Gohar earns maiden ToC Title, Farag captures second in Grand Central
Egypt’s top seeds Nouran Gohar and Ali Farag have won the 2022 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions – one of the sport’s most iconic events held in Grand Central Terminal – following final victories over second seeds Amanda Sobhy and Diego Elias in New York City.
The women’s final between Gohar and American world No. 4 and 2016 ToC semi-finalists Amanda Sobhy led off the eighth day of match play in Vanderbilt Hall in a rematch of the 2016 semi-final won by American Amanda Sobhy. Gohar more recently defeated the American in three at the British Open last month, but it was the American who started on the front foot in the first game earning a quick 5-1 lead to the delight of the rousing home crowd.
Gohar quickly recovered in the first winning the next six points, which marked the last time the American would lead for the rest of the match. The two players sparred with intense rallies in the first two games, but Gohar’s commanding form that she displayed all tournament made the different as the twenty-four-year-old clinched her first ToC title 11-7, 11-7, 11-3 in thirty-four minutes.
“It sounds awesome to be champion, the crowd are really fair!” Gohar said. “I thought no-one would clap for me because Amanda is the favourite, but everyone is unbelievable and have been all week, thank you for coming and supporting us. It feels really good to win the title. I’m over the moon, I’ve wanted this title for so long, it’s one of the best venues that you can play at and I really wanted to add my name on a prestigious trophy like this one. I wanted it badly and I thought this year seemed like a good year for me so why not take it.”
Gohar, who recently moved to the US, adds the ToC title to her growing list of accolades this season including the Egyptian Open, U.S. Open, Detroit Pro Classic, Cincinnati Cup, Windy City Open, Black Ball Open and Egyptian Nationals. She will lead the PSA World Championships draw as the top seed next week in Cairo.
“Having a big entity like J.P. Morgan sponsoring the event is huge for the sport and I’m very proud of this and proud to be part of such a big event,” Gohar added. “US squash has great female players playing right now and it’s good for our sport. I’ve always loved to play in Egypt because it’s my home, but since I moved here the U.S. has been treating me really well.”
The ensuing men’s final pitted world No. 2 and 2019 ToC champion Farag against first time finalist and world No. 5 Diego Elias. Farag flawlessly reached the final without dropping a game and held a 14-2 head-to-head record over the Peruvian.
The match began with fireworks in the first game that Farag pulled out 16-14 after a blistering twenty-seven minutes. Clearly up for the fight, Elias continued to push in the second and forced the Egyptian to drop his first game all tournament 11-9, which ended with a moment of sportsmanship as Farag acknowledged his double bounce and called off a video review. Farag edged a close third game 11-9, which helped him grind down the Peruvian’s legs before closing out the match 11-5 in the fourth after seventy-six minutes.
“I’m over the moon, the ToC is one of the biggest titles you want to win,” Farag said. “I got to world No.1 on this court [in 2019] for the very first time, so I’ve got nothing but great memories. New York is always a great city to come back to, the vibe, there’s a lot of familiar faces. This crowd is extremely knowledgeable. Diego, we played an incredible match. It was very physical, very technical, required a lot of skill and stamina, I think it had everything in there and it was played in good spirit as well. It wasn’t easy.”
The 2022 ToC marked the twenty-fourth year the tournament was staged in Grand Central in its eighty-seventh year. Before the finals, the ToC honoured MetroNorth workers on court for their crucial role in keeping the nation’s most important train station functioning throughout the pandemic, and their integral role in ensuring the success of the ToC every year.
“I have missed it, the ToC is one of the tournaments you really look forward to and this time I’ve got my parents and my aunt watching as well, so I’m really happy to lift this trophy in front of them.”
DRAWS & RESULTS
Semis : Top Seeds to Contest 2022 ToC Finals
Top seeds Nouran Gohar, Amanda Sobhy, Ali Farag and Diego Elias will contest the 2022 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions finals after progressing through the semi-finals Friday, May 6, at New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.
Both women’s semi-finals proved to be difficult for the top two seeds Gohar and Sobhy. Gohar, the world No. 1, hadn’t been on court for more than an hour to reach the final, and found herself on court for nearly an hour against first-time semi-finalist Olivia Fiechter. Gohar earned a 2-0 lead, but backed by the home crowd, Fiechter took the first game off Gohar all tournament in the third. The Terminator then regained her composure to reach her first career ToC final in 11-6, 11-6, 7-11, 11-5 in fifty-one minutes.
“I’m very happy to be in the final, for sure,” Gohar said. “I haven’t been in the final of TOC before, I’m very happy but I’m far from done. The crowd helped her a little bit, playing in front of an energetic crowd who is on your side takes your game up at least ten times, not taking anything away from her, she played well, she’s gaining more confidence and I think she’s realizing she can beat players in the top ten now and having that belief helps a lot.”
Bidding to reach her second career ToC final since her run in 2016, Sobhy found herself in danger of a semi-final exit against world No. 7 Salma Hany, who fired her way to a 2-1 lead including a marathon 15-13 third game. Following a dive and injury break between games, Hany let her foot off the pedal in the fourth as Sobhy sped to an 11-0 lead. Hany regrouped in the fifth, which went back and forth until Sobhy pulled away from 9-all to win in sixty-six minutes.
“I think she does really well when the momentum is broken up, every time she went to the towel she won the next point,” Sobhy said. “I’m not used to opponents taking injury breaks so I just tie to keep my composure and stay pumped up and keep the momentum going but she came back really strong, I told myself to chase every ball and if you’re going to go out then go out on your terms and just relax and play.”
Sobhy beat Gohar in the 2016 semi-finals, but hasn’t defeated the Egyptian since 2019 and lost their last four encounters.
“I’m just going to go and rest and recover and talk to my coach about a game plan for tomorrow and I played her in the British and got smoked pretty badly so I don’t think I could do much worse but I’m just looking forward to redeeming myself and playing in front of a packed house,” Sobhy added.
Farag enjoyed the smoothest road to the final, maintaining his perfect record with an 11-5, 11-4, 11-4 in under half an hour over compatriot and four seed Mazen Hesham. The 2019 ToC champion will vie for his second title in just his second career final in Vanderbilt Hall.
“Every time you introduce the tournament, it gives me goosebumps with how prestigious the tournament is, the history it has, the players that have lifted this trophy,” Farag said. “John Nimmick and his team have been doing such a great job and look at this crowd, what’s not to love, we dint get these vibes everywhere we go so you need to appreciate it every time you’re on this court.”
“Saurav is playing amazing this week, I think he was struggling with an injury a couple of months ago, but now he is back at his best, he is always tough to play and I am just very happy to be through,” the Peruvian said.
“It was very tough physically. Every time you play Saurav, he is very fit and it is always long rallies. I am just happy I could keep running and keep pushing, and I am just happy to be in the final.”
Farag holds a 14-2 head-to-head record against the Peruvian, whose last win came 2017.
“I watched a little bit [of Ali Farag’s win over Mazen Hesham],” Elias said. “He is looking great, we always play great matches, so I need to recover and get ready for tomorrow!”
Quarters : Ghosal and Fiechter pull off QF comebacks to reach maiden ToC Semis
India’s Saurav Ghosal and Team USA’s Olivia Fiechter pulled off five-game quarterfinals comebacks against higher-ranked Egyptians Youssef Ibrahim and Rowan Elaraby to reach their maiden Tournament of Champions semifinals at New York City’s Grand Central Station.
Thursday fielded a full program of eight quarterfinals that largely played out according to seeding, save for Fiechter and Ghosal.
For the second day in a row, the American 5th seed saved a match ball to win in five games, this time coming back from 2-0 down against 4th seed Elaraby. Fiechter defeated the twenty-one-year-old last month at the British Open in three games and it seemed that revenge was on Elaraby’s mind as she took the first two games 2-10, 11-6.
Fiechter regained her composure in the third and started to force more errors from the Egyptian and frustrated her attacking play as she pushed through the third and fourth games 11-8, 11-8. Fiechter held a 4-1 lead in the fifth, but Elaraby clawed back to earn an 8-6 lead and eventually a match ball up 10-9. With the support of the home crowd behind her, Fiechter saved the match ball and took the next three points and match after sixty-three minutes.
“I knew Rowan would be out for revenge, I got the better of her when we played in the British Open about a month ago,” Fiechter said. “I knew she’d come out firing, I definitely had a slow start and she was playing well and everything seemed to be running away from me. I told myself to try and relax and keep retrieving balls and my goal in the match was to just get in front as much as possible and volley and I think I got better as the match went on. I’m at a loss for words.”
“Fortunately with my sports psychologist, Danny Massaro, we’ve been working on trying to stay positive and predict positive things, even in moments where things are running away from me and I’m feeling that I’m not hitting my targets, I can turn it around and play the match of my life,”
Fiechter added. “I’m not sure it was tonight but I’m just relieved that I could find a way through. It’s so hard to believe, when I’ve played this event in the past I’ve barely made the draw and just to be able to play on this court and to be able to come out and play again tomorrow and to try and book my place in the final is just incredible.”
Like her breakthrough semifinal at the U.S. Open in October, Fiechter will now take on top seed Nouran Gohar, who has yet to drop a game in Grand Central with a three-game quarterfinal win against eight seed Hollie Naughton.
The ToC Will feature two Americans in the semifinals for the first time in tournament history after second seed Amanda Sobhy reached her second semi in Grand Central with a three-game win over Egypt’s Nada Abbas.
Sobhy will face three seed Salma Hany on Friday, who defeated U.S. teammate Olivia Blatchford Clyne in the opening match of the day.
“It’s a privilege to play here,” Sobhy said. “I love playing on home soil in front of the New York crowd, they are amazing. I want to enjoy every moment that I can here, it’s been two and a half years since the last ToC, so I don’t want to wait any longer for the next time the ToC happens. I want to enjoy this moment and be out there as long as I can, except for when I’m actually playing because I’d like to win as quick as possible.”
On the men’s side, Ghosal and Ibrahim put on a show for the late night crowd in Grand Central with a seventy-two-minute marathon that saw the thirty-five-year-old come back from 2-1 down and to defeat the Princeton senior thirteen years his junior 11-8, 7-11, 9-11, 11-6, 11-9.
“It means so much, this is my 11th time here and I hadn’t gotten this far,” Ghosal said. “I’ve been putting a lot of work in and it’s good to see it come to fruition. For it to come fruition at somewhere like Grand Central Terminal is brilliant, I’m super happy.
“I don’t think you can call Youssef an up-and-coming player anymore, he’s chopping people that are much higher up. He’s playing at such a high level, it’s so difficult to play him. I had to be super disciplined in my head to execute the plan that David Palmer, who has been coaching me, had put together. He’s going to be around for a really long time entertaining a lot of people around the world. I’m just glad that today we had such a good match and hopefully we can have a few more before I walk into the sunset.”
Ghosal will vie for a spot in the ToC final against Peru’s third seed Diego Elias, who dispatched fourth seed Gregoire March in four games and forty-nine minutes.
The top half of the men’s draw features two in-form Egyptians in top seed Ali Farag, who defeated 2015 semifinalist Miguel Rodriguez in three, and Mazen Hesham who will make his semifinal debut after ending Harvard senior Victor Crouin’s impressive run in four games.
“I’ve been dreaming of playing in the later stages of this event, I actually only won my first match on this court a few days ago and it’s not because I’m a bad player,” said Hesham, the new world No. 8. “I’ve had some injuries but hopefully, it can happen more from now on. But it feels amazing to be able to compete against these top guys everywhere in the world, not just here.”
Day FOUR : Clyne and Fiechter make it three for USA
The J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions will have three Americans in the quarterfinals for the first time in tournament history after Olivia Clyne and Olivia Fiechter joined Amanda Sobhy in the last eight after round of sixteen wins at New York City’s Grand Central Station.
One theme throughout the day was the realization of the childhood dreams of playing a squash icon or experiencing that winning feeling for the first time in Grand Central.
Making her tenth tournament appearance, Brooklyn-born Clyne opened up the day’s matches against France’s world No. 30 Melissa Alves. The Penn graduate started on the front foot taking a 7-1 lead in the first game, but the American rebounded to take the first game 12-10 and kept her momentum in the second to take it 11-6 and earn a 2-0 lead. Alves responded in the third 11-7, but Blatchford Clyne collected herself to close out the match 11-6 after forty-one minutes.
“Melissa is a class player and if you give a class player balls to take in, you’re going to get munched so if I could hang in and ride that storm then maybe I’d get something to play with and in the end I did,” Blatchford Clyne said.
The twenty-nine-year-old has been attending the ToC since she was a child and was inspired by the professionals she watched growing up to pursue her own professional career.
“It’s crazy, they awarded James Willstrop with a trophy for eighteen appearances but I think if you count attendances I think I’m on about 27, so I think I’ve got him beat,” Blatchford Clyne said. “It’s no joke when you say I grew up here, I literally grew up in those stands, I was inspired by all the squash I saw, I wanted to be one of the players and that dream has come true now, I am one. It’s surreal and special.”
The most dramatic match of the day came down between Fiechter and Sivasangari Subramaniam, a rematch from February’s Cincinnati Gaynor Cup, which the Princeton graduate won 11-9 in the fifth. Fiechter fought off an early lead in the first game to go up 1-0, but then the Cornell graduating senior started to find her form and took control of the match to win the second and third games 11-8, 11-6. A tight fourth game saw the Cornell graduate earn a match ball at 10-9, which she failed to capitalize on when a video review deemed a let as a no let. Fiechter won the next to points to force a fifth game, which she took full control of to win the match 11-5 after fifty-four minutes.
“The last time we played I think she had a few match balls in the fourth as well, so when you’ve done it before it definitely adds to that self belief in those hard and challenging moments,” Fiechter said. “She’s such an incredible player, she was pounding the ball so severely and for a while I was just trying to weather the storm. I have so much respect for her, she’s playing at Cornell while playing on the tour and I couldn’t have done that when I was at Princeton. Now she’s at her highest ranking of 20, so I’m at a loss that I was able to find a way to win, especially in front of this crowd.”
Since her last ToC appearance in January 2020, Fiechter has risen from world No. 33 to a new career high world No. 10. The result mark’s the five seed’s first career ToC win in her fifth appearance.
“There’s something magical about this court and it’s been a lifelong dream to play on here,” Fiechter said. “To do it in front of my family, friends and loved ones is extremely special. I never get to play in front of my parents and it’s my mom’s birthday week and mother’s day is coming up, so I’m going to dedicate this one to her I think. My coach Peter Nicol is in the crowd here and I remember getting his autograph when I was eight years old here, so to have him coaching me and playing on this court is incredible, this is definitely going to be one that I will never forget.”
Top seed Nouran Gohar eased past Canada’s Danielle Letourneau in straight games and in the quarters she’ll meet another Canadian in Hollie Naughton, who ended the run of England’s Lucy Turmel in straight games.
In the men’s draw, the four seeds in action all prevailed. Top seed and top seed Ali Farag opened up his campaign with a blistering 3-0 win over 2010 ToC champion James Willstrop, who was recognized on court Monday night for his record-setting eighteenth ToC appearance.
“We don’t want him to retire any time soon, he’s such an asset to our sport,” Farag said. “I have a lot of respect for James and that’s why I played so well today. Usually, in the first round you start a little bit off, but you can’t afford to do that against someone of James’s caliber. When he was being introduced when we were warming up, I was thinking that I was watching James here either live or behind a screen in Egypt and I dreamed of being on this court one day, let alone with him. This is the second time we’ve shared this court, and as James mentioned, it’s the most spectacular court that you can play a sport on, not only squash.”
Colombia’s Miguel Rodriguez is one of the few players who may match Willstrop’s ToC appearance record, marking his fifteenth with an opening win over France’s August Dussourd in four games to set up a quarter-final meeting with Farag.
“This is my 15th time at the TOC, I’m very glad and happy,” said the thirty-six-year-old. “I was so pumped for the match. I had to wait three days, I’m feeling great, this year has been amazing for me, very busy and I have accomplished many goals in this period so I’m just grateful for the opportunity to be here and win again.”
In the other men’s matches Gregoire Marche beat Nicolas Mueller in four games and Youssef Ibrahim beat lucky loser Dimitri Steinmann for the second time in three days.
Day THREE : Crouin downs former champ Gawad
The Frenchman also made the last eight of the GillenMarkets Canary Wharf Classic earlier this year, where he defeated World No.1 Paul Coll en route to the quarter finals. Here, in New York City, he started his week with a win over England’s Nathan Lake, before taking on former Gawad in the pair’s first meeting, triumphing in four games.
“I’ve watched Karim for many years and I remember watching him at the World Championships in Egypt, where he nearly lost in the first round [to Nathan Lake] and then basically chopped everybody else,” the Frenchman said. “I knew it would be tough, when I play someone for the first time it takes me a few matches to get the right tactic and play my game.”
Home interest in the men’s draw ended as Mazen Hesham beat Shahjahan Khan and Saurav Ghosal ended the run of qualifier Timothy Brownell, and second seed Diego Elias beat Mostafa El Sirty, all in straight games.
“I’m really happy to get through, me and Nadine have played twice this season and it was so close today but I’m just so glad I could get the win today,” Abbas said after the win. “I’m feeling okay. I’m looking forward to the next match and I’m looking forward to be playing on this beautiful court once again.”
Elsewhere in the women’s draw USA’s Amanda Sobhy delighted the home crowd as she bead Farida Mohamed in straight games, while Egyptians Rowan Elaraby and Salma Hany both came through tough battles to make the last eight, Araby beating Sabrina Sobhy in five and Hany overcoming qualifier Chan Sin Yuk in four.
Day TWO : Willstrop marks 18th Toc as R2 lineups are settled at Grand Central
This was only the second meeting on Tour between the pair, with Masotti having claimed the only win back in 2016.
“It’s the best venue I have played in my life,” said Dussourd. “I was so happy to get in and to get the win for the first time I am here. I will have one day to enjoy the win and then I’ll think about the next match. I will maybe watch this match once to see what I did right and did wrong, then after that I will focus on the next match against a top player.”
Another Frenchman in Victor Crouin made it through to the second round after getting the better of England’s Nathan Lake, While Egypt’s Youssef Ibrahim downed Switzerland’s Dimitri Steinmann to advance to the last 16.
However, the pair will do battle for the second time in three days, as following the late withdrawal of Mostafa Asal due to a positive pre-flight COVID-19 test, the Swiss #2 was drawn out as the ‘Lucky Loser’, and will take the place of the Egyptian in the last 16. He will face Youssef Ibrahim again on Wednesday evening.
There was home success as US #1 Shahjahan Khan beat Frenchman Sebastien Bonmalais in straight games while Swiss #1 Nicolas Mueller, celebrating his highest world ranking this month, also overcame French opposition, beating Lucas Serme in three.
Fresh from their successful week at the European Team Champs in Eindhoven, England’s James Willstrop and Scotland’s Greg Lobban battled it out for the right to meet top seed Ali Farag in the last sixteen, with Willstrop emerging triumphant in four games over an opponent who only landed four hours before the match!
Willstrop is making his 18th appearance at the Toc, more than any other player, and after the match he was presented with a commemorative trophy by promoter John Nimick.
“You know the squash court, you’ve been on it so many times, which helps a little bit. I love playing. It’s truly an incredible venue, there’s nothing like it playing here, and the atmosphere was unbelievable tonight, it’s such a thrill.
“I’ve had some incredible experiences here and some of the best of my career. When I think of not being here each year, it’s pretty upsetting to me, so I don’t know how I’m going to cope.
“It just shows the regard in which the players hold this event, we’ve all flown over from Eindhoven. Greg’s done an amazing thing today having to fly and then play, I don’t know how he’s done that and he played so well, it was an incredible effort.”
In the women’s event, England’s Lucy Turmel battled her way past Hong Kong’s Ho Tze Lok, going all the way to a deciding game at Grand Central Terminal. The pair did battle in Boston in January, with the Englishwoman winning 3-0 on that occasion, but this time, it was far from easy. She will now face Canada’s Hollie Naughton in the second round.
“I’m just really happy,” said Turmel. “Matches like that are sometimes the most rewarding because I felt quite flat in several parts, I’m just happy to win. “After I lost that fourth I just really concentrated on trying to get the ball into the back, ironically that created more lets. It was the right gameplan in the end because I could see she was tiring and it gave me the openings at the front.”
After having a back problem during her practice hit in the morning, Canada’s Danielle Letourneau was able to battle past Czech No.1 Anna Serme in the opening match of the day’s play, with Malaysia’s Sivasangari Subramaniam and Frenchwoman Melissa Alves being the other two women to advance on day two in New York City.
Day One : Qualifiers Brownell and Chan in first round upsets
After winning the ToC Challenger on Saturday evening to qualify for the event, Hong Kong’s Chan Sin Yuk and USA’s Timothy Brownell both continued their incredible runs in New York, each saving multiple match balls to book their spots in the second round of the PSA World Tour Gold event.
The other day one men’s match saw Egypt’s Moustafa El Sirty beat USA’s Todd Harrity in five, while in the women’s draw Sabrina Sobhy added to home interest as she beat Millie Tomlinson in three, and Egyptians Nada Abbas and Farida Mohamed both advanced to round two.
Back to the Qualifiers : Chan defeated Egypt’s Kenzy Ayman in the Challenger final to make the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions, and her first round match rounded off the opening day’s play at the Gold level tournament, as she took on another Egyptian in World No.36 Zeina Mickawy.
Having beaten Egypt’s Kenzy Ayman the Hongkonger took on another Egyptian in Zeina Mickawy. Chan took opening game on extra points 13-11, but found herself 2-1 behind after losing the second and third games. The fourth game was a show in itself, with Yuk having to save seven match balls in the process to stay in the contest. She saved the first at 10-9 down, before saving a further six in the tie-break.
Yuk eventually won it after 20 minutes of action 21-19, before then going on to win the deciding game 11-5 to advance to the semi-finals. She will now face another Egyptian, third seed Salma Hany on Tuesday afternoon.
“I was just thinking about getting the fourth and all the cheering was making me want to fight more,” said Sin Yuk. “I’m going to have a light squash session tomorrow and recover well.”
After USA’s Brownell got the better of Egypt’s Aly Abou Eleinen in the Challenger final on Saturday, he too took on another Egyptian in the form of Karim El Hammamy.
The first three games were all extremely tight, with neither player able to get on a clear run of points, and with El Hammamy holding a 2-1 lead Brownell fought back to take the fourth quickly, to send the match into a decider with the home fans getting behind their favourite.
The fifth would go all the way to extra points as the American came back from 10-8 down, saving two match balls in the process. He won four consecutive points to turn the game around, winning it 12-10 to the crowd’s delight. Brownell will now face Indian eights seed Saurav Ghosal in the second round on Tuesday afternoon.
“My mum is one of the brightest squash minds on the planet and she doesn’t get the credit she deserves, so for me to come out here and do this is just one small thing to show what an incredible woman, coach, player, everything she is,” Brownell said. This is what I love to do. I look out and see a lot of people I love in the crowd. Who wouldn’t want to do this ?
“We’re doing a lot of good work at US Squash over at the National Centre. I’m a testament to it, I showed up nine months ago and I think Head Coach Ong Beng Hee just had to laugh at me. To come out and get a win on the glass court is a dream, but we’re just getting started.”
ToC Returns to Grand Central
The Tournament of Champions returns to New York’s Grand Central after missing out 2021 due to Covid, this time as 24-player draw Men’s and Women’s $115k PSA Gold events.
All the main draw matches are on the glass court with the first two rounds split over two days each.
The men’s top two seeds are both Egyptian – Ali Farag and Mostafa Asla – while world #1 Nouran Gohar is seeded to meet home favourite Amanda Sobhy in the women’s final.
You can watch live on SquashTV, follow on Live Scores, and we’ll have daily roundups here.