Defending champions England, the No.2 seeds, were given a stern test by USA on day two of qualifying action in the WSF Women's World Team Squash Championship in the French capital Paris before emerging with a 2-1 win over the seventh seeds.
In the opening Pool B match at the historic Jeu de Paume club, England's World No.12 Sarah-Jane Perry had to call upon all her experience to overcome unranked Reeham Sedky, a 19-year-old from Seattle making her championship debut, 9-11, 11-4, 11-7, 10-12, 11-4 in 58 minutes.
Londoner Alison Waters put England two up after a convincing 11-8, 11-3, 11-8 victory over US No.2 Olivia Blatchford – but Amanda Sobhy then played one of the games of her life to despatch England's Laura Massaro 13-11, 8-11, 11-8, 14-12 to record a career-first win over the World No.2 and former World Champion.
“I wanted to go out and play the best I could,” said Sobhy.
“Laura is the one player in the world's top 10 that I had never beaten before so I am elated to get my first win.”
US team coach Paul Assaiante admitted that his team was under no pressure: “We didn't come here to lie down and die. Reeham has a wonderful fighting spirit and has tremendous heart – she could be so dangerous in the future – and Amanda played really well against a number one opponent.”
England coach David Campion had anticipated a tough encounter.
“I picked USA out as a major threat as soon as I saw the draw. The final match was a high quality encounter which could have gone either way. Amanda played really well – but whenever Laura loses, it always brings out the best in her so I have no doubt that she will respond in her next match.
“The main thing is that we got the win that we needed and should top the pool. Stage one is done – and the next stage is almost like another tournament!”
The battle between the top two teams in Pool C eventually ended with result predicted by the seedings – but the 3-0 win by third seeds Malaysia belied the threat posed throughout the tie by former champions Australia, seeded sixth.
Christine Nunn had several game-balls for a 2-1 lead in the opening match, but Malaysian teenager Sivasangari Subramaniam – making her senior championship debut – held off the challenge before recording a 12-10, 9-11, 15-13, 11-8 win to put her team ahead.
Australia's seasoned campaigner Rachael Grinham, at 39 the oldest player in the championship, was unable to repeat one of her numerous wins over Delia Arnold years ago before going down 11-9, 11-9, 11-7 to the now higher-ranked Malaysian.
In the clash between the teams' top strings, former World No.1 Nicol David extended her unbeaten record in the championship over the past 12 years to beat Australian Donna Urquhart 11-8, 11-4, 11-5 to give Malaysia maximum points.
“You must always give respect to former champions,” said Malaysian team manager Major Maniam later.
“This is Sivasangari's debut at these championships – it was a very mature performance for a 17-year-old.
“And Nicol is taking it all in her stride, leading by example and motivating her team-mates – it's all going pretty smoothly. For the rest of the team, having Nicol on your bench cheering you on is a very special feeling.”
While Rachael was battling for Australia, her younger sister Natalie Grinham was in action on an adjacent court fighting on behalf of Netherlands, the country in which she has resided since 1999. It is the first time in the championship's history that two siblings (pictured together above) have competed for separate nations – and Natalie duly led the 11th seeds to a 3-0 win over Austria courtesy of an 11-2, 11-5, 11-3 victory over the 10-time Austrian champion Birgit Coufal.
After surprisingly dropping a match against Spain on day one, fourth seeds Hong Kong China were back in dominant form today against Germany, beating the 15th seeds 3-0.
“So far, so good,” said Hong Kong team manager Rebecca Chiu, the former World No.13.
“Our aim is to finish in the top four so tomorrow is very important for us.”
18-year-old Cristina Gomez continued her giant-killing run in the event after beating Hong Kong's world No.29 Liu Tsz-Ling on the opening day.
Ranked outside the world's top 200, the Spanish teenager upset first upset higher-ranked Japanese opponent Satomi Watanabe, then later in the day defeated 25-year-old Sharon Sinclair to help 17th seeds Spain beat Germany, the 15th seeds, 2-1 in the event's first team upset.
“I'm really happy,” said Gomez (pictured above, left, with Watanabe), who relocated to Madrid three years ago to focus on her squash.
“I want to be one of the best players in the world.”