Round one of the 2017 AJ Bell PSA World Championships will see a host of exciting matchups light up Manchester as the biggest tournament in squash gets under way.
Mohamed ElShorbagy v Mazen Hesham
Egyptian pairing Mohamed ElShorbagy and Mazen Hesham will go head-to-head in this enticing first-round clash.
ElShorbagy is a man bang in form, reaching the final of every tournament he has played in so far this season. The World No.2 has picked up four titles so far this season, losing just the U.S. Open to compatriot Ali Farag.
The ‘Beast from Alexandra’ is yet to taste success in the World Championships, coming close in both 2012 and 2014 as he finished runner-up to Ramy Ashour on both occasions, and will be keen to add the final missing piece to his impressive title-winning collection.
Hesham, on the other hand, is a player that can cause ElShorbagy problems if he plays to his ability – using his shot-making flair and unpredictability on court – making this clash an exciting opening round prospect.
Karim Abdel Gawad v Nicolas Mueller
Karim Abdel Gawad competing in last year's final
Defending champion Karim Abdel Gawad faces a dangerous opponent in ‘Swiss Rocket’ Nicolas Mueller in round one of his title defence.
Gawad’s best finish this season has come at the Oracle NetSuite Open, where he finished runner-up to ElShorbagy. However, since that moment the ‘baby-faced assassin’ has not gone further than the semi-final stage.
Mueller, meanwhile, has the potential to cause problems for the Egyptian. The 28-year-old has enjoyed a successful season thus far, picking up the biggest title win of his career at the Charlottesville Open back in September and finishing runner-up at both the Open International de Squash de Nantes and JSW Indian Squash Circuit CCI International.
James Willstrop v Saurav Ghosal
England’s James Willstrop will be searching to halt his recent drop in form as he comes up against India’s World No.16 Saurav Ghosal.
Both players have trained at Pontefract under the guidance of Willstrop’s father, Malcolm, and 2011 runner-up Willstrop has struggled to find his consistency after reaching the final of the PSA Dubai World Series Finals at the end of last season.
In the Englishman’s last three tournaments he has failed to make it past the last 32 stage, with his best finish coming at the start of the season where he reached the semi-finals of the Oracle NetSuite Open.
In contrast, Ghosal, recently enjoyed a title win at the JSW Indian Squash Circuit CCI International where he claimed the PSA M50 title after beating Mueller in the final in straight games.
Elsewhere on the men’s draw, England’s Nick Matthew will return to the scene of his 2013 triumph and will be hoping history repeats itself as he takes on a qualifier in round one. Whilst top seed and 2015 champion Gregory Gaultier faces America’s Todd Harrity.
Egypt’s three-time World Champion Ramy Ashour will get under way against tournament wildcard England’s Joshua Masters, whilst his compatriot, Ali Farag, also faces an Englishman in the form of World No.33 Adrian Waller.
Nicol David v Jenny Duncalf
In the women’s draw, Malaysian icon Nicol David will go up against England’s former World No.2 Jenny Duncalf in a repeat of the 2011 final in Rotterdam.
David came out on top that day as she defeated Duncalf in straight games by an 11-2, 11-5, 11-0 scoreline to claim her sixth World Championship title and surpass Sarah Fitz-Gerald’s record of five.
After that win, David went on to add two more World Champion crowns to her collection bringing her to the grand total of eight with her most recent win coming in 2014.
Following the defeat in the 2011 final, Duncalf was forced to wait four years to pick up her next PSA World Tour title when she defeated compatriot Sarah-Jane Perry in the final of the Monte Carlo Classic in 2015.
The Englishwoman picked up her 11th PSA World Tour title in October at the Queensland Open and will be hoping to make amends against David when the two go head-to-head in this round one clash.
Olivia Blatchford v Dipika Pallikal Karthik
Olivia Blatchford is currently playing at a career high ranking of World No.12 and will be aiming to fly the flag for America as she takes on India’s World No.20 Dipika Pallikal Karthik in round one.
The US No.1 is the only seeded American player in the draw for round one, following the injury to Amanda Sobhy last season, and with her last title win coming in 2015, will be looking to get her tournament off to a strong start against Karthik.
Karthik is one of India’s greatest ever female players and was the first Indian to break into the top 10 on the World Rankings.
The two have faced each other a total of four times on the PSA World Tour, with the last meeting coming in the Oracle NetSuite Open earlier this season. History favours Karthik with the Indian winning three of the four meetings. However, Blatchford will be looking to turn history on its head when the two meet in Manchester.
Nour El Tayeb v Joey Chan
Nour El Tayeb
Egypt’s Nour El Tayeb is enjoying some of her best form after claiming her first ever World Series title at the U.S. Open, alongside her husband Ali Farag, to make sporting history.
The 25-year-old has enjoyed a rich vein of form since April’s Women’s PSA World Championships – when she was knocked out to Nouran Gohar – claiming the HKFC International title before enjoying success in Philadelphia.
The World No.8 looks to be getting back to her best after suffering with a shoulder injury and will hope to be one to watch going into squash’s biggest tournament in Manchester.
Her opponent, Hong Kong’s World No.18 Joey Chan, could cause problems for El Tayeb as Chan is one of the most consistent performers on the Women’s Tour. The Hong Kong player has not made it further than the quarter-final stage so far this season and will be aiming to cause an upset in Manchester.
Elsewhere in the women’s draw, defending champion Nour El Sherbini will be looking to claim her third successive World Championship crown as she takes on Australia’s World No.17 Donna Urquhart in round one. Whilst, last season’s runner-up Raneem El Welily, France’s Camille Serme and 2013 champion Laura Massaro will all take on qualifiers in round one.