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Serme and Momen Pull off Five-Game Upsets to Reach Second Career ToC Finals

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January 17, 2020
by Chris McClintick

[Above: Serme (r) against Gohar]

France’s Camille Serme and Egypt’s Tarek Momen are both set to make their second final appearance at the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions following major five-game upsets against Egypt’s world No. 3 Nouran Gohar and world No. 1 Ali Farag, respectively, Thursday, January 16, in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.

The first semifinal of the tournament became an instant classic and had a capacity crowd in Vanderbilt Hall and squash fans watching around the world on the edge of their seats for seventy-eight minutes as Serme and Gohar faced off.

Gohar had decisively won their two most recent encounters in three games at the 2019 British Open and U.S. Open en route to the two Platinum titles, but their ToC semifinal was a different story. The French world No. 5 continued the same dynamic form that saw her topple world No. 1 Raneem El Welily in Tuesday’s quarterfinals, pushing the three seed to five games. Gohar appeared to be in the brink of her first career ToC final with three match balls in hand, but Serme fought off all three to level the score at ten-all. A dramatic extra time saw both players earn two more match balls, until Serme finally clinched the match on her third match ball at.

“I’m speechless,” Serme said. “Nouran is always such a fighter and her nickname ‘the Terminator’ is such a good nickname because she just hits the ball so hard all the time. It’s funny because I don’t usually see her tired, but today I could see some signs and I thought maybe I could see a chance. So many things happened in my head during the match, I can’t believe I won –I was 10-7 down in the fifth, but I believed. “Every time you miss your target you have to be ready on your legs to push hard and try and get it, but most of the time it’s a perfect length as well. I tried to break her speed of the game and try to mix it up between hitting it hard and lobbing. It’s amazing to have almost all of my staff with me and my friend. My husband and my family are at home watching, but it’s so nice to have a lot of fans and thank you for their support.”

Serme’s will face world No. 2 and reigning world champion Nour El Sherbini in the final—their first meeting in Grand Central since the Frenchwoman defeated the Egyptian in the semifinals amidst her 2017 ToC title run. Up against two-time ToC semifinalist Joelle King in the second women’s semifinal, El Sherbini recovered from dropping the third game to quickly earn her fourth career ToC final appearance  11-6, 11-9, 6-11, 11-3 after forty-one minutes. El Sherbini has yet to lose in a ToC final, and with a win on Friday, would equal Jonathan Power’s record of four titles in Grand Central.

“Playing against Joelle is never easy,” El Sherbini said. “She played really well yesterday and so I wanted to be sure from the first point. She came back well in the third, so in the beginning of the fourth I wanted to get some points off quickly. Camille [Serme] is one of the fittest players on tour. She has been playing a lot of five setters since the first round. I have a lot of respect for her and for me it will be about my usual preparation for the final.”

The first men’s semifinal fielded world No. 1 and defending champion Ali Farag against world No. 3 and recently crowned world champion Tarek Momen (above). There was the feeling of a world championship final to the match given Farag withdrew from November’s world championship due to a family emergency. The thirty-one-year-old veteran backed up his newfound title with his first win over Farag since 2018, holding off a five-game comeback 11-8, 11-7, 7-11, 8-11, 11-7 after seventy-six minutes.

“At no point did I ever think it was over, even when I was 2-0 up,” Momen said. “I knew I had to fight for every point. I was in the situation last April in El Gouna when I was 2-0 up and he managed to come back and win it 12-10 in the fifth. I really didn’t want that to happen again and I had a few chances in the third to close the gap or get a lead and I lost it and in the fourth I thought I was very close and then he ran away with it. I came into the fifth and I wanted to impose some character, I didn’t want to succumb to defeat and my strategy was to fight for every point. All credit to Ali, the way he’s come back after the tough times he has had is just unbelievable and it shows what kind of a fighter he is and it really shows why he is the World No.1 at the moment. After my World Championship win, I played the World Teams, this is my first PSA tournament of the year, so it’s important for me to show that I can back it up and that I’m hungry for more.”

Momen will have his chance for a first ToC title—and second Platinum title—in his second final in Grand Central against world No. 2 Mohamed ElShorbagy who has yet to drop a game all tournament following a confident 11-9, 11-8, 11-8 win over 2017 ToC champion Karim Abdel Gawad.

“This was the match that I was most nervous for so far in this event,” ElShorbagy said. “He was going for it in the first two games and created such a high pace, and I was a bit nervous as well with Ali [Farag] losing the match before me and giving me the possibility of maybe going to World No.1 if I win tomorrow. I had all these things going through my mind. I had to use all of my experience and I’m really happy to be back here in another final. This is my sixth tournament this season, and I’ve made five finals. It’s not easy to back it up every season, but there’s nothing else I would want to be doing than playing finals like this.”

Following Farag’s loss, ElShorbagy will enter Friday’s final motivated by the fact that a third ToC title would send him back on top of the world’s rankings for the first time since February 2018.