Pallikal and Hawkes in Upset Victories
New York, NY – January 24, 2012.
“I think tonight’s match shows that I am back,” said Nick Matthew after a 12-10, 11-7, 11-5 authoritative defeat of Mohamed El Shorbagy before a standing room only crowd at the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions in Grand Central Terminal. Matthew, returning to the tournament squash court for the first time this past week after a two month injury hiatus, has been diligently trying to manage expectations for an immediate return to the form that kept him at the top spot in the PSA rankings in 2011. “Anybody who thinks that you can immediately return to form after being out of commission for two months doesn’t know squash,” he had said earlier in the week.
In the match’s early going, it looked as if Matthew might indeed go under to the sport’s latest phenom. El Shorbagy came out on court with a blazing racquet, hammering the ball with such speed, power and intensity that the tournament’s top seed seemed a bit shell shocked. “The pace he played at the start of the match was something I haven’t seen for a couple of months,” said Matthew. The three time Tournament of Champions finalist quickly fell behind 1-5. But you don’t become #1 or a World Champion without knowing how to adjust your game and Matthew did just that. “From 1-5, it was level pegging,” said Matthew. “I figured I would lose that game, and I just wanted to play as well as I could before getting into the second game.” Matthew played well enough to actually win the game 12-10.
The first game comeback took some of the wind out of El Shorbagy and emboldened Matthew, who quickly grabbed a 4-1 lead in the second game. The shift in momentum was completed when Matthew won the second game 11-7. An 11-5 third game victory secured a semifinal berth for Matthew, who will next play Gregory Gaultier.
The Frenchman’s quarterfinal contest with his good friend Amr Shabana held the promise of greatness. The two have had some great matches over the years with Shabana holding a 13-10 edge in matches won. Just 12 days ago the two played an epic five game final at the World Series final with the Egyptian emerging the winner after 91 minutes of play. Both players have recently renewed their commitment to squash, mindful that they have only a few years left to stay atop the sport. When the two split games in the early going, the capacity crowd under the massive Grand Central chandeliers buzzed with anticipation of another five game battle. But it was not to be as Gaultier seized control of the match. “I wanted to make the rallies long and keep Amr in the rear corner,” he said. The Gaultier game plan worked. Shabana spent most of the match exactly where Gaultier intended. Without any room to shoot, Shabana could not muster an attack and Gaultier won the match, 11-9,5-11,11-5,11-5.
“I really wanted to peak for this tournament,” Gaultier said after the match, and he looks to be doing just that.
In the women’s draw, there were two upset victories. Fifth seeded Jaclyn Hawkes eliminated top seed Rachael Grinham 11-5,11-8,11-5. Hawkes was mindful of the fact that her opponent was nursing a hamstring injury. “I knew that Rachael wasn’t going to be moving her best and that is one of her greatest weapons. I really wanted to take advantage of this opportunity,” said the New Zealander. “I focused on hammering the forehand side and re-dropping when Rachael played a drop shot.”
Hawkes’ semifinal opponent is Dipika Pallikal, who took a 2-0 lead in games against Donna Urquhart. “I choked up in the third and fourth,” said the rapidly improving Indian player. “I lost concentration and went for too many shots.” It was a seesaw battle in the fifth, with lots of physical play and let calls. Pallikal, in a style reminiscent of her new coach, former world #1 Sarah FitzGerald, was especially effective when she stepped up to hit an attacking volley. Urquhart stayed even in the fifth by hitting the ball to good length on both rails and cross courts. Leading 9-8, Urquhart collided with Pallikal as the Aussie tried to get to the right wall. It took a minute or so for Urquhart to get up and she was clearly unnerved by the fall. Pallikal won the next point for match ball and then hit a deep backhand that nicked off the back wall, leaving Urquhart with her racquet up and ready, but no ball to hit.
The other women’s semifinal will feature second seed Natalie Grinham and unseeded Nour Sherbini. Both players were devastatingly efficient in their 3-0 match victories, Grinham over England’s Sarah Kippax, and Sherbini over Latasha Khan of the USA.
 Nick Matthew (ENG) bt.  Mohamed El Shorbagy (EGY) 12-10,11-7,11-5
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt.  Amr Shabana (EGY) 11-9, 5-11, 11-5,11-5
 Natalie Grinham (NED) bt. 6] Sarah Kippax (ENG) 11-3,11-4,12-10
Nour El Sherbini bt. Latasha Khan (USA) 11-6,13-11,11-3
 Jaclyn Hawkes (NZL) bt.  Rachael Grinham (AUS) 11-5,11-8,11-5
 Dipika Pallikal (IND) bt.  Donna Urquhart (AUS) 11-9, 11-5,7-11,10-12,11-9
6:00 PM  Jaclyn Hawkes (NZL) v.  Dipika Pallikal (IND)
7:00 PM  James Willstrop (ENG) v. Daryl Selby (ENG)
8:00 PM  Nick Matthew (ENG) v.  Gregory Gaultier (FRA)
8:45 PM  Natalie Grinham (NED) v. Nour El Sherbini (EGY)