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The Longest Day in Squash

Plus Monday’s previews and predictions.

One of the novelties of the ToC is that it’s the biggest tournament in the world played entirely on one court. Between the men and the women there will be 46 matches in Grand Central’s glass box, including 10 on Monday, the busiest day of the tournament.

To make it all work requires a lot of logistical skill and also some wishful thinking. The schedule allots 45 minutes for each match, with additional time between sessions for spectators to be ushered in and out. The chances of things actually working out that way are roughly the same as the chances of me qualifying for next year’s draw. Look at the previews below and you’ll sense the tournament’s curse and blessing: the players are too good and too evenly matched to get on and off the court in 45 minutes (including intro, warm-up, and exit interview).

That means if you’re going to be at the tournament you should expect delays. (Kind of fitting, after all, when you’re in a train station.) Be patient, be kind to the volunteer ushers, and if you have a ticket for the late session consider taking an afternoon nap. You’re going to be rewarded with some really brilliant matches, including the last one of the night, which could be the best of the lot. But it also may not be over until Tuesday.

DAY 4 PREVIEWS AND PREDICTIONS

Today the women enter the fray, and the early session includes seven of the top 11 players in the world. They should provide some drama.

11:3O: Nour El Tayeb (Egypt, age 21, rank 8) vs. Victoria Lust (England, age 25, rank 32).Tayeb is one of the quickest and most graceful players on tour. Her athleticism is likely to be too much for Lust, who’s playing for the fourth day in a row after winning three matches in qualifying. Prediction:Tayeb, 3-0. They may even stick to the schedule.

12:15: Nour El Sherbini (Egypt, age 19, rank 4) vs. Annie Au (Hong Kong, age 25, rank 10).This is a contrast of styles and physiques, as the powerful Sherbini tries to blast past Au, a diminutive sleight-of-hand artistwho’s at her best when she’s chipping in unexpected drop shots from the back of the court. Prediction: Sherbini, 3-1.

1:00: Low Wee Wern (Malaysia, age 24, rank 7) vs. Amanda Sobhy (U.S., age 21, rank 11).This has the potential to be the most entertaining match of the first session. Low is a master of metronomic precision and patience—she tries to lull opponents into a hypnotic rhythm, then wins points by either breaking that rhythm or hitting shots with unreturnable precision. Sobhy at age 21 is already the most accomplished American woman in the history of the game (even while she’s carrying a full course load at Harvard). Like Sherbini she’s a power hitter who loves to attack at the first opportunity. The longer the points last, the better the chance Low will win them. Prediction: Low, 3-2. And if this prediction holds true, the schedule will already be out the window.

1:45: Raneem El Welily (Egypt, age 26, rank 2) vs. Omneya Abdel Kawy (Egypt, age 29, rank 9). These two Egyptian greats could be mistaken for sisters, and it’s likely neither is happy to have to play the other in the opening round. They’re both daring shot-makers with breathtaking racquet skills, but Welily’s higher ranking is indicative of her better fitness and her ability to fight through the inevitable patches of weak play. Kawy is more erratic, but when she’s on she’s very tough to beat. Prediction:Welily, 3-1.

3:00: Peter Barker (England, age 31, rank 6) vs. Miguel Angel Rodriguez (Colombia, age 29, rank 8). This is bound to be a street fight. Rodriguez isthe most acrobatic retriever in the game, and he was in great form in his opening round match. Barker is a fierce competitor who doesn’t keep his feelings to himself on court. You may well see steam coming out of his ears as Rodriguez spins, dives, and returns shot after shot. Prediction: Rodriguez, 3-1.

3:45: Camille Serme (France, age 25, rank 6) vs. Kanzy El-Defrawy (Egypt, age 20, rank 66).Serme will use disciplined attacking to try to keep qualifier El-Defrawy, the #1 player at Trinity College, on her heels. The last time she was on the glass court in Grand Central El-Defrawy won the crowd over with her diving gets. Don’t be surprised to see her diving with abandon again today. Prediction: Serme, 3-0.

4:30: Simon Rosner (Germany, age 27, rank 10) vs. Mathieu Castagnet (France, age 28, rank 13). These two are currently the top European players under age 30. Both are exemplars of grace under pressure; their fierce but fair play makes them great role models for juniors. Prediction: Rosner, 3-2.

6:30: Gregory Gaultier (age 31, rank 2) vs. Tom Richards (England, age 28, rank 40). Gaultier, the sometimes-moody French magician, was casually brilliant in his first-round win. If he can maintain his cool tonight he’ll be an impossible puzzle to solve for the steady, workmanlikeRichards. Prediction:Gaultier, 3-0.

7:15: Laura Massaro (England, age 31, rank 3) vs. Salma Hany Ibrahim (Egypt, age 18, rank 25). Consummate professional Massaro usually makes short work of opponents outside the top 10, but Ibrahim could be an exception. The Egyptian mixes flashes of brilliance with youthful inconsistency. When these two played in Brooklyn’s Weymuller Open last fall, Massaro fought back from two games down to win a contentious match. Prediction: The veteran will have learned her lesson from Brooklyn. Massaro, 3-0.

Nick Matthew (England, age 34, rank 4) vs. Omar Mosaad (Egypt, age 26, rank 9). It will be worth sticking around for the final match of the night. Matthew,the master of steady, relentless pressure, will try to wear down the powerful Egyptian, who, after several years of almost being there, is hungry to enter the ranks of the game’s elite. Last year at Grand Central Mosaad jumped out to a 2-0 lead against Karim Darwish, only to lose the match. How he fares tonight might indicate whether that loss made him stronger or eroded his confidence. Prediction: Matthew, 3-2.

– Matt Lombardi