Sublime Sobhy finds form in Cincinnati final
Nathan Dugan reports
Amanda Sobhy may have had a January to forget on the PSA tour, but tonight she showed a packed house that 2020 could be a very good year. It was an incredibly high level throughout the match with both players saving their best squash of the week for the final.
Sarah-Jane Perry had not been in her best form in the early rounds but used her experience to find a way to win. Tonight though she started the match with accurate hitting and looked to be moving freely as she controlled a relatively one sided first game. Amanda’s response in the second was intense, as the world number 8 used more holds and moved SJ to all four corners with relentless pressure.
The pace quickened and the execution of each shot was severe as her opponent, ranked one place higher, could merely stay in the rallies and hope for errors that just never came. The third was more of the same onslaught until Amanda completely missed the ball at 10-4. The distraction and humour created by her visions of grandeur of what was going to be the game winning shot, carried over for the next few rallies, as SJ crept closer and closer to 10-9. The rally that followed essentially ended the English number 1’s challenge, as SJ made a strange shot selection by flicking the ball crosscourt into the tin in maybe a desperate attempt due to the work Amanda had delivered to her tiring legs.
On paper it would be easy to presume that SJ quit in the fourth or didn’t fight to the death, but in reality it was quite the opposite. In certainly the longest 11-1 game I have ever witnessed, the play was as intense and physically brutal as the rest of the match. The only difference was that Amanda kept hold of the serve.
To think at 8-0 that a bagel was even on the cards seemed very wrong, and to see how hard SJ had to work to earn that single point was incredible. The fact that Amanda was giving a pumped up scream at the end of each rally as the game neared its conclusion, also showed how tough the squash was. It was a high quality match worthy of two players in the Worlds’ top ten, and the Cincinnati crowd loved every minute.
It is the first American name to be added to the Gaynor Cup trophy and Amanda vowed to back next year to try and defend her title.
Day three, quarter-finals : Top seeds through to semis
Nathan Dugan reports
It was a good night for the US players and SJ survived a stern test as the final four were set at the Gaynor Cup in Cincinnati.
World number 7 Sarah-Jane Perry had to dig deep into her reserves to fend off the challenge laid down by former World number 5, Low Wee Wern, in the last quarter final today. It took 65 minutes, in what is so far the longest match of the tournament, for SJ to break down the tenacity of the Malaysian.
Wee Wern had plenty of support with the majority of the crowd rooting her on through allegiance to her sister being a teaching pro at the host venue. The support may have helped as she took a 2-1 game lead with each game decided by the narrowest of margins. The upset was not to occur though as The British National Champion refused to give away any easy points and played with a precision that even the speedy Wee Wern was unable to contend with.
Oliva Blatchford Clyne will be next up for SJ as the New Yorker played with great attacking authority in her quarter final. With only four places in the rankings separating Olivia from the younger of the two Belgian sisters still in the draw, Tinne Gilis, a close game was anticipated, but Olivia looked sharp and back to the form that almost carried her into the worlds’ top ten. The reigning US National Champions use of the four corners, with flicks and holds to finish points, was too much for her opponent and she progressed to the Semis in Cincinnati for the first time.
Two very much in form players will be deciding who reaches the final from the top half of the draw after two dominant performances against tricky opposition in their respective quarter finals. Nele Gilis could have been forgiven for thinking she stood a pretty good chance against top seed Amanda Sobhy in the first match of the day, given the American number ones’ poor January results by her standards.
Amanda had obviously eradicated that from her memory banks though as she played flawless squash and couldn’t miss as she reeled off non-returnable winners. If it wasn’t a winner it was a deadly hold and dying length that gave the Belgian, who celebrated her 24th Birthday with us this week, no chance of gaining control in the match.
The defending champion Hania El Hammamy lies in wait tomorrow for Amanda after the World number 10 dispatched of compatriot Rowan Elaraby in three straight forward games.
This was the most eagerly anticipated match up of the round so it was a surprise that the match was dominated in such fashion. The two Egyptian 19 year olds, who are surly tipped to be the top two players in the World in years to come, have already shared some massive occasions. Twice Rowan beat Hania in the final to win a World Junior Championship, in fact it had been over two years since Hania had recorded a victory against her lower ranked opponent.
But tonight, wow, she was on! With the effortless court coverage and accuracy to the front of the court, Amanda could have her hands full tomorrow. Whatever the outcome of their semi it will not be one to miss … and you don’t have to because the match will be streamed live on YouTube – enjoy it with us!
Semi-finals : Defending Champion dethroned in Cincinnati
Nathan Dugan reports
American number one Amanda Sobhy survived the battle of the nerves between the two players that had looked so sharp on Friday night, showing that even the best in the world feel the pressure.
Defending champion Hania El Hammamy had not dropped a game on the Cincinnati courts in her prior six matches but tonight she delivered a self-inflicted wound by making unforced errors throughout match. The second game was the only game where Hania truly asserted herself, showing the packed crowd what is to come in the future for the young Egyptian.
While Hania’s movement was still effortless and maybe unrivalled on tour, the mental side of her game showed some inexperience, none more so than at 10-9 in the third and a chance to take a crucial 2-1 lead. Hania worked a great opening with Amanda feeding a ball begging for backhand volley drop, a foot above the tin would have done, but Hania went for glory and the tin came calling instead of the refs call of game 11-9!
Two rallies later and Hania was sitting in chair reflecting on what could have been. Amanda, still edgy herself, played far from error free squash but it was steady enough to book her place in the final, maybe the composure helped by Aidan Harrison driving in from Chicago to sit in her corner.
Olivia Blatchford Clyne, the underdog in the second semi-final, started the better of the two players, but Sarah-Jane Perry has a way of finding a way to win.
With a 1-0 game lead and a 7-5 advantage in the second, an all American final looked to be on the cards, but then SJ flattened her opponent while trying to retrieve a drop shot. While to contact was accidental, the impact left a lasting affect as Olivia never looked quite the same after the collision, only scoring one more point before the games were leveled.
Olivia once again led in the third but the difference between a 4’11’’ player and the tallest player on the women’s tour at over 6ft, was causing countless interactions with the referee. The physical toll impacted Olivia for the worse as she succumbed to the British National Champion.
The last time Amanda and SJ faced off on the PSA tour was in September at the Nantes Open in France, where Amanda prevailed on that day 3-1. With two Egyptians and one Aussie as previous holders of the Gaynor Cup, we are guaranteed a new flag on the trophy.
The final will be streamed live at 6:45 EST on YouTube
Day two, the last 16 : Upset free Friday in Cincinnati…
Nathan Dugan reports
While the first round of the Gaynor Cup in Cincinnati was filled with drama and unpredictability, the second day of the event emphasized a touch of class from the seeded players as last night’s winners were all sent home with their tails between their legs.
With the exception of the teenage dual between Rowan Elaraby and Nada Abbas, all the matchups had at least a 30 place differential on the PSA world rankings.
This gap was evident as the higher ranked player overcame their challenger with relative ease. Amanda Sobhy opened up proceedings by silencing the normally chatty Nicole Bunyan. Nicole actually played very well, making only five errors in the entire match, but the pace at which Amanda played was too much for the Princeton grad, making it Harvard 1, Princeton 0.
Menna Nasser who had obviously been struggling last night with an ankle problem was even more hampered today as Nele Gilis looked almost uncomfortable taking advantage of her opponents’ misfortune. To her credit Menna did finish the match but the lightness of movement from Nele would clearly have given Menna problems even on her best of days. French number 4 Enora Villard put up a much more physical test for the second Gilis in the draw, Tinne. However physicality didn’t seem to bother Tinne as every extended rally seemed to benefit the Belgian as she beat her opponent into submission.
Defending champion Hania El Hammamy looked very comfortable on the Cincinnati court she won the title on twelve months ago, getting off to a flying start in her attempt to retain her crown. Finnish National Champion Emilia Soini was no match for the agility and shot making of her nineteen year old opponent despite extending the match past the half an hour mark.
Fourth seed and American hopeful to lift the title Olivia Blatchford Clyne also looked to be enjoying her time on court. Showing a renewed vigor and pep in her step from last year’s quarter final exit, the charismatic New Yorker made light work of doubles specialist Nikki Todd with some excellent racquet work to the front of the court.
Low Wee Wern played her entire last 16 match with a cheeky grin on her face against Sarah Cardwell. After being out of the sport for three years following three major knee surgeries, Wee Wern acknowledged in the post-match interview how she used to take playing tournaments and travelling for granted. Now, with a second chance on the tour, she looked to be having fun as she looked to be keeping Sarah on the endo of a yoyo at times as she took the Aussies legs from beneath her.
The most anticipated match was a rematch of the Gaynor Cup 2017 Quarter final between Rowan Elaraby and Nada Abbas. Both 16 in 2017, it was Nada who progressed to the quarter finals. Tonight though, it was Rowan’s turn to take revenge as she toppled her friend and Egyptian team mate in four fiercely contested games. With piercing cry’s emulating after each point from both players, the crowd had no option but to get involved in the latest chapter in the two’s rivalry. At 2-0 down Nada looked out of it but she hung in to win a close third before squandering an 8-3 lead in the 4th and exiting the tournament.
Second seed Sarah-Jane Perry closed proceedings with a comfortable win over a dangerous opponent in Mayar Hany. Mayar made life uncomfortable for the World number 7 in the first two games, throwing in some very attacking shots when SJ missed her back targets. The pressure in which SJ was applying to the pace of every rally was taking its toll though as she looked completely in control of games three and four.
Tomorrow we have 4 intriguing matches starting with our top seed Amanda Sobhy taking on Belgian Champion Nele Gilis. Play will be from 3-6pm and can be seen on YouTube.
Day one, round one
Nathan Dugan reports
A rollercoaster first day in Cincinnati leaves mental scars as players clutch defeat from the jaws of victory…
It was a strange yet enthralling day of squash in Cincinnati, Ohio, as the first round got under way for the fourth annual Gaynor Cup. Elevated to a Bronze stature PSA event for the first time, the level of the players in the first round demonstrated just how the depth of the women’s professional game has escalated in the past ten years.
Anyone could beat anyone as five of the eight matches went the distance. In each of those five gamers, the victor who progressed may well wake up wondering how they are still in the draw, and those that lost may exit their flights back home with bruised shins as they kick themselves repeatedly for the missed opportunities.
Ineta Mackevica looked to be on course for a second consecutive appearance in the last 16 at the Gaynor Cup. A convincing first and third game was marred by some loose hitting in the second and fourth games which allowed the talkative Princeton Alum Nicole Bunyan back into the match. At 10-8 in the fifth, it looked like the tall Latvian had survived an inconsistent performance but four straight points sent Ineta crashing out…somewhat literally as she took a big tumble / dive to a non-returnable shot at match ball.
In the longest match of the day Jessica Turnbull missed the chance to upset her higher ranked opponent. At 8-6 down in the fifth game, the visibly hampered Egyptian Menna Hamed looked like she may throw in the towel, but Menna’s competitive spirit stayed strong as she pulled off some accurate drop shots to win five straight points.
Indian number 2 Sunayna Kuruvilla was the next underdog to blow her chance in the spotlight. Ranked 40 places below her fellow teenage opponent Nada Abbas, Sunayna let out shrieks so loud after winning the first and fourth game of this afternoons encounter that paramedics may have been called in if she had won the fifth game! At 6-6 in the deciding game it looked like a distinct possibility as her attacking play was causing Nada all sorts of problems, not allowing the Egyptian to get into any rhythm.
At the crucial stage of the match though Sunayna became a little tentative and handed Nada a few glorious opportunities off lose balls which she gladly accepted, winning the last five points with no return. The reward for Nada is a rematch of the 2017 quarter final of the Gaynor Cup with Rowan Elaraby and on that occasion she was the victor.
Canadian Nikki Todd produced only the second upset of the seeding in a match sandwiched in-between two straight forward 3-0 victories.
Local teaching pro and former world junior championship finalist Weenee Low had trouble dealing with the elevation of the Finnish Champion Emilia Soini. Emilia’s lobs were coming down with snow on the ball and mixed with tight drops it was a deadly concoction. Enora Villard took full advantage of a half fit Cindy Merlo. Cindy battled all the way to the finish line but was clearly restricted by a knee problem sustained in Cleveland earlier in the month also succumbing 3-0.
Nikki’s match though in contrast was anything but predictable as each player did their best, often with success, to give the initiative back to their opponent. Nikki won a close first, but then inexplicably reeled off eight points in a row from 10-4 down to take a 2-0 lead.
The favor was returned to Jasmine Hutton though as seemingly down and out at 4-8 in the third, she was given a lifeline, as Nikki did exactly what coach for the match, Amanda Sobhy, told her not to do. The momentum shift took us rapidly to a decider in which wisdom prevailed somehow over youth and Nikki progressed to a clash tomorrow with Olivia Blatchford Clyne.
Sarah Cardwell was two points shy of making it three appearances in Cincinnati and not a single winning handshake when 9-6 down in the fifth against last minute call up Tessa ter Sluis. Tessa looked like she had taken full advantage of Salma Hany being forced to withdraw from the event on Monday due to injury, but with the ribbon in sight the legs began to wobble and the Aussies tenacity proved the difference as she claimed her first victory at an event where she has given so much off the court in activities with kids in the community.
In the final match of the night crowd favorite, especially with a number of Trinity Alums watching, Catalina Pelaez, was in great form in the first game taking a 10-8 lead with shot making and racquet work unmatched during the days play. That was where creativity was trumped though by discipline as Mayar Hany produced a solid display of consistent deep hitting which stifled the attack and suffocated the Columbians legs, setting up a last 16 encounter with Sarah Jane Perry.