French duo Gregory Gaultier, Men’s World No.3, and Camille Serme, Women’s World No.4, derailed the challenge of 2016 tournament winners Mohamed ElShorbagy and Nour El Sherbini to come through two dramatic and enthralling semi-final encounters at the 2017 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions on Wednesday.
Inside Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall, Gaultier, the 2009 champion, prevailed 12-10, 11-9, 9-11, 4-11, 11-7 in an 84-minute encounter with 2015 and 2016 winner ElShorbagy that had the theatrics, drama and intrigue befitting a Broadway classic.
The 34-year-old strutted extravagantly around court, playing with pace, precision and guile to take a 2-0 lead, delighting the crowd with his theatrical celebrations before a contentious referee decision at 8-7 in the third swung the match. The Frenchman capitulated, first mentally and then physically – as a troublesome left glute hampered his movement – allowing ElShorbagy to level 2-2.
But a stunned crowd, silenced by what they were witnessing, watched on as Gaultier, playing on one leg, displayed all the traits of his ‘General’ moniker to regain control and seal a dramatic victory.
“I felt my glute go during my match with Tarek (Momen) and it was sore this morning – but after warming up today it was fine and I had no problem in those first two games,” said Gaultier.
“In the third game I could feel it tighten and then at 8-7 that decision should have gone my way and I lost my dynamic. I could have gone through to win 3-0 and then it was 2-2. At that point I just wanted to shake hands – I was in a lot of pain.
“But my coaches told me just to fight for every point.
Gaultier will face Egypt’s World Champion Karim Abdel Gawad in the title-decider after he produced a sublime performance to beat James Willstrop in straight games while it was Gaultier’s compatriot Serme who captured attention in the Women’s draw with a 3-1 defeat of World No.1 El Sherbini.
Serme beat World No.2 Nouran Gohar on Thursday and injected pace from the off on Friday to unsettle El Sherbini, working her favoured backhand with relentless accuracy, to win 11-7, 7-11, 11-6, 11-6 and secure her first appearance in the iconic event’s title-decider.
“I was so focused on the match and making sure I played as well as I could that it hasn’t really sunk in that I’m into the final yet,” said 27-year-old Serme.
“I dreamt of playing this event – the venue is unbelievable – so it’s amazing to know I will be playing in the final here tomorrow with a chance to win. I’ve beaten the #1 and #2 players so I have to take confidence that I’m playing some of my best ever squash.
“I feel like there’s still improvements to be made but I’m on the right track. Tomorrow will be a different challenge again so I’ll give it my best and see what happens – it’s very exciting.”
Serme will face England’s Laura Massaro, 2014 runner-up, in the decider, ensuring a new Women’s champion will be crowned.
Results – Men’s Semi-finals: 2017 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt  Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) 3-2: 12-10, 11-9, 9-11, 4-11, 11-7 (84m)
 Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) bt James Willstrop (ENG) 3-0: 11-6, 11-8, 11-6 (42m)
Draw – Final
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v  Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY)
Results – Women’s Semi-finals: 2017 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions
 Camille Serme (FRA) bt  Nour El Sherbini (EGY) 3-1: 11-7, 7-11, 11-6, 11-6 (49m)
 Laura Massaro (ENG) bt  Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) 3-0: 11-6, 11-6, 11-9 (40m)
Draw – Final
 Camille Serme (FRA) v  Laura Massaro (ENG)
New names were etched into the record books of both the Men’s and Women’s J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions on Thursday as Egypt’s Karim Abdel Gawad, World No.2, and France’s Camille Serme, World No.4, were crowned 2017 champions on an electric night inside New York’s Grand Central Terminal.
The pair, both competing in the PSA World Series tournament title decider for the first time in their careers, prevailed in thrilling encounters with Gregory Gaultier and Laura Massaro, respectively, to take the spoils and add their names to an illustrious list of past winners.
The 25-year-old Gawad came from behind against World No.3 Gaultier to win 6-11, 11-6, 12-10, 11-6, extending his unbeaten streak to 16 matches to win a third consecutive major title – adding to the Qatar Classic and World Championship titles he won last November.
“Winning the Tournament of Champions, here in this venue, is an amazing feeling and I feel absolutely fantastic right now,” said Gawad.
“It’s been an amazing week. I’m over the moon. To win three big titles like the World Championship and Qatar Classic is a great feeling and I have to thank my coaches for the support and hard work that has been put in for the past few years.
Reflecting on the tournament, beaten finalist Gaultier said: “I had a great week here and I gave it all that I could. I gave beyond 100 per cent.”
Serme meanwhile proved that she truly is the player to beat at present on the Women’s Tour by downing No.2 Nouran Gohar, No.1 Nour El Sherbini and No.5 Massaro to add the Tournament of Champions title to the U.S. Open crown she won last October.
The 27-year-old French World No.4 started strong against Massaro, taking a tie-break opening game 13-11, but faded fast as the Englishwoman’s will and determination came to the fore. But at 2-2 Serme responded impressively, stepping up the court to get the better of Massaro and run out an 13-11, 8-11, 4-11, 11-3, 11-7 winner.
“I can’t believe it,” said Serme.
“Winning this title and winning two World Series titles in a row, beating the World No.1 and No.2 and coming from 2-1 down today to beat Laura, it is absolutely amazing.”
“I’ve been working hard in training and to see it all pay off like this is so encouraging – I’m delighted.”
Results – Men’s Final: 2017 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions
 Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) bt  Gregory Gaultier (FRA) 3-1: 6-11, 11-6, 12-10, 11-6 (64m)
Results – Women’s Final: 2017 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions
 Camille Serme (FRA) bt  Laura Massaro (ENG) 3-2: 13-11, 8-11, 4-11, 11-3, 11-7 (73m)
England’s Sarah-Jane Perry, World No.11, triumphed in a remarkable rollercoaster encounter with 2015 tournament winner Raneem El Welily, World No.3, in New York today (Jan 17) to reach the semi-finals of the iconic 2017 J.P. Morgan Tournament Champions and secure her first ever appearance in the last four of a PSA World Series tournament.
Perry halted home favourite Amanda Sobhy, 2016 runner-up, in an epic five-game thriller yesterday but showed no signs of fatigue as she raced to a 2-0 game lead over El Welily.
But the wheels looked to have come off the track as the Egyptian levelled up at 2-2 before taking a 4-1 lead in the decider.
A sublime run of nine consecutive points however swung the match back in favour of Birmingham-based Perry as she completed the 11-7, 12-10, 10-12, 5-11, 11-5 win to set up a seismic clash with compatriot Laura Massaro, guaranteeing an English finalist.
“That’s my first win over Raneem, to reach my first ever World Series semi-final, and I get to play here again inside Grand Central Terminal tomorrow – so I’m very pleased and very proud,” said Perry.
“I’ve been working hard on and off court for the past year and I’ve got more confidence and belief in myself. And having that self-belief is imperative at this level because I was 2-0 up and all of a sudden she was back and I was down in the fifth – so I had to really work hard to make sure I got back on track.
“I didn’t realise I won 9 points in a row. I was just focusing on each point, getting my discipline back, and refusing to stop believing and I’m excited about the semi-finals tomorrow.
“I’ve played Laura many times and it’s a massive match. I’m just going to focus on trying to play how I want to play and do my best.”
Perry will take on Massaro, World No.5, after the 33-year-old from Preston dominated last eight opponent Omneya Abdel Kawy, World No.9, winning 11-4, 12-10, 11-6, while World No.1 Nour El Sherbini kept her title defence alive with a narrow victory over 8x World Champion Nicol David in a thrilling 64 minute battle.
El Sherbini will now meet Camille Serme, World No.4, after the Frenchwoman knocked out World No.2 Nouran Gohar in a hugely impressive 3-1 win that was inspired by a newly adopted training technique – yoga.
“Nouran beat me twice last year in very tough five game battles so I knew it would be hard today,’ said Serme, who beat El Sherbini 3-1 in the U.S. Open final last October.
“But I had no pressure on me. She’s No.2 in the World and I felt like the pressure was on her – I just focused on what I needed to do, which is exactly what I done at the U.S. Open as well, so I’m very, very happy.
“I’m trying to get into the same state of mind as I was in Philadelphia. I started Yoga recently and anytime I feel nervous I use the respiration techniques to try and let it go – and it seems to be helping!”
In the men’s draw it was another No.11, James Willstrop, who backed up his headline grabbing defeat of perennial rival Nick Matthew – his first win in 20 attempts over his old adversary – with an accomplished 3-1 win over New Zealand’s Paul Coll to reach his first World Series tournament semi-final since the 2013 Kuwait Cup.
33-year-old Willstrop, the 2011 tournament winner, utilised his exquisite court-craft and ball placement to counter the unrelenting physicality of the 24-year-old, ending Coll’s 10-match winning streak, and set up an intriguing battle with Egyptian World Champion Karim Abdel Gawad.
“I’m very happy to get through today because he’s flying at the moment and arguably one of the in-form players out there – to break that run I had to play very well,” said Willstrop.
“I had to make sure I didn’t lose sight of the end goal. He makes the court so small with his physicality and speed that you have to keep putting the work in, move him around as much as possible and try to break him down
“You have to put the ball in good areas against guys like Nick and Paul because they’re such wonderful athletes. I’ve done that well in the past two rounds and I’m excited at the chance to be out on that stage against tomorrow and I’m keen to soak it up.
“But there’s no reason that I can’t look to progress further. I feel alright and if I’m beating players like Paul then I’m set to go and hopefully I can produce it again. It’s my favourite event – the venue speaks for itself – and there’s nothing like being here. I’ve had some great moments here and hopefully I’ll have a few more still to come.”