The J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions – the first professional squash tournament of 2017 to be broadcast live – begins on Thursday January 12 with the Vanderbilt Hall in New York’s stunning Grand Central Terminal set to feature the world’s top players throughout the eight-day tournament.
The charismatic World No.3 Gregory Gaultier stars on the opening day of action and has a difficult first round fixture in store against talented Peruvian Diego Elias.
Gaultier, a winner here in 2009, reached the semi-final of the the British Grand Prix last month after making his comeback from the ankle injury that ended his PSA Men’s World Championship title defence at the semi-final stage back in November.
He also made it to the semi-finals of last year's Tournament of Champions, only to sustain an injury on the same ankle to force him to retire during the first game of his highly-anticipated battle with England's Nick Matthew.
The ‘French General’ is one of the title favourites for the tournament this year, and will meet Elias for the second time after easing past the 20-year-old on their only previous fixture back in September’s China Open.
Elias burst onto the scene at the 2014 World Junior Championships as he lifted the prestigious title and he followed that up in 2015 to become only the fourth player to lift the title twice – joining Ramy Ashour, Mohamed ElShorbagy and the younger ElShorbagy brother, Marwan, in an exclusive group.
After reaching a maiden PSA M100 semi-final in September’s NetSuite Open and pushing World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy all the way to five games in the following month’s Qatar Classic, Elias is on the verge of a breakthrough, and the World No.24 will sense that a potential upset could be on the cards against Gaultier.
Marwan ElShorbagy, the World No.6, will look to move past the dangerous figure of Daryl Selby in his opening round fixture.
Marwan is seeded to meet his older brother in the quarter-finals, but comes up against an opponent who has reached four successive semi-finals and upset Mohamed in last month’s Channel VAS Championship.
Selby is the form player of the two after his run of straight semi-finals saw him claim a first World Series last four berth since 2012 at the Qatar Classic, but it is Marwan who currently leads the head-to-head record by two wins to Selby’s one – and the Bristol-based Egyptian will need to be at his best if he is to keep that superior record.
Cuskelly and Lee during their Qatar Classic fixture
Australia’s Ryan Cuskelly and Hong Kong’s Max Lee line up against each other for the third time this season, with Cuskelly looking to extend his run of straight wins over his opponent to four matches.
Their most recent battle took place in Qatar and saw a gladiatorial 96-minute contest play out at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex, with cramp eventually seeing Lee’s challenge falter as Cuskelly took the win.
The winner of their fixture in New York will have an even bigger test in the second round, with defending champion Mohamed likely to face the victor if he can make it past English qualifier Declan James.
Elsewhere, tournament wildcard Todd Harrity will carry home hopes on his shoulders when he takes on Fares Dessouky on day one, while former World No.3 Omar Mosaad faces Mohamed Abouelghar in an all-Egyptian clash.
The other two fixtures on the opening day of action see Tarek Momen clash with qualifier Tom Richards, while former World No.5 Borja Golan and South Africa’s Stephen Coppinger also go head-to-head.
Order of Play – 2017 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions: First Round Top Half
(All times are local GMT-5)
12:00 Ryan Cuskelly (AUS) v Max Lee (HKG)
12:45  Omar Mosaad (EGY) v Mohamed Abouelghar (EGY)
14:00 Daryl Selby (ENG) v  Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY)
14:45 Borja Golan (ESP) v Stephen Coppinger (RSA)
17:00 Tarek Momen (EGY) v [Q] Tom Richards (ENG)
17:45 Fares Dessouky (EGY) v [WC] Todd Harrity (USA)
19:00  Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) v [Q] Declan James (ENG)
19:45 Diego Elias (PER) v  Gregory Gaultier (FRA)
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