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Will Nick Matthew Be This Year’s Shabana? Plus Day 5 Previews and Predictions

It feels like the stars are starting to align in Nick Matthew’s favor in the ToC men’s draw. You know he would love to win a major title in his final year, and with upsets taking out three of the five players seeded above him out of the tournament—including the massive favorite, Mohamed ElShorbagy—this may be his best chance. If he can get past Greg Gaultier tonight, you have to like his odds in the semis against Rosner or Mueller. If he makes it to the final, no matter who he plays (my prediction—Ali Farag), he’ll have extra, extra driven to win. And it’s that extra drive of his that’s gotten him to where he is in his career.

This all reminds me of Amr Shabana in 2014, when as the seventh seed, with his best days presumably behind him, he had a glorious win at Grand Central. Special things happen here, and a Matthew win this year would be a special thing.

First, though, he has to contend with Gaultier. It’s going to be tonight’s marquee match. Based on the focus and skill he showed last round against James Willstrop last round, I’m betting that he’ll do it.

Day 5 Previews and Predictions

11:00: Nouran Gohar (Egypt, age 20, rank 5) vs. Alison Waters (England, age 33, rank 208). There’s a dozen years between them, but these two women play with a similar attacking, fast-paced style. In December they met at the World Championship, with Gohar winning in four tense games. Prediction: Gohar, 3-1.

11:45: Sarah-Jane Perry (England, age 27, rank 8) vs. Olivia Blatchford (USA, age 24, rank 13). Standing nearly a foot taller than her opponent, Perry is likely to try to overpower Blatchford, while the American will look to turn the tables, forcing Perry to reach low for balls in the corners. Prediction: Perry, 3-1.

12:30: Nour El Sherbini (Egypt, age 22, rank 1) vs. Mariam Metwally (Egypt, age 21, rank 22). These young, hard-hitting Egyptians are old rivals—they played in the World Junior Championship semis in 2012 and finals in 2013, with El Sherbini winning on both occasions. She’s now in her 21st month as the #1 player on the senior tour. Prediction: El Sherbini, 3-1.

2:30: Laura Massaro (England, age 34, rank 4) vs. Victoria Lust (England, age 28, rank 16). Massaro, the longtime English #1, is known for her elegant, sweeping backhand and her fierce, never-say-die attitude. Her spritely compatriot Lust excels at covering the court and extending rallies. Prediction: Massaro, 3-0.

3:15: Camille Serme (France, age 28, rank 3) vs. Donna Urquhart (Australia, age 31, rank 16). Defending ToC champion Serme keeps the pace high and volleys at every opportunity. She’ll meet a likeminded open in the athletic Aussie Urquhart. Prediction: This is my upset of the day. Urquhart has good days when she’s a real headache for the best women, and I think this might be one of those days. Urquhart, 3-2.

5:00: Nicole David (Malaysia, age 34, rank 6) vs. Joelle King (New Zealand, age 29, rank 9). David’s speed and focus have made her one of the greats in the history of the game, but the hard-hitting Kiwi won their last encounter, a back-and-forth five game battle in September at the China Open. Prediction: David, 3-2.

5:45: Simon Rosner (Germany, age 30, rank 8) vs. Nicolas Mueller (Switzerland, age 28, rank 27). These two close friends and training partners upset the seedings in the previous round with wins over higher-ranked Egyptians. Expect fireworks: Rosner hits thunderous drives, and Mueller favors high-risk attacking play. Prediction: Rosner, 3-1.

7:30: Raneem El Welily (Egypt, age 29, rank 2) vs. Tesni Evans (Wales, age 25, rank 12). El Welily, the reigning world champion, is famously streaky: when she’s hot she’s nearly unbeatable, but she’s prone to occasional lapses in focus. If there’s such a moment tonight, Evans will seize on it. Prediction: El Welily, 3-2.

8:15: Gregory Gaultier (France, age 35, rank 1) vs. Nick Matthew (England, age 37, rank 6). The rivalry between these two is one of the oldest and fiercest in squash. Matches tend to be emotional rollercoasters for Gaultier, while Matthew is famous for his hard-nosed tenacity. Prediction: Matthew, 3-2.

9:00: Nour El Tayeb (Egypt, age 24, rank 7) vs. Amanda Sobhy (USA, age 24, rank 28). This match provides a classic contrast between El Tayeb’s speed and Sobhy’s power. After a 10-month injury hiatus, the American star Sobhy looked increasingly comfortable over the course of her first-round match. Prediction: El Tayeb, 3-1.

–Matt Lombardi