC winners, including last year’s champion, as well as one of the finalists from December’s World Championships.
The most entertaining matches of the day are likely to be the first and the last. Both involve veterans with years of Grand Central experience and colorful, contrasting games.
Today is also a testament to the increased longevity in world-class squash. Over half the players are 30 years of age or older, including the game’s grand old man, Nick Matthew, who at 37 is still a serious contender for the title.
Previews and Predictions
Noon: Simon Rosner (Germany, age 30, rank 8) vs. Daryl Selby (England, age 35, rank 17). Rosner is a strapping, powerful figure with surprisingly subtle touch at the front of the court. Selby is the classic wily veteran—his bread and butter is English-style attritional play, but he likes to mix in surprise attacks. Prediction: Rosner, 3-1.
12:45: Marwan Elshorbagy (Egypt, age 24, rank 5) vs. Cesar Salazar (Mexico, age 30, rank 21). Fresh off his World Championship finals appearance (where he lost to his brother Mohamed), Elshorbagy takes on the first Mexican ever to be ranked in the top 20. Salazar is quick and consistent, but he’ll be hard pressed to match the Egyptian’s savvy and racquet skills. Prediction: Elshorbagy, 3-1.
2:00: Nicolas Mueller (Switzerland, age 28, rank 27) vs. Adrian Waller (England, age 28, rank 38). These two bring similar skill sets to the court—they’re both tall, lanky figures who like to play at a medium pace, with Mueller more the attacker and Waller more the grinder. The result could be one of the closest matches of the day. Prediction: My pick for the upset of the day, Waller, 3-2.
2:45: Saurav Gousal (India, age 31, rank 16) vs. Tom Richards (England, age 31, rank 40). In what’s likely to be a cat-and-mouse match, the mouse is the favorite: Richards likes to pound the ball around the court, but speedy, diminutive Gousal is a master retriever who’s likely to give his opponent fits. The Indian has been in the best form of his career this season. Prediction: Gousal, 3-1.
5:00: Karim Abdel Gawad (Egypt, age 26, rank 4) vs. Joel Makin (Wales, age 23, rank 41). Last year Gawad capped a run of strong play by winning the ToC. He’s cooled down—he hasn’t won a major tournament since—but he remains one of the game’s most gifted shot-makers. Makin is one of Britain’s best young players, but he’ll need to turn in the match of his life to give Gawad a serious challenge. Prediction: Gawad, 3-0.
5:45: Nick Matthew (England, age 37, rank 6) vs. Gregoire Marche (France, age 27, rank 29). Expect Matthew, one of the greats of his generation, to be fit and focused as he makes the final ToC appearance of his career. The super-quick Marche tends to run hot and cold, and Matthew is a master at taking full advantage of opponents’ cold streaks. Prediction: Matthew, 3-1.
7:30: Gregory Gaultier (France, age 35, rank 1) vs. Todd Harrity (USA, age 27, rank 50). Harrity is the highest ranked American on the men’s side, but also the lowest ranked player in the ToC draw. He’ll have his hands full against the world #1. Gaultier, the 2009 ToC winner, can be casually merciless at dispatching early-round opponents. Prediction: Gaultier, 3-0.
8:15: James Willstrop (England, age 34, rank 13) vs. Cameron Pilley (Australia, age 35, rank 19). These two tall veterans have had some monumental matches over the years, with Willstrop usually coming out on top. Pilley is famous for hitting the hardest shot ever recorded on a speed gun, while Willstrop is known for the deadly precision of his backhand drop shots. Prediction: Willstrop, 3-2.
— Matt Lombardi