Round Three : Fiechter stuns fellow American Sobhy as Willstrop run continues
USA No.3 Olivia Fiechter claimed a stunning victory against the country’s top player Amanda Sobhy in front of passionate home support at the Arlen Specter US Squash Center to reach the quarter finals of the U.S. Open presented by Truist.
It’s the first time in her career that Fiechter has reached the last eight of a prestigious PSA World Tour Platinum event. There was a packed house at the Specter Center as fans flocked in to watch the two Americans do battle and Sobhy – playing at a career-high No.3 ranking and boasting a 3-0 head-to-head win record over Fiechter on the PSA World Tour – was the heavy favourite coming into the clash.
However, Fiechter played some of the best squash of her career to defeat the recently-crowned Oracle NetSuite Open champion by an 11-1, 8-11, 11-3, 8-11, 11-9 scoreline and she will take on Nele Gilis for a place in the semi finals.
“Amanda and I play at least once a week, every week, especially since she moved to Philly. I knew I was getting closer in practice matches, and I’ve been feeling really good on court this week. I was feeling optimistic and thought that if I played my best squash I had a shot, but I wasn’t foreseeing it would be that close.
“She’s one of my closest friends on tour, she’s been a mentor to me since I’ve gone pro, she’s been like a big sister to me and has given me so much advice. She’s at a career-high ranking of World No.3 right now and she’s been playing well. To get a win over a top 10 player is another level you have to go to, so I’m over the moon.”
France’s Melissa Alves will be another Platinum quarter final debutant after he she got the better of England’s Georgina Kennedy with an 11-8, 11-2, 11-6 victory in 27 minutes. The World No.27 will now take on top seed Nour El Sherbini in the last eight, with El Sherbini beating fellow Egyptian Nadine Shahin.
“She’s the best player in the world and there’s no pressure for me against her,” Alves said.
“I’m excited for a big fight again. I’m ready to play on the big stage now and am just excited. If I start strong and keep the rally and the momentum, anything can happen. Why not tomorrow?”
Reigning champion Nouran Gohar continued her title defence with a win against Alison Waters, and she will take on No.5 seed Sarah-Jane Perry next after she beat Welsh player Emily Whitlock in her second five-game battle of the event. New Zealand’s Joelle King and Egypt’s Hania El Hammamy were the other women’s winners.
In the men’s event, former World No.1 James Willstrop has made history as the oldest man ever to reach a major PSA quarter-final following the 38-year-old’s stunning 3-2 victory over World No.15 Mohamed Abouelghar.
Willstrop, currently ranked at No.31 in the world, claimed a major upset against fifth seed Marwan ElShorbagy in the previous round and his ball control was impeccable once again as he set up a last eight clash with Tarek Momen.
“It’s just great, I love playing and I try and keep myself in shape,” Willstrop said.
“I haven’t played these level of matches in three days for a long time. I can’t expect too much of myself. I just love it, this is a great tournament, I don’t know how longer I’ll be able to do this sort of stuff, so I’ll just get stuck in.”
Asal has won both of their previous matches on the PSA World Tour and received both praise and criticism on social media for his exuberant celebrations, which saw him tear off his shirt both times in jubilant scenes.
“As Mohamed ElShorbagy and Ali Farag have said, he’s a really nice guy outside of the court and inside the court. I’m sorry about my celebrations, but I was in front of my country and in front of my home and I was getting excited every time. It’s always been a pleasure to play with him because I think he’s a legend of his country and the rest of the world.”
Defending champion Ali Farag got the better of compatriot Mazen Hesham and he will take on Welshman Joel Makin, who defeated France’s Sebastien Bonmalais. Three-time U.S. Open champion Mohamed ElShorbagy will take on Peru’s Diego Elias in the other men’s quarter final after they completed wins over Youssef Soliman and Raphael Kandra.
Round TWO : Willstrop claims Marwan’s scalp as last 16’s are decided
38-year-old Englishman James Willstrop rolled back the years as he achieved a hugely impressive 3-1 victory over fifth seed Marwan ElShorbagy at Philadelphia’s Arlen Specter Squash Center
Willstrop, a former World No.1, has this month dropped to his lowest World Ranking since November 2003 but proved that class is permanent as his impeccable ball control was too much for ElShorbagy to handle. The Yorkshireman closed out a 9-11, 11-5, 11-4, 11-8 victory in 47 minutes to ensure that he will take on Egypt’s Mohamed Abouelghar for a place in the quarter-finals.
“I feel in shock a bit at the minute,” Willstrop said after the match. “I haven’t been anywhere near that level really. I think experience counts for a lot, but he’s a great champion. I thought the way he played today and handled himself was great.
“It’s not easy being on the wrong end of it. I was playing well and he just handled himself so well at the end there, really lost in a champion’s way and I admire that, he was a top man today.”
ElShorbagy wasn’t the only seeded player to bow out of the men’s event in round two as his compatriot Karim Abdel Gawad – the No.6 seed – suffered a 3-0 defeat to World No.9 Joel Makin.
“Gawad’s obviously been in and out of form and with his body, but that doesn’t make any difference to me,” Makin said.
“He’s a class player when he’s on and is so dangerous. I knew I had to be aggressive with him and get across the middle and hit him off the ball, get on top of him and I couldn’t let him play his shots. I wanted to inject pace and be aggressive. When I did that, I got on top of him.”
Defending champion Ali Farag got his title challenge under way with a 3-0 win against India’s Saurav Ghosal, and he will play fellow Egyptian Mazen Hesham for a place in the last eight. No.2 seed Mohamed ElShorbagy was also in action as he defeated Malaysia’s Eain Yow Ng to set up a third round clash with fellow Egyptian Youssef Soliman.
In the women’s event fifth seed Sarah-Jane Perry completed a spectacular comeback against Egypt’s World No.33 Zeina Mickawy, recovering from a 2-0 deficit and then overturning four match balls to book her place in the last 16. Following her 12-14, 8-11, 12-10, 12-10, 11-9 victory, Perry will line up against Wales’ Emily Whitlock in the third round.
“I’m not quite sure how I won that,” Perry said afterwards. “For patches I got in front, but I didn’t think I was actually taking advantage, I was just trying to keep pushing and pushing and [thinking] ‘come on, you can do it’. When I’d saved those match ball in the third and the fourth, I just kept saying in the fifth ‘keep going, there’s a chance after those games that she’s going to get edgy’. For a lot of the match, there was zero edginess in anything she was doing, and quite a lot in mine.”
“Usually when you come back to a tournament it’s the same venue and you’re only defending champion for one year, not two,” said Gohar. “In a way, I feel like it’s a different tournament. It’s good in a way as it’s a fresh start, you have good memories in the back of your mind, but you don’t take it for granted.”
Perry’s compatriot Georgina Kennedy will appear in the third round of a Platinum event for the first time in her career after the World No.51 stunned World No.10 Rowan Elaraby in just 25 minutes in the day’s biggest upset. USA No.1 Amanda Sobhy also appeared on day two, beating Hong Kong’s Ka Yi Lee in straight games, while World No.1 Nour El Sherbini beat Tsz-Wing Tong.
Round ONE : Wildcard Stefanoni claims upset to reach second round
18-year-old wildcard Marina Stefanoni claimed the biggest upset on day one of the 2021 U.S. Open presented by Truist, with the Stamford-based World No.71 overcoming Canada’s Danielle Letourneau as the PSA World Tour Platinum event made its debut at the brand new, state-of-the-art Arlen Specter Squash Center in Philadelphia.
Stefanoni, a sophomore at Harvard University, looked like she could be on the verge of pulling off a shock win from the outset as she dominated proceedings and she will compete in the second round of a Platinum event for the first time following her 11-6, 11-2, 11-6 triumph.
“I feel quite good after that win,” said Stefanoni, who will play Egypt’s Nada Abbas next.
“Since coming back from COVID, my game has been a bit off, but it’s been steadily improving, so I’m glad it worked out and I’m trying to hit my targets.
“I love playing on glass courts, so to have my match on the glass court today was something special, and I’m hoping I can play on more glass courts in the future. The Specter Center is beautiful and the courts play really nicely. I’m really glad the U.S. Open is here this year.”
USA No.3 Olivia Fiechter was the other American to win in round one after she completed a 11-6, 11-7, 11-8 victory against Egypt’s Menna Hamed. Fiechter, who returned to the top 20 following the release of the PSA World Rankings earlier today, will play Australia’s Donna Lobban in the last 32.
“We’ve been spread across the country for so long and especially on the women’s side we have so many top players. To be able to set that bar and to play practice matches is incredible. Now [Ong] Beng Hee is here, we’ve just got a strength and conditioning coach, it’s all really coming together and it’s every professional athlete’s dream to have a facility like this.”
Elsewhere, England’s Georgina Kennedy progressed to round two of a Platinum event for the first time as she beat the higher-ranked Haley Mendez, while Stefanoni’s younger sister, Lucie, bowed out at the hands of Malaysia’s Sivasangari Subramaniam.
In the men’s event, the top two ranked USA players – Shahjahan Khan and Todd Harrity – saw their tournaments come to an end at the hands of Mexico’s Cesar Salazar and Germany’s Raphael Kandra.
“Today, I’m happy with my performance because Shahjahan is improving a lot,” Salazar said.
“He’s doing a good job in tournaments. I’m happy with the victory. This is a fantastic place to play squash and is great motivation for players who want to come and play here.”
Meanwhile, Harrity came close to causing an upset against Kandra as the World No.44 took the German to a fifth game. Kandra moved through the gears though to wrap up an 4-11, 11-3, 11-5, 7-11, 11-4 victory. He will take on India’s Vikram Malhotra for a place in the third round.
“He had a good start and I didn’t feel like I got into it at all, so I just let it go at the end because I was too far away. I started to focus on the second game and I got into a flow. He broke through in the fourth game and then it was more of a mental game at the end of the day. I had a little bit more mentally and physically, and I think that made the difference today.”
The other two American men in action on day one – wildcards Faraz Khan and Timothy Brownell – also saw their events come to an end following defeats to Switzerland’s Nicolas Mueller and France’s Victor Crouin.