Quarter-finals of the JP Morgan Tournament of Champions, the first World Series event of the year being held at Grand Central Terminus in New York, concluded with stunning upsets for Colombian Miguel Rodriguez and England’s Alison Waters …
Men’s Quarter-finals (bottom half) Nick Matthew (Eng) 3-1  Simon Rosner (Ger) 10/12, 11/4, 11/7, 11/6 (66m)
Miguel Rodriguez (Col) 3-2  Gregory Gaultier (Fra) 11/13, 14/12, 8/11, 11/8, 11/9 (88m)
Women’s Quarter-Finals: Alison Waters (Eng) 3-1  Nicol David (Mas) 11/9, 10/12, 11/7, 11/1 (56m)
 Nour El Sherbini (Egy) 3-2  Nour El Tayeb (Egy) 11/5, 10/12, 11/3, 12/14, 11/9 (65m)  Laura Massaro (Eng) 3-2  Camille Serme (Fra) 3/11, 4/11, 11/7, 11/7, 11/7 (71m)
 Raneem El Welily (Egy) 3-1 Amanda Sobhy (Usa) 11/5, 11/5, 2/11, 11/4 (29m)
Magnificent Miguel motors past Gaultier in Manhattan
Colombia’s Miguel Angel Rodriguez pulled off the biggest victory of his career, reinforcing his credentials as a genuine top-ten player, with a dramatic and thrilling 3-2 victory over 2014 runner-up Gregory Gaultier in the quarter-finals of the 2015 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions in New York.
After beating World No.6 Peter Barker in a gruelling 120-minute encounter in the second round to book his place in the last eight of a PSA World Series for the first time ever, Rodriguez continued his coming of age, producing a suburb all-round display to take out the World No.2 in 88 exhilarating minutes.
The 29-year-old had failed to take even a game off Gaultier from five previous occasions but after breaking into the top ten for the first time this month, to occupy the World No.8 ranking, he produced the most composed performance of his career to take out the four-time World Championship runner-up in emotional scenes.
“I’m really happy to be in the semi-finals and I’m going to enjoy it,” said Rodriguez.
“I was ready to play against Greg tonight and the strategy that I prepared with my coach David (Palmer) paid off. I knew if I was going to play long rallies against Greg I wasn’t going to win so I tried to volley more and use the boast and I’m very happy with the way I played.
“For me Greg is the toughest player on tour as he’s very strong and it is so difficult to win rallies against him. I was very patient, but more offensive than I was against Peter and I felt like it all worked.”
Traditionally a crowd favourite at the iconic Grand Central Terminal, Gaultier found himself in reversed roles as the crowd got behind the flamboyant man from Bogota, and he delighted the packed auditorium with an acrobatic display that mixed unbelievable retrievals with audacious shot-making from start to finish.
After seeing three game-ball opportunities disappear from his hands as he went one-game down to the Frenchman, Rodriguez would have been forgiving for doubting himself, but he showed true character to rebound and level the scores before going on to cause Gaultier difficulties in all four corners of the courts.
In the decisive fifth-game Rodriguez found himself 9-5 down but steeled for a spirited last hurrah and it paid off, as he won six consecutive points to take the match at the first opportunity and set up a semi-final match against World No.4 Nick Matthew.
“When I lost that first game, I knew it would be tough to come back because mentally that is so hard but I felt good when I got that second game.
“Then I was playing very good at the start of the fifth and I played some nice drop shots and I could feel he was getting tired and at 9-6 I told myself that I was capable of winning and I so pleased to come through.”
Matthew, the third seed, recovered from losing a brutal first game to Simon Rosner, missing out on two game ball opportunities as the German took the lead 12-10, but reasserted to take the next three games.
“Big time credit to Miguel,” said Matthew. “That guy is entertaining to watch & the crowd rightly love him. Look forward to taking him on tomorrow night.”
Waters downs Champion David in major ToC shock
England’s Alison Waters produced the shock of the championship when she despatched defending champion Nicol David, the world number one from Malaysia, in the quarter-finals.
The defeat was the first to deny David a semi-final berth in a WSA World Tour event since September 2012 – when Waters recorded her only other victory over the sport’s dominant force for the past nine years in 25 meetings!
“Nicol clearly wasn’t at her best,” said Waters in her post-match interview. Indeed, many in the crowd were wondering if there was something wrong with the 31-year-old Malaysian, who seemed to be lacking her trademark energy.
Waters, the world No.5 from London, edged ahead at the start, winning the first game 11-9. David responded by winning the second 12-10. The on-song Waters grabbed the third 11-7. Undoubtedly, most in the capacity crowd were waiting for David to take her game to the next level or to find a way to win, as she has so many times in the past.
Instead, Waters jumped out to a 7-1 lead in the fourth game, getting great depth on the ball and then wrong-footing the usually agile David several times with a deceptive two-wall boast to win the game 11-1 and clinch the match.
“She seemed very tired at the end,” Waters continued. “I worked very hard to make that happen! Still, squash is very much a mental game and I was just focusing on playing one point at a time.”
The ecstatic Waters told her Twitter followers later: “Delighted to win 3-1 tonight over Nicol! Very happy woooo! Onwards to the semis tomorrow vs sherbini! Can’t wait!”
In her second successive appearance in the semis, Waters meets Nour El Sherbini after the 19-year-old ousted fellow Egyptian Nour El Tayeb by the barest of margins, 11-9, in the fifth. The two players treated the afternoon crowd to a superb match that showcased their fearless, contrasting styles.
The tall and powerful El Sherbini played a classic attacking game, controlling the centre of the court by driving her opponent deep and then deftly placing the ball in the front corners when she had an opening. 21-year-old El Tayeb was the retriever, nullifying Sherbini’s power by varying her shots and lifting the ball, occasionally throwing in a split lunge or a floor dive to return seemingly ungettable balls.
El Sherbini seemed to dominate the match and yet El Tayeb hung in, winning a fourth game tiebreak after saving two match balls and rebounding in the fifth from 3-7 and 6-9 before succumbing 11-9.
“We have been playing each other since I was 10 and it is always close,” said El Sherbini. “I was focused on keeping the ball away from her because she can flick it from anywhere in the court. Winning a match like this gives me confidence going into the next round.”
The other semi-final will also feature Egyptian interest when Cairo-based world No.2 Raneem El Welily takes on England’s world No.3 Laura Massaro. The Englishwoman needed five games and 72 minutes to defeat Camille Serme for a place in the final four.
The Frenchwoman started the match bouncing on her toes and looking hungry for victory as she quickly shot out to an 11-3, 11-4 lead. “I did not want to lose this match,” said Massaro later. “I was a touch flat in the beginning, but I stayed calm and finally started getting good length and hitting my targets.”
After winning the third game 11-7, Massaro fell behind in the fourth, 1-5 and 2-6. “I always feel like I can come back and that helps me dig deep,” explained the 31-year-old from Preston. Recovering to 6-7, Massaro suddenly displayed more spring in her step and reeled off the next seven points to force the match into a fifth game.
The decider was nip and tuck through to 6-5, after which Massaro surged ahead to win the match 11-7.
El Welily dismissed young American star Amanda Sobhy in four games. “Last year I was little overwhelmed by the ToC – all the people, all the noise – and I lost in the first round,” El Welily commented later. “This year, I am much more comfortable here.”
Comfortable might be an understatement: 21-year-old Sobhy played well, yet lost decisively. “I have a lot to do to get the No.2,” said the Harvard senior after the match. “Raneem had an answer for everything I threw at her today.”
Sobhy did in fact win the third game 11-2 – after El Welily asked for, and got, a new ball which the New Yorker started smacking into the nick for winners.
The 25-year-old Egyptian re-asserted her authority in the fourth to clinch the match 11-5, 11-5, 2-11, 11-4.