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Makin Set For J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions Quarterfinal Debut; Five Past Champions Progress

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January 14, 2020
by Chris McClintick

[Above: Joel Makin (r) against James Willstrop]

Joel Makin became the first Welsh international to reach the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions quarterfinals since David Evans in 2002, saving four game balls in the fourth game to defeat 2010 champion James Willstrop Monday night, January 13, in New York City’s Grant Central Terminal.

Makin, world No. 12, appeared to be on track for a three-game win with a match ball up 10-9 in the third game, but the thirty-six-year-old veteran earned new life with the next three points. Willstrop led throughout the fourth game, moving the Welshman around the court and earning four game balls at 10-6. With three strokes and a winner, Makin fought off all four before pulling ahead to win the match 11-7, 11-9, 10-12, 12-10 after sixty-nine minutes.

“It’s obvious to try and go fast and upset the rhythm of James because you get too worried about exchanging up and down the walls with him,” Makin said. “But I think if you try to move the ball too quickly then he’s far too good for that. I know I had to really try and straighten up across the back end and try to play squash how I wanted to and take the middle away from him.”

Makin will face two-time champion Mohamed ElShorbagy in Wednesday’s quarterfinals for the first time since defeating the ‘Beast of Alexandria’ at the 2018 Channel VAS Championship.

“It’s massive to be in the quarterfinals, the win against Diego [Elias] was huge for me and I knew that it was going to be hard today,” Makin said. “James has been in great form, he beat [Karim Abdel] Gawad in the last tournament and he was coming into this fresh, so I was well aware that it was going to be tough even though I’m higher than him ranking-wise. I take that as a really good win.”

The rest of the day’s matches played out entirely played out according to seeding as five past champions got one step closer to another title in Grand Central including Raneem El Welily, Camille Serme, Simon Rösner, Karim Abdel Gawad and Mohamed ElShorbagy.

It was the Frenchwoman (above) who had the most difficult test in her second match up of the tournament against a young talented Egyptian, Yathreb Adel. In her second round, Serme edged nineteen-year-old Rowan Elaraby in five games. Adel pushed Serme to 13-11 in the second, and took then third game 6-11. The twenty-three-year-old then committed some crucial errors late in the fourth game to hand Serme the match 11-7, 13-11, 6-11, 11-9 after fifty-seven minutes.

“I’ve been tested by all of the Egyptians these past few months and every match is a battle, I’m ready for it, but it’s tough,” Serme said. “It feels like the density of the girls is a lot higher. I feel like every round is really hard, it’s good for the sport and good for squash. I’m sure the crowd enjoy those kind of matches more than an easy 3-0.”

Serme, the highest ranked non-Egyptian at world No. 5, now faces world No. 1 Raneem El Welily in Tuesday evening’s quarterfinals.

Gawad also needed four games to progress in a rematch of the 107-minute WSF Men’s World Team Final against England’s Declan James. In keeping with the Egyptian’s habit of dropping the first game before pulling away with the rest of the match, Gawad denied James vengeance 6-11, 11-5, 11-1, 11-3 after forty-three minutes.

“I’m used to being 1-0 down, sometimes I find myself 2-0 down,” Gawad said. “It’s not easy of course and I don’t feel good on court when I’m 1-0 or 2-0 down, it is something that makes me push more towards the end of a match. Declan is a very tough opponent and you can see the ball control he has. He has some unique tactics and we always play tough games that go to five. We played just the other week at the Men’s World Teams and I won 12-10 in the fifth, so he is not an easy opponent and I’m glad I won in four today.”

Gawad will take on 2018 champion Simon Rosner in the quarterfinals Wednesday after the German assertively dispatched world No. 12 Saurav Ghosal in three games.

Tuesday sees two sessions closing out the women’s third round before two sessions of quarterfinals.