Part two of our review of the year looks back at the second half of 2016.
Check out part one here [hyperlink].
Ashour Returns from Injury in Hong Kong as Gohar Claims Maiden World Series Crown
Egypt’s Ramy Ashour and Nouran Gohar were the early pace-setters on the 2016/17 PSA Road to Dubai Standings after they rose to victories in August’s Hong Kong Open – the first World Series tournament of the season.
Only the top eight players on the PSA Road to Dubai Standings will qualify for a place at the lucrative season-ending Dubai PSA World Series Finals, and Ashour and Gohar’s title wins in Hong Kong have given them a huge boost as they look to secure a coveted berth at the showpiece tournament – which will take place at Dubai Opera next June.
Ashour has struggled with a litany of injuries over the past two years, but the man known on Tour as ‘The Artist’ managed a clean bill of health in Hong Kong, eventually downing compatriot Karim Abdel Gawad in the final to capture a first World Series crown since April 2015.
Gohar, meanwhile, lifted a World Series title for the first time in her flourishing career after she overcame United States No.1 Amanda Sobhy to make it an Egyptian double.
The World Junior Champion was in magnificent form throughout the tournament, overcoming then World No.2 Laura Massaro in a brutal 3-2 quarter-final victory before following that up by bringing 10-time winner Nicol David’s incredible 53-match unbeaten run in Hong Kong to an end in the last four.
Sobhy came into the final on the back of a superb dismantling of World No.1 Nour El Sherbini in the previous round, but relinquished a one-game lead to the hard-hitting 18-year-old, who powered through to break her World Series title duck.
Squash Returns to Great Pyramid of Giza for the First Time in a Decade
The iconic Great Pyramid of Giza – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – hosted a professional squash tournament for the first time since 2006 when the Al Ahram Open brought the world’s greatest players back to one of the most stunning sporting locations of all time in September.
In the shadow of the breathtaking pyramids, Gawad and fellow Egyptian Raneem El Welily delighted the home fans as they took home the Men’s and Women’s titles, respectively.
Local man Gawad came through stern tests against the likes of Tarek Momen and 2015 World Championship runner-up Omar Mosaad to reach the final, where he was pitted against compatriot Ali Farag, the Cairo-born World No.7 who defeated World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy en route.
And Gawad prevailed in straight games to become the first Egyptian to taste victory in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza since the legendary Ahmed Barada in 1998.
The Al Ahram Open was the first major squash tournament in Egypt to offer equal prize money – with $100,000 up for grabs in both the Men’s and the Women’s tournaments – and El Welily claimed a $17,000 share of that lucrative fund after beating El Sherbini in the final.
After a period of mixed form towards the beginning of the 2015/16 season, El Welily ended the campaign with a final berth at the Dubai PSA World Series Finals and she picked up where she left off to dispatch El Sherbini in five games, becoming the first Egyptian woman ever to win the iconic title.
Serme Makes History in Philadelphia, While ElShorbagy and Matthew Battle it Out
Two years after becoming the first Frenchwoman ever to win the historic British Open, 27-year-old Camille Serme wrote her name into the squash history books once again by defeating El Sherbini in the final of the U.S. Open – becoming the first Frenchwoman ever to lift the trophy in Philadelphia.
Like El Welily, Serme had struggled for form in recent months, but turned her season around with a series of sensational performances at the U.S. Open, producing some spellbinding performances to defeat Massaro, Sobhy and World Champion El Sherbini to secure the title – in what was only her third ever PSA World Series tournament final.
The Men’s tournament saw injury once again bring a premature end to what was shaping up to be a superb battle between three-time World Champion Nick Matthew and ElShorbagy.
After coming through a gruelling five-game semi-final with Gawad, Matthew started the brighter of the two and battled to a 2-0 lead despite a hamstring injury sustained in the opening game.
The injury soon took its toll though on ‘The Wolf’, who was forced to retire at the beginning of the deciding fifth game to hand the win to ElShorbagy – marking the third time within the past two years that injury has thwarted Matthew in major encounters with the Egyptian.
Gawad Lifts World Championship Crown After Ashour is Hamstrung by Injury
November saw the biggest tournament on the PSA World Tour – the PSA Men’s World Championship – head to Cairo, with Gawad continuing his ascent to stardom as he clinched the most illustrious title the sport has to offer.
Gawad had been in superb form in the early months of the season, but he went up a gear in Cairo to firmly establish himself as one of the world’s greatest current players.
Gawad made a slow start to the tournament and required five games to see off both Nathan Lake and Mohamed Abouelghar before finally hitting his stride, culminating in a sensational 3-2 semi-final victory over ElShorbagy – his first win over his compatriot.
He then recovered from a game down to go 2-1 up against three-time winner Ramy Ashour in the showpiece finale.
But the hamstring issues that have affected Ashour over the past two years flared up yet again to force the maverick Egyptian into retiring to hand the match to Gawad – ensuring that he became only the third Egyptian to lift the illustrious title after Amr Shabana and Ashour himself.
Gawad Follows Up World Triumph with First World Series Title in Qatar to Top Road to Dubai Standings
Just two weeks after his sensational World Championship campaign, Gawad earned his maiden World Series crown courtesy of a magnificent victory over ElShorbagy in the final of the Qatar Classic in Doha.
ElShorbagy was aiming to become the first man to win this tournament three times in succession, but it was Gawad who played with composure and accuracy to come out on top in tie-breaks in the opening two games to go 2-0 up.
ElShorbagy tried to halt his compatriot’s momentum in the third, but Gawad – playing with the skill and effortless brilliance that has become par for the course from him this season – held firm to take it in straight games as his stunning season continued to go from strength to strength.
Gawad’s victory also ensured that he would end the year atop the PSA Road to Dubai Standings after overtaking ElShorbagy to take a 25-point lead.
U.S. Open finalist Nick Matthew comes next with 105 points, with Hong Kong Open winner Ramy Ashour (100) and U.S. Open semi-finalist James Willstrop (80) rounding off the top five.
Hong Kong Open semi-finalists Max Lee and Ryan Cuskelly, and the younger ElShorbagy brother, Marwan, are the other players currently in the top eight, with the trio all sitting on 65 points.
The Women’s standings see Camille Serme and Nouran Gohar lead the way after their respective successes at the beginning of the season with 125 points apiece.
Sobhy and El Sherbini follow with 105 points, while Nicol David (65), Raneem El Welily (55), Laura Massaro (50) and Nour El Tayeb (40) make up the rest of the top eight.
Egyptian Trio Storm Into Record Books in Women’s World Rankings
A trio of Egyptian’s made history in December as the PSA Women’s World Rankings saw El Welily join El Sherbini and Gohar in the world’s top three to ensure that Egypt became the first country in 20 years to hold all three top spots – emulating the feats of Australia in 1996.
El Welily’s triumph over Gohar in the final of the Wadi Degla Open the previous month elevated her above her younger Egyptian up to World No.2, ensuring the triumvirate joined Australian trio Michelle Martin, Sarah Fitz-Gerald and Liz Irving – who took the top three places in the July 1996 World Rankings – in the history books.
ElShorbagy, meanwhile, topped the December Men’s Rankings to complete a calendar year at the summit, becoming only the third Egyptian – after four-time World Champion Amr Shabana and Ashour – to achieve the feat.
As a result of his stunning exploits in November, Karim Abdel Gawad overtook Frenchman Gregory Gaultier to move up to the World No.2 position and he will battle ElShorbagy for top spot in what looks set to be a fascinating rivalry in 2017.
Matthew and Willstrop Renew Rivalry at British Grand Prix
The latest chapter of one of the most intense rivalries in squash history took place in Manchester’s National Squash Centre as English duo Nick Matthew and James Willstrop clashed in the final of the AJ Bell British Squash Grand Prix.
The two Yorkshireman first met back in 2001 and have maintained an acrimonious relationship for much of the intervening years – with Willstrop going so far as to label Matthew ‘vicious and pretentious’ in reference to the 2009 British Open final, in which Matthew triumphed.
That victory proved to be a landmark moment in the rivalry as Matthew went on to win the pair’s next 17 matches in a row, making it 19 successive wins over his fellow Englishman.
The most recent of those wins came in Manchester earlier this month as a Matthew masterclass saw him down his great rival in straight games in Manchester to lift the 34th PSA World Tour title of his career – his first tournament victory in 18 months.
Kiwi Qualifier Coll Storms to Channel VAS Championship Crown
New Zealand’s Paul Coll claimed the biggest title of his career after he caused a number of huge shocks en route to the Channel VAS Championship title in Weybridge.
The World No.33 rose to prominence during March’s Canary Wharf Classic, going viral after a series of stunning ‘superman’ dives against Willstrop, but fared even better in Weybridge as he put together a run of fine form to reach the final.
After beginning the tournament in the qualifying stages, the 24-year-old scalped Hong Kong’s Max Lee, Colombia’s Miguel Angel Rodriguez and England’s Daryl Selby, all of whom are ranked inside the world’s top 20, to set up a final clash with Momen, who dispatched Willstrop in straight games.
In front of the watching eyes of former World No.2 Ross Norman – the highest-ranked male New Zealander of all time and the man who ended Jahangir Khan’s incredible 55-match unbeaten streak – Coll put in a steely display to battle to victory, which will see him surge into contention for a place inside the world’s top 20 in next month’s rankings.
The past 12 months have been some of the most memorable in the history of the PSA World Tour, and 2017 looks set to be even better as the sport continues to flourish.
We hope you can join us but, in the meantime, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from all the PSA World Tour team.