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Day 2: The Circus Is Coming, and It’s Going to Be a Blast

The player who impressed me most on Day One was Welshman Joel Makin in his losing effort against Karim Abdel Gawad. It’s fascinating to see young talent evolving. I’d watched him play before (on video, granted), but he hadn’t made a big impression on me. Yesterday was something else—in his first match in Grand Central, against the defending champion, he stepped on court like he expected to win, and he played like it too. He didn’t win, but he got Gawad doing fist pumps after crucial points. Gawad doesn’t do that unless he’s feeling challenged.

Mainly, though, I spent yesterday anticipating today. I’m in my seventh year writing this blog and my twelfth year attending the ToC, and this might just be the most promising lineup of first-round matches I’ve seen. It’s going to be like a trip to the circus: we’ve got the acrobats (Rodriguez and Coll), the friendly giant (Mosaad), the rubber-armed man (Farag), the sleight of hand artist (Hesham), and the strong man (check out Tsz Fung Yip’s massively ripped legs).

The novelty element aside, today’s matchups have great potential for wonderful squash. We’ve got a battle of top young guns and one of speedy retrievers; a couple of intriguing studies in contrast; and two rising Egyptian stars looking to knock off their elder countrymen. The first six matches of the day all could wind up being memorable—and the final two feature arguably the two most in-form players in the world.

And then there’s Ramy. Squash’s closest thing to a superstar is back at the ToC after a four-year absence—reason enough by itself to be excited. Will the old magic still be there? Will he be able to stay injury-free? We’ll have at least tentative answers by bedtime.

Previews and Predictions

Noon: Diego Elias (Peru, age 21, rank 10) vs. Declan James (England, age 24, rank 25). Elias is one of the game’s rising stars. You can sense he’s something special from his agile, seemingly effortless movement around the court. James, the top-ranked Englishman under 30 years of age, is quick and powerful, but he’s still developing the accuracy he needs to compete at the very highest level. Prediction: Elias, 3-1.

12:45: Ryan Cuskelly (Australia, age 30, rank 13) vs. Omar Mosaad (Egypt, age 29, rank 20). Expect a classic contrast in styles, as Mosaad makes the walls rattle with his thunderous drives, and Cuskelly bounds around court like a kangaroo, retrieving shots and trying to wrong-foot the big Egyptian. Prediction: Mosaad, 3-1.

2:00: Tarek Momen (Egypt, age 29, rank 7) vs. Mohamed Abouelghar (Egypt, age 24, rank 9). It’s the luck of the draw that these high-ranking Egyptians have to meet in the first round. They’re both stylish attackers—expect rapid-fire, front-of-the-court rallies. The winner is likely to be the one who does better at keeping down the error count. Prediction: Momen, 3-2.

2:45: Miguel Rodriguez (Colombia, age 32, rank 23) vs. Tze Fung Yip (Hong Kong, age 24, rank 32). These two compact, fireplug figures are both great at retrieving and counterattack. This is the match of the day that’s likely to produce the ooohs and aaahs from the crowd after spectacular gets. Prediction: Tze Fung, 3-1.

5:00: Paul Coll (New Zealand, age 25, rank 11) vs. Zahed Mohamed (Egypt, age 25, rank 24). Since reaching the 2017 ToC quarterfinals, Coll has climbed the rankings with an increasingly disciplined, methodical game. Don’t expect as many dives from him as last year, because he less often needs to dive. Mohamed is one of the most powerful Egyptian players, but his two matches against Coll in 2017 were straight-game wins for the Kiwi. Prediction: Coll, 3-0.

5:45: Ramy Ashour (Egypt, age 30, rank 14) vs. Mazen Hesham (Egypt, age 23, rank 33). The most anticipated first-round match of the tournament pits one of the greatest talents the game has known—Ashour—against the most entertaining of squash’s young stars, the spectacular shot-maker Hesham. Injury has kept Ashour out of the ToC for the past four years, and Hesham had injury issues as well, but they should both be healthy tonight and ready to put on a show. Prediction: Ashour, 3-2.

7:30: Mohamed Elshorbagy (Egypt, age 27, rank 2) vs. Leo Au (Hong Kong, age 27, rank 22). Elshorbagy, the hard-hitting two-time ToC winner, is squash’s man of the moment. He enters the tournament on a 21-match winning streak that includes a World Championship title. Au is a tough, experienced opponent with a win over Ramy Ashour to his credit this season, but breaking Elshorbagy’s streak will be a tall order. Prediction: Elshorbagy, 3-0.

8:30: Ali Farag (Egypt, age 25, rank 3) vs. Campbell Grayson (New Zealand, age 31, rank 39). Harvard alum Farag has made the unprecedented jump from U.S. college squash to the top of the men’s pro game using an uncommonly fluid style of play that can be a joy to watch. For the past decade Grayson has used a solid all-around game to inch his way up the rankings, reaching a career-best #34 last October. Prediction: Farag, 3-0.

—Matt Lombardi