Teenage dreams, sibling rivals, previews and predictions for Day 5
On the calendar, today marks the halfway point of the ToC, but in terms of matches played we’re further along: 40 are in the books, 22 left to go. Ten of those 22 will be played today, in the tournament’s busiest day on the glass court. Most of the excitement is still to come, but I’m already sensing a few things that this edition of the ToC will be remembered for:
Egyptian Teen Terrors
The women’s bracket is currently a round behind the men’s, but there’s been one clear early phenomenon: Egyptian teenagers. We’ve seen great young Egyptians in previous years, but it seems now like their numbers are increasing exponentially.
It’s a challenge keeping up with them all, but the ones I’ve seen seem to share some characteristics in common. In the past few days I’ve watched Hania El Hammamy (16 years old!), Hana Moataz (also 16!), and Mayar Hany (19—too old in this context for an exclamation point), and I can tell you that they’re all intensely focus and they all knock the hell out of the ball. Their games will add nuance with age, but what they do right now they do incredibly well. (I’m not even mentioning Nouran Gohar and Nour El Sherbini, who at 19 and 21 are the top two ranked players in the world.)
The Little Brother Complex
Among the men, three overarching stories: Two are the play of James Willstrop and Paul Coll, who I’ll write about tomorrow. The third is the ElShorbagy sibling rivalry, which will unfold in the final match of the night tonight. The brothers are both famously coached between games by their mom, but word is she’ll be staying in the hotel tonight rather than enduring the agony of watching her boys go head to head.
My sympathies are with Marwan, aka “ElShorgagy Jr.” When I was a kid I played racquetball. (It was the ‘70s, it was the Midwest—I’ve gotten older and wiser since.) Everything about my game was better than my older brother’s but I could never beat him. A grownup at the gym told me I had the “little brother complex”—a condition with the one obvious symptom that I suffered from.
Marwan, I’m suspect, feels a touch of the same thing. Unlike my brother, Mohamed is the top ranked player in the world, but still, it must eat at Marwan in a special way that he’s never beaten him. Of the two, Marwan plays the more subtle, cerebral game (it happens that I, too, was smarter than my older brother…), but the thinkers often set the tallest psychological hurdles for themselves. I’m rooting for him.
Day 5 Previews and Predictions
With 10 matches on the docket, today is the busiest day of the tournament, and it will be dominated by the women, who play eight of them. Here’s a quick look at what I think will happen:
Noon: Nour El Sherbini (Egypt, age 21, rank 1) vs. Salma Hany Ibrahim (Egypt, age 20, rank 28). El Sherbini, the defending ToC champion, has revolutionized the women’s game with her attacking style. Ibrahim has been El Sherbini’s rival since childhood, and while she isn’t the same towering presence on court, she’s just as aggressive and determined. Prediction: El Sherbini, 3-1.
12:45: Nicol David (Malaysia, age 33, rank 7) vs. Annie Au (Hong Kong, age 27, rank 12). David and Au are two of the more diminutive women on tour, but that’s where the similarity ends. David became the most accomplished player in the history of the game through lightning speed, consistent retrieval, and judicious attacks. Au is more mercurial. She loves to mix lobs and pinpoint drop shots. Prediction: David, 3-1.
1:30: Camille Serme (France, age 27, rank 4) vs. Joshna Chinnapa (India, age 30, rank 13). Serme’s success rests in her ability to hit with the power of the young Egyptians while varying pace with a veteran’s savvy. Chinnapa is a streaky risk-taker. If she catches fire, she’ll give Serme a battle. Prediction: Serme, 3-0.
2:30: Nouran Gohar (Egypt, age 19, rank 2) vs. Nour El Tayeb (Egypt, age 23, rank 15). At 23, El Tayeb is a veteran among the great young Egyptian women, and her senior status may give her an advantage today. She’s the quickest, most graceful member of the group, while Gohar has risen to #2 in the world using relentless up-tempo play and locked-in concentration. This is likely to be the match of the day for the women. Prediction: El Tayeb, 3-2.
3:15: Laura Massaro (England, age 33, rank 5) vs. Joelle King (New Zealand, age 28, rank 10). King likes to play at a fast pace, but in their head-to-heads Massaro has been masterful at countering power with precision. They met three times in 2016, with Massaro winning each encounter. Prediction: Massaro, 3-1.
4:00: Omneya Abdel Kawy (Egypt, age 31, rank 9) vs. Victoria Lust (England, age 27, rank 16). Kawy has been a trend-setter for the younger Egyptian women with her high-risk, high-reward style of play. Lust will aim to counter with retrieving and steady length, extending rallies and waiting for errors. Prediction: Kawy, 3-0.
5:30: Raneem El Welily (Egypt, age 28, rank 3) vs. Dipika Pallikal Karthik (India, age 25, rank 26). Look for some spectacular kills, with a few tins thrown in, from these two daring shooters. El Welily has used the style with greater success, winning the ToC and rising to #1 in the world in 2015. Prediction: El Welily, 3-1.
6:15: Gregory Gaultier (France, age 34, rank 3) vs. Tarek Momen (Egypt, age 28, rank 8). These two are both lightning-fast retrievers who like to mix in risky attacks, making for entertaining squash. Momen has been near flawless in the ToC so far, while Gaultier proved in his comeback second-round win that he can dig in, pound the ball to the back, and wait for errors from his opponent. Prediction: Gaultier, 3-2.
7:30: Amanda Sobhy (USA, age 23, rank 6) vs. Sarah-Jane Perry (England, age 26, rank 11). This should be a battle of power versus power between two of the strongest women in the game. The American star Sobhy looked more fit and focused than ever in her first-round win. Prediction: Sobhy, 3-1.
8:00: Mohamed ElShorbagy (Egypt, age 26, rank 1) vs. Marwan ElShorbagy (Egypt, age 23, rank 6). The greatest sibling rivalry in men’s squash has been controlled so far by big brother Mohamed, who has risen to the top of the game with an unparalleled combination of power and precision. Marwan is less the pure athlete and more the tactician, changing speeds and wrong-footing opponents. Prediction: The little brother complex prevails for another match. Mohamed, 3-1.