Day One Previews & Predictions
The first day of the ToC is going to be a running of the squash greyhounds. Four of the matches will feature diminutive players—Tarek Momen, Farhan Zaman, Gregoire Marche, and Miguel Rodriguez—whose games are built on astounding speed that I guarantee will draw more than a few gasps from the audience. Each of them brings a different personality to the court, but they’re all highly entertaining to watch. This is likely to be one of the most fun ToC opening days in recent memory.
Noon: Tarek Momen (Egypt, age 27, rank 8) vs. Cameron Pilley (Australia, age 33, rank 13). The tournament is starting off with a bang. Both these players have shown great form of late: after a couple of subpar performances earlier in the fall, superfast retriever Momen gutted out a great five-game win over Nick Matthew and reached semis in the November’s World Championship. In December power-hitting Pilley turned in the best performance of his long career, making the final of the Hong Kong Open and beating Matthew and newly minted world champion Gregory Gaultier along the way. This should be a great battle of confident players with contrasting styles. Prediction: It’s a coin toss, but I think Momen’s relentless counterattacks will wear Pilley down in the fifth. Momen, 3-2.
12:45: Omar Mosaad (Egypt, age 27, rank 4) vs. Lucas Serme (France, age 23, rank 42). Mosaad, nicknamed the Hammer of Thor, is the most imposing physical presence on the tour, and in the past year he’s matured into one of the game’s elite players. He’s a serious contender to win the ToC, but he won’t have an easy go in the first round. Serme is an up-and-coming talent—a graceful mover and a subtle shot maker who looked very strong coming through the qualifying rounds. They played in the December, and it took Mosaad five games and almost an hour and a half on court to earn the win. Expect another good fight today. Prediction: Serme is on the rise, but he’s not quite there yet. Mosaad, 3-1.
2:00: Max Lee (Hong Kong, age 27, rank 14) vs. Farhan Zaman (Pakistan, age 22, rank 68). These two are both counterattackers capable of brilliant retrieving. Zaman is very fun to watch—like Momen, Marche, and Rodriguez, he’s mind-bogglingly fast, and he plays with flair, mixing in surprising, unorthodox shots. Lee is less showy and more patient—likely the product of a few more years on the tour. Prediction: Experience will prevail. Lee, 3-1.
2:45: Nicolas Müller (Switzerland, age 26, rank 27) vs. Raphael Kandra (Germany, age 25, rank 51). These two powerful Europeans grew up together on the junior circuit and have similar styles. Müller has had more success on the senior level, but his game has plateaued of late—he’s likely to be experimenting some, trying to find the key that will take him to the next level. Kandra won three smaller tournaments in 2015, which could give him a confidence boost, but he’s never made it past the first round in a major PSA event. Expect an aggressive, physical match. Prediction: Müller, 3-0.
3:30: Leo Au (Hong Kong, rank 30, age 25) vs. Gregoire Marche (France, rank 26, age 25). Marche and Au both showed flashes of brilliance in 2015 and will be hoping to solidify a place in squash’s top upper echelon this year. Look for Au to try to wear down, and get under the skin of, the flashy, lightning-fast, but sometimes short-tempered Marche. Prediction: Marche, 3-1
6:00: Mohamed Elshorbagy (Egypt, age 24, rank 1) vs. Adrian Waller (England, age 27, rank 33). Waller’s fundamentally sound, classically English game will have to be in top form if he’s going to pose a threat to Elshorbagy. The defending ToC champ is the greatest pure athlete in the game and the dominant player of his generation. After a disappointing performance in last fall’s World Championship he showed his increased maturity by bouncing back with a commanding win at the Hong Kong Open. Prediction: Elshorbagy, 3-0.
6:45: Miguel Angel Rodriguez (Colombia, age 30, rank 5) vs. Borja Golan (Spain, age 33, rank 19). In a day highlighted by speedy, nimble players, Rodriguez is the star attraction. His acrobatic dives and spins have been wowing ToC audiences for years, but in his recent rise to the top of the rankings he’s shown that he has world-class fundamentals to go along with the flash. Golan is a strong-willed veteran who has a deft touch at the front of the court and uses the boast as effectively as anyone in squash. He won’t be awed by Rodriguez’s acrobatics. Prediction: Rodriguez, 3-1.
7:30: Mathieu Castagnet (France, age 29, rank 10) vs. Stephen Coppinger (South Africa, age 31, rank 20). Over the past five years these two have both transformed themselves from journeymen into top talents through disciplined, levelheaded play, and the final match tonight should be a close, tactical battle. Back in 2013 Coppinger had a solid run here, making it to the quarterfinals, and I have a gut feeling he’ll make another strong showing this year. Prediction: Coppinger, 3-2.
— Matt Lombardi