French Duo Derail Egyptian Champions At Grand Central
19 Jan 2017
French duo Gregory Gaultier, the men's world No.3, and women's world No.4 Camille Serme derailed the challenge of Egypt's 2016 winners Mohamed Elshorbagy and Nour El Sherbini, respectively, to come through two dramatic and enthralling semi-final encounters at the 2017 JP Morgan Tournament of Champions at Grand Central Terminal in New York.
Inside the iconic station's Vanderbilt Hall, 2009 champion Gaultier prevailed 12-10, 11-9, 9-11, 4-11, 11-7 in an 84-minute encounter with 2015 and 2016 champion Elshorbagy that had the theatrics, drama and intrigue befitting a Broadway classic.
The 34-year-old strutted extravagantly around court, playing with pace, precision and guile to take a 2/0 lead, delighting the crowd with his theatrical celebrations before a contentious referee decision at 8-7 in the third swung the match.
The Frenchman capitulated, first mentally and then physically - as a troublesome left glute hampered his movement - allowing the Egyptian world No.1 to level at two-all. But a stunned crowd, silenced by what they were witnessing, watched on as Gaultier, playing on one leg, displayed all the traits of his 'General' moniker to regain control and seal a dramatic victory.
"I felt my glute go during my match with Tarek (Momen) and it was sore this morning - but after warming up today it was fine and I had no problem in those first two games," said Gaultier.
"In the third game I could feel it tighten and then at 8-7 that decision should have gone my way and I lost my dynamic. I could have gone through to win 3/0 and then it was 2/2. At that point I just wanted to shake hands - I was in a lot of pain.
"But my coaches told me just to fight for every point. I played smart and it maybe got in his head and he got a little shaky. I was injured all year in 2016 - so I am very determined to come back. This is a beautiful place to play squash and you want to give your all in these kind of locations.
"There's a lot of talk about Egyptian players dominating at the moment but there are players from other countries here as well, and we're showing that we are still competing and that our names deserve to be on trophies as well."
Gaultier will face Egypt's Karim Abdel Gawad in the title-decider after the World Champion produced a sublime performance to beat England's James Willstrop in straight games to reach the 25th Tour final of his career.
Meanwhile it was Gaultier's compatriot Serme who captured attention in the women's draw with a 3/1 defeat of world No.1 El Sherbini, the reigning champion.
Serme beat world No.2 Nouran Gohar in the previous round and injected pace from the off in the semis to unsettle El Sherbini, working her favoured backhand with relentless accuracy, to win 11-7, 7-11, 11-6, 11-6 and secure her first appearance in the iconic event's title-decider.
"I was so focused on the match and making sure I played as well as I could that it hasn't really sunk in that I'm into the final yet," said 27-year-old Serme.
"I dreamt of playing this event - the venue is unbelievable - so it's amazing to know I will be playing in the final here tomorrow with a chance to win. I've beaten the #1 and #2 players so I have to take confidence that I'm playing some of my best ever squash.
"I feel like there's still improvements to be made but I'm on the right track. Tomorrow will be a different challenge again so I'll give it my best and see what happens - it's very exciting."
Serme will face England's 2014 runner-up Laura Massaro in the decider ensuring that a new women's champion will be crowned. Massaro reached the 40th PSA World Tour final of her career after ending the sensational run of compatriot Sarah-Jane Perry, the No.11 seed, 11-6, 11-6, 11-9.