10:18 pm
17 Apr 2024

Seeds Advance To Second Round At Grand Central Terminal

12 Jan 2008

Even though there were no upsets in the concluding matches of the first round of play in the Bear Stearns Tournament of Champions, it was a significant day for several players in the PSA Super Series squash championship renowned for its legacy of illustrious titleholders and its venue in historic Grand Central Terminal in New York.

Squash fans were especially thrilled to find a dramatic photo of the glittering glass court under the chandeliers in Grand Central on the front page of the Metro Section of the vaunted New York Times newspaper. And the busiest man at the tournament may have been top seed Ramy Ashour. With a day off after winning his first round match, the energetic and charismatic 20-year-old Egyptian was onsite for all of the afternoon session, coaching fellow players and doing TV commentary.

Unseeded Yasser El Halaby had a sizeable cheering section as he took on Brazil's Rafael F Alarcon in the day's first match. A graduate of Princeton University, where he won four national intercollegiate titles, and an assistant pro at the Harvard Club, El Halaby had supporters from both institutions in the stands. His fans roared with delight when he evened the match at one-all after taking the second game 11-5. But even with his countryman, world No2 Ramy Ashour, coaching him, El Halaby succumbed to the South American 11-8, 5-11, 11-8, 11-5.

Next on court was 19-year-old Khawaja Adil Maqbool, making his Tournament of Champions debut against 11th seed Mohd Azlan Iskandar of Malaysia. Iskandar wasted no time in his advance to the second round as he defeated Adil Maqbool in three games. Despite the loss, the Dubai-based youngster was thrilled nonetheless. "I stepped on court and I thought about the great players who have won this tournament. It was beautiful to be out on that court."

Hungary's Mark Krajcsak also made his Tournament of Champions debut. It looked for awhile as though it might have been a winning one as he took a 2/0 lead in games and was up 7-4 in the fourth against thirteenth seed Jonathon Kemp. But the Englishman got his game on track just in time to secure an 8-11, 8-11, 11-5, 11-9, 11-3 victory.

"I just lost focus in the fourth game," Krajcsak said. "And the points slipped away so quickly." He received a different analysis from none other than Ramy Ashour, who had watched the match and was happy to share his insights. "Kemp started attacking more in the fourth game, and you didn't respond," commented the young Egyptian who is so clearly passionate about the sport. "But don't worry. You'll do better next time."

In the final match of the day session, twelfth seed Hisham Ashour - Ramy's older brother - had his hands full with Tarek Momen, a fellow Egyptian who was also making his first Tournament of Champions appearance. The confident 19-year-old came out shooting. "His shots were like a knife through butter," said Ashour senior. "He'd hit a drop shot and it would nick; he'd hit a deep rail and it would nick." After trading games, Ashour stepped up with authority to win the deciding game 11-4.

The evening session marked the return of two players who had missed last year's championship, Australia's Stewart Boswell and France's Gregory Gaultier. Boswell, who defeated Egypt's Amr Mansi in four games, acknowledged the Tournament of Champions appeal to the players. "I really missed not being able to play here last year," said Boswell. "And now that I am back, this is the one tournament that I will never miss for the rest of my career. The atmosphere is unlike any other. Even for the first round of play, the stands are full and the fans really show how much they appreciate what we do on court."

Second seed Gaultier, who dismissed Canada's Shawn Delierre 3/0, was similarly pleased to be back on court in Grand Central. "This one of the best venues," said the reigning British Open champion. "I like the crowds and I like how busy it is. It's spectacular."

Fifth-seed James Willstrop, a Tournament of Champions fan favourite, treated the crowd to a display of elegant squash as he despatched Ireland's John Rooney with an ease that the Englishman confessed was surprising. "I have been having trouble in my first round matches recently, so I was expecting that his one would be similar," Willstrop said. "But I ended up feeling quite fluent out on the court tonight."

India's Ritwik Bhattacharya was the last of the tournament's new faces on court. He faced seventh seed John White, who made very short work of the evening's final match, winning 3/0 in 24 minutes. It was a particularly impressive performance considering that White is doing double duty as the squash coach at Franklin & Marshall College while still playing the PSA Tour. Despite losing, Bhattacharya was undaunted. "I will be back next year and I will be better," he declared.

1st round (bottom half of draw):
[16] Rafael F Alarcon (BRA) bt Yasser El Halaby (EGY) 11-8, 5-11, 11-8, 11-5 (43m)
[8] Stewart Boswell (AUS) bt [Q] Amr Mansi (EGY) 11-4, 9-11, 11-6, 11-4 (43m)
[10] Mohd Azlan Iskandar (MAS) bt [Q] Khawaja Adil Maqbool (PAK) 11-6, 11-5, 11-1 (27m)
[4] James Willstrop (ENG) bt [Q] John Rooney (IRL) 11-4, 11-2, 11-7 (30m)
[12] Jonathan Kemp (ENG) bt Mark Krajcsak (HUN) 8-11, 8-11, 11-5, 11-9, 11-3 (54m)
[6] John White (SCO) bt [Q] Ritwik Bhattacharya (IND) 11-4, 11-3, 11-8 (24m)
[11] Hisham Mohd Ashour (EGY) bt Tarek Momen (EGY) 5-11, 11-5, 11-10 (5-3), 9-11, 11-4 (46m)
[2] Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt Shawn Delierre (CAN) 11-9, 11-8, 11-7 (40m)