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Emily Whitlock

2016/17 Season Review: Breakthrough Stars – Part Two

Another incredible season on the PSA World Tour drew to a close earlier this month as England’s Laura Massaro and Egypt’s Mohamed ElShorbagy laid claim to the PSA Dubai World Series Finals titles.

We’ll be reviewing all of the major talking points from the past 10 months of world-class squash action over the next few weeks and have already looked back at the outstanding performers over the campaign.

This part of our season review sees us look at some of the players who broke through during the 2016/17 season to surge up the World Rankings. You can read part one here.

Emily Whitlock
World Rankings: #13
2016/17 Milestones:
Reached first World Series quarter-final at British Open
Reached a career-high World No.13 ranking
Played: 21
Won: 11
Lost: 10
Win Percentage: 52.4%

England’s Emily Whitlock began her season with a handful of early round exits, until her form began to come to the forefront at the Macau Open.

The 23-year-old reached the semi-final stage of the event, where she was knocked out by Annie Au over three games, after overcoming Donna Urquhart and Hana Moataz in the previous rounds.

Another semi-final finish followed a few months later at the Cleveland Classic, where Whitlock fell short of making the final with defeat to fellow Englishwoman Alison Waters.

However, Whitlock soon got her revenge on Waters when she upset the former World No.3 in their second-round fixture at the prestigious 2017 Allam British Open at Hull’s Airco Arena.

Whitlock played with accuracy and intelligent shot-selection to stun the three-time British Open semi-finalist claiming an 11-4, 11-7, 11-9 victory to reach the quarter-final stage of the event for the first time in her career and set up a last eight meeting with defending champion and World No.1 Nour El Sherbini, who she was knocked out by.

These strong tournament finishes saw the young Englishwoman achieving a career high ranking of World No.13 in April 2017.

Mohamed Abouelghar
World Rankings: #15
2016/17 Honours:
Sporta Guatemala X Torneo Internacional PSA Sporta Winner
Played: 30
Won: 18
Lost: 12
Win Percentage: 60%

Egypt’s Mohamed Abouelghar became a shot of the month regular during the 2016/17 campaign and he looks destined to join the current Egyptian crop in the top 10 in the coming months.

After starting the season with a number of early round exits, Abouelghar secured his place in the world’s top 20 in the World Rankings for the first time in his career in October last year.

He continued to go from strength-to-strength as the following month he reached the final of the CCI International JSW ISC, where he finished runner-up to compatriot Fares Dessouky, falling narrowly short of clinching the title over five games.

Dessouky edged the opening game after coming out on top in some well-constructed rallies but Abouelghar levelled in front of a packed crowd at the Cricket Club of India in Mumbai.

The third game then saw Dessouky get back in front before Abouelghar once again drew level to send the match into a nail-biting decider where Dessouky closed out a 11-9, 8-11, 11-6, 7-11, 11-5 victory.

Abouelgha’s next big win came in March as he stunned World Champion and former World No.1 Karim Abdel Gawad at the prestigious Allam British Open, when he defeated his fellow Egyptian at Hull’s Airco Arena.

Gawad required just a quarter-final finish at the tournament to become World No.1 at that point but an incredible display from Abouelghar nullified Gawad as he claimed a 6-11, 12-10, 11-9, 11-7 victory.

Abouelghar went on to face three-time World Champion Ramy Ashour in the quarter-finals and came close to beating his compatriot when he stormed into a 2-0 lead.

The 23-year-old showed a ferocious style that saw him shock Gawad in the previous round and led 9-6 in third, however, a number of unforced errors allowed Ashour to battle back in a thrilling five game match to secure his place in the next round.

Later on in the year Abouelghar collected his first and biggest PSA World Tour title in almost two years courtesy of victory over compatriot Zahed Mohamed in the final of the 2017 Guatemala X Torneo Internacional PSA Sporta.

The 23-year-old, who last triumphed at the CAS International Squash Championship in 2015, came through in straight games, winning 11-6, 11-5, 11-3 to down Mohamed and claim the PSA M50 title – the seventh of his career and his biggest tournament win to date.

This win also saw Abouelghar break into the world’s top 15 for the first time in his career as he continues to rise up the PSA Men’s World Rankings.

Olivia Blatchford
World Rankings: #17
2016/17 Honours:
Played: 27
Won: 14
Lost: 13
Win Percentage: 51.9%

United States’ Olivia Blatchford continued her progress on the PSA World Tour as she broke into the world’s top 20 for the first time in the PSA Women’s World Rankings in April 2017.

Blatchford recorded one of the biggest wins of her career at the Windy City Open as she downed India’s World No.14 Joshna Chinappa 3-0, marking the first time she has ever reached the second round of a PSA World Series tournament.

The 24-year-old – who was the tournament wildcard – twice saved game ball in the first to take it 13-11 in the tie-break and from then on played without pressure, controlling the court to secure a 13-11, 11-4, 11-5 victory.

Next up for Blatchford was an all-American encounter with Team USA teammate Amanda Sobhy, which marked the first meeting this century between two US-born players this far into a PSA World Series tournament.

Sobhy came through in four games after being made to work hard by Blatchford who came back to take the second game before Sobhy managed to see out the victory and secure a place in the next round.

Blatchford then continued to impress on the PSA World Tour as she booked her place in the biggest semi-final of her career at the Ciudad de Floridablanca after a hip injury forced Emily Whitlock forced her to retire.

The scores were locked at one-game apiece until Whitlock pulled up mid-way through the third game. Despite battling through the pain barrier to see out the game, Whitlock was forced to retire before the fourth game could get under way, sealing Blatchford’s spot in her biggest ever PSA World Tour semi-final.

Next up for Blatchford was once again compatriot Sobhy, this time in the semi-finals. Sobhy had been putting in a dominant display against her compatriot as she powered two games ahead, taking them 11-1, 11-6, but at 10-5 up and on the verge of securing her place in the final Sobhy’s Achilles on her left leg gave way as she set off to chase down a drop, forcing her to retire from the match and the tournament to hand Blatchford a place in the final.

Blatchford went on to face legendary Malaysian Nicol David in her biggest ever PSA W70 final, but it was David who would go on to prevail.

David had stormed into a two-game lead amidst a nervy start from Blatchford before play was suspended for 40-minutes at 6-6 in the third game after a sudden period of rainfall plunged the completion of the final into doubt but the sky cleared and David closed out a 11-3, 11-4, 11-8 victory in 70 minutes.

The United States World No.17 continued to cause upsets amongst the higher ranked players during the season, memorable beating Australia’s Donna Urquhart at the Orascom Development PSA Women’s World Championships before falling to Egypt’s Raneem El Welily in round two.

Julianne Courtice
World Rankings: #56
2016/17 Honours:
Christchurch Vets Ipswich Open
Edinburgh Sports Club Open
Played: 46
Won: 36
Lost: 10
Win Percentage: 78.3%

Julianne Courtice has soared up the PSA Women’s World Rankings this season after winning her first two Tour titles, earning herself a 162-place rise to World No.56 compared to this time 12 months ago, while she also made her debut in front of the SQUASHTV cameras during the Open International de Squash de Nantes.

The Englishwoman – a former physiotherapist playing her first full season on the Tour – reached her first final of the season at the Val de Marne tournament, where she was beaten over three games by the Netherland’s Milou van der Heijden.

Courtice then went onto make back-to-back finals for the first time in her career having battled through qualifying and impressed in the early stages of the final as she went a game ahead against Egypt’s Nada Abbas. However, Abbas battled back to take the next two games before Courtice took the fourth on a tie-break to set up a title decider, which the Egyptian came through to clinch the Women’s London Open title.

The 25-year-old did not have to wait long to clinch her maiden PSA World Tour title as she beat Egypt’s Menna Hamed over three games to lift the Edinburgh Sports Club Open title.

After a semi-final exit at the Riga Ladies Open and an early round one exit at the Allam British Open, Courtice sealed her second Tour title with victory over Egypt’s Hana Moataz at the Christchurch Vets Ipswich Open before ending the season with another final appearance, this time at the Sekisui Open, where she finished runner-up to South Africa’s Alexandra Fuller.

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