Welcome to ‘Talking Points’ where we relive the biggest moments on the PSA World Tour over the past month.
June saw the PSA Dubai World Series Finals bring the curtain down on the 2016/17 season in dramatic style, while the PSA Awards gala – which recognises the outstanding achievers of the season across a multitude of categories – was also held in the emirate.
ElShorbagy Finishes Difficult Season on a High
World No.3 Mohamed ElShorbagy put one of the most challenging seasons of his career behind him in style after he claimed his first ever title at the World Series Finals in Dubai.
The Bristol-based Egyptian had been the dominant force on the Men’s Tour in both of the previous seasons, winning 11 World Series titles in total and sitting at World No.1 for all but one month from November 2014 – March 2017.
But a loss of motivation and a dip in form saw the 26-year-old go 10 months without winning a Tour title between October 2016 – when he lifted the U.S. Open – and June of this year in what was his longest trophy drought since 2013.
That all changed though in Dubai as ElShorbagy comprehensively played his best squash of the season, qualifying first from Group B – termed the ‘Group of Death’ before the tournament – ahead of former World No.1 James Willstrop, World No.5 Ali Farag and current World No.1 Gregory Gaultier, all of whom he beat in best-of-three games.
His 100 per cent record extended into the semi-finals as he progressed at the expense of Germany’s Simon Rösner, fighting back from two match balls down to earn his spot in the final, where Willstrop awaited.
ElShorbagy had fallen to compatriot Ramy Ashour in the final of the 2013 instalment, but
made amends with a powerful display as he surged to the win in straight games to claim his maiden World Series Finals crown.
“To win this tournament has been a dream for so long,” said ElShorbagy.
“It’s a very emotional win. I lost some confidence in myself during the season but I feel like I bounced back this week.
“I don’t want to lose. I hate losing. This season I didn’t play with my spirit, but I’m really proud I got that back this week. It was my best squash since being World No.1.”
Masterful Massaro Equals David in Dubai
England’s Laura Massaro became only the second woman ever to lift two World Series Finals crowns after successfully defending her title in Dubai.
Massaro had already captured the British Open title earlier on in the season and came within a handful of points of winning the Tournament of Champions after a narrow defeat to France’s Camille Serme.
The Lancastrian began her week in Dubai in style with a 2-0 win over Malaysia’s Nicol David – herself a two-time winner of the prestigious title – before she moved on to dispatch compatriot Sarah-Jane Perry to put herself in the driving seat for qualification for the knockout semi-finals.
Up next for Massaro was a meeting with World Champion Nour El Sherbini, who needed a win to stay in the tournament. Massaro looked to be on the verge of extending her 100 per cent record, but the 33-year-old squandered a match ball to allow El Sherbini to fight back, with the Egyptian inflicting a first defeat of the tournament upon Massaro.
It was Massaro’s turn to fight back from the brink in the semi-finals as she overturned two match balls in a gripping encounter with World Junior Champion Nouran Gohar to earn her place in the final of the World Series Finals for the third time in a row – with El Sherbini beating Camille Serme to set up a rematch of their Group B clash.
And Massaro showcased the determination that has been a hallmark of her successful career as she powered to victory against her Egyptian opponent in straight games to make it two successive titles in Dubai – one year on from her victory over Egypt’s Raneem El Welily.
PSA COO Lee Beachill Advocates Switch to Best-of-Three Games
Following on from the success of the World Series Finals, PSA Chief Operating Officer Lee Beachill has given his views on a potential switch to a best-of-three games format.
The World Series Finals featured a best-of-three games format throughout the group stage and the semi-finals, with the final seeing a return to the usual best-of-five format that is used on all other PSA World Tour events.
Since the culmination of the tournament, there has been a big debate in the squash community about the pros and cons of moving to a best-of-three format and Beachill has given his thoughts on the matter.
Gaultier and Serme Dominate at PSA Awards
Camille Serme (left) and Gregory Gaultier (right)
There was double delight for France at the 2016/17 PSA Awards last month as Gaultier and Women’s World No.3 Serme collected the Player of the Season Awards during a gala dinner at the Vida Hotel, Dubai.
On the eve of the World Series Finals, Gaultier was presented with the Men’s trophy following a run of form that saw him him collect six consecutive titles and go 27 matches unbeaten from February to June.
Gaultier narrowly edged Karim Abdel Gawad – the World Champion and former World No.1 – to the award which was chosen by the PSA Awards Committee, a group consisting of selected influential former players, members of the media, tournament promoters and PSA Board representatives and a social media vote.
Serme was honoured with the Women’s Award after a breakthrough season saw her become the first Frenchwoman to win the U.S. Open and Tournament of Champions – making her the only Women’s player to win two World Series titles this season.
Gaultier also collected the Men’s Shot of the Season and Men’s Match of the Season awards, while Farag collected the Male Spirit of Squash Award. Chosen by his fellow players, the prize goes to the player who best demonstrated sportsmanship throughout the season both on and off court. Compatriot Raneem El Welily collected the Women’s award.
The final prize of the evening went to England’s Nick Matthew who was presented with the PSA Services To Squash Award in recognition of his contribution to the sport during the past twelve months. The year saw the Yorkshireman, amongst other community initiatives, donate his prize money from the Canary Wharf Classic to aid young squash player Sumner Malik in his battle with cancer.
Lobban and Aitken Fly the Flag for Scotland
NZ Classic winners Lisa Aitken (left) and Greg Lobban (right)
Aitken, meanwhile, also capped a successful return to competitive action after enduring a two and a half year spell out of the game due to illness.
The World No.71 was diagnosed with dengue fever, a mosquito-born tropical disease, in August 2014 and didn’t return to action until January 2017 with a semi-final finish at the Edinburgh Open.
Fast forward five months and the former World No.38 was rewarded with her first ever Tour crown after winning the NZ Classic courtesy of a 3-1 win over home favourite Emma Millar in New Zealand.
Aitken will take part in September’s Open International de Squash de Nantes where she will begin the tournament in the qualification stages and she could be in with a chance of playing in front of the SQUASHTV cameras if she emerges unscathed.
Lobban and Massaro Claim Player of the Month Awards
Lobban’s impressive form saw him pip ElShorbagy to the PSA Men’s Player of the Month award for June, while Massaro’s history-making victory in Dubai saw her rewarded with the Women’s Player of the Month award – the second time she has received the award in 2017.
PSA Foundation Becomes Official Charity
The PSA Foundation logo
It was announced in June that the PSA Foundation – the charitable arm of the Professional Squash Association – had become an officially recognised charity in the United Kingdom, while a new website and logo was unveiled to coincide with the announcement.
The PSA Foundation was created with a clear mission statement: To support and grow squash globally through community involvement, elevating equal opportunity and fostering player wellbeing.
Over the past 18 months, the PSA Foundation has already spearheaded a number of charitable endeavours, making a significant difference in the squash community across the globe.
In addition to confirming its status as an official charity, the PSA Foundation also unveiled its new website, where squash fans can find more information and stay up-to-date on all of the Foundation’s initiatives.
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SQUASHTV lead commentator Joey Barrington brings us all the latest news from around the PSA World Tour.