The world’s top-two-ranked men and women—all four Egyptians—will contest the 2019 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions finals following semifinals night at New York City’s Grand Central Terminal Wednesday, January 23.
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.
“The entire match was very tough, mentally and physically, it was brutal,” El Welily said. “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.”
King, world No. 4, had defeated El Welily in their last three PSA encounters over the course of 2018 leading into the match.
“Being positive for me was the key today,” El Welily said. “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.”
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.
“I didn’t see the double bounce, the ref said it was good, so I stopped,” El Sherbini said. “In the video replay it was good, so I’m not going to take the point when it’s good. We were playing a very clean and fair match, we had only one review the whole match, and it shows how much we respect each other.”
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.
“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,” said El Sherbini, who at twenty-three years old has won two ToC titles. “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.”
In December, El Welily ended El Sherbini’s nearly three-year reign as world No. 1.
“Raneem has taken the No. 1 spot, but it’s just another match,” El Sherbini said. “I need to rest and focus for tomorrow, and I’m sure it’s going to be even tougher than today and more fair. We’re very good friends and it’s going to be a good match, hopefully.”
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,” ElShorbagy said. “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.”
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 is not hard to say that it is tough to play against Mohamed,” Farag said. “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.”
Thursday’s finals begin at 7pm local time. For more tournament coverage visit tocsquash.com.