[Above: Amanda Sobhy (r) against Danielle Letourneau]
Americans Olivia Blatchford Clyne and Amanda Sobhy opened their 2019 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions campaigns with wins on Sunday, January 20, advancing to the last sixteen where they will face top-ranked Egyptians Nour El Sherbini and Nour El Tayeb, respectively, on Monday in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.
Blatchford endured one of the day’s closest matches in the final match of the tournament contested at the Harvard Club against Belgium’s Nele Gilis during the afternoon. After splitting the first two games, Blatchford Clyne came back from 9-5 down in the third to win it 12-10. The fourth game remained within a narrow margin throughout until Gilis fought off a match ball down 10-9 to earn her own game ball up 11-10. Blachford Clyne bounced back to win two straight points in the front of the court to clinch the match after sixty-four minutes.
“Nele is a good friend of mine,” Blatchford Clyne said. “I know her game and at the same time, because I know it, I think I’m more nervous playing her than I am someone else who I haven’t played as much. Towards the end of those games I knew I really had to tighten the screws and make sure that I wasn’t hitting as many tins and I think I did that really well.”
Blatchford Clyne, a Wilton, Connecticut-native based in Edinburgh, Scotland with her husband Alan Clyne, has attended the ToC since she was a child living in the city. The world No. 19 moves on to the Oracle NetSuite SuiteSuccess glass court in Vanderbilt Hall Monday night at 7:30pm where she will take on world No. 2 El Sherbini, who defeated compatriot and British Junior Open champion Hania El Hammamy.
“It’s the best feeling in the world to win in front of this crowd,” said Blatchford Clyne, who will turn twenty-six on January 23. “I grew up in New York City and my dad would buy me two tickets every year for my birthday, which usually falls on semifinals night almost every year. So I’ve come from being a fan to actually playing here. It’s so magical to have so many people I know supporting me here. It means I have that strength and that I can keep going and sometimes you need to draw from that energy outside of the court to help you inside of it.”
One year after making her return from injury at the ToC, Sobhy entered the Oracle NetSuite SuiteSuccess Court with full fitness and her highest ranking of No. 11 since returning to the PSA Tour. It didn’t take long for the Harvard graduate to make her mark on the tournament, dispatching former college rival, Cornell’s Danielle Letourneau 11-6, 11-6, 11-6 in twenty-four minutes. The victory sets up a rematch of her round of sixteen encounter against world No. 3 El Tayeb for the first time since defeating the Egyptian at the FS Investments U.S. Open in October.
“Of course, how can you not hear this crowd,” Sobhy said to the home crowd. “You guys are awesome, and I love it so much. I don’t really get that many home tournaments but when I do, you guys bring the hype, so I appreciate it. It is nice to get going. I always have a lot of emotions playing a home tournament and now that I am back, I might put a bit of pressure on myself. At the end of the day I am just here to enjoy it because last year, I was on the long road back so I just kind of told myself to enjoy it and whatever happens, happens, and I am going to give it my best.”
The women’s round of sixteen will be contested by all top sixteen seeds. Monday will reveal whether or not the top eight seeds will reach Tuesday’s quarterfinals.
The bottom half of the men’s quarterfinal lineup was decided on Sunday. The first men’s match of the day ended prematurely as India’s Suarav Ghosal was forced to retire due to injury in the second game against New Zealand’s world No. 7 Paul Coll. Coll will face Egypt’s world No. 2 Ali Farag after the Harvard graduate dispatched English veteran Daryl Selby in an hour-long three games—surmounting sizable comebacks in each game.
“Right now, I could easily have been sat down, losing 3-0,” Farag said. “All games could have gone either way, and actually, they were closer to going his way,” Farag admitted after the match. He was leading in every game, he had game ball or more than one in every game. I am just very happy that I stayed calm, I never panicked. All credit to Daryl, he never made it easy at any point. I am very relieved to be through. Someone like Daryl who has got a lot of trickery in his weaponry, you know. He is always creative, you never know what is coming next.”
Farag, the 2017 U.S. Open champion is seeded to meet compatriot Tarek Momen in a semifinal rematch of the 2018 ToC after Momen held off a formidable challenge from France’s Gregoire Marche in four games and sixty-seven minutes. Momen will have to get past a resurgent Omar Mosaad in the quarterfinals first, however, after the ‘Hammer of Thor’ recorded a three-game victory against Scotland’s Greg Lobban.
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