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Marche Marches into Second Round; Defending Champ Nick Matthew and Amr Shabana to Meet in Second Round Play

Qualifier Gregoire Marche has continued to make his dreams come true as he moved into the second round of the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions at Grand Central Terminal with an authoritative win over veteran Ollie Tuominen.  Even though it was his very first time on the fabled glass court in Vanderbilt Hall, the 22-year-old Frenchman was unfazed, ripping through Tuominen with an 11-1 first game win.  A persistent retriever, Marche stepped up to a 7-3 lead in the second. But the 32-year-old Finn, known for his tenacity and fitness, closed the gap at 8-all and then 9-all. Marche held fast, though, and won the second at 11-9.  Tuominen made a good run in the third, after being tied at 5 all, to keep his own ToC hopes alive by winning the game 11-5. The young and increasingly confident Frenchman pushed back to win the fourth game 11-5.

“There was a little bit of stress,” Marche said after the match. “But I knew I could win this match. I worked hard at the end of the year to be ready for this.”  While his racquet accuracy during the match was quite good, Marche’s post match racquet skills may need some tuning up. Marche’s exuberant post match victory toss of his racquet landed on Tuominen’s head.

Marche’s second round opponent will be Egypt’s Mohammed El Shorbagy, who was a surprise finalist at the World Open in December.  The fast rising 21–year-old eliminated Dutchman Laurens Jan Anjema in three straight games, 11-4, 11-5, 11-9.  “I think I played well today,” said El Shorbagy. “If you can win 3-0 in the early rounds, it is a bonus. “

Englishman Tom Richards played before the most vocal crowd in Grand Central when he took on the lone American in the draw, Todd Harrity, who had the wild card spot.  The Princeton University senior went toe-to-toe with Richards in the first game, supported by his very vocal Princeton University teammates. However, the young American was not able to capitalize on the game ball he had at 10-9, and Richards snagged the game at 12-10. Moving the ball from corner to corner, Richards increased the pressure on Harrity, and won the next two games in convincing fashion, 11-3, 11-6. “I was impressed with how Todd came out to play. He really forced the issue, attacking the ball and volleying,” Richards said. As for his own rise in the rankings in the past year from #20 to #13, the 26-year-old credited a better understanding of the game and better shot selection for his improvement.

Richards will face 2009 champion Gregory Gaultier in the quarterfinals.  The 30-year-old Frenchman played the briefest first round match, dismissing Hisham Mohd Ashour in three games in 25 minutes.

Seventh seed Karim Darwish had to work a little longer against qualifier Ryan Cuskelly to earn his second round berth.  The New York based Aussie stayed close in the first two games and snatched the third at 11-9. But the Egyptian former world #1 responded with a decisive fourth game win, 11-4, to set up his quarterfinal contest with India’s Saurav Ghosal.

The match between qualifier Shahier Razik, at age 35 the oldest player in the draw, and Ghosal, could have gone either way throughout the match. Razik saved three match balls to win the first game 15-13. Then Ghosal saved one match ball down 9-10 in the second, by hitting a nick winner off Razik’s serve. “That was really the difference in the match,” said a weary Razik after the match. “Instead of being down 0-2, we were all tied up.” In the third game, Ghosal sprang ahead to a 10-6 lead; Razik fought back to 9-10, and Ghosal closed it out at 11-9. In the fourth, the two players exchanged the lead several times, before Ghosal claimed his inaugural second round ToC appearance by winning the game 11-9.

Nick Matthew found himself on court a little longer than he would have liked in the first round against his fellow countryman Joe Lee.  The defending champion started strong, winning the first game 11-4, by picking up every ball and attacking at every opportunity. “I had a bit of a mental lull in the second,” said Matthew, referring to Lee’s capture of that game at 11-8.” So I had to work harder than I would have liked.” Matthew reasserted himself in the third and dominated the fourth to close out the match 11-7, 11-4.  After the match, Matthew confessed, “I made the mistake today of looking ahead before I was finished with this match.” The Englishman was referring to the potential second round match with Amr Shabana, two time ToC champion who recently defeated Matthew in the PSA World Series final at the end of the year. The two will indeed meet in what Matthew referred to as an ”unusual” second round match- up between the two former world #1 players.

Shabana, whose world ranking dropped to #9 in December when the Tournament of Champions draw was done, fell outside the top eight seeding format used by PSA.  Thus, the four time World Open champion who had topped the PSA world rankings for 33 straight months starting in April 2006, was subject to the luck of the draw, as was his opponent Nick Matthew, who last month lost to Shabana in the PSA World Series finals. The consensus among those in the know is that Shabana is lean and hungry and playing consistently dangerous squash.  “I still think I am as good as anybody out there,” Shabana said in a post-match interview.

The talented Egyptian wasted no time in getting to the second round as he dismissed qualifier Chris Simpson, 11-5, 11-7, 11-9 in just 33 minutes. “I felt like Shabana could play any shot from any corner of the court,” said Simpson, playing on the ToC glass court for the first time, of his encounter with the two time ToC titleholder.

Shabana was matter of fact as he looked ahead to match with Matthew. “It is just another match,” he said. After the end of the first round of play, it is the match that has everyone else buzzing with anticipation.

First round results – J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions at Grand Central Terminal

A Professional Squash Association (PSA) World Series Gold event

Saturday, January 19, 2013 at Grand Central Terminal

[Q] Gregoire Marche (FRA) bt. Olli Tuominen (FIN) 11-1, 11-9, 5-11, 11-5 53 mins

Tom Richards (ENG) bt Todd Harrity (USA) 12-10, 11-3, 11-6  35 mins

[3] Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt Hisham Mohd Ashour (EGY) 11-6, 11-2, 11-1 25 mins

[6] Mohamed El Shorbagy (EGY) bt Laurens Jan Anjema (NED) 11-4, 11-5, 11-9  46 mins

[7] Karim Darwish (EGY) bt [Q] Ryan Cuskelly (AUS)11-7,11-7,9-11,11-4 59 mins

[2] Nick Matthew (ENG) bt. Joe Lee (ENG) 11-4, 8-11, 11-7, 11-4 55 mins.

Amr Shabana (EGY) bt. [Q] Chris Simpson (ENG) 11-5, 11-7, 11-9 33 mins

Saurav Ghosal (IND) v [Q] Shahier Razik (CAN) 13-15,12-10,11-9, 11-9  79 ins