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The ToC’s Marathon Men

 

Plus Tuesday’s previews and predictions

It’s a little hard to type, see, or think straight after Monday’s marathon of squash. I can’t imagine what it must feel like for the players. There were several great matches—Amanda Sobhy’s triumph for America, Nick Matthew’s relentless retrieving against a very sharp Omar Mosaad—but what stands out most is the brutally intense five-game battle between Miguel Rodriguez and Peter Barker. It was astounding and agonizing to watch. They kept fighting, point after point, with pain written clearly on both of their faces.

These have to be the fittest athletes on the planet. They were on court for almost precisely the same amount of time it takes a Kenyan to win the New York Marathon, but they were running sprints, doing lunges, and executing shots with the precision of an archer. The show of physical stamina was off the charts, but the mental strength was even more impressive. How do you decide between a straight drive, a cross-court, a drop, and a boast when your body is screaming at you to just stop?

And that was just the second round. Tonight on the men’s side we begin the quarterfinals, which often end up producing the best match of the tournament. This year the four top seeds all have tough hurdles in front of them, and I have a feeling at least one is going to get tripped up.

TUESDAY’S PREVIEWS AND PREDICTIONS

5:30: Alison Waters (England, age 30, rank 5) vs. Samantha Teran (Mexico, age 33, rank 33).Waters has been among the top women’s players for nearly a decade, and it’s easy to see why: you could write a squash textbook based on her immaculate strokes and the way she uses pace, precision, and patience to wear her opponents down. Teran has made an impressive comeback from injury, including two wins against higher ranked players in the ToC qualifying, but she’ll need to raise her game to another level if she’s going to put a scare into Waters. Prediction: Waters, 3-0.

6:15: Mohamed Elshorbagy (Egypt, age 24, rank 1) vs. Borja Golan (Spain, age 32, rank 12).Elshorbagy came of age in 2014. He won five tournaments, rose to #1 in the rankings, and put in a brilliant performance while losing to Ramy Ashour in a epic World Open final—one of the greatest matches in the history of the game. Since that loss in November he’s had a few lapses of focus, including a subpar game in his previous match here. If that happens again tonight, Golan will take full advantage. The veteran Spaniard can’t match Elshorbagy’s extraordinary talent, but he’s a relentless competitor who has some major upsets to his credit. Prediction: Elshorbagy, 3-1.

7:15: Nicol David (Malaysia, age 31, rank 1) vs. Rachael Grinham (Australia, age 37, rank 13). Nicol David has been ranked #1 for over 100 months now, and as that streak continues to grow month after month it further cements her status as the greatest player in the history of the game. Before David’s ascent, Grinham held the #1 ranking for over a year. She remains one of the smartest and most creative players on the tour, changing pace and throwing in lobs and drop shots at unlikely moments.Prediction: David, 3-0.

8:00: Amr Shabana (Egypt, age 35, rank 3) vs. Tarek Momen (Egypt, age 26, rank 7). This match could mark a changing of the guard. Shabana, the defending ToC champion, has been mentor and idol for a generation of talented Egyptians that includes Momen. In his second-round match Momen showed the speed, shot-making, and almost clairvoyant anticipation that has brought him to a career-best #7 world ranking. Those talents are also the hallmarks of Shabana’s game. If Shabana wins tonight it will be the wisdom of experience triumphing over the exuberance of youth. It should be a great match.Prediction: Momen, 3-1.

– Matt Lombardi