The past 12 months have been some of the most breathtaking and memorable in the history of the PSA World Tour, with the stunning on-court action complimented by a series of positive developments off the court – such as the groundbreaking deal with Eurosport that has transformed the sport’s visibility and profile across Europe.
2016 saw the return of the spectacular World Series Finals, the culmination of the 2016/17 PSA Road to Dubai and new World Champions crowned across both the Men’s and Women’s games as the professional sport continues to flourish.
With the New Year approaching, we’re having a look back at the standout moments from the first half of 2016 in our review of a stunning year of PSA World Tour action.
Massaro Becomes Third Englishwoman to Claim World No.1 Spot
After dominating the latter stages of 2015 with back-to-back World Series title wins, England’s Laura Massaro was rewarded with a place at the summit of the January World-Rankings overtaking Egypt’s Raneem El Welily to become the first English World No.1 in 12 years.
The Lancastrian capped off a rich vein of form by defeating El Welily in the semi-final of the previous month’s Hong Kong Open, which secured her place as the new Women’s World No.1 despite falling to Malaysian eight-time World Champion Nicol David in the final.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s Mohamed ElShorbagy reclaimed top spot on the Men’s World Rankings after he took the Men’s Hong Kong Open title in December – beating Cameron Pilley to capture the title.
ElShorbagy had briefly been usurped by Gregory Gaultier after the Frenchman had claimed the World Championship title, but ElShorbagy battled back in Hong Kong to restore his lead atop the World Rankings – a lead he wouldn’t relinquish throughout the whole year.
El Sherbini and ElShorbagy Reign in New York as Tournament of Champions Features Equal Prize Money
Egypt’s Nour El Sherbini began her year in style as she claimed a maiden World Series title at the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions – beating home favourite and United States No.1 Amanda Sobhy in the final.
Under the chandeliers in the stunning setting of Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall, El Sherbini kicked her tournament off with routine wins over Samantha Teran and Mariam Metwally, before moving on to beat Camille Serme – the Frenchwoman who had won the prestigious British Open eight months earlier – in the quarter-finals.
Even better things were to come though for El Sherbini as she dismantled David in straight games in the last four to set up a mouthwatering final clash with fellow World Series final debutant Sobhy, who was roared on by a partizan home crowd.
But El Sherbini put in a superb performance to defeat the American in four, scooping a share of the lucrative $150,000 prize after the 2016 instalment offered equal prize money for the first time in its distinguished history.
In the Men’s draw, defending champion ElShorbagy retained his title courtesy of a 3-2 victory over long-time rival Nick Matthew in a repeat of their 2015 final clash.
ElShorbagy put Adrian Waller, Cameron Pilley and Omar Mosaad to the sword in the early rounds, and followed those wins up with a victory in four against Mathieu Castagnet to reach a third World Series final in a row.
And he continued his superb form into his deciding clash with Matthew, beating the Englishman 3-2 to get his 2016 off to the perfect start.
Mathieu Castagnet Breaks the Internet with Stunning Retrieval
Frenchman Mathieu Castagnet went viral during February’s Windy City Open after showcasing his amazing athleticism against England’s Daryl Selby to pull off arguably the greatest retrieval of all time.
The duo were locked in an intense battle, but one rally in particular stood out as Selby played a trickle boast at the front of the court, which sent Castagnet sprawling in his attempts to reach it.
With his opponent on the floor and seemingly out of the rally, Selby played a straight drive to the back of the court – but a herculean effort from Castagnet saw the World No.9 get up and sprint the whole length of the court to hit a winner!
ElShorbagy and El Welily win in Windy City Open
ElShorbagy continued his dominance of the Men’s Tour as the 25-year-old powerhouse overcame Matthew in another final in March – avenging his defeat to the 36-year-old in the same stage of the 2015 edition of the Windy City Open.
The duo tore chunks out of each other in the opening game, with the brutal, punishing rallies that have become par for the course in their many meetings playing out in front of captivated spectators at the University Club of Chicago.
But the pressure took it’s toll physically on Matthew, and he was forced to concede the match early on in the third game after sustaining an injury to his glute to hand the match to ElShorbagy.
Then World No.3 El Welily took the plaudits in the Women’s event after preventing compatriot Nour El Sherbini from taking a second successive World Series crown.
After reaching the World No.1 spot six months earlier, El Welily had suffered from a huge drop in form, failing to reach the final on her last five outings previous to the tournament in Chicago.
But she put in a spellbinding performance to defeat the in-form El Sherbini – who came into the match following back-to-back 3-0 wins over David and Massaro – to retain the title she also won in 2015.
Paul ‘Superman’ Coll Stuns the Squash World in Canary Wharf
New Zealand’s Paul Coll rivalled Mathieu Castagnet’s retrieval heroics with a stunning rally of his own that saw him put together back-to-back dives to win a fiercely-contested point with former World No.1 James Willstrop – sending SQUASHTV commentators Joey Barrington and Lee Drew into hysterics in the process.
Coll ultimately went on to lose the match, but his ‘Superman’ dives cemented his status as one of the most entertaining players to watch on the PSA World Tour.
Egyptians Dominate at British Open
While Egyptian domination was one of the themes of 2016, there was one tournament in particular which showcased the nation’s status as a hotbed of world-class squash talent – the prestigious British Open in Hull, which took place over Easter.
The longest running tournament in the history of the sport, the British Open is one of the most iconic and coveted titles on offer, and the 2016 edition saw ElShorbagy, Ramy Ashour, El Sherbini and Nouran Gohar enter the record books by ensuring that there would be four Egyptian finalists across the Men’s and Women’s events for the first time.
The Women’s final was a battle between the two youngest finalists in British Open history, with World Junior Champion Gohar, who was 18 at the time, clashing against El Sherbini, who was just 16 years of age when she reached the 2012 final.
And it was El Sherbini who took the match in five to become the first ever female Egyptian winner, and also the second youngest winner of all time at just 20 years of age after New Zealand’s Susan Devoy in 1984.
The British Open also brought an end to the Women’s 2015/16 PSA Road to Dubai, with Laura Massaro topping the standings after her fine early season form, level on points with El Sherbini in second.
Malaysia’s eight-time World Champion David followed in third, with El Welily and Gohar closing out the top five.
Omneya Abdel Kawy, Camille Serme and Sobhy were the other players inside the top eight, meaning they too qualified for the season-ending PSA Dubai World Series Finals.
Meanwhile, ElShorbagy claimed his first ever best-of-five victory against long-time rival Ashour in the Men’s final as he retained his British Open crown.
The duo have contested some of the greatest matches of all time – with their 2014 World Championship final clash going down in squash annals as one of the best – but Ashour’s injury issues continued as he struggled to move throughout the final as ElShorbagy swept through in straight games to pick up the illustrious title.
ElShorbagy’s triumph also saw him extend his lead at the summit of the World Rankings to a fourth consecutive month in April, breaking the record for the highest ever points average in the process – a feat he would manage on two more occasions throughout the year – to assert his position as the most dominant player on the PSA World Tour.
ElShorbagy Storms Back Against Gaultier in El Gouna
The final stage on the Men’s PSA Road to Dubai took place in Egypt, with the El Gouna International bringing the World Series action to an end for the 2015/16 season.
ElShorbagy made it an incredible six World Series titles in a row as he extended his unbeaten run to 19 matches courtesy of a stunning comeback against then World Champion Gregory Gaultier in the final.
After going 2-0 down, ElShorbagy looked to be heading towards a third successive El Gouna International final defeat after successive losses against Ashour in 2014 and 2015.
But, buoyed on by a partizan home crowd on Egypt’s Red Sea, Elshorbagy battled back to restore parity and overturned a 4-0 deficit in the deciding fifth game to take the title.
The man from Alexandria was the runaway leader on the PSA Road to Dubai Standings, with Gaultier, Matthew, Omar Mosaad, Miguel Angel Rodriguez, Castagnet, Simon Rösner and Cameron Pilley joining him in the top eight to qualify for Dubai.
El Sherbini Becomes Youngest Ever World Champion and Tops World Rankings
El Sherbini completed her ascent to the summit of the Women’s game by becoming the youngest Women’s World Champion after defeating Massaro in the final in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – a win that also saw her overtake Massaro as the new World No.1 the following month.
Coming just a month after her heroics in Hull, El Sherbini was once again in frightening form, defeating home hero David in the last eight before beating British Open finalist Gohar to set up a final clash with Massaro – a repeat of the 2013 final in which she lost to the Englishwoman.
After falling two games behind, it looked as if El Sherbini would have to settle for a second runner-up finish, but she came storming back to take three games without reply and become the new World Champion in a nail-biting finish to a superb tournament – overtaking the great Susan Devoy as the youngest ever World Champion.
Gaultier and Massaro Take World Series Finals Titles in Shadow of Burj Khalifa
Gaultier capped his season off in style by lifting the Men’s PSA Dubai World Series Finals title in style in the shadow of the iconic Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, in May.
The ‘French General’, who spent two months on the sidelines after picking up an ankle injury during January’s Tournament of Champions, was in imperious form in Dubai, and finished top of his group after a trio of wins over Australian No.1 Cameron Pilley, World Championship runner-up Omar Mosaad and Germany’s Simon Rösner.
A devastating display against ‘Colombian Cannonball’ Miguel Angel Rodriguez in the semis then put Gaultier up against the giant-killing figure of Cameron Pilley, who had eliminated ElShorbagy in the previous round.
But the Australian No.1 couldn’t repeat the shock against a rampant Gaultier, with the charismatic 33-year-old taking it 3-1 to win his first tournament since his World Championship triumph in November 2015.
The Women’s event saw Massaro become only the second woman ever to win the prestigious tournament after she prevailed in a thrilling five-game final with Egyptian shot-making sensation El Welily.
Massaro had been a beaten finalist last time the Women’s tournament was played in 2013, but looked in dominant form as she stormed past David, who at that point was the only female winner, Sobhy and Gohar to maintain a 100 per cent win record heading into the semi-final.
Up next for the Englishwoman was El Sherbini in a repeat of their World Championship clash. A blistering performance from Massaro saw her down her opponent 2-0 in the best-of-three semi-final to set up an encounter with El Welily, who had ended David’s title hopes in the last four.
And the Lancastrian capped her week off in style to prevail 3-2 in an engaging contest.
ElShorbagy Brothers Take Top Honours As Egyptians Dominate PSA Awards
The end-of-season PSA Awards saw Mohamed ElShorbagy named the PSA Men’s Player of the Year award, while his younger brother Marwan picked up the PSA Men’s Young Player of the Year award after a breakthrough season that saw him break into the top ten for the first time and win the Grasshopper Cup and Houston Open.
El Sherbini was named as the PSA Women’s Player of the Year after her triumphs at the World Championship and British Open, while her fellow Egyptian, Gohar, received the PSA Women’s Young Player of the Year thanks to her fine form throughout the year.
That’s it for part one of our look back at 2016 – we’ll be bringing you part two tomorrow!