5:33 am
25 Feb 2018

Gaultier Overcomes Matthew In Grand Central Epic

23 Jan 2018

A dramatic day of action at the 2018 JP Morgan Tournament of Champions saw men's world No.1 Gregory Gaultier survive a titanic 92-minute, four-game thriller with long term rival Nick Matthew to secure his place in the semi-finals of the PSA World Series event - while defending women's champion Camille Serme narrowly avoided a shock second round defeat at the hands of unseeded Australian Donna Urquhart.

Inside the iconic Grand Central Terminal in New York and in their 51st meeting in 20 years, 35-year-old Frenchman Gaultier recovered from losing a 30-minute opening game to prevail 12-14, 11-6, 12-10, 11-7 against his 37-year-old opponent in what will go down as one of the finest matches in the history of the event.

Probing back and forth from the off, the pair engaged in rally after rally of physically and mentally testing squash that saw them move the ball, and each other, into all four corners of the court. Gaultier struck a crucial blow when he came from behind to take the third game from under the nose of Matthew and go ahead on the scoreboard for the first time.

From then on the Frenchman tried to inject pace into the play to tire Matthew. The tactic worked as he eventually prevailed over the oldest player in the tournament in what was Matthew's his last ever appearance under the chandeliers in Grand Central Terminal's Vanderbilt Hall.

"We've been playing each other for 20 years, since we were kids, and he definitely made it tough today," said Gaultier, who recently became the sport's oldest world number one.

"He was dominating the centre of the court with his accuracy and made it very hard for me, he was hurting me on there. I just tried to dig in and retrieve as much as I could to keep the rallies going and make him work as hard as possible.

"We both gave everything. Of course we are rivals but we are friends as well and have a huge respect for each other. Playing here in this atmosphere is amazing and we both emptied the tank - hopefully I can recover well for my next round match now."

Matthew added: "Today he just came out on top even though I think it was the best I have played all season, which shows there's more to come from me over the next few months."

Gaultier will now go up against Simon Rösner of Germany for a place in the final after the 30-year-old from Paderborn beat Switzerland's Nicolas Mueller - his friend and training partner - 3/1 to reach the event's semi-finals for the first time in his career.

The win comes just three months after Rösner secured his maiden appearance in a major semi-final during October's Qatar Classic.

"It's hard to play someone who you know so well so I'm just relieved to get through the match today," said Rösner.

"I am a little disappointed I couldn't close it out in three, but I'm happy that I got it back in the fourth.

"I had been waiting for a big quarter-final win for a long time and finally managed to get one in Qatar to reach my first World Series semi-finals. To be in a second semi this season here in New York - for the first time in this great venue - is very special."

In the women's draw, defending champion Camille Serme had to call on all her fighting spirit to recover from a 2/1 deficit and come through a difficult clash with Urquhart in what was one of four women's second round matches to go the distance.

Serme became the first Frenchwoman ever to win the Tournament of Champions last year when she beat England's Laura Massaro in the final, but the number three seed was on the brink of an early elimination after conceding a one-game advantage following some superb squash from Urquhart.

The world No.16 outplayed Serme for large parts but the 28-year-old from Creteil showed her resilience as she came from 4-1 down in the fourth game to keep the match alive and, after taking the match into a crucial fifth, she maintained her composure to complete the victory.

"When you are losing, you start thinking about not playing again and being out of the tournament, so that's when you fight even more," said Serme.

"You think that you have nothing left to loose and that's when you relax a bit. At the end I got a lucky bounce and I just fought as hard as I could.

"I knew today would be tricky. Donna is in really good form and she put on a great match. She made me struggle a lot so I'm happy to be through."

Serme will go up against Malaysian squash icon Nicol David in the quarter-finals after the eight-time World Champion impressed in a 3/1 victory over New Zealand's Joelle King - avenging a defeat in last September's China Open - while current World Champion Raneem El Welily will take on Egyptian compatriot Nour El Tayeb after scraping through a difficult five-game battle with Welsh number one Tesni Evans.

El Welily suffered a nasty-looking ankle injury during her first round win over Jenny Duncalf and was still feeling the effects of that injury during the early exchanges. But the Egyptian managed to find her footing in the second and raced through the gears to produce some spell-binding play that was equally matched by Evans.

The duo traded points through a series of thrilling exchanges, going all the way to a decisive tie-break finish in the fifth game, which El Welily converted to a standing ovation from the crowd.

"Tesni played fantastic today and I think I was a little flat at the beginning," said El Welily.

"It was mentally hard for me today. It felt like I was playing a final, which it isn't, but at least I get to live for another day in this tournament. It definitely wasn't easy at the beginning with my ankle - I just tried to adjust to it.

"The physios put in a lot of work and really helped me to recover for today and I'll need to do a lot of work again to be ready for the match tomorrow."

Elsewhere world No.1 Nour El Sherbini set up a last eight clash with England's Sarah-Jane Perry with Laura Massaro and Nouran Gohar both prevailing in their second round battles to set up a last eight meeting.