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Gaultier Makes Victorious Return to PSA Tour at J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions; Sabrina Sobhy Joins Sister in Second Round

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January 11, 2020
by Chris McClintick

 

[Above: Gregory Gaultier]

Former world No. 1 and world champion Gregory Gaultier made a sensational return to the PSA World Tour after fifteen months out of action with a knee injury as the thirty-seven-year-old overcame Egypt’s Omar Mosaad 11-9 in the fifth to reach the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions third round in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.

The Frenchman initially returned to action during last month’s WSF Men’s World Team Squash Championship and followed that up with a rematch of his 2015 World Championship final victory against Mosaad. Gaultier came back from 2-1 down and held his nerve in a tense decider to close out the match. His relief and joy were evident in his animated celebrations.

“It’s a dream, I’m like a kid again!” said Gaultier, who has fallen to No. 543 in the rankings, but entered the tournament with a pinned ranking of world No. 12. “When you are broken for fifteen months and you’ve got people telling you that you will never come back and you will never do any sport again in your life, I was like: ‘I think you’re talking to the wrong person’.”

Gaultier first competed in the ToC as a qualifier in 2003 and has reached four finals in Grand Central, including a title run in 2009.

“I kept working hard and believing that I could make it,” Gaultier said. “At some point I had to say: ‘let’s do it, let’s play’. I was training through the pain and then suddenly the pain started to settle down, it’s not quite there yet but I managed to play at a kind of decent level. I’m not at where I was two years ago but I think there’s a chance and I still have potential to come back and do some good things for squash.”

Gautlier will face a monumental task in the third round should Mostafa Asal’s blistering form continue. The eighteen-year-old put in the performance of the tournament so far against compatriot and world No. 9 Mohamed Abouelghar, firing off nick winners at will throughout the match—including a slam dunk nick finish on match ball in the fourth game. The two-time world junior champion quickly became a ToC fan favorite due to his incredible performance and will look to do the same against Gaultier, who is nearly two decades his senior.

“I want to thank the crowd, it was really amazing today,” said Asal afterwards. “It’s really tough to beat Abou, I didn’t expect that from the start. I’m happy that I made it, this is a dream court and I love to play here. I’m looking forward to my next match. The last two months I have hit a lot of nicks in my practice. I can’t believe that I won today and I want to thank everyone who supported me today.”

Half of the eight men’s matches extended to five games, including world No. 1 and defending champion Ali Farag, who mounted a comeback from 2-1 down against Mazen Hesham. England’s Tom Richards and Malaysia’s Eain Yow Ng also needed five games to progress to the third round.

Friday also saw women’s first round matches take place throughout the city at the Harvard Club, Princeton Club and New York Athletic Club.

Americans Olivia Blatchford Clyne and Sabrina Sobhy (above) joined U.S. teammate Amanda Sobhy in the second round with wins at the Princeton Club. Blatchford Clyne set up an encounter on the glass court with Welsh world No. 9 Tesni Evans with a three-game victory over England’s Jasmine Hutton. Supported by her older sister and family, Sabrina followed on court to pull off a four-game upset over world No. 19 Joey Chan supported by her older sister and family.

“I feel pretty overwhelmed right now,” the world No. 39 said afterwards. “I’m so proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish thanks to the support of my friends and family. Playing in front of them makes a win like this even more memorable. I’ve never really had a day off in a major tournament before. I have plans to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and I look forward to enjoying a change of pace.”

A vocal gallery of past and present Princeton squash fans remained to support their former teammate and world No. 33 Olivia Fiechter against Belgian world No. 18. Fiechter took the first game, but Gilis came back to advance in four games and fifty-eight minutes. During the same match time, the younger Gilis sister, Tinne, took out Harvard graduate and Brooklyn native Haley Mendez in three games to make it two sets of sisters in the ToC second round.

Seventeen-year-old wild card Marina Stefanoni took a game off Yale graduate and world No. 25 Millie Tomlinson, but fell short in her third ToC appearance.