Title-Holder El Sherbini Fights Through Pain Barrier To Set Up 2023 Final Rematch
25 Jan 2024
Egypt's defending JP Morgan Tournament of Champions champion Nour El Sherbini produced a monumental effort to reach this year's women's final as she battled through the pain barrier to defeat Hania El Hammamy and tee up a rematch of the 2023 decider against compatriot Nouran Gohar at Grand Central Terminal in New York.
El Sherbini, who was facing El Hammamy for the fifth time this season with the previous four being in finals, sustained a lower back injury at the end of the first game, which limited the seven-time World Champion's movement for the remainder of the match. El Hammamy, who had lost the previous three encounters with El Sherbini, capitalised on her opponent's injury to level the match after falling behind.
However the reigning world No.1 responded remarkably despite being unable to move around the court as freely as she usually would, moving the ball around well and shortening the rallies to win the third and fourth games 11-9 and 11-5 to extend her title defence.
"I don't know how I won this match," said El Sherbini.
"Maybe I wasn't thinking about the squash. I was just thinking about myself and my body. I don't know what happened after the first - my back started spasming so I couldn't twist left or right, so it was difficult.
"My dad was telling me to stop and I don't have to play like this. I wanted to try in the third and after I won it I had to carry on. I've never been in this position before but I'm definitely happy to be through.
"I was going to stop after the second. Hania is the most physical player on tour and you can't play her without being able to move well. I considered stopping but I just thought I'd try and after winning it, I wanted to keep going and play each point on its own and I guess it worked at the end."
The decider will be a repeat of last year's final after Gohar downed fellow countrywoman Rowan Elaraby in straight games.
2022 champion Gohar hasn't dropped a single game so far at this year's event, and the former world No.1 was in excellent form to defeat Elaraby, who was featuring in a Platinum semi final for the first time in almost two years.
Gohar was clinical in all three games, with her ferocious striking of the ball and strong length hitting problematic for Elaraby as the world No.3 won 11-4, 11-7, 11-6 in 40 minutes.
"I wasn't confident at all," said Gohar. "Rowan is a top, quality player. She knows how to play the game and it's very tricky against her. In the back of my mind, I knew she had played two long matches so I knew a good start would help me and she may start a bit flat.
"I know how it feels to be back on court after a good win so I knew it would be tough mentally more than anything and i'm just glad I could be efficient and get through in three.
"I saw PSA posted a final from 2016 of myself and Nour at the British Open so we go way back. Thankfully, we're still here contesting finals together so it's amazing. It's an honour to be sharing this with Nour, one of the best players to play the sport.
"I'm really looking forward to this. In last year's final, I was a bit ill so I couldn't compete so hopefully tomorrow will be a good treat for the crowd and I can't wait for it."
Elias, now in his third ToC final, sustained an injury in the fourth game after he fell into the front wall then went on to win 16 of the next 19 points after returning to the court.
Asal, who was on court for 118 minutes 24 hours earlier against Mohamed ElShorbagy, dominated the middle as he went 2/1 up, but the momentum shifted in Elias' favour when he stepped back on court after the injury break, extending the rallies and diffusing a fightback from Asal in the fifth to prevail.
"I don't know what happened there [winning 16 of the next 19 points after the fall]," he said.
"Maybe I just relaxed a little bit and I was pretty nervous about the match, thinking a bit too much about his match last night.
"It made me rush a little bit and I couldn't get a drop at the start, but I'm just happy I could relax and find my game towards the end.
"We had a bad rivalry but I think it's getting a bit better. It's not the best, but it's getting better and I hope it can get better because I think we are going to be playing together for a long time. We have to learn to stand each other a bit more."
The two-time champion dominated large spells of the match against the French No.1, with Farag reaching a final for the sixth time this campaign.
The reigning World Champion's precise ball placement and the lengthening of the rallies put plenty of work into Crouin's legs, who had come through two five-game battles and knocked out Paul Coll in the quarter finals. The control from Farag saw him win 11-4, 11-8, 11-7 in 45 minutes.
"I heard about Victor when he was 16/17 from our coach at the time, and he told me that there was a French guy coming through. He wasn't at the top yet, but his attitude would get him there," he said afterwards.
"I watched him at the World Junior Championships, then at Harvard and then on the World Tour and now he's at the top.
"He's obsessed with the sport in a heathy way, you see his education and how nice he is off court. Everything about him I admire. He has such a great outlook on life and he's someone I look up to a lot.
"Myself and him have a very special connection. Mike Way [the Harvard Head Coach], wants us to be good people and good characters first before good squash players. Anyone who comes out of Harvard, we have a special connection even if we don't overlap. I'm so proud to be associated to this amazing institution.
"It means a lot to be back in the final. I've been progressing well all week. I had a scare in the quarters against Tarek and I think I played my best squash so far tonight, and I'm looking forward to building on that in the final tomorrow."