Victory for Laura Massaro and Gregory Gaultier at the PSA Dubai World Series Finals last month brought to an end a remarkable and memorable season – a nine-month spell that saw records broken, rivalries ignited, careers forged and history made.
Over the next few weeks we're looking back at the major moments that lit up the PSA World Tour during 2015/16, from the most outstanding performers and performances, to the surprise packages, breakthrough performers and rising stars that ensured the 2015/16 season – the first full season of combined governance since the PSA and WSA joined forces in a historic merger back on January 1st, 2015 – goes down in the sporting annals as one of the best ever.
Today we focus on those players who broke through to show their potential.
Marwan celebrates in Zurich
Following in the footsteps of elder brother and World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy, Marwan hasn't always found it easy to steal as many headlines as his elder brother but 2015/16 saw the 22-year-old firmly step out of the shadows and display his credentials as one of the top players in the world with a string of impressive performances.
Watch ElShorbagy’s highlight win in Zurich
Gohar at the Windy City Open
Despite being just 18 years old, Nouran Gohar rose to prominence during the 2015/16 campaign, beginning the year as an unknown quantity for most followers of the PSA World Tour, but ending it ranked No.5 in the world with a reputation as a genuine contender for the sport’s biggest prizes.
Unseeded for September’s China Open, her first tournament of the campaign, Gohar dismissed Joelle King 3-0 before pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the season as she beat Nicol David 3-1. A second major scalp followed as she felled Camille Serme 3-0 to make the final before losing out to compatriot and then World No.1 Raneem El Welily.
Just two weeks later she proved her results in China weren’t a one-off as she downed top ten players Nour El Tayeb and Annie Au to make the final of the Macau Open – where Laura Massaro consigned her to a second consecutive runner-up finish.
Back-to-back quarter-final finishes at the Qatar Classic and Hong Kong Open allowed the teenager, who studies Construction Engineering at the American University of Cairo, to consolidate herself inside the top ten before she avenged three successive defeats to Massaro by downing the Englishwoman, then World No.1, in January’s Tournament of Champions en route to a semi-final finish.
Raneem El Welily was the next top contender to fall as Gohar stormed into the final of the British Open, becoming the second youngest finalist in the tournament’s storied history, before succumbing to Nour El Sherbini in the decider – the same who player who stopped her World Championship campaign at the semi-final stage.
An appearance at the PSA Dubai World Series Finals, combined with a rise to No.5 in the rankings and being crowned PSA Women’s Young Player of the Year, ensured Gohar ended the 2015/16 campaign on a high note while her hard-hitting style, athleticism and tenacity could see her secure a maiden World Series crown next year.
Watch as Gohar books a place in the British Open final
Pilley in Dubai
At 33 years old, it’s hard to think that 2015/16 could be considered a breakthrough year for Cameron Pilley – a 14-year veteran of the PSA World Tour – but after spending the past few years languishing around the No.20 ranking, the affable Aussie switched up his methods and enjoyed his most successful year on tour to date.
Since hitting a high of No.11 in 2011 Pilley, the hardest hitter in world squash with a recorded 177mph drive, has failed to add to his haul of 13 titles, but this season saw him adopt a new approach – changing to a new grip style, taking a new self-taught approach to the gym and an even more relaxed approach to competition.
First round exits at the U.S. Open, Qatar Classic and World Champs didn’t dampen his spirits and a semi-final moment arrived during the Hong Kong Open when Pilley battled past Simon Rösner in a brutal 3-2 second round match to then defeat recently crowded World Champion Gaultier in the quarters. A straight-games victory over Nick Matthew then saw Pilley reach his first ever World Series tournament final – although Mohamed ElShorbagy brought the dream of a maiden World Series title to an end.
Three quarter-final finishes and a semi-final finish at the Canary Wharf Classic followed before he squeezed into the PSA Dubai World Series Finals – qualifying by the slimmest of margins to hold the last spot on the rankings. In Dubai Pilley then reproduced his Hong Kong form, defeating Omar Mosaad, Rösner and ElShorbagy to unexpectedly reach the final – where Gaultier halted him this time around.
But with “a few years left” on Tour, Pilley could yet be on the brink of going even harder than before.
Pilley makes the World Series Finals final
Sobhy takes down El Welily in New York
Most Harvard graduates find themselves working on the likes of Wall Street 12 months after graduation but American Amanda Sobhy has bucked the trend, instead focusing her sights on the PSA World Tour and ended the season as the World No.8 and highest ranked American-born player of all time.
Her first summer of ‘full-time training like a pro’ paid instant dividends as, then World No.19, she made the semi-finals of the China Open in September before claiming the NetSuite Open title in San Francisco to rocket back towards the top ten.
Disappointing second round exits at the U.S. Open and Qatar Classic, to Laura Massaro and Camille Serme, and a quarter-final defeat to Raneem El Welily in Hong Kong saw the first half of the season end on a lower note but January saw the 22-year-old enjoy the ‘best week of her career’ as she stormed through the field to reach her first ever World Series tournament final at the Tournament of Champions – taking place in her native New York City.
A second round victory over El Welily was followed by victory over Alison Waters and Nouran Gohar before her dreams of tasting success in Grand Central Terminal came to a halt against Nour El Sherbini. Defeat to Waters in the semi-final of the Cleveland Classic prevented Sobhy from making back-to-back finals but consecutive quarter-final finishes at the Windy City Open, British Open and World Championship took her to a high of No.7 on the rankings as she ended her first full time season on a positive note.
With an all-out attacking style and a colourful demeanour on and off court, Sobhy’s unorthodox style could be set to shake up the top of the Women’s rankings next season.
Sobhy books her place in the TOC final