Tournament of Champions 2019 : It’s Farag and Sherbini
El Sherbini makes it Three, Farag comeback clinches World #1 spot
Nour El Sherbini became the first women’s three-time champion and Ali Farag sealed the world No. 1 ranking come March as the Egyptians swept up the 2019 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champion titles in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.
The finals marked the twenty-second year that the ToC has been hosted inside of the iconic Vanderbilt Hall, and appropriately fielded both the men’s and women’s world number ones and number twos against each other with both number twos prevailing.
The finals played out in contrasting fashion as El Sherbini claimed the title in three games against Raneem El Welily, and Ali Farag mounted a five-game comeback from two games and 6-3 down in the third to win his first ToC title.
The women’s final saw a close first game with both players within reach of each other, until El Sherbini fired off three winners to earn three game balls up 10-7. El Welily fought off two game balls using her expert retrieval and an emphatic winner to go within a point at 10-9, at which point El Welily succumbed to an error to give El Sherbini a 1-0 lead.
El Sherbini continued to push in the second game, maintaining a lead for the duration, hitting winners and forcing more errors from her counterpart on her way to taking the second 11-8. She also led throughout the third, earning her first championship ball on a back corner nick, and converting on her first opportunity after thirty-eight minutes.
“This is my lucky place, this tournament was my first ever platinum win and now it’s the first one I’ve won three times. It’s really big to put my name on this trophy and to win this tournament, but to win it three times is something that I will never forget in my life.
“We’ve been battling against each other for so long, the head-to-head is 10-10, so that shows how tough it’s been. We’ve been battling in a lot of finals, sometimes it goes my way, sometimes it goes her way. At the end of the day, the better player is going to win, and I think I was better than her today. Maybe she was suffering after yesterday’s match, but I’m going to take the win and I’m going to look forward to the next one.” Nour El Sherbini
The following men’s final marked the seventh career PSA final match up between Farag and ElShorbagy, with ElShorbagy winning four out of their six previous match ups, and both of Farag’s wins occurring on U.S. soil at the 2018 Oracle NetSuite Open and 2017 U.S. Open.
lShorbagy appeared to be on track for a fifth win against the Harvard Graduate, pulling out a tight first game – including a mammoth two-minute rally at 10-10 – to go one nil up.
In the second, a string of Farag errors saw ElShorbagy pull away from 6-5 to win the second 11-6. The match turned on its head in the third game, however, when Farag found himself 6-2 down, and went on to win the next nine points through winners and ElShorbagy errors.
The fourth game proved to be the quickest of the match as a startled ElShorbagy quickly fell 11-3 and took a contributed injury break between games as a medical team examined his calf.
Despite any physical discomfort, ElShorbagy returned to court and pushed Farag in an entertaining climax to the tournament. At 8-all, Farag hit a nick off a return of serve to the thrill of the crowd. Match ball up, Farag caught ElShorbagy in the front of the court to earn a stroke and the title.
“It’s been a dream of mine since a very young age to reach that No.1 spot. To do it in such a fashion in front of so many greats of the game, in front of the love of my life and my parents watching at home, it couldn’t get any better really…
“It was very emotional. Mohamed is such a warrior, he never gives any points away. It’s been one of the biggest spectacles for the sport, and to be played in such a clean spirit is a great showcase for our sport.” Ali Farag
Day EIGHT was semi-finals day …
World’s Top Two Men and Women to Contest ToC Finals
The world’s top-two-ranked men and women – all four of them Egyptians – will contest the 2019 Tournament of Champions finals following semifinals night at New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.
The first of the night eliminated the tournament’s last-standing non-Egyptian – New Zealand’s Joelle King, who marked her first career ToC semifinal appearance.
The Kiwi started the match on the front foot, deceiving El Welily with her direction and boasts to win the first game 11-9. El Welily regained her composure in the second, pulling away to level the score 11-4. A pivotal third game saw the world No. 1 recover from 8-3 down to win the third game 12-10. El Welily continued her momentum in the fourth despite a late surge from King to clinch the match 11-9 after fifty minutes.
King, world No. 4, had defeated El Welily in their last three PSA encounters over the course of 2018 leading into the match.
“The entire match was very tough, mentally and physically, it was brutal. I remember being down in game three, it’s not something you forget. I was being positive at the time and told myself to keep pushing because it didn’t matter what happened in this game, I just had to do my best and give it 100 per cent.
“Being positive for me was the key today. I kept pushing and she has been playing really well, so I’m really happy to come out as the winner today. It doesn’t help that she has won the last few times.”
Raneem El Welily
El Welily will vie for her second career ToC title against teammate and world No. 2 Nour El Sherbini. In a rematch of the 2018 ToC final, El Sherbini defeated world No. 3 Nour El Tayeb for a second time in Vanderbilt Hall.
El Tayeb earned four game balls in the first game, all of which El Sherbini fought off to go on and win the first 13-11. After El Tayeb won the second 11-9, the match stood at a crucial juncture with El Sherbini up 7-6 in the third. In a model display of sportsmanship, El Sherbini decided to play a let during a controversial string of play that saw El Tayeb vocally frustrated with the referees over a double bounce call.
The move proved to be a positive force for El Sherbini as she went ahead to win the game 11-9, followed by a decisive 11-4 fourth game, ending the match in forty-six minutes.
“I didn’t see the double bounce, the ref said it was down, so I stopped. In the video replay it was good, so I’m not going to take the point when it’s good. It means a lot to reach the final, I wasn’t really happy with my squash over the last few months, but I’m happy that I went back home, regrouped and trained hard.
“I’m happy I won today, the match was tough from the first game and Nour was playing well. I had to work hard to win, but for me it’s a really good and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.” Nour El Sherbini
The men’s semifinal session saw world No. 1 Mohamed ElShorbagy reach his first final in Grand Central since claiming back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016.
The top seed was ahead in the first game 7-4, until Gawad fired off seven straight points to win the first game, echoing the same type of performance that saw Gawad beat ElShorbagy last month in Egypt at the Black Ball Open. Similar to his quarterfinal against Diego Elias, ElShorbagy regained control of the match, running Gawad in to the ground to win 7-11, 11-7, 11-8, 11-6 after fifty-six minutes.
“I trained the whole summer to be in these kind of situation. If I didn’t back it up today physically, if I was going to lose today, then it would have been because he was better than me, not because I was physically tired. He played amazing in Egypt to beat me in three, and I had to watch this match and analyze it with my team and see what went wrong.
“I felt I couldn’t cope with his pace. Maybe when I was young I used to play faster than him, but I think my body is telling me that I cannot play as fast as before and I have to use my brain a little bit. I think I played with my brain, I didn’t play emotionally, and I think I got my tactics right from the first point.” Mohamed ElShorbagy
ElShorbagy is set for his seventh career PSA final match up against world No. 2 Ali Farag – which will mark their first encounter on the Oracle NetSuite SuiteSuccess court in Vanderbilt Hall. Farag frustrated compatriot Tarek Momen to record the day’s only three game victory in the final semifinal of the evening.
“It’s not hard to say that it is tough to play against Mohamed. He has proven that he is the toughest player to face to play against both mentally and physically. He has it all really, it is always exciting when you play against him, you know it is going to be a big one. We played twice so far this season, with the score at 1-1. Ali Farag
Day SEVEN saw all the semi-finalists settled …
Top Four Women set for ToC Semis; Egyptian Men’s Champion guaranteed
The world’s top four-ranked women will contest the Tournament of Champions semifinals, while the men’s draw is guaranteed an Egyptian champion after Tarek Momen and Ali Farag completed the semifinal lineup on Day Seven in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.
Wednesday’s four women’s quarterfinals and two men’s quarterfinals played out in decisive fashion with all but one match decided in three games and all the higher-ranked players advancing.
The exception came in the second women’s match of the day between four seed Joelle King and five seed Camille Serme. France’s Serme nearly shutout King in the first game, conceding just one point late in the game.
After the lacklustre first game, the Kiwi turned the match on its head, overpowering the 2017 ToC champion 1-11, 11-8, 11-6, 11-9 in 48 minutes.
“I guess I laughed and said to myself that the only positive thing to come out of that first game was that I got a point. I just tried to relax and start again and see what happened. Someone like Camille, if she gets on a run and gets confident, she is so hard to play. I just tried to weather the storm and hang in there.
“Once you get older, you tell all the juniors that you will go through these tough matches later on in your career and I have been on the back end of many losses from being up in those points, so I guess it is just experience on that day. Joelle King
King will make her ToC semifinal debut on Wednesday against world No. 1 Raneem El Welily, who convincingly dispatched compatriot and world No.8 Nouran Gohar in three games to set up a repeat of last year’s Hong Kong Open final, where King claimed her first PSA Platinum title.
“I was a bit sharper today than I was yesterday. I think the game is so strong now. Being in the semi-finals is one better than last year at least, so I am happy to be step closer than 2018.” Raneem El Welily
The second women’s semifinal will stage a rematch of the 2018 final between defending champion and world numbers 2 and 3 Nour El Sherbini and Nour El Tayeb.
After a close five-game win over Team USA’s Amanda Sobhy on Monday, El Tayeb made no mistake against Alison Waters, winning in three games. The Vanderbilt Hall crowd erupted late in the third game when El Tayeb won an extended rally including two successful dives to earn her first match ball, which she converted. El Tayeb has earned a reputation for her acrobatic dives, despite sustaining a lengthy layoff from the tour due to a shoulder injury sustained in a dive in 2016.
“My mum and dad are always scared when I dive and I am going to get yelled at by them after. I couldn’t resist, I think she tricked me in the rally and I couldn’t let go. I was excited, I thought I was playing well so I thought why not just go for it. In all honesty, I am trying not to do it, but if it is one or two per match, I am alright.”
“Yesterday’s match was more of a confidence booster. Today I woke up feeling very sore obviously, but it gave me a lot of confidence to be able to get back and win such a tough match. I haven’t won a match from being 2-1 down, or being outplayed for a while and to win a match like that gave me a massive confidence boost and it showed today. Today I was more relaxed and happier to be on court rather than being too nervous.” Nour El Tayeb
El Tayeb has faced El Sherbini twice on the PSA Tour since the 2018 ToC final, winning in the 2018 Windy City Open quarterfinals, and losing in World Series Finals pool play.
King’s teammate Paul Coll was the only non-Egyptian left in the men’s draw, but couldn’t challenge in-form Ali Farag. Farag sped to a 10-3 lead in the first game, but Coll surprised Farag and the crowd alike by fighting off six game balls, only to fall 11-9. Farag, a Harvard graduate, continued to frustrate the Kiwi’s attacking options, sending “Superman” packing in three games 11-9, 11-7, 11-6 in forty-eight minutes.
“Paul has been giving trouble to everyone and he is a very, very tough opponent to play against. You could tell his fighting spirit at 10-3 down in the first game. Most would have just thrown the first game away, but he kept fighting back and he got me edgy at 9-10. It was crucial to win that one in terms of momentum and psychological confidence.
“Fitness to fitness, I stand no chance with Paul. This is a testament to him, he is the fittest on tour by far and I could not play his game. If we get into a physical battle then he is going to come out on top so I had to play smart to control the pace as much as possible.” Ali Farag
Farag will need to rely on fitness again if he is to claim his first ToC title. The world No. 2 will take on 2018 finalist Tarek Momen in the semifinals after the thirty-year-old defeated close friend and teammate Omar Mosaad for just the second time in their eighth PSA World Tour encounter.
“Omar was my first rival since we were eight or nine years old. We have been competing at the same age group at every local tournament and at every international junior tournament. When I was a kid, I never thought we would be rivals for nearly 25 years. It is just incredible. Each one of us has had ups and downs.” Tarek Momen
With Coll out of the draw, Wednesday’s men’s semifinal lineup will feature four Egyptians, guaranteeing an Egyptian champion after wins by Mohamed ElShorbagy and Karim Abdel Gawad on Day Six.
Day SIX in New York saw the start of the Men’s Quarter-Finals (top half), and all sixteen women’s seeds in Round Three action …
Egyptians Dominate Day Six as Gawad dethrones Rosner
Egyptians went undefeated on the sixth day of match play, winning seven out of ten matches -including Karim Abdel Gawad dethroning Simon Rösner – at New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.
Ten of the tournament’s remaining fourteen players are Egyptian following the women’s round of sixteen and first half of the men’s quarterfinals.
The most definitive match of the day saw Karim Abdel Gawad resurrect the same form that saw him win the 2017 ToC and reach world No. 1 to knock out defending men’s champion and world No. 3 Simon Rösner.
A far cry from Gawad’s tournament-opening form that had the eight seed on the brink of elimination in the second round until injury stifled Joel Makin on Thursday, Gawad stopped the German in his tracks. The twenty-seven-year-old’s hit all his marks as he fired his way to a decisive 11-4, 11-7, 11-5 victory.
“Simon beat me the last two times last season, and he is now the world No.3. He has improved a lot, and he was always top ten, but now he is even better than he used to be. He is the defending champion here so it was a very tough match, of course.
“I had to be very strong mentally in order to win against someone like Simon, especially a 3-0 win. I had to focus 100% today.” Karim Abdel Gawad
Gawad’s next test in the semifinals will come against world No. 1 and two-time ToC champion Mohamed ElShorbagy, who defeated Peru’s Diego Elias in the match of the day. ElShorbagy had to use every ounce of fitness, experience and skill to come back from 2-1 down against the twenty-two-year-old and advance in five games.
“This kid is going to beat us all one day. We have played four times now, and all four have gone to five games. He beat me the last time, he just showed what a great player he is and there is no doubt he is a future No. 1 of the game.” Mohamed ElShorbagy
On the women’s side, world No. 3 Nour El Tayeb extinguished home hopes by avenging her five-game U.S. Open loss against American Amanda Sobhy in October with a five-game win of her own during the afternoon session. The back-and-forth match saw both players go on streaks of control, until El Tayeb edged ahead in the fifth after forty-eight minutes.
“Ever since the draw came out, I’ve been thinking about this match. It took a lot of fighting to be able to be in the match. I had Ali and Raneem in my corner, the world No. 2 and the world No. 1, so they were just trying to keep me disciplined, encourage me and thankfully I fought until the end.” Nour El Tayeb
Defending women’s champion and world No. 2 Nour El Sherbini displayed her intent on reclaiming world No. 1 spot with a clinical win over USA’s Olivia Blatchford Clyne in three games. El Sherbini will take on compatriot Salma Hany in Tuesday’s quarterfinals after the twenty-two-year-old world No. 16 pulled off the major women’s upset over world No. 7 Laura Massaro in three games.
“I have been working towards this for so much time now. I just relaxed and this is my first ever quarter-final in a Platinum event. Every time I step on this court, especially in this amazing venue, I get a bit nervous.
“When I talked to my physical coach, he told me that the most important thing is to enjoy my game and every time I was getting nervous, and I was thinking that I was getting closer to the quarter finals, I was just thinking about relaxing and to enjoy it like I was dancing.” Salma Hany
France’s Camille Serme the 2017 ToC champion – and New Zealand’s world No. 4 Joelle King guarantee at least one non-Egyptian women’s semifinalist. King contested one of the day’s extended matches against eight-time world champion and world No. 11 Nicol David – holding off a late comeback against the Malaysian to win in four games. Serme goes into Tuesday’s quarterfinal against King without dropping a game all tournament.
The final match of the day saw a minor upset as England’s Alison Waters overcame Wales’ Tesni Evans in five to set up a meeting with El Tayeb.