The past 12 months have seen some of the most spectacular action ever on the PSA World Tour, but 2017 promises to be even better, with new rivalries in store, players battling to end the Egyptian dominance and legends aiming to return to their former glory.
2017 will also see the culmination of the 2016/17 PSA Road to Dubai Standings – where only the top eight qualifiers will earn a coveted berth at the lucrative season-ending PSA Dubai World Series Finals, which takes place at Dubai Opera in June.
Join us as we look ahead to another exciting 12 months of action.
Gawad and ElShorbagy to Battle for World No.1 Spot
Squash’s recent history has been dominated by great rivalries, with battles between the likes of Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan, Peter Nicol and Jonathan Power, Nick Matthew and James Willstrop and Ramy Ashour and Gregory Gaultier lighting up the PSA World Tour.
Following a rise to prominence and his stunning win at the 2016 World Championship Karim Abdel Gawad looks set to embark on what could be a long and enthralling rivalry with Mohamed ElShorbagy.
The ‘Baby-faced Assassin’ knocked compatriot ElShorbagy out of the Wadi Degla World Championships en route to the title and then went onto beat him in the final of the Qatar Classic, heralding the start of what could be a classic rivalry.
Despite both players having been on the circuit for the best part of a decade, they have only played each other six times on the PSA World Tour but with the pair ranked No.1 and No.2 in the world that number will rise dramatically, with a seeded meeting in the final of the J.P Morgan Tournament of Champions in New York to kick the new year off.
“Being World Champion and Qatar champion sounds good, really good,” said Egyptian Gawad.
“I’m living the dream. But next season I’m aware that I’ll have to make sure I’m very consistent if I want to stay in competition with the top boys.
“When you are a World Champion, people expect you to win and expect that you have a big chance to win. That is a new element to integrate into my preparation.”
World No.1 ElShorbagy said, “It was our first World Series final playing against each other [in Qatar] and I’m 100% sure it is not going to be the last.
“We are going to play each other so many times in the future like we did in our junior tournaments, in local tournaments in Egypt we would play in finals a lot. Karim and I actually grew up together in Alexandria, we have known each other since we were 8-years-old.
“I really can’t wait, we have different styles of play, we are good friends and we have a lot of respect for each other. When two opponents have that respect for each other they bring the best out in each other.
“I knew one day he was going to get there but it was a matter of time, whatever he is doing these days he could have done a few years ago if he had belief earlier, but he has that now.”
The J.P Morgan Tournament of Champions main draw gets underway on Thursday 12 January and you can watch the entire tournament live on SquashTV and Eurosport Player.
Can Gohar continue her surge?
World Junior Champion Nouran Gohar had a superb breakout year in 2016 as she reached the final of the British Open in addition to breaking into the world’s top three in November.
A month later, she was joined by Raneem El Welily who, along with World No.1 Nour El Sherbini, ensured that Egypt became the first nation since Australia in 1996 to hold onto the top three spots on the Women’s World Rankings.
2017 will see the Egyptian triumvirate battle for the major honours and the distinction of having that No.1 spot, with Gohar a dark horse to claim a place at the summit of the World Rankings before the year is out.
The 19-year-old from Cairo captured her first World Series title in August’s Hong Kong Open and, after her British Open runner-up finish and a semi-final finish at the Women’s World Championship, she has plenty of experience on the highest stage at a tender age.
Despite claiming big wins over the likes of World Championship runner-up Laura Massaro, World No.4 Camille Serme and El Welily herself over the past year, Gohar was unable to defeat El Sherbini, falling to her compatriot in both the British Open and World Championship.
If she can improve her record against the current World Champion then more silverware will be in sight for the teenage Gohar as she looks to complete her ascension to one of the sport’s greatest players.
Veteran Trio Matthew, Gaultier and Willstrop Out to Dismantle Egyptian Dominance
Three-time World Champion Nick Matthew, 2015 World Champion Gregory Gaultier and former World No.1 James Willstrop will look to roll back the years in 2017 as they aim to recapture their best form.
Matthew, 36, became the oldest ever World Series title winner when he lifted the Windy City Open in 2015, and ‘The Wolf’ reached three World Series finals last year, only to see his body let him down as he was forced to retire in two of them.
Matthew was one of the few players able to challenge the Egyptians last year, along with 34-year-old Gaultier, and with the 2017 PSA Men’s World Championship taking place on home soil in Manchester, the Yorkshireman will be hoping for one final hurrah before he hangs up his racket.
Gaultier, meanwhile, suffered an injury-hit 2016, with ankle injuries sustained at January’s J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions and the World Championship in November seeing him forced into spells on the sidelines.
Despite his injury woes, Gaultier still managed to lift the prestigious World Series Finals title in May, before claiming the NetSuite Open crown four months later in San Francisco. If the charismatic ‘French General’ can steer clear of injuries over the next 12 months, then the World No.3 will be a big threat to ElShorbagy and Gawad as the battle for top spot intensifies.
Elsewhere, Willstrop has been displaying some of his finest squash in recent months, echoing the kind of form he showed back in 2012 when he topped the World Rankings. The current World No.11 reached finals at both the NetSuite Open and the British Grand Prix, while he also reached his first World Series semi-final since 2014 in October’s U.S. Open.
The Harrogate-based 33-year-old has a clean bill of health after struggling with a hip injury and illness in recent years, and he will be eyeing up a place back inside the world’s top 10 when 2017 begins in earnest.
David Aiming to Recapture Form
When the Women’s World Rankings were released earlier this month, Malaysia’s eight-time World Champion Nicol David fell to World No.7 – her lowest ranking since 2004.
The legendary 33-year-old, who had an unprecedented nine-year reign atop the World Rankings between 2006-2015, has struggled for form over the past 12 months and failed to reach the final of a PSA World Tour event – the first time she has done so since she joined the Tour in 2000.
David did reach six semi-finals, but was unable to convert them into final appearances, with El Sherbini in particular proving to be a thorn in her side as she bowed out of her first four tournaments in a row at the hands of the Egyptian.
Arguably the greatest female player to have picked up a squash racket, David remains one of the world’s leading players, and will have to draw on all of her incredible experience as she looks to bring an end to her slump.
Under the tutelage of former World No.2 Liz Irving – one of the greatest coaches in the sport – David has a strong support network and will target a return to the world’s top five in the next few months as she plots her path back to the top of the game.
Road to Dubai Intensifies
Over the course of the next six months, the world’s top stars will battle for vital points for the PSA Road to Dubai Standings, with points on offer at all World Series tournaments throughout the 2016/17 season.
With the Hong Kong Open, U.S. Open and Qatar Classic all played towards the latter stages of 2016, it is Gawad who finds himself leading the way on the Men’s standings with 205 points, 25 ahead of ElShorbagy, the man he beat in the final in Qatar.
U.S. Open finalist Nick Matthew is in third with 105 points, and is followed by Hong Kong Open winner Ramy Ashour (100) and U.S. Open semi-finalist James Willstrop (80).
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, meanwhile, see Serme and Gohar sit joint top on 125 points courtesy of their respective wins at the U.S. Open and Hong Kong Open.
Unites States No.1 Amanda Sobhy’s runner-up finish in Hong Kong sees her sit 20 points behind in third, while El Sherbini is level on points after reaching the final of the U.S. Open.
David, El Welily, Massaro and Nour El Tayeb round off the top eight, but there will be plenty more twists and turns as the Road to Dubai reaches its exciting conclusion.
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