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Past ToC Men’s Champions All Aboard in Grand Central Terminal

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January 18, 2019
by Chris McClintick

[Above: Mohamed ElShorbagy (l) against Nicolas Müller]

The top half of the men’s second round saw three past champions—Simon Rӧsner, Mohamed ElShorbagy and Karim Abdel Gawad—open their 2019 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions campaigns in victorious fashion Thursday, January 17, in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.

The first of the three title holders on court, Gawad, saw his match end under unfortunate circumstances against rising Welshman Joel Makin. Makin had been in the midst of the best form of his career including upsets against the likes of Mohamed ElShorbagy, Miguel Angel Rodriguez and Omar Mosaad during the second half of 2018, which propelled the twenty-four-year-old to a career high ranking of world No. 23 this month. Gawad also entered the match following a return to form last month when he captured the inaugural PSA World Platinum Black Ball Open title in his native Egypt.

Last year in Grand Central, Gawad tamed the Welshman in a four-game, first-round match. On Thursday afternoon, however, it was Makin who stormed out the gates from the first point—a grueling two-minute rally. Makin controlled the first two games 11-4, 13-11, and stood just ahead of Gawad 4-3 in the third when the two players tangled feet on the T, which caused Makin to roll his ankle. In clear discomfort, Makin was provided a contributed injury break, but could not recover and retired the match.

“It is not a normal end to the match,” said Gawad, who moves on to face compatriot Fares Dessouky in last sixteen. “He played really well and he was dominating. I was having a really hard time, especially today when I was not playing my best squash. He was playing his best squash so of course it is very bad for him. I wish him the best of luck to recover and to be back for the World Championships next month.”

Rӧsner—boasting a career high ranking of No. 3 at his thirteenth ToC—followed on court, picking up where he left off in 2018 to record his sixth straight win in Vanderbilt Hall against Greenwich, CT-based Aussie Ryan Cuskelly.

“I think he is a really dangerous player, and I think we have never played before in a PSA match,” Rӧsner said. “I played really well at the beginning and had a good start. He then kind of came back at me, but I was really pleased with my performance. There is a lot of pressure on your shoulders coming back as a defending champion, but I didn’t want to think about that too much. I just wanted to enter the tournament and play the best I can really. Exactly the same as last year, I think I went in without any expectations.”

ElShorbagy, the 2015 and 2016 ToC champion, emulated the German with a dominant three-game victory over Switzerland’s Nicolas Müller.

“The way he beat Mazen and the way he played yesterday was very good, and I know he plays really well on this court,” ElShorbagy said. “Last year he played so well against Gawad and he got to the quarters and I remember a few years ago that we had a four-game battle where he played so well. I had to be sharp from the first point and to win three games to love is always a good feeling.”

ElShorbagy, world No. 1 and top seed, is seeded to meet Rӧsner in the semifinals.

“It is always such an honor to win this title,” ElShorbagy said. “To know that I have won this title twice before is such an honor, but I would like to win it a few more times—but it is not easy. There are a lot of challenges, a lot of players that are playing well right now.”

Mohamed is the sole ElShorbagy remaining in the draw, after Peru’s Diego Elias spoiled five seed Marwan ElShorbagy’s return following an injury hiatus in the final match of the night.

“Apart from everything you see on court, he is my friend outside the court,” Elias said. “It is good to see him back on court, and I am happy he is back, and he is not at 100% yet so I hope he can come back stronger soon.”

Friday will field the bottom half of the men’s second round take to the all glass OracleNetSuite SuiteSuccess Court as the women’s first round begins at the Harvard Club, Princeton Club and New York Athletic Club.

View more images in the tournament gallery.

For ticket availability click here or contact the Box Office at 718-569-0594, or tickets@tocsquash.com. Stop by the Pro Shop in Grand Central to grab your ToC gear.

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