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Serme Surges into Tournament of Champions Semifinals With World No. 1 Upset

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January 15, 2020
by Chris McClintick

[Above: Camille Serme]

France’s Camille Serme recorded the biggest result of the 2020 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions thus far, taking out Egypt’s world No. 1 Raneem El Welily in a five-game thriller to reach her third career semifinal in Grand Central Terminal Tuesday, January 14, in New York City.

Serme, whose last major title was the 2017 ToC, hadn’t defeated El Welily in a best-of-five games format since January 2013, and had only won three of their twenty previous PSA encounters.

The thirty-year-old from Creteil and thirty-one-year-old from Alexandria put on a show for the capacity crowd with grueling rallies, precise shot-making and two complete squash performances. It was the French international that sped to an 8-2 lead in the fifth, eventually closing out the match 13-15, 11-4, 7-11, 11-5, 11-6 after fifty-nine minutes.

“It’s funny because today I was the challenger and she had the pressure,” Serme said. “It’s kind of easier to play your best squash because you think you have nothing to lose. You play free and I proved to myself that I can play those shots as well as they can do.”

Serme faces another top-ranked Egyptian in the semifinals on Thursday in the form of world No. 3 Nouran Gohar, who is the only women left in the tournament who has yet to drop a game following a 3-0 win against England’s Alison Waters.

“I felt less pressure today. It’s the kind of match you want to enjoy, I’m playing the World No.1 here in Grand Central, it’s going to be a great match,” Serme said. “Raneem is the fairest player on tour so you know it’s going to be a clean and good match. I just enjoyed it so much and it’s not that often I beat Raneem, I think it’s only the fourth time in my career.”

Four women’s third round matches opened up the day’s action and also produced one of the day’s most significant results when world No. 14 Salma Hany knocked out four seed and 2019 ToC semifinalist Nour El Tayeb in four games. Last year, Hany recorded a top-ten upset to reach what was then her first Platinum quarterfinal in Grand Central against Laura Massaro. Coached by former world No. 1 Wael El Hindi off site and Danny Massaro on site, Hany beat El Tayeb for the first time in her sixth attempt 8-11, 11-9, 11-7, 11-9 after forty-one minutes.

“Nour is an amazing player and obviously she has been chopping me the last few times,” said Hany afterwards. “Every time I go on court with her I learn a lot from our matches. I worked really hard for those kind of matches and me and my coach [Wael El-Hindi] worked really hard for this match, I’m so glad it worked out and stuck to the plan. Having Danny [Massaro] with me in my corner has made a huge difference. Everyone knows that Nour can hit any shot from anywhere on the court, so I was just trying to minimize her options as much as I could. I didn’t feel like I did much wrong in the first, maybe I levelled up my accuracy a little and I stuck to the plan. She is such a fighter and kept coming back stronger and stronger in the fourth, but I’m glad I managed to get the win.”

El Tayeb’s husband and men’s defending champion, Ali Farag (above), narrowly avoided a tournament exit of his own in the final match of the day against New Zealand’s world No. 5 Paul Coll. Farag frustrated the Kiwi with two superb first games to go up 11-5, 11-8. Coll then gained momentum to take the next two games and force a decisive fifth. At six-all in the fifth, Coll hit three tins to help push Farag over the finish line 11-5, 11-8, 6-11, 5-11, 11-6 after sixty-two minutes.

“I started off really well,” Farag said. “The ball was quite bouncy, so I couldn’t really go for those killing shots I just had to move it around and try to dominate the ‘T’ area which I think I did well for the first game and part of the second game. In the third he came out more aggressive and hitting shots with the racket, getting in front of me for most of the time and what I didn’t like at the end of the third and for the fourth was my body language. I don’t mind losing at all but I mind losing without a fight. I wasn’t really putting on a good fight, so Karim [Darwish] told me if you are to lose just have good body language and push—if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen but then at least you will have no regrets.”

Farag will face world champion Tarek Momen in Thursday’s semifinals after the world No. 3 was able to stop eighteen-year-old Mostafa Asal in his tracks with a decisive three-game win.

The second half of the men’s and women’s quarterfinals will take place Wednesday, January 15, from 5pm local time.