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Talking Points - January 2017

The PSA World Tour got off to a breathtaking start in 2017 with January treating squash fans to a plethora of high octane encounters, huge drama and intense action as a total of 13 titles were decided.

We look back at the key moments from a jam-packed month of action.

Gawad Continues To Dominate

The first part of the 2016/17 season saw Karim Abdel Gawad realise his vast potential and graduate from perennial 'dark horse' to become a genuine threat at major events.

The 25-year-old had long been one of the most talented players on Tour, but had never captured the titles his ability deserved. That changed when he clinched the Al Ahram Open in September and he continued to show his pedigree to claim the World Championship and Qatar Classic crowns last November.

And he continued to show that he's in in-form player on the men's Tour and the man to beat by claiming a third consecutive major title at the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions – a victory that also sees him close the gap on Mohamed ElShorbagy at World No.1 to just 200 points.

With his now trademark languid style, which sees him move almost effortlessly around court as if not really trying, Gawad came through the field without ever truly looking like he was being tested. A second round five-game battle with Cameron Pilley was the most difficult encounter on reflection as Gawad also saw of Zahed Mohamed, Simon Rösner, James Willstrop and Gregory Gaultier in the final.

Against Mohamed, Pilley, Rösner and Gaultier the Egyptian dropped the first games as he continues to be one of the slowest starters in the game, but the manner in which he came back into the encounters on all four occasions, to control, dominate and outplay his opponents, shows signs that Gawad still has improvements to make – a worrying sign for all his major rivals.

Here are the highlights of the final

Hot Streak For Serme

While Gawad continued to prove his calibre as the top male player out there right now, it was Frenchwoman Camille Serme who proved she is the top force in Women's squash.

Serme stormed to the ToC title with an impressive series of displays to win her second World Series crown of the season.

She won the U.S. Open last October, becoming the first Frechwoman ever to do so, and added the ToC to her honours list by defeating World No.1 Nour El Sherbini, then World No.2 Nouran Gohar and World No.5 Laura Massaro to claim the title in what was one of the most impressive tournament performances of recent times on the Women's Tour.

Serme, who's backhand volley has proven to be a weapon of mass destruction on court, cited changes to her training regime – including a newly adopted Yoga routine – as being key to the change in her on court performances and she looked unstoppable as she powered to the title.

It means she's now gone 10 matches unbeaten since losing in the first round of the Al Ahram Open in September and, now sitting at No.2 on the rankings, she looks like the main threat to the domiance of the Egyptian triumvirate atop the standings.

Watch Serme take down World No.1 El Sherbini

Inured – or not

There was controversy in the air on semi-finals night at the ToC when Gregory Gaultier faced off against Mohamed ElShorbagy in a highly charged battle.

Gaultier played out of his skin during the first two games as he dominated the court to open up a commanding lead. Indeed he looked to be on course to inflict a heavy 3-0 defeat on ElShorbagy but the match was swung upside down when the Frenchman went down with injury in the third.

Grabbing onto his hips, and citing a glute injury, Gaultier hobbled around court and saw his lead evaporate as ElShorbagy levelled at 2-2 – while a stunned crowd inside Grand Central watched on in eerie silence.

But in the deciding fifth game, Gaultier produced some of the most accurate, controlling squash of the tournament. At times appearing to be working off just one leg, the Frenchman hit precise length time and time again to put ElShorbagy under all sorts of pressure, leading the Egyptian to call Gaultier 'the cheekiest player I've ever seen' and 'so dirty'.

With his concentration gone ElShorbavgy couldn't do anything to stop Gaultier's charge, and the Frenchman sealed one of the most bizarre wins ever seen at the tournament.

Watch the highlights on YouTube

Willstrop Ends 10 Years of Hurt

Two years after fighting back from a career-threatening hip injury 33-year-old James Willstrop has fully arrived back at the top of his game, and marked his resurgence with a sweet victory over long time rival Nick Matthew during the second round of the ToC.

Going into the match Willstrop had lost the last 19 consecutive meetings between the pair, a stretch that went all the way back 10 years to 2007, but he put together one of the finest performances of his season to come through a gripping five-game battle that had the crowd on their feet.

Willstrop lived up to his 'Marksman' moniker as he played with precision from the off as the duo rolled back the years to bring back memories of their huge 2010 battle in Canary Wharf – but this time it was Willstrop who come out on top.

Re-live the moment Willstrop ended 10 years of hurt

Cuskelly Claims Biggest Title of Career

The Motor City Open has become synonymous with big upsets and surprise results over the past few years and January’s tournament proved to be no exception as major scalps were had from the very first round.

Cesar Salazar took the headlines on day one as he dumped out top seeded World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy before Diego Elias took out second seed Marwan ElShorbagy in the shock of the second round.

With Elias claiming that scalp, Ryan Cuskelly’s victory over Omar Mosaad went largely under the radar but it was the seventh seeded Aussie who went on to claim the spoils in the biggest tournament win of his career.

Cuskelly met defending champion Ali Farag in the finale but recovered from losing the opening game topper through and claim a major win that catapulted him up four place in the February rankings.

El Defrawy Takes 2

Away from the World Series limelight Egypt's Kanzy Emad El Defrawy put in the performance of the month on the Women's Tour as she claimed back to back titles at the Delaware Women's Open and Gaynor Cup PSA W10 tournaments.

The 22-year-old ended 2016 with back-to-back wins and picks dup where she left off tomato it four titles in her last four outings.

She took the Delaware crown by dropping just one game throughout the event while at the Gaynor Cup she reached the final with a clean sweep of 3-0 wins before defeating compatriot Zeina Mickawy in a five-game battle, twice coming from a game down to clinch the victory.

Catch up with all the other main stories from the past month in our new magazine show – SquashXtra – now

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