WHILE most people suffer a bout of the January blues when the festive season is over, for me it's one of the most exciting times of the year and there is one reason for that: ToC, The Tournament of Champions in the Vanderbilt Hall, Grand Central Station, New York!
What I love about ToC is that it's staged at a unique venue that helps a squash tournament transcend pure sport alone. In short it gets 'eyes on' our great game that maybe wouldn't normally be interested in squash and that's a real good thing…right?
But your attitude needs to be bang on in New York because there's plenty to deal with that you don't normally have to take into account at your standard squash tourney!
For a start the warm up area is five metres by two metres, under the bleachers (seating stand) and you share it with the opposition. That can make for an interesting moment or two….believe me!
On top of that you can see the punters walking about through the front wall and occasionally you have some sunlight to deal with as well, but hey, I love it, because the Vanderbilt Hall is just buzzing and I can't wait to get out there on tomorrow afternoon for my first round.
This will be my fourth ToC with my best previous showing a quarter-final two years ago while last year I lost out to Ramy Ashour in four sets in the second round but this year I head for the Big Apple with confidence and belief in my game that I can go deep in the draw again.
Obviously it's a shame that Ramy (Ashour) has had to pull out with the knee injury that has side-lined him for the last eight months or so but from where I'm sitting, in Greenwich Village to be precise, this is probably the most open tournament of the season so far and there are four or five guys who have a real chance of taking the title in NY City.
The big thing about ToC is that it has a habit of throwing up surprises. If you look at last year's event then Ryan Cuskelly has taken out Mohamed ElShorbagy in the second round and then we have a final of Simon Rosner and Tarek Momen with Simon the winner.
So you look at last year and you see Simon is now at a career high world No.3, Ali Farag could go world No.1 if ElShorbagy has another early exit, then you look at the way Karim Abdel Gawad finished 2018 and wow…pick a winner from that bunch and I'll shake your hand and buy you a cold beer, mate!
But let me promise you squash fans, Superman hasn't turned up in NY City just to check out the skyline! I've had a really good intense training block which was specifically designed by my coaching team to iron out some kinks in my game and help build on a real solid first-half of the season.
I've also had the benefit of a five-game exhibition series with my squash bro Diego Elias that saw me edge the Puma 3-2 on head-to-head and has been ideal for helping me stay match sharp at a time of the year when that can be tough.
My first round is a 2pm shot tomorrow afternoon against US No.1 Todd Harrity. We've only played once and that came in The Black Ball Open in Cairo, in December, when I came through in three games. That means one thing, in front of his home crowd in Grand Central Station Todd will be real fired up for revenge, so believe me I will need to come out firing!
For sure I have a tough section of the draw and I don't like to look past my opening match but my aim has to be to try and make the semi-final stage and then see where that takes me. That may mean I have to come past Ali Farag, the number two seed, but the good news is I beat Ali in ToC two years back, so I'm hoping that may be a good omen!