Victory for Laura Massaro and Gregory Gaultier at the PSA Dubai World Series Finals last month brought to an end what has been one of the most remarkable and memorable seasons ever in the history of professional squash – a nine-month spell that saw records made, 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, starting with the breakthrough performances, to the most outstanding performers and performances, surprise packages, 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 – will go down in the sporting annals as one of the best ever.
For this part of our season review, we’re focusing on the up-and-coming players who have demonstrated some serious potential over the past nine months, and could be ready to have a big impact next season.
Egyptian maverick Mazen Hesham's precocious shot-making talents catapulted him from relative obscurity to one of the most popular players in the sport and a Shot of the Month regular throughout a promising season for the 22-year-old.
‘The Black Falcon’ began the season ranked 20th in the world, but soon demonstrated his considerable ability at the JSW Indian Circuit where he narrowly lost out to Indian No.1 Saurav Ghosal in the semi-final stage.
It took Hesham a while to find his feet after that defeat, with successive first round exits at the NetSuite Open and US Open, but he soon shot into life at the Qatar Classic in November.
A sensational victory over compatriot Omar Mosaad, who would go on to reach the final of the World Championship later that month, in the second round saw him move through to the last eight. He then overcame another fellow Egyptian in Ali Farag with a sublime display to reach his maiden World Series semi-final, where he was eventually halted by World No.2 Gregory Gaultier.
A leg injury, sustained in Qatar, then looked to have a debilitating effect on Hesham’s season, as he bowed out of the Men’s World Championship and the Hong Kong Open at the first hurdle, before spending three months on the sidelines. The man from Cairo returned to competitive action at the British Open and El Gouna International, and followed up first round exits in both tournaments with back-to-back semi-final finishes at the Houston Open and PSA Sporta to end the season.
While injury undoubtedly curtailed his promising season, the enigmatic Egyptian will be confident of a return to form as he takes to the court once more in August.
Emily Whitlock (left) takes on Camille Serme in January's Tournament of Champions
England’s Emily Whitlock saw her stock rise impressively throughout the 2015/16 season, and moved up to a career-high World No.16 ranking after displaying her title-winning pedigree.
Whitlock, who is based in Colwyn Bay, Wales, began the season with her ranking marooned in the late teens as she bowed out of the China Open in the qualifying stages, before following up a quarter-final finish at the Macau Open with round one exits at the US Open and Qatar Classic.
The 22-year-old fought through a competitive field to reach the last eight of the Monte Carlo Classic in November, and that seemed to give her confidence as she reached the second round at both the Hong Kong Open and Tournament of Champions over the next two months, with only defeats against top six players Nouran Gohar and Camille Serme halting her run.
Whitlock picked up momentum at the turn of the year though, and a series of scintillating displays saw her power to the Winnipeg Open title at the end of January, with victory over Nicolette Fernandes in the final.
A second round exit to World No.7 Omneya Abdel Kawy at the Windy City Open then followed, before she became the first woman to win two PSA World Tour titles in 2016 at the Calgary Women’s Squash Week tournament, triumphing over Christine Nunn.
Whitlock rounded off the season with first round defeats at the British Open and Women’s World Championship, but her strong performances throughout the season means that she will be knocking on the door of the world’s top 15 at the outset of the next campaign.
Youssef Soliman poses with the Jersey Classic title
World Junior Championship runner-up Youssef Soliman looks set to be the next top player to come off the esteemed Egyptian conveyor belt of talent after a season that has seen him claim three PSA World Tour titles, in addition to undergoing a meteoric rise in his World Ranking.
Soliman, 19, was ranked 178th in the world back in September 2015, and was looking to follow up his World Junior Championship final defeat to Peru’s Diego Elias with some strong displays on the senior Tour. A semi-final finish at the JSW Chennai augured well for his season and resulted in a brief dip into the world’s top 150 in November.
He made sporadic appearances throughout the next three months, reaching the quarter-final of the Qatar Circuit III and then the first round of the Wimbledon Open, before making his breakthrough at the North of Scotland Open in April.
Soliman battled valiantly through qualification, before eventually beating Jamaica’s Christopher Binnie in the final to capture his maiden PSA World Tour title. His success didn’t stop there though as he stormed to both the Ipswich Open and Jersey Classic titles in the next few weeks to make it three Tour titles on the bounce.
A 16-match unbeaten run was then brought to an end in last month’s Kent Open after a narrow defeat to eventual runner-up Joel Makin, but there was solace to be found in his rise to a career-best World No.106 ranking to end the season on a high note.
Soliman will now be eyeing up a place in the world’s top 100 as he continues to build on his undoubted potential.
Mayar Hany (right) goes head-to-head against Jenny Duncalf in the Qatar Classic
World No.42 Mayar Hany has cut her World Ranking by more than half compared to this time last year, with two exciting World Series tournament appearances marking her out as one to watch in the future.
The 19-year-old began her season at the Prague Open last September where she reached the last four, before making it to the same stage of the Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital Open a month later, despite starting the event as the number eight seed.
A meeting with former World No.2 Jenny Duncalf then almost provided the biggest win of her career in November’s Qatar Classic. After going 2-0 up and finding herself on the cusp of a huge upset after some swashbuckling squash, Hany found herself pegged back by her experienced counterpart, and eventually went down 11-7 in the fifth to put an end to her ambitions of prevailing on her World Series debut.
She bounced back at the Seattle Open though four months later to lift her maiden PSA World Tour crown, with a huge win over top seed Line Hansen in the final.
Hany was seeded fifth for the tournament, but eliminated Milou van der Heijden and Sarah Cardwell, seeds two and four, respectively, en route to the final, before overcoming Hansen with a sublime performance to break her Tour title duck.
She rounded off her season at the British Open in March, where she took on eight-time World Champion Nicol David in round one. Despite losing out to the Malaysian superstar in straight games, Hany was rewarded with a place in the world’s top 50 the following month as she continues to develop into a promising young player.