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Why the court is glass, Gaultier transcendent, Day 2 Previews and Predictions

Watching yesterday’s first round matches was a reminder of just what a remarkable phenomenon the glass court is. It’s stating the obvious, but the reason the court is glass is to serve us, the fans—so we can see the game from every angle.

For a club player like me, it’s a joy to sit in one of the sidewall seats and witness, up close, the swing technique and the footwork of the world’s greatest players, executed at breakneck speed. The view from the front wall is a wonder as well: you see the finesse of the front-court game, and the strain on the players’ faces. For squash lovers, what could be cooler than that?

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My strongest impression from the play on Day 1 came from the last match of the night. I’ve been watching him play for over a decade, but I still can’t get over the way Gregory Gaultier can casually dismantle a world-class player. It looked like he was just strolling around the court, flipping the ball from corner to corner as his whim suited him. He was pure confidence, pure control.

Gaultier may not be he #1 player in the world, but I think, despite the waves of young talent we’ll see at the ToC this year, he remains most gifted. (With the exception, of course, of Ramy Ashour. Ah, Ramy Ramy Ramy … when will we see you again?)

Day 2 Previews and Predictions

If you have tickets for the noon session, don’t be late—the day is starting off with a bang.

Noon: James Willstrop (England, age 33, rank 11) vs. Miguel Angel Rodriguez (Colombia, age 31, rank 14). What a classic match-up: Willstrop, the graceful giant, against Rodriguez, the ball of fire. No one can feather drop shots into the backhand corner quite like Willstrop, and no one can fly into the corner to retrieve the unretrievable anything like Rodriguez. Both players have had some ups and downs over the past year, but if they’re both in good form, this will be a tremendously entertaining game of cat and mouse. Prediction: It’s anyone’s guess, but my fingers are telling me to type Willstrop, 3-1.

12:45: Nick Matthew (England, age 36, rank 4) vs. Alan Clyne (Scotland, age 30, rank 35). At an age at which most pros have retired, three-time world champion Matthew remains one of the best, and most intense, players in the game. He and Clyne both like to wear opponents down with consistent, methodical play, but Matthew has more weapons at his disposal—he’s a devastating volleyer and a master at varying pace. Prediction: Matthew, 3-1.

2:00: Paul Coll (New Zealand, age 24, rank 20) vs. Chris Simpson (England, age 29, rank 25). You know what you’re getting with Simpson: his bread and butter is classic English-style attritional squash, and he’s been executing it consistently well over the past few years. That may not be enough, though, to rein in Coll, who’s currently one of the hottest players on the tour. He’s earned the nickname Superman for the way he flies around court, and he’s coming off a groundbreaking performance in December at the St. George’s Hill Classic, where he came out of qualifying to beat Miguel Rodriguez, Tarek Momen, and Daryl Selby on the way to the title. Prediction: Coll, 3-1.

2:45: Ali Farag (Egypt, age 24, rank 7) vs. Tsz Fung Yip (Hong Kong, age 23, rank 36). Farag is one of my favorite players to watch. He’s got uncanny anticipation that defies explanation—he seems to know where the ball is going before his opponent hits it—and he moves around the court with exceptional cool and grace. I have to confess that I’ve never seen Yip play, but I expect he’s cast from the same mold as fellow Hong Kong players Max Lee and Leo Au—which would mean he’s a quick, relentless retriever. He reached the main draw with an impressive upset of Frenchman Gregiore Marche in qualifying. Prediction: I may not know much about Yip, but I know Farag is really good. Farag, 3-1.

5:00: Simon Rösner (Germany, age 29, rank 10) vs. Nafiizwan Adnan (Malaysia, age 30, rank 30). These are two solidly built players who get around the court more nimbly than you might guess. Rösner is ranked 20 spots higher because of the greater versatility in his game—he can rip the ball with tons of power, but he’s also got the soft hands to hit gentle drops. He’s the favorite, but Adnan notched a couple of upsets over the fall, beating Omar Mosaad and Miguel Angel Rodriguez. Rösner will need to bring his A game. Prediction: Rösner, 3-1.

5:45: Saurav Ghosal (India, age 30, rank 23) vs. Nicolas Müller (Switzerland, age 27, rank 32). Ghosal, the Indian #1, is a classic example a squash type—the diminutive, indefatigable retriever. He’ll spend the evening running down shots from Müller, who has a penchant for high-risk, high-reward attacking play. They played in December at the CCI International, with Müller winning a five-game nail-biter. Prediction: Ghosal’s tough; I think he’ll avenge December’s loss. Ghosal, 3-2.

7:00: Cameron Pilley (Australia, age 34, rank 18) vs. Raphael Kandra (Germany, age 26, rank 43). Squash has lots of hard hitters, but Pilley holds the power record, with a forehand clocked at 175 mph. Kandra is a solidly built power player himself, so expect a slugfest. Prediction: Pilley, 3-0.

7:45: Karim Abdel Gawad (Egypt, age 25, rank 2) vs. Zahed Mohamed (Egypt, age 24, rank 28). The biggest story in squash over the past three months has been the rise of Gawad, who with cool and class captured the World Championship and Qatar Classic, beating Mohamed Elshorbagy twice in the process. He grew up playing fellow-Alexandrian Zahed Mohamed, who almost derailed Gawad’s rise, taking him to five games in Qatar. Prediction: Gawad can be a slow starter, so look Mohamed could grab an early game, but I think that’s as good as it will get for him. Gawad, 3-1.

— Matt Lombardi