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Season Review: Outstanding Performers - Part Two

#SeasonReview

Victory for Laura Massaro and Gregory Gaultier at the PSA Dubai World Series Finals last month brought an end to 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, shock moments, 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.

This part of our season review sees us look at two more of the players who demonstrated their exceptional ability on multiple occasions over the past nine months. You can find part one here.

Laura Massaro

Laura Massaro takes on Raneem El Welily in the final of the PSA Dubai World Series Finals

After a period of indifferent form saw England’s Laura Massaro come perilously close to hanging up her racket for good in the early part of last year, few could have foreseen the complete turnaround in the Lancastrian’s fortunes twelve months later.

A summer of brutal training saw Massaro hone her physical condition ahead of the 2015/16 campaign, and it was a regime that paid dividends as the 32-year-old went on to have the greatest season of her illustrious career.

After beginning the season ranked 5th in the world, Massaro set the stall out early on by winning the Macau Open, her first PSA World Tour event of the campaign, before a shock defeat to Egypt’s Salma Hany Ibrahim sent her crashing out of the Carol Weymuller Open in the opening round.

Massaro recovered though and returned to form in October’s US Open where, after recovering from 2-0 down to defeat defending champion Nicol David en route to the final, she eventually overcame Nour El Tayeb in five games to lift her first World Series title since the 2013 British Open almost a year and a half earlier.

Her triumph in Philadelphia ushered in a rich vein of form that saw her claim the Qatar Classic crown a month later, before coming up against then World No.1 Raneem El Welily in the last four of December’s Hong Kong Open – where a victory would see her leapfrog the Egyptian to take top spot in the World Rankings.

Displaying her famed mental strength and incredible will to win, Massaro refused to let the pressure get the better of her and a devastating display saw her complete the win in straight games, ensuring she would become the first Englishwoman since Cassie Jackman in 2004 to top the rankings.

After ultimately succumbing to David in the final, Massaro’s form took a slight hit at the turn of the year, where a semi-final finish at the Windy City Open was sandwiched between two quarter-final placings at the prestigious Tournament of Champions and British Open.

April’s Women’s World Championship brought Massaro back to the country where she won the 2013 instalment of the sport’s biggest title, and a series of strong performances, including a dramatic 3-2 win against El Welily, took her through to the final – where she would face El Sherbini in a repeat of the 2013 final.

An immaculate opening to the match saw Massaro surge two games ahead, but she couldn’t prevent the in-form El Sherbini from mounting a stunning fightback and conceded the title and her number one ranking to the 20-year-old.

The season ended on a high-note though as Massaro triumphed at the PSA Dubai World Series Finals, beating El Welily in a nail-biting finale in the shadow of the iconic Burj Khalifa to ensure that she took the biggest share of the lucrative $160,000 prize money.

With the Women’s game being arguably the most competitive it has ever been, Massaro will be right at the forefront of the Tour next season – where she will be eyeing up a return to the summit of the World Rankings.

Gregory Gaultier

‘French General’ Gregory Gaultier was the biggest challenger to World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy’s dominance throughout a 2015/16 season that saw the charismatic 33-year-old lift two of the three most prestigious titles on the PSA World Tour.

Gaultier began the season in style, and stormed to the China Open title in September with a win over surprise finalist Marwan ElShorbagy before suffering semi-final exits at the British Grand Prix and NetSuite Open.

He triumphed in the first World Series tournament of the season, the US Open, after following up a semi-final victory over Mohamed with a dominant display against Omar Mosaad, which saw him claim his first World Series Crown since 2014.

Gaultier kicked off November with a runner-up finish against Mohamed at the Qatar Classic, but the greatest moment of his glittering 16-year career was to come later that month at the Men’s World Championship in Bellevue, United States.

The Frenchman had previously suffered World Championship final heartbreak on four occasions, and threw away a two-game advantage and five match balls to succumb to Australia’s David Palmer in the 2006 final.

He eased into the quarter-final stage, where he had to call on all of his experience to overturn a 2-1 deficit against emerging Egyptian talent Ali Farag. Former World No.1 James Willstrop, who had stunned Mohamed in the third round, was the next player standing between Gaultier and a place in the final, but an assured display from the General saw him power to victory in straight games.

Gaultier would have been forgiven for having nerves during his final bout with Mosaad given what had happened in the past, but he put in a masterclass to take the biggest title in the sport for the first time, cueing emotional scenes.

He returned to the summit of the World Rankings for the first time in over a year the following month, where a surprise quarter-final defeat Australian No.1 Cameron Pilley in the Hong Kong Open closed the chapter on 2015.

Gaultier reached the last four of the Tournament of Champions at the beginning of the year, but an ankle injury sustained just minutes into his encounter with three-time World Champion Nick Matthew brought about an enforced two-month absence, and the Frenchman lost his World No.1 status as a result.

He made the semi-final stage of the prestigious British Open on his return in March, before a shock loss to Marwan in the final of the Grasshopper Cup a month later prevented him from retaining his title in Switzerland.

After returning to full fitness, Gaultier reached the final of the El Gouna International in late April and went 2-0 up against Mohamed as he eyed up a second World Series crown. However, he let the lead slip to allow his opponent back into the match and Mohamed eventually won it in controversial circumstances.

Gaultier signed off the season with a win though at the PSA Dubai World Series Finals last month after displaying some of his best squash throughout a stunning week of action.

After topping his group, Gaultier went on to defeat Miguel Angel Rodriguez in the last four before avenging his Hong Kong Open defeat to Pilley in the final – meaning he lifted the distinguished World Series Finals crown for a third time.

With a clean bill of health and his competitive spirit as fierce as ever, Gaultier looks set to push Mohamed all the way in the battle for honours next season.

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