ToC Day TWO: Gaultier makes triumphant return as women’s draw begins
Former World No.1 and World Champion Gregory Gaultier made a sensational return to the PSA World Tour after 15 months out of action with a knee injury as the 37-year-old overcame Egypt’s Omar Mosaad in five games to reach round three of the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions held inside New York’s iconic Grand Central Terminal.
Since joining the PSA World Tour in 2000, Gaultier has carved out a reputation as one of the most popular and charismatic players of the modern era, but a career-threatening knee injury sustained in late 2018 required two surgeries to fix, leaving Gaultier fighting to save his career.
He made a successful return to action during last month’s WSF Men’s World Team Squash Championship and followed that up in New York with a sublime victory over former World No.3 Mosaad to mirror his World Championship final triumph over the Egyptian back in 2015. He came back from 2-1 down and held his nerve in a tense decider to close out an emphatic win, with celebrations to match.
“It’s a dream, I’m like a kid again!” said Gaultier, who has fallen to No.543 in the rankings.
“When you are broken for 15 months and you’ve got people telling you that you will never come back and you will never do any sport again in your life, I was like: ‘I think you’re talking to the wrong person’.
“I kept working hard and believing that I could make it. At some point I had to say: ‘let’s do it, let’s play’. I was training through the pain and then suddenly the pain started to settle down, it’s not quite there yet but I managed to play at a kind of decent level. I’m not at where I was two years ago but I think there’s a chance and I still have potential to come back and do some good things for squash.”
Ladies and gentleman… Gregory Gaultier is BACK with a bang! 😆
What a comeback 😲
— PSA World Tour (@PSAWorldTour) January 11, 2020
Gaultier will continue his campaign against 18-year-old Mostafa Asal in the next round. Asal will look to follow up a sensational display against World No.9 Mohamed Abouelghar which saw him come from a game down to reach the last 16 in New York for the first time.
World Junior Champion Asal, now ranked 21 in the world, chose not to defend his crown at the prestigious Dunlop British Junior Open earlier this week in favour of playing this tournament. That decision looks to have paid immediate dividends as he put on a shot-making masterclass against his fellow Egyptian, hitting nicks from all angles as he closed out an 4-11, 11-8, 11-8, 11-7 win in 48 minutes.
“It’s really tough to beat Abou, I didn’t expect that from the start. I’m happy that I made it, this is a dream court and I love to play here. I’m looking forward to my next match. The last two months I have hit a lot of nicks in my practice. I can’t believe that I won today and I want to thank everyone who supported me today.”
Farag’s triumph over Mohamed ElShorbagy 12 months ago saw him go to World No.1, but he was all at sea as Hesham showcased his attacking arsenal to put himself one game away from a shock victory. However, the experienced Farag held firm to level the scores, and Hesham lost his focus mentally and ran out of energy in the fifth as Farag swept home to avoid a scare.
“On the day he was the better squash player, and so I had to make it physical, but with physical [matches] you don’t want to turn into a machine. At the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth, I was forcing it rather than thinking it. I’m really glad I’m through because I could have been the loser today for sure.”
World Championship finalists Tarek Momen and Paul Coll are also through after wins over Marwan ElShorbagy and Abdulla Al Tamimi. World Champion Momen came from behind to beat ElShorbagy in four, while Coll also required four games to beat Al Tamimi.
The women’s tournament got under way with 16 matches split across the Princeton Club of New York, the Harvard Club of New York and and the New York Athletic Club, with the winners moving through to face the 16 seeded players in round two.
There were five US players in action, with New York-born Olivia Blatchford Clyne and Sea Cliff-based Sabrina Sobhy claiming wins at the Princeton Club.
Blatchford Clyne ousted England’s Jasmine Hutton in straight games to set up a last 32 clash with World No.9 Tesni Evans, while World No.39 Sobhy dispatched Hong Kong’s Joey Chan in four games to join older sister Amanda in the next round.
“I feel pretty overwhelmed right now,” Sobhy said.
“I’m so proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish thanks to the support of my friends and family. Playing in front of them makes a win like this even more memorable. I’ve never really had a day off in a major tournament before. I have plans to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and I look forward to enjoying a change of pace.”
New York-based Olivia Fiechter went down to Belgium’s Nele Gilis in four games, while wildcard Marina Stefanoni and Brooklyn’s Haley Mendez lost out to Millie Tomlinson and Tinne Gilis.