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James Willstrop and Nick Matthew spar in Grand Central Terminal's Vanderbilt Hall

ToC Semis Preview: Grand Central Terminal to Host Climactic Clashes

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The semi-final stage of the 2017 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions sees the World Series event edge towards its conclusion, with more spectacular encounters in store in New York’s iconic Grand Central Terminal.

With three of the world’s top four players in action in the Men’s draw and an unpredictable line-up on offer in the Women’s event, the last four stage of the prestigious tournament will have squash fans clinging to the edge of their seats once more.

Men’s

Mohamed ElShorbagy v Gregory Gaultier

Mohamed ElShorbagy (left) and Gregory Gaultier (right) embrace during the 2015 Qatar Classic

World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy clashes with World No.3 Gregory Gaultier for the 19th time on the PSA World Tour and is looking to extend his winning run over the ‘French General’ to four successive matches.

By his own admission, Bristol-based ElShorbagy, the 2015 and 2016 champion, has made a slow start to the season despite victory in October’s U.S. Open, and ended last year on a low-point after slumping to a shock first round defeat against England’s Daryl Selby during last month’s Channel VAS Championship.

But the Egyptian powerhouse has surged through to the final in New York, completing comprehensive wins over Declan James, Ryan Cuskelly and younger brother Marwan to move to within one win of a third consecutive Tournament of Champions final appearance.

After a strong start against Peruvian Diego Elias saw him through to round two, Gaultier had to pull out all the stops against Egypt’s Fares Dessouky to prevent a surprise defeat, battling back from 2-0 down to close out a hard-fought victory, and he followed that up with a 3-1 triumph over World No.8 Tarek Momen.

ElShorbagy and Gaultier have one of the most competitive and long-running rivalries in the sport, and have sparred in a series of gladiatorial fixtures, with six of their 18 meetings going all the way to five games.

It is Gaultier, a victor here in 2009, who leads the head-to-head record by 10 wins to eight, and he won their first nine matches in a row until ElShorbagy finally ended the Frenchman’s dominance in the semi-final of the 2014 El Gouna International, coming out on top after a brutal 112-minute clash – their longest ever match together on the PSA World Tour.

That victory would set ElShorbagy off on a run of eight wins out of nine, with a lone defeat coming in the last four of the 2015 U.S. Open – a tournament Gaultier would eventually go on to win.

ElShorbagy has won their three meetings since – all in finals – and Gaultier will need to put in a sensational display if he is to end the 26-year-old’s 13-match unbeaten streak in New York.

Three of the Best

2016 El Gouna International Final: Mohamed ElShorbagy 3-2 Gregory Gaultier

2015 Delaware Investments U.S. Open Semi-Final: Mohamed ElShorbagy 2-3 Gregory Gaultier

2015 Allam British Open Final: Mohamed ElShorbagy 3-2 Gregory Gaultier

James Willstrop v Karim Abdel Gawad

James Willstrop (left) takes on Paul Coll (right) in their quarter-final fixture

Former World No.1 James Willstrop has had a wonderful tournament so far and will be aiming to maintain his winning momentum into his mouthwatering semi-final fixture with World Champion Karim Abdel Gawad.

The 33-year-old, known on Tour as ‘The Marksman’, showed echoes of the form that took him to World No.1 five years ago towards the latter stages of 2016, achieving a first World Series semi-final since 2014 at the U.S. Open in addition to reaching the finals of the NetSuite Open and British Grand Prix.

Willstrop looks to have continued in the same vein in 2017, following up a routine first round win over former World No.4 Miguel Angel Rodriguez with one of his greatest wins of recent times as he battled to a 3-2 victory over bitter rival Nick Matthew.

Willstrop hadn’t beaten his fellow Yorkshireman in a decade and had suffered 19 straight losses to the three-time World Champion, including in last month’s British Grand Prix final.

But Willstrop turned their recent history on its head with a sublime performance to finally end his unwanted record against the current World No.4 and set up a quarter-final fixture with the high-flying Paul Coll, whom he dispatched in four games to reach the last four.

Meanwhile, Gawad’s last two tournaments have seen him become World Champion for the first time in addition to claiming a maiden World Series title during November’s Qatar Classic, but the talented Egyptian has looked sluggish at times in New York and was forced to dig in to defeat both Zahed Mohamed and Cameron Pilley earlier on in the tournament.

Gawad also started slowly against Germany’s Simon Rösner in their quarter-final fixture, picking up just two points in an opening game defeat, before he found his range to eventually win it in four games.

Willstrop and Gawad have met just once before, with Willstrop easing to a comfortable win during the 2013 U.S. Open, but the impressive recent form of both players indicates that spectators in Grand Central Terminal could be in for a classic.

2013 Delaware Investments U.S. Open Second Round: James Willstrop 3-0 Karim Abdel Gawad

Women’s

Nour El Sherbini v Camille Serme

Camille Serme celebrates beating Nour El Sherbini during their 2016 U.S. Open final meeting

Women’s World No.1 Nour El Sherbini and Frenchwoman Camille Serme face off in a second successive Women’s World Series tournament after they also met in the final of the U.S. Open three months ago.

A highly impressive performance from Serme in Philadelphia saw her limit El Sherbini’s attacking prowess to become the first Frenchwoman ever to lift the U.S. Open trophy.

And she has been in devastating form so far in New York, with clinical displays seeing her defeat Tesni Evans, Joshna Chinappa and, most impressively of all, World No.2 Nouran Gohar to reach the semi-finals.

Her opponent, defending champion El Sherbini, began the tournament with a comfortable win against Hong Kong’s Joey Chan, before she recovered from a game down to beat compatriot Salma Hany Ibrahim in round two – pitting her against Malaysia’s eight-time World Champion Nicol David in the last eight.

El Sherbini hasn’t lost to the legendary 33-year-old since 2014, and she pushed through in five to record a sixth successive win over former World No.1 David.

Serme has won three of her last five meetings against El Sherbini, but it was the latter who triumphed in their quarter-final fixture at last year’s Tournament of Champions, before she went on to lift a maiden World Series title later that week.

Three of the Best

2016 Delaware Investments U.S. Open Final: Nour El Sherbini 1-3 Camille Serme

2016 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions Quarter-Final: Nour El Sherbini 3-2 Camille Serme

2015 Allam British Open Quarter-Final – Nour El Sherbini 2-3 Camille Serme

Laura Massaro v Sarah-Jane Perry

Sarah-Jane Perry after her triumph over Raneem El Welily

Battling for a place in her first ever World Series final will be World No.11 Sarah-Jane Perry, but the Birmingham-based 26-year-old will need to navigate her way past former World No.1 Laura Massaro in an all-English affair.

Perry’s rise to prominence has been one of the stories of the tournament so far after she caused two huge shocks against 2016 runner-up Amanda Sobhy and World No.3 Raneem El Welily en route to claiming a place in the semi-finals of a World Series tournament for the first time.

Massaro, meanwhile, began the tournament in fine fashion with a straight games win over United States No.2 Olivia Blatchford, but had to fight back from the brink during her second round encounter with New Zealand’s Joelle King to stay in the tournament.

Perry, who had only ever made it to the quarter-finals of the Tournament of Champions before this year’s event, has spent almost a full hour more on court than Massaro has after all three of her matches went all the way to five games.

The number 11 seed may require another herculean display if she is to complete a hat-trick of stunning upsets.

Order of Play – 2017 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions: Semi-Finals
(All times are local GMT-5)
17:00 [1] Nour El Sherbini (EGY) v [5] Camille Serme (FRA)
follow on [4] Laura Massaro (ENG) v [11] Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG)
20:00 [1] Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) v [3] Gregory Gaultier (FRA)
follow on James Willstrop (ENG) v [2] Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY)

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