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The many moods of Grand Central, plus Day 3 previews and predictions

The action on and around the court yesterday provided ample proof of why Grand Central is way different than any other squash venue, and I’d venture to guess any other sports venue, in the world.

The afternoon session was a full house that included a large showing of young players looking on—wise-cracking prep school kids, already masters of New York urban swagger. Outside the front wall, the crowd was four deep with a mix of befuddled gawkers (“How many times can the ball bounce?”) and squash junkies (including three guys I used play league with; it was a scene built for serendipity).

The first evening session had unexpected musical accompaniment. On the other side of Vanderbilt Hall, a jazz combo was improvising bebop in the new Great Northern Food Hall. The arhythmic saxophone riffs had to have wreaked havoc on the concentration of Simon Rosner and Naziifwan Adnan, who were locked in what would turn into be an intense five-game battle. It was an only-in-Grand-Central phenomenon the likes of which I’m sure neither had encountered before.

There was another mood swing for the final match of the night. The crowd was in a raucous, Friday-night state of mind. (A decade earlier a lot of the fans had probably been part of a prep school contingency like we’d seen in the afternoon.) Karim Abdel Gawad and Zahed Mohamed gave them a fun match full of brilliant shot-making, and they responded by cheering like bleacher bums at Yankee Stadium. The players and viewers were all loving it.

Day 3 Previews and Predictions

Noon: Camille Serme (France, age 27, rank 4) vs. Tesni Evans (Wales, age 24, rank 20). Serme has developed into one of the world’s best players using a game of controlled aggression: she can hit with the power of the young Egyptians, but she varies her pace with a veteran’s savvy. Evans is a scrappy competitor who reached her highest ranking ever this month, but her game is still developing, and she’s 0-8 head-to-head against Serme. Prediction: Serme, 3-0.

1:00 Marwan Elshorbagy (Egypt, age 23, rank 6) vs. Stephen Coppinger (South Africa, age 32, rank 24). Elshorbagy is a gifted young player with the game of a veteran—he’s a precise shot-maker and a clever tactician. He’s matched against another smart strategist in Coppinger, whose methodical, medium-paced style of play served him well in the first round. I’ll never get used to the way Coppinger plays with his tongue hanging out like a happy golden retriever (which, come to think of it, isn’t a bad way of characterizing the way he plays). Prediction: Elshorbagy, 3-2.

2:00: Nouran Gohar (Egypt, age 19, rank 2) vs. Mayar Hany (Egypt, age 19, rank 37). These two teenagers are leading lights among the great younger generation of Egyptian women’s squash. Gohar is already firmly established as one of the top players in the world, reaching last year’s ToC semis and rising to the #2 ranking, but Hany shares her hard-headed, attacking style and won’t be intimidated by her old rival. Prediction: Gohar, 3-1.

3:00: Tarek Momen (Egypt, age 28, rank 8) vs. Omar Mosaad (Egypt, age 28, rank 9). These two are physical opposites—Momen is a whippet-thin speedster, while Mosaad is the biggest, most powerful player on the tour. They’ve been battling each other since back in their days as under-13 juniors, and though Mosaad has come out on top their last three encounters, there have been no easy victories. Both players were in top form in the first round. This is likely to be a tight, tense match. Prediction: Mosaad, 3-2.

5:00: Nour El Sherbini (Egypt, age 21, rank 1) vs. Joey Chan (Hong Kong, age 28, rank 18). Of all the great young Egyptian players, defending ToC champion El Sherbini has been the most phenomenal success, winning the World Championship and reaching the #1 ranking at the age of 20, while revolutionizing the game with her attacking style. She poses a tough challenge for Chan, a finesse player cut more from the classic mold. Prediction: El Sherbini, 3-0.

6:00: Gregory Gaultier (France, age 34, rank 3) vs. Fares Dessouky (Egypt, age 22, rank 12). Gaultier was in impeccable form in the first round, showing the speed and finesse that have made him a squash superstar, but he’ll have a tough test against Dessouky. The powerful young Egyptian won their last encounter, a gut-wrenching five-game match in last August’s Hong Kong Open. Prediction: Gaultier, 3-1.

7:00: Nicol David (Malaysia, age 33, rank 7) vs. Jenny Duncalf (England, age 34, rank 25). This match is a classic throwback between veterans who win with finesse more than power. David is the most successful player in the history of the women’s game, sitting at world #1 from 2006 to 2015. Duncalf is her longtime rival and a former #2. They’ve played 36 matches in their history, with David prevailing 34 times. Prediction: David, 3-0.

8:00: Mohamed Elshorbagy (Egypt, age 26, rank 1) vs. Ryan Cuskelly (Australia, age 29, rank 19). Elshorbagy’s talent for mixing power with precision has kept him a step ahead of his Egyptian compatriots—and the rest of the world. Cuskelly will try to neutralize him with dogged retrieving and strategic counterattacks. Prediction: Elshorbagy, 3-0.

— Matt Lombardi