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It’s Sobhy Time! Plus Monday’s Previews & Predictions

It feels awesome and bizarre to have a local rooting interest in this year’s ToC. The thing that struck me most about Amanda Sobhy’s win Sunday was her tremendous composure. Knowing that the packed house in Grand Central was behind her, hanging on every point, could have been a source of strength, a distraction, or a cause for nerves. It was probably some of all three, but through it all she was a picture of focus and strength.

She also showed that she’s a fully mature squash tactician. She knew that her natural game–fast-paced attacking–was exactly the sort of play Raneem El Welily thrives against, with her ability to put away loose balls and wrong-foot overaggressive opponents. So Sobhy dialed it back, building her game on patience and precision, and, to put it baldly, let El Welily beat herself. It wasn’t the most thrilling style of play, but it was a huge challenge to execute, and Sobhy pulled it off like a consummate professional.

The win confirms what her legion of fans has been expecting and hoping for: she’s cashing in on her potential and can be indisputably counted among the top players in the world. Amanda Sobhy’s time is now.

Monday’s Previews and Predictions

Women feature in four of six matches today. You’ll get to see a full spectrum of the game–from young rivals to veterans and power hitters to crafty deception artists. On the men’s side, two of the most in-form players in the world meet in a match that will have the intensity of a final.

2:30: Nour El Sherbini (Egypt, age 20, rank 5) vs. Mariam Metwally (Egypt, age 19, rank 51). At 20 years of age El Sherbini is already firmly established as one of the top women in the game; she reached the British Open finalist at 16 and the World Open final at 17. Power hitting is her bread and butter, but she has a well-rounded game and is a savvy tactician. Metwally is another young power-hitter, and though she’s currently far behind El Sherbini in the rankings, she won’t be fazed by playing her longtime junior rival. They met in the final of the 2013 World Junior Championship, with El Sherbini winning in three tight games. The result is likely to be similar today, but Metwally is another young Egyptian to watch.  Prediction: El Sherbini, 3-1.

3:30: Camille Serme (France, age 26, rank 4) vs. Emily Whitlock (England, rank 19, age 21). Serme reached a career pinnacle in 2015 when she won the British Open, beating Laura Massaro in the final. She’s the consummate all-around player: she hits good length and is patient when she needs to be, but she attacks when the opportunity presents itself. Whitlock, the top young English up-and-comer, is a quick, high-energy player who relies on great retrieving and counterattacks. She’ll be looking for her first win over a top-10 player, but at this point it doesn’t look like she has enough tools in her kit to pull it off. Prediction: Serme, 3-0.

4:30: Omneya Abdel Kawy (Egypt, age 30, rank 6) vs. Joshna Chinappa (India, age 29, rank 15). These two veterans both had strong years in 2015. Abdel Kawy, who’s something of a mentor to the younger Egyptian women, had a career renaissance, returning to the top 10 for the first time in over three years, while Chinappa reached a best-ever ranking of 13 in December. They’re both streaky risk-takers, so expect lots of gasps and groans in response to their daring shots. The last time they met, in November’s Qatar Classic, it was a seesaw five-game battle, with Adbel Kawy prevailing. Prediction: Abdel Kawy, 3-1.

6:30: Mohamed Elshorbagy (Egypt, age 24, rank 1) vs. Omar Mosaad (Egypt, age 27, rank 4). This match will have the competitiveness and high-quality play of a final. Both players have been nearly flawless so far in the tournament and will be brimming with confidence. They’re two of the hardest hitters in the game; Mosaad has a more deliberate style, while Elshorbagy is more daring, mixing streaks of brilliance with the rare lapse in form. Elshorbagy’s #1 ranking, and the success that has brought him to that point, are a psychological advantage, but over the past few month’s Mosaad’s play has risen to that same level. Prediction: Going out on a limb here, but I feel like it’s Omar’s moment. Mosaad, 3-2.

7:30: Nicol David (Malaysia, age 32, rank 3) vs. Annie Au (Hong Kong, rank 11, age 26). Despite David’s modest demeanor, she’s been squash’s biggest star of the past decade, holding the #1 ranking in the world for nine years before being supplanted by Raneem El Welily last September. She’ll be hungry for a ToC win to help propel her back to the top spot. Tonight she matches her disciplined, finely honed game against the mercurial Au, who likes to vary the pace, mixing in lobs and drop shots at unexpected moments. Prediction: David, 3-1.

8:15: Mathieu Castagnet (France, age 29, rank 10) vs. Borja Golan (Spain, age 33, rank 19). A win tonight and a trip to the semifinals will be a career highlight for one of these two Europeans. They’re both strong-willed competitors whose greatest asset is speed, but they have contrasting styles. Castagnet is a relentless retriever with an unflappable personality, while Golan is hot blooded and more prone to gamble on high-risk shots, especially at the front of the court. Prediction: Castagnet’s composure will win out, 3-2.

–Matt Lombardi