Welcome to ‘Talking Points’ where we re-live the biggest moments on the PSA World Tour over the past month.
February saw two tournaments in particular light up the Tour, with the Windy City Open and Swedish Open being broadcast LIVE on SQUASHTV and Eurosport Player.
El Welily Claims Chicago Three-Peat
Egyptian shot-making sensation Raneem El Welily continued her love affair with the University Club of Chicago, beating compatriot and World No.1 Nour El Sherbini to lift her third successive Windy City Open crown.
The 28-year-old from Alexandria, who topped the World Rankings for four months in 2015, played some of her best squash in Chicago, with wins over Jenny Duncalf and Annie Au being followed up with a fine 3-1 triumph over United States No.1 Amanda Sobhy.
She came up against World No.4 Nouran Gohar in her semi-final fixture and pulled through after an impressive 3-2 victory went the way of the older Egyptian to put her into a fourth consecutive Windy City Open final, having lost out to World No.5 Laura Massaro in the 2014 edition.
And the World No.3 kept up her winning streak in Chicago, hitting winners for fun as she recovered from a game down to defeat El Sherbini, extending her unbeaten Windy City Open run to 15 matches in addition to capturing her third PSA World Tour title of the season.
Gaultier at the Double
The charismatic Gregory Gaultier was in unassailable form in February as he picked up back-to-back PSA World Tour titles for the first time since 2012.
Gaultier, known on Tour as the ‘French General’, began his month in style at the Swedish Open, with a superb come from behind victory against World No.10 Tarek Momen in the last eight helping him through to an eventual final clash with World Champion Karim Abdel Gawad.
Gawad has been the player to watch so far this season, with victories at the PSA Men’s World Championship, J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions and Qatar Classic seeing him rack up a 19-match unbeaten run heading into the tournament in Linköping.
But Gaultier was in fabulous form as he battled back from a game down, inflicting the dreaded bagel on Gawad – who was slightly hampered with a knee injury – en route to a 3-1 victory, which saw him lift his second PSA World Tour title of the season.
That victory also saw Gaultier move clear of three-time World Champion Nick Matthew to become the sole occupier of third place on the list of the most successful active players on the PSA World Tour.
It got even better for Gaultier in Chicago as he marched to his first World Series crown of the season, capturing the 36th PSA World Tour title of his trophy-laden career.
The World No.3 was simply irrepressible as he stormed through to the final, with Joe Lee, Daryl Selby, James Willstrop and Borja Golan all being put to the sword as Gaultier sealed a second successive World Series final berth without dropping a single game.
His 100 per cent record came to an end in the final after a nervy start saw his opponent, World Series final debutant Marwan ElShorbagy, take the opener, but he fought back with typical tenacity to capture his 13th World Series title.
Emotional Marwan Wins Battle of the Brothers
Marwan ElShorbagy (left) and Mohamed ElShorbagy (right) after their match in Chicago
The Windy City Open was one of the most exciting tournaments of the 2016/17 season, with huge upsets being caused by Spain’s Borja Golan and Germany’s Simon Rösner after they beat Gawad and three-time World Champion Ramy Ashour, respectively.
And Marwan’s victory over older brother Mohamed ElShorbagy will also live long in the memory as the 23-year-old overcame a major mental hurdle in his quest for a place in the world’s top five.
Marwan – who is three years younger than his elder sibling – had never taken more than a game against the World No.1 in their previous seven meetings on the PSA World Tour and was up against it from the off after a one-sided game went the way of the older ElShorbagy, with Marwan picking up just a single point in the process.
Marwan rose through the gears though to battle back and take a 2-1 lead, before a resurgent Mohamed restored parity once more with victory in the fourth to set up a tantalising decider.
But it was the younger ElShorbagy who stood firm in the fifth and final game to see out the win, resulting in an outpouring of emotion from both players.
Marwan followed up that landmark win with victory over fellow Egyptian Ali Farag in the semi-finals before his tournament eventually came to an end at the hands of Gaultier in the showpiece finale.
However, Marwan’s brilliance saw him named the PSA Men’s Player of the Month for February.
Gaultier and El Welily Surge up PSA Road to Dubai Standings
Gaultier’s and El Welily’s wins in Chicago have seen them both rise up the PSA Road to Dubai Standings, sitting at third and fourth on the Men’s and Women’s standings, respectively.
Comprising of seven of the sport’s biggest tournaments, the PSA Road to Dubai Standings brings the world’s top players to some of the most stunning sporting locations in the world, with points on offer at all World Series tournaments throughout the 2016/17 season.
Only the top eight players on the PSA Road to Dubai Standings will qualify for the lucrative, season-ending PSA Dubai World Series Finals, which brings the curtain down on the 2016/17 season in June.
Gaultier and El Welily both took the maximum 100 points on offer, with Gaultier sitting 40 points behind Mohamed ElShorbagy, who in turn is 85 points off current leader Gawad – whose 330 points have seen him seal his spot in Dubai.
Marwan ElShorbagy’s Windy City Open heroics have seen him rise up three places to claim the number four position, while James Willstrop, Nick Matthew, Rösner and Ashour are the other players with a place in the top eight.
There are two stages left on the Men’s Road to Dubai, with the British Open and El Gouna International taking place over the next two months as the battle for a coveted berth in Dubai intensifies.
The likes of Ali Farag, Ryan Cuskelly and Max Lee sit just outside of the top eight, so Ashour, Rösner and Matthew will all have to come up with strong performances at the next two tournaments to seal their places in the showpiece event.
World No.2 Camille Serme tops the Women’s standings with 265 points, 55 points ahead of El Sherbini in second.
Gohar and El Welily sit in third and fourth, respectively, with all four players assured of their World Series Finals places, with the British Open acting as the final stage on the Women’s Road to Dubai.
Amanda Sobhy, Laura Massaro, Nicol David and Sarah-Jane Perry are the other players residing in the top eight, with the latter facing serious competition from Alison Waters and Nour El Tayeb, who sit just outside.
Serme Retains Cleveland Classic Crown
2017 Cleveland Classic winner Camille Serme (right) with runner-up Alison Waters (left). Photo credit: Andrea Dawson
Before her semi-final defeat to El Sherbini in Chicago, Serme had made an unbeaten start to 2017 which saw her lift January’s J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions title and retain her crown at last month’s Cleveland Classic.
Serme surged through to the final in Cleveland without dropping a solitary game, with Egyptian qualifier Nadine Shahin, number eight seed Tesni Evans and World No.8 Sarah-Jane Perry all falling by the wayside
The rampant Frenchwoman set up a repeat of the 2016 final with Waters, who was the only player to have beaten Serme in the latter’s 16 previous matches coming into the final.
Waters looked to be set to get the better of her opponent once more after going two games ahead courtesy of some disciplined length hitting, but a resurgent Serme fought back to take the match in five, lifting her third PSA World Tour title of the season.
Yip Claims Biggest Title in Canada
Tsz Fung Yip (right) takes on Abdulla Mohd Al Tamimi (left) in the 2017 Holtrand Open final
Hong Kong’s World No.33 Tsz Fung Yip lifted his first ever PSA M25 title after he battled through a strong field at the Holtrand Open in Medicine Hat, Canada.
Yip, who had previously never won a tournament outside of Asia, dispatched compatriot Leo Au in the last four to progress to the final, where he went 2-1 down to Qatar’s Abdulla Mohd Al Tamimi, who had defeated World No.22 Diego Elias in the semi-finals.
But Yip dug in to grind out wins on the tie-break in games four and five to capture the fourth PSA World Tour title of his career, which saw him move up to a career-high World No.33 spot in the March rankings.
Cornett Crowned Women’s Player of the Month after Win in Winnipeg
Samantha Cornett (left) during her 2017 Windy City Open match with Joelle King (right)
Canadian Samantha Cornett celebrated her birthday in style at the Winnipeg Open after the number six seed toppled Egypt’s Zeina Mickawy to claim her second PSA World Tour title of the season – the day after her 26th birthday.
Cornett spent much of 2016 on the sidelines after picking up an injury, but was in fine fettle in Winnipeg, with the victory propelling her back into the world’s top 50 for the first time in over a year.
She also claimed one of the biggest wins of her career in the opening round of the Windy City Open, beating World No.11 Joelle King in the Women’s event’s biggest upset.
Cornett’s run was eventually halted by Massaro in round two, but the World No.44’s impressive displays throughout the month were enough to see her awarded the PSA Women’s Player of the Month award for February.
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