Former World No1s James Willstrop and Mohamed ElShorbagy will aim to get their hands one one of the most lucrative and prestigious titles in professional squash later today when they face off in the final of the Men’s 2016/17 PSA Dubai World Series Finals.
The stunning setting of Dubai Opera will play host to two players who are sure to put on a show befitting of the venue’s stature as both players look to recapture former glories as they battle for a share of the $160,000 prize purse.
Yorkshire’s Willstrop topped the World Rankings for 11 months in 2012, but a sustained period of injury and illness saw the 33-year-old tumble down the World Rankings, falling as low as No.24 in October 2015.
The last year and a half though has seen Willstrop enjoy a clean bill of health and his immense talent has seen him surge back up the rankings to World No.6 while claiming semi-final berths at the likes of the U.S. Open and Tournament of Champions to qualify for the World Series Finals courtesy of a sixth-place finish on the PSA Road to Dubai Standings.
Despite beginning the tournament with a defeat to ElShorbagy in their Group B clash, Willstrop is delighted with the level of squash that he has been playing.
“I don’t think I’ve played as well as this over four or five days for a long time,” said Harrogate-based Willstrop.
“I’m sure these players are raising it all the time, the standard is getting better, so for me to be able to respond again to that means that it can’t be far off from the best squash I’ve played.
“It’s a good thing to be able to do. I’ve chosen a decent place to make it happen. At this point you don’t want to let it go, I’ve got this far and I want to make the most of every second tonight.”
James Willstrop (left) takes on Karim Abdel Gawad (right) in his semi-final match
Willstrop ended up qualifying second in Group B after impressive wins against World No.1 Gregory Gaultier and World No.5 Ali Farag before a sensational semi-final display against World Champion Karim Abdel Gawad saw ‘The Marksman’ through to his first ever final berth at this tournament.
The Englishman admits that he is the underdog for the final, but believes that he has a chance of winning if he can maintain the incredible standard he has displayed so far.
“I don’t really do expectations nowadays, I try to just take each passage of time on its limits,” he said.
“I looked at this tournament last year and saw what a good event it was and we’re all motivated by the World Series Finals, it’s a huge event.
“It always has been, people want to win this big time, so I was singling it out and trying to make sure that I was as ready as I could be for each World Series event.
“Tonight I’ve got to be confident going in, but I know that he’s the player who had been World No.1 up until recently and he’s won many more titles than I have over the past two or three years.
“I know that if I can play to the standard that I have been playing over the past couple of nights then I can be in there with a chance of winning. I’ve probably exceeded expectations and I’m very happy to be in the final.”
Despite holding the favourite tag for the final, ElShorbagy is coming off the back of arguably the most difficult season of his career that saw the 25-year-old Egyptian lose his World No.1 ranking in April after a 15-month uninterrupted reign.
After dominating the PSA World Tour during the previous two seasons, ElShorbagy admitted that a busy schedule left him feeling mentally fatigued, but the World No.3 insists he has his motivation back.
“I’ve had an interesting season, I wouldn’t say it’s a bad season because I always try to turn things into a positive,” said ElShorbagy, who lost to Ramy Ashour in the 2013 final.
“I am determined to turn this season into the best season of my life because I would like to say that this is a season which made me improve and made me more hungry and motivated.
“I will never forget seeing myself lose in every tournament this season. I hate losing, so these losses will always be in my head whenever I train. They will make me train even harder this summer and I think that this season just showed that I am a human being.
“What I did last season, winning six out of seven World Series titles, and what I did the season before, winning five out of seven, I enjoyed every second of it because I dominated.
“Everyone breaks down at some stage, no one can carry on like I did over the past few seasons. I think that people forget that us athletes are just normal human beings and sometimes we can fatigue mentally from playing a lot of matches.
“This season has been different, so I think this season will motivate me a lot for next season. I’m happy that I’ve got my motivation back.”
A triumphant Mohamed ElShorbagy after his semi-final win over Simon Rösner
Last year’s World Series Finals took place in the shadow of the iconic Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world – and both players took time out to praise this year’s venue as squash becomes the first sporting event ever to take place in Dubai Opera.
“Once I first entered this venue, I just wanted to be here every day,” said ElShorbagy.
“To be standing here on the last day, playing in this classy venue is just what the players would love to see in every tournament.
“There’s been some amazing matches for the women and the men during the whole event and it’s because venues like this bring the best out of everyone. I’m sure we’ll have two more great finals for the crowd.”
Willstrop, meanwhile, is a big fan of the theatre away from the squash court – even appearing in stage productions of Journey’s End and Brassed Off – and the Englishman joined ElShorbagy in raving about the venue.
“I love theatres, I’m a big theatre man, so to walk in to this is sensational really,” he said.
“I’m sure all the players appreciate it, but I look at theatres, I admire them and I’ve started to perform in one or two of them recently. This is as special as it can get for any of the players recently because of my tie to it.
“I walk in here and it’s breathtaking and the atmosphere here is unbelievable. There’s a crispness and a beauty to how it looks aesthetically. I watched from the stalls a couple of nights ago and it’s just stunning to look at and it’s stunning on the TV.
“It’s about as good as I’ve ever seen and it really sparkles like no other venue. There have been a lot of venues that are iconic and have their charm, but I think in terms of the sumptuousness and the sparkle of it, it represents Dubai because they do things well here.
“From the hotel, to this, to the city and the visual aspect is quite stunning. It’s a fitting venue and I think that every player has meant what they’ve said about this. There was an intake of breath when they walked in here on the first day.”
It will also be shown on the following broadcasters:
Astro (Malaysia / Brunei)
Bein Sports (Middle East / North Africa)
BT Sport (United Kingdom)
Eleven Sports Network (Singapore / Taiwan)
Fox Sports Australia (Australia)
MNC Indonesia (Indonesia)
Now TV (Hong Kong)
Sky Sport NZ (New Zealand)
Super Sport (Sub-Saharan Africa)
Ten Sports (Indian Subcontinent)
Draw – Final: Men’s 2016/17 PSA Dubai World Series Finals
 James Willstrop (ENG) v  Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY)