The opening round of the 2017 Windy City Open presented by Guggenheim Partners and EquiTrust Life Insurance Company continues today (February 24) as the action at the World Series tournament intensifies.
England’s James Willstrop will look to continue his rise up the World Rankings in Chicago after he broke into the world’s top 10 for the first time since 2014 earlier this month.
33-year-old Willstrop, known on Tour as ‘The Marksman’, occupied the World No.1 spot for 11 months in 2012, but a combination of a hip injury and illness saw the Yorkshireman’s ranking plummet, until a striking return to form ensued towards the latter stages of last year.
Up next for Willstrop, who currently sits at No.9 in the world, is a first round meeting with Egypt’s Omar Mosaad, who will be hoping to use Willstrop as an inspiration as he plots his own return to the world’s top 10.
Mosaad was ranked at World No.3 as recently as October, but a startling loss of form – which has seen him progress beyond the quarter-final stage on just one occasion this season – has seen him slide to World No.11.
Willstrop leads the head-to-head record 5-1, with Mosaad’s sole victory coming at the same stage during last year’s Windy City Open, and ‘The Hammer of Thor’ will have to recapture that form if he is to halt Willstrop’s resurgence.
Karim Abdel Gawad (right) and Alan Clyne (left) in their last meeting
World Champion Karim Abdel Gawad also makes his 2017 Windy City Open bow on day two with a fixture against the tenacious and hard-working Scotsman Alan Clyne.
Gawad saw his 19-match unbeaten run come to an end against World No.3 Gregory Gaultier in their Swedish Open final clash earlier this month, but the ‘Baby-Faced Assassin’ was carrying a knee injury – which he will hope to be fully recovered from in Chicago.
Clyne, the World No.34, lost out to Gawad in the last four of the Swedish Open, but he did take the opening game and troubled Gawad in the early stages of their clash.
Of the three matches in which the pair have met on the PSA World Tour, Gawad has won two of them, with Clyne prevailing in their first meeting six years ago.
Their contrasting styles – with Gawad’s relaxed, composed style of play clashing with Clyne’s retrieval abilities and focus on length hitting – should make for a fascinating spectacle as they do battle for a place in round two.
Max Lee during the 2016 Hong Kong Open
Hong Kong’s World No.18 Max Lee will look to end a run of two successive first round defeats when he takes on Spain’s former World No.5 Borja Golan in his first round encounter.
After beginning the season with a maiden World Series semi-final berth in August’s Hong Kong Open and a runner-up finish in Macau, Lee has gone off the boil of late, struggling with cramp on a number of occasions, which has seen him unable to live up to his recent high standards.
As such, current World No.21 Golan will fancy his chances of causing an upset, just 12 months after he surrendered a 2-0 lead to eventual runner-up Nick Matthew in the second round stage of last year’s tournament – one of the finest matches of the 2015/16 season.
The head-to-head record between the pair is delicately poised at one win apiece, with Lee getting the upper hand in their most recent meeting back in 2014.
Elsewhere, Frenchman Mathieu Castagnet will look to step up his recovery from the adductor injury that has impinged on his season since November with a testing first round tie against Egypt’s Mohamed Abouelghar.
Gaultier – who missed last year’s tournament through injury – takes on English qualifier Joe Lee, and the winner of that match will play either World No.14 Daryl Selby or French qualifier Lucas Serme in the next round.
Tarek Momen is also in action against Hong Kong’s Leo Au, while Fares Dessouky and Nicolas Mueller face off in the day’s other fixture.
Raneem El Welily in action
Defending champion Raneem El Welily kicks off her 2017 campaign against England’s former World No.2 Jenny Duncalf, with the Egyptian aiming to become the first player, male or female, to win this tournament on three occasions.
El Welily, the World No.3 from Alexandria, is one of the most talented players on the PSA World Tour, with her ability to hit a winner from almost anywhere on the court seeing her end the legendary Nicol David’s unprecedented nine-year reign atop the World Rankings in September 2015.
She has beaten Duncalf four times over the past five years, but despite Duncalf’s slide out of the world’s top 20 in recent months, El Welily will have to remain focused and disciplined if she is to progress into round two unscathed.
Amanda Sobhy is bidding for a first World Series title
United States No.1 Amanda Sobhy will have the home crowd at the University Club of Chicago behind her as she faces the talented Belgian qualifier Nele Gilis in round one.
Harvard-graduate Sobhy, who is based in Boston, is yet to really establish herself on this tournament, having bowed out at the quarter-final stage last year, but remains one of the forerunners for the title as she aims for a first ever World Series crown.
Gilis, meanwhile, is yet to progress past the first round of a World Series tournament, but the 21-year-old does currently sit at a career-high World No.35 ranking after claiming her biggest ever title at December’s Open International des Volcans.
The pair have never met on the PSA World Tour, but Gilis did suffer a defeat against Sobhy’s younger sister, Sabrina, three years ago, and she will be hoping to avenge that defeat by taking out the older Sobhy sister tonight.
A rich vein of form over the past few months has catapulted England’s Sarah-Jane Perry into the world’s top 10 and the Birmingham-born 26-year-old will be looking to build on a maiden World Series semi-final in January’s J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions.
Perry, who also reached the last four of the Cleveland Classic last week, comes up against Australian World No.18 Donna Urquhart in their first meeting since 2015.
The pair met three times that year – with Perry prevailing in two of them – and the Englishwoman will be favourite to take the win and move into the second round, where either World No.4 Nouran Gohar or compatriot Fiona Moverley will await.
2014 winner Laura Massaro also begins her tournament on the second day of action against Egypt’s Mariam Metwally, with the winner set to face either New Zealand’s Joelle King or Canadian Samantha Cornett for a place in the quarter-finals.
The day’s other two fixtures in the Women’s event see Indian No.1 Joshna Chinappa take on tournament wildcard Olivia Blatchford, while Hong Kong’s Annie Au will aim to get off to a winning start against Mayar Hany.
Draw – 2017 Men’s Windy City Open presented by Guggenheim Partners and EquiTrust Life Insurance Company: Bottom Half
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v [Q] Joe Lee (ENG)
Daryl Selby (ENG) v [Q] Lucas Serme (FRA)
Mohamed Abouelghar (EGY) v Mathieu Castagnet (FRA)
James Willstrop (ENG) v  Omar Mosaad (EGY)
 Tarek Momen (EGY) v [Q] Leo Au (HKG)
Borja Golan (ESP) v Max Lee (HKG)
Fares Dessouky (EGY) v [Q] Nicolas Mueller (SUI)
[Q] Alan Clyne (SCO) v  Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY)
Draw – 2017 Women’s Windy City Open presented by Guggenheim Partners and EquiTrust Life Insurance Company: Bottom Half
 Raneem El Welily (EGY) v Jenny Duncalf (ENG)
[Q] Mayar Hany (EGY) v  Annie Au (HKG)
 Joshna Chinappa (IND) v [WC] Olivia Blatchford (USA)
[Q] Nele Gillis (BEL) v  Amanda Sobhy (USA)
 Laura Massaro (ENG) v Mariam Metwally (EGY)
[Q] Samantha Cornett (CAN) v  Joelle King (NZL)
 Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) v Donna Urquhart (AUS)
[Q] Fiona Moverley (ENG) v  Nouran Gohar (EGY)
Order of Play – 2017 Windy City Open presented by Guggenheim Partners and EquiTrust Life Insurance Company: Day Two
12:00  Joshna Chinappa (IND) v [WC] Olivia Blatchford (USA)
13:00  Tarek Momen (EGY) v [Q] Leo Au (HKG)
14:00 [Q] Fiona Moverley (ENG) v  Nouran Gohar (EGY)
15:00  Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v [Q] Joe Lee (ENG)
17:00  Raneem El Welily (EGY) v Jenny Duncalf (ENG)
18:00 James Willstrop (ENG) v  Omar Mosaad (EGY)
19:00 [Q] Nele Gilis (BEL) v  Amanda Sobhy (USA)
20:00 [Q] Alan Clyne (SCO) v  Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY)