Gohar reigns in the Queen City
World number two Nouran Gohar was in a class of her own this week in Cincinnati as she claimed her first title of 2022 and the fourteenth of her career.
The Egyptian’s movement and crisp, very firm ball striking, proved too much for each of her opponents on the way to her lifting the Gaynor Cup trophy. Tonight’s opposition, USA’s Olivia Fiechter, had profited from the wheel of fortune to be playing for the championship, after saving match points in both the quarter and the semifinals.
The World number 11 did look the most likely to sneak a game off the top seed though, when taking a 7-2 lead in the third game after two uncharacteristic tins from Gohar. Maybe after breaking through everyone’s resistance with her power this week, she had decided to see if she could break our tins too! The advantage was short lived though as Gohar won 9 of the next 10 points to clinch the title.
This was Nouran’s first tournament of 2022, part of her preparation for the Platinum event in Chicago in a few weeks. If her form here is any guide, she will be tough to stop and the possibility of recapturing the World number one spot later this year is a very real prospect. With the points from her final appearance, it looks like Oliva could make her first appearance in the elite World’s top 10 in March which would cap an already great start to the season.
During the speeches it was announced that the Cincinnati Gaynor Cup would continue to rise in prestige on the World Tour, making the commitment to the players that they will move up a tier from the Bronze 50 this year to a Silver 70 in 2023.
Despite the winter storm, club closures and covid, we were able to push through and finish as scheduled, a reminder that no mater what is thrown at us, the show must go on, and there is always a way to achieve what you set out to.
SEMIS : Fiechter survives again to meet top seed Gohar for the title
Olivia Fiechter survives match balls again and will face Nouran Gohar tomorrow, who brought Gina Kennedy back down to earth in the Cincinnati Gaynor Cup.
Gina Kennedy has had the start to 2022 that any player on tour would dream of. Her victory in Cleveland last week has already seen her jump from 17 to 10 in the world rankings, but tonight she was dealt a reality check by the World number two. Nouran Gohar’s first tournament of the year had gone according to plan so far, if putting your opponents to the sword is what she had in mind.
The pace of play was relentless tonight as she brushed aside her English opponent with accurate power hitting that never allowed Gina to get a foothold in the match. Stopping Nouran in the final will be a tough task, one that has fallen to American, Olivia Fiechter, who once again clutched victory from the jaws of defeat.
Olivia’s path to the final has been a little more complicated than the bulldozer effect that Nouran has taken to the draw. Two match balls saved against the defending champion, Amanda Sobhy, was rather fortuitous last night, but the chances of that happening again were slim. But lightening did strike twice on the same court as once again, Olivia had her back against the wall.
Sivasangari Subramaniam was having way too much fun in the first game as her holds and flicks gave Olivia all sorts of footage for a scary horror movie. Siva’s attacking prowess was flawless as she showed exquisite racquet skills that never allowed Olivia into the game. The margins of error were so small though that it was only a matter of time before some errors would creep into Siva’s game. Olivia capitalized and rode the waves as the players split the second and third game.
The fourth game was filled with more drama and the most ridiculous unreturnable shots we have seen in the tournament so far. Siva held a match ball at 10-9 but was unable to convert, then the game took a pattern, Olivia would work a good point and get a game ball herself only to see Siva continuously rip a rolling winner form all areas of the court to tie the game back up. Eventually Siva tinned twice in a row to give Olivia the 18-16 victory she needed to go to a fifth game.
At 9-9 In the fifth it was two backhand errors from Siva that gifted Olivia the opportunity to represent the US in the final tomorrow. This was the first time the players have shared a court and when Siva graduates from Cornell this spring, I’m sure there will be plenty of exciting duels to follow between these two in the future.
QUARTERS : Fiechter dethrones Sobhy in thriller
The matchup between America’s highest two ranked players on the world tour, lived up to all the hype and expectations. It was questionable whether the defending champion from 2020, with no 2021 event due to the pandemic, would even be able to defend her title, after she had to sit out of Cleveland’s tournament last week due to a positive Covid test.
Thankfully she was able to return to Cincinnati but the far from ideal preparation and maybe some side effects from the virus made the fifth game of tonight’s encounter a little one sided. Olivia Fiechter played a flawless first game until an unforced error at 10-0 allowed Amanda to get on the score board. “What a nice friend you are” Amanda commented as the bagel was prevented.
The second was a complete flip though with Amanda taking a 6-0 lead which she was able to convert into a one game all score line. The shot selection, use of height, subtlety of angles and attacking precision, was a demonstration of squash perfection for all to behold. But there can be only one winner and at 2-1 and 10-8, with two match balls in her pocket, it looked like Amanda would progress to the semis, but in a blink of an eye it was Olivia’s game as the momentum swiftly shifted.
So, for the second straight meeting on the World squash tour, Olivia got the better of her USA teammate, a result that will most likely catapult her into the elite top 10 in March.
Malaysian number one Sivasangari Subramaniam will be Olivia’s semifinal opponent after the Cornell senior comfortably beat Tinne Gilis in three games. Tinne may have been feeling the effects of her earlier rounds as she struggled to react to the continuous holds and flicks that her opponent flashed in front of her. Siva has yet to drop a game in the tournament and fresh legs going into the semifinal tomorrow could be a big advantage.
In the top half of the draw, top seed Nouran Gohar and the inform player of the moment Georgina
Kennedy made light work of their respective opponents, if you can call 3-0 victories in just shy of 40 minutes easy! The truth of the matter was that Nele Gilis, up against Nouran and Olivia Clyne, facing Gina, both played well. They didn’t make errors, they played tight shots and they hit countless winners.
Well winners against mortal squash players, but Nouran and Gina retrieved balls that shouldn’t have been possible and then returned the ball with interest. Nouran floated with feet that seemed to barely touch the floor while Gina powered her way to the center of the court after each shot in a declaration of war.
Both though were equally effective as their opponents had to turn water to wine to win a rally as a seemingly impossible task eventually ended. It will be an interesting semi tomorrow with both players feeling like anything is returnable. One thing is for sure, regardless of the score line, it won’t be a quick match!
Day TWO : Play heats up as an ice storm rages in Cincinnati
Nathan Dugan reports
It was a great night for the USA and Belgium as the quarter final line up was determined in the buckeye state of Ohio. You may have needed a four-wheel drive vehicle or a snow mobile to be able to get to the courts tonight to watch the action live in Cincinnati, but those that did take on the elements were in for a treat.
American Olivia Fiechter started off proceedings with a straightforward win over a slightly subdued opponent. She was joined in the quarter finals by defending champion Amanda Sobhy and Olivia Clyne, who avenged a quarter final loss of 2019 against Hollie Naughton.
The only American team member to not advance tonight was the unfortunate Sabrina Sobhy. Unfortunate not because of bad bounces or subjective ref calls, but because despite playing well she was drawn against the top seed Nouran Gohar, who threw down the gauntlet today showing the level that will be needed to win the tournament.
61 minutes was the magic number for the Gilis sisters Tinne and Nele as both made their way to the last eight. Tinne came from two games down to score her first win in a PSA tournament against a top 5 opponent. Tinne was relentless in her retrieving forcing Sarah-Jane Perry to often go for too finer margins. Her sister Nele took the opposite approach, squandering a 2-0 game lead before somehow coming from 8-4 down in the fifth game to overcome the 2017 Gaynor Cup finalist Zeina Mickawy.
Cornell number one Siva Subramaniam took advantage of a break in college squash to come out to Cincinnati and subtly go about her trade defeating former top ten player and seventh seed, Tesni Evans, in three straight games. Tesni had her chances in the second game, but once it slipped away it always looked like a mountain to climb.
The match between Gina Kennedy and Joshna Chinappa was clearly the one to watch regardless of other upsets that may have occurred this evening. Joshna held the number 10 world ranking in January and Gina now holds that ranking in February after her success in Cleveland last week. They had a semifinal encounter in Cleveland, but they had to dual it out in the second round in Cincinnati.
Joshna showed some great racquet skill and creativity to get a 2-1 game lead and at 9-9 in the fourth, Gina must surely have been wondering if her recent winning streak was going to come to an end. But champions find a way, and Gina showed that courage edging a tough fourth game. The damage to Joshna’s legs was evident in the fifth as Gina kept up the same pace that she started play at almost an hour earlier.
Day ONE : Ice and Snow threaten to freeze play
Nathan Dugan reports
Winter is coming! Winter storm Landon to be precise as the prospect of ice rain with a few inches of snow on top looms ever closer to Cincinnati, home to the Gaynor Cup.
It had been two years since Amanda Sobhy lifted the Gaynor Cup trophy, just weeks before a global shut down changed the face of the PSA squash tour as we knew it. It was exciting to see the women’s tour back in town and with the strongest field yet in the tournaments five-year history.
Rachel Arnold started proceedings by upsetting the seeding, taking out Cornell star, Farida Mohamed, in four games. It was to be the only upset of the night though as all the other seeds progressed to the last 16.
There were valiant efforts by the talented Cristina Gomez and a last-minute replacement to the draw, Georgia Adderley, but the seeds all prevailed to set up some juicy last 16 clashes.
US team member and Cincinnati honorary local, Haley Mendez, who has family roots going back generations in the queen city, came closest to a second upset producing some of the best squash she has played at a Gaynor Cup over the last five years.
A couple of key points went in the favor of her opponent meaning 2017 finalist Zeina Mickawy will live to see another day in the star studied draw. Georgina Kennedy, with only one rest/travel day between her final victory in Cleveland and the start of her new campaign in Cincinnati, showed no signs of soreness as she attempts to continue her rapid rise into the world’s top 10.
The off-court drama included a continuous weather check as ice rain and hefty snow is promised with in the next 24 hours. The lunch matches have been postponed to the evening session and hopefully the roads will be safe enough to see some action tomorrow evening, but this is one time that saying the chance of play tomorrow are 50/50 may be a little optimistic!