MIDTOWN EAST — Commuting just became a sporting event.
Part of Grand Central Terminal has been transformed into a squash court for an annual tournament that runs through Jan. 23, pitting world-renowned players against each other.
The 18th J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions officially kicked off on Friday morning, with top-ranked players Mohammed Elshorbagy (from Egypt) and Camille Serme (from France) hitting the ball with students from The Bronx and Harlem in a glass-enclosed squash court installed under the chandeliers of Vanderbilt Hall.
"I love playing here — it's just an exceptional setting," said Serme, who went up to the semifinals last year and hopes to go all the way to the finals this year.
Professional players will play the matches, but a handful of squash students from two local nonprofits, StreetSquash and CitySquash, were invited to attend the opening ceremony and hit a few balls with Serme and Elshorbagy.
"I used to wipe the court, then I was the ball girl, then I ushered the spectators to theirs seats and now I'm a player and I'm here," said Taylor Cook, a member of StreetSquash for six years. "I'm just so happy. It's really exciting," she added after a few rallies with Serme, ranked No. 5 worldwide.
Elshorbagy, who is ranked No. 1 in the world, also played with the teens and is set to play his first match against Todd Harrity (United States) at 6 p.m. Friday.
The squash stadium features 500 seats, with tickets ranging from $8 for the first games up to $170 for the semifinals and finals.
Commuters and sports lovers will also be able to enjoy the matches for free, either by standing in front of the front wall of the court or by having a drink at a pop-up bar next to the court where the matches will be live-streamed.
"I love it, it's great," said Doug Logan, 46, who commutes through Grand Central daily and stopped to watch the players on Friday. "It brings energy to Grand Central."
Players taking part in the championship include Nick Matthew (England) and Mathieu Castagnet (France) for the men’s tournaments and Sabrina Sobhy (United States) and Sina Wall (Germany) for the women's tournament.