New York, NY – January 13, 2016. The future of women’s squash arrived Wednesday evening at the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions semifinals in Grand Central Terminal and it is fierce, fearless, powerful – and young.
The evening started with a capacity crowd eager to see their hometown heroine, Amanda Sobhy, continue her epic journey in the Tournament of Champions draw. The Sea Cliff, LI native did not disappoint as she continued to ride her wave of ToC momentum and reveled in the glory of being the hometown favorite with a gutsy 3-0 win over reigning World Junior Champion Nouran Gohar. “It took me a few minutes at the start of the match to get used to Nouran’s pace,” said Sobhy, who herself is known for being a power hitter. “She hits the ball so hard; but then I realized I could wait for the ball to come out of the back”.
Sobhy’s competitive fire was on full display as she recovered from being 5-8 down in the first game to win six consecutive points and take a 1-0 lead in games. By the second game, both players were cracking the ball and moving well out of the corners. Tied at eight all in the second, Sobhy once again stepped up her competitive intensity to win the game 11-9. “She definitely played the big points better,” said Gohar, the 18-year-old reigning World Junior Champion, of her opponent’s play. Gohar looked like she might keep the match going when she took a 9-6 lead in the third. Undeterred, and with the crowd urging her on, Sobhy once again stepped up to the challenge to win the game 12-10.
“That was hard,” Sobhy said after the match, exhilarated and exhausted. “I know it was only three games, but it was fast and intense out there.” In the finals, the Harvard University graduate, who only started playing full time on the PSA Women’s World tour after graduating in 2015, will face a rival from her junior playing days, Nour El Sherbini.
El Sherbini defeated squash legend Nicol David, who had been no. 1 in the world for 109 months – more than nine years- until July 2015. But the 32-year-old Malaysian superstar was no match for the 20-year-old Egyptian who was in command of their contest from start to finish. Attacking with power and speed, El Sherbini kept the usually agile and fast David back on her heels for most of the match, winning 3-0. .
“It is an amazing feeling to be playing Nicol and winning 3-0,” said the ebullient Egyptian. “I grew up watching Nicol – she is the best ever, on court and off, and I hope someday to be like her.”
Asked about playing Sobhy in the finals, El Sherbini said, ”We played each other a lot in the juniors – and now we are playing in a PSA World Series final. Does that mean we are old?” Their rivalry dates back to the semifinals of the 2010 World Junior Championships, where Sobhy beat El Sherbini in three tight games and went on to take the title. The following year they played in the semis again, this time with El Sherbini winning in straight games. The last time they played was in the final qualifying round of the 2013 Tournament of Champions, which Sobhy won after losing the first two games.
Defending men’s champion Mohamed El Shorbagy, despite losing a game to Mathieu Castagnet (playing in his first PSA World Series semifinal), looked in control from start to finish of his semifinal match. After the match, ElShorbagy showered his opponent with praise, ”Mathieu is really an inspiration. Has worked very hard for a very long time and it is finally paying off.” As for his own performance in the tournament, ElShorbagy said, “ I am really enjoying playing and having fun again.” The world no. 1 went on to explain, “The end of last year was hard for me. I really felt the pressure of being the player everyone wants to beat and squash wasn’t fun anymore. When I got up in the morning, I didn’t want to go to the squash court.”
Ironically, it was losing the World Championship title and his no. 1 ranking that turned things around for the 25-year-old Egyptian.” Once I lost the no. 1 ranking, I realized how much I did not want to be no. 2. So it motivated to get back on court and practice hard. Every time I hit the ball, I was thinking about getting back to no.1.”
ElShorbagy will take on Nick Matthew in a repeat of last year’s final. The 35-year-old Englishman, the oldest player on the PSA Men’s World Tour, was only six points into his eagerly awaited match with long-time rival Gregory Gaultier when the Frenchman collapsed to the floor in pain. Having clipped his ankle on the way to the ball, Gaultier was unable to put any pressure on his foot and forced to concede the match. As a result, Matthew will have had the equivalent of a rest day before his 8pm clash with ElShorbagy, who is a decade younger than the 2012 ToC titlist.
“You never want to win this way,” said Matthew, “but I am still quite excited to reach my fifth Tournament of Champions final. I have only won one of those, so I would l really like to change my winning percentage this year.”
ElShorbagy holds a one game winning edge, 8-7, in his rivalry with Matthew and expressed confidence when asked about the finals. “Nobody has defeated me in a PSA World Series final besides Ramy Ashour,” the Egyptian noted with pride.
Results – J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions, Grand Central Terminal, New York, NY
January 13, 2016
Amanda Sobhy (USA) def.  Nouran Gohar (EGY).11-9, 11-9,12-10 (42 mins)
 Nour El Sherbini (EGY) def  Nicol David (MAS) 11-8, 11-5, 11-6 (25 mins)
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) def.  Mathieu Castagnet (FRA) 11-9, 11-6, 3-11, 11-7 (48 mins)
 Nick Matthew (ENG) def  Gregory Gaultier (FRA) 3-3 ret.