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 , 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.
In this part of our season review, we look at some of the most stunning upsets that shocked the squash world over the past nine months.
James Willstrop v Mohamed ElShorbagy
James Willstrop v Mohamed ElShorbagy: 2015 PSA Men’s World Championship
Former World No.1 James Willstrop recorded one of the biggest wins of his career as he upset the odds to knock current World No.1 Mohamed Elshorbagy out of November’s Men’s World Championship at the third round stage in one of the biggest upsets in the tournament’s esteemed 39-year history.
In front of an enraptured crowd at the Meydenbauer Centre in Bellevue, United States, the man known as ‘The Marksman’ produced a performance of unparalleled accuracy and control to restrict the powerful Egyptian and send shockwaves through the tournament.
Willstrop, who had plummeted to 24th in the world after an injury ravaged couple of years, was impeccable in the early stages of the match as he sought to drop the ball short and force ElShorbagy into the front of the court to take an unlikely two-game lead.
Elshorbagy responded by upping the pace considerably in the third, but he still struggled against the Yorkshireman’s incredible accuracy and was forced to save three match balls to claw a game back.
A tense battle resumed in the fourth with Willstrop again amassing a trio of match balls. This time, he converted to cap off one of the most remarkable upsets that the sport has ever seen.
Willstrop eventually bowed out at the semi-final stage to eventual winner Gregory Gaultier, but his victory over ElShorbagy was a reminder that form is temporary, class is permanent.
Amanda Sobhy v Raneem El Welily
Amanda Sobhy v Raneem El Welily: 2016 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions
The 2015/16 season was a breakthrough campaign for United States No.1 Amanda Sobhy, who broke through as one of the world’s leading players in her first full season since graduating from Harvard with a degree in Social Anthropology.
After a number of solid displays in the first half of the season, January’s Tournament of Champions proved to be something of a watershed moment in the charismatic American’s career as she eliminated defending champion and then World No.2 Raneem El Welily en route to the final in what was arguably one of the most significant triumphs for US squash.
El Welily, who held the World No.1 mantle from September to December, was a hot favourite to retain the title she won in convincing fashion twelve months ago but it was Sobhy who wrote her name into TOC folklore in the stunning setting of Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall.
Playing in front of a partizan crowd in her native New York, Sobhy played with devastating attacking precision as she reeled off winner after winner to complete a 3-1 victory in 40 minutes – sending the gathered spectators into raptures.
Sobhy followed up her victory over El Welily with surprise wins over Alison Waters and Nouran Gohar to reach her maiden World Series final – where she would eventually lose to current World No.1 Nour El Sherbini, bringing an end to what the 22-year-old would later refer to as the ‘best week of her career’.
Cameron Pilley v Mohamed ElShorbagy
Cameron Pilley v Mohamed ElShorbagy: 2015/2016 PSA Dubai World Series Finals
Unfancied Australian Cameron Pilley pulled off one of the biggest upsets in World Series Finals history as he downed odds-on title favourite Mohamed ElShorbagy 2-0 to reach the final of the tournament taking place in the shadow of the world’s tallest building – the Burj Khalifa.
Pilley, making his debut in the tournament, only just scraped into the top eight on the Road To Dubai Standings to earn a spot in Dubai, while ElShorbagy had been the dominant force throughout the previous nine months, taking six of the seven World Series titles on offer.
But it was Pilley who took the match to the World No.1 from the off – playing with a relaxed and calm manner that allowed him to play some of his best squash this season.
The tall man from Yamba took the first few points of the semi-final and managed to stay ahead throughout the first game, opening up a four point gap before withstanding an onslaught as ElShorbagy looked to increase the tempo and blast the affable Aussie off the court. However, after 22 minutes it was Pilley who took it 11-9 and he steamed ahead in the early stages of the second to hold a commanding position.
A series of punching exchanges at the mid-point stage left ElShorbagy hunched over as he cut an exhausted figure, with his gargantuan exploits over the season taking a toll, but Pilley remained focused with the scent of victory to spur him on as he closed out the second 11-5.
Gaultier awaited Pilley in the final, and the Australian went down in four, despite a strong performance.
Nouran Gohar v Nicol David - Double Vision!
Nouran Gohar v Nicol David: 2015 Stars on the Bund China Open
World No.5 Nouran Gohar may now be a household name among squash aficionados, but she came into the season as a relative unknown and ranked outside of the top ten.
So when the World Junior Champion took to the court against eight-time World Champion Nicol David in last September’s China Open and found herself a game down, it looked as if the 17-year-old challenger would quickly be dispatched by the Malaysian superstar, a player 15 years her senior.
But Gohar responded in a way that shook the squash world and laid the foundations for her rise to a top five player and genuine World Series title contender, coming back to take the next three games without reply to record a shock win.
She followed up her triumph over David with another spectacular upset – this time against then World No.3 Camille Serme – before falling to compatriot and World No.1 at the time El Welily in the showpiece finale.
Omar Mosaad v Nick Matthew
Omar Mosaad v Nick Matthew: 2015 Delaware Investments US Open
World No.3 Omar Mosaad’s 2015/16 season saw him break into the world’s top five for the first time, in addition to reaching the World Championship final and qualifying for the PSA Dubai World Series Finals last month.
The ‘Hammer of Thor’ also reached his first ever World Series final in October’s US Open – and it was his stunning victory over three-time World Champion Nick Matthew in the semi-final that showcased his credentials as one of the world’s leading players.
Mosaad had lost all 11 fixtures against ‘The Wolf’ heading into the match, but played with composure and control in a victory that was made all the more poignant for the powerful Egyptian as it came just two months after the death of his mother and sister in a car accident in his native country.
Mosaad’s run was ended by Gaultier in the final – who would also go on to defeat the 28-year-old in the final of the World Championship a month later – but the man from Cairo continued to go from the strength to strength in the following months.