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Nour El Sherbini

Year in Review: Star Performers - Part Two

As 2017 draws to a close, we look back at the star performers throughout an electric 12 months of action on the PSA World Tour

Nour El Sherbini

Nour El Sherbini with April's PSA Women's World Championship trophy

2017 in Numbers
Matches Played: 44
Matches Won: 37
Matches Lost: 7
Win percentage: 84.1%
Titles Won: 4
World Series Titles Won: 1
Runner-Up Finishes: 3
Highlight: Became a double World Champion after beating Raneem El Welily in April’s final
January World Ranking: 1
December World Ranking: 1

World No.1 Nour El Sherbini played a starring role on the women’s Tour once again during 2017 as she picked up both a second World Championship crown and a first World Series title in 20 months.

After starting the year off with a disappointing semi-final defeat to France’s Camille Serme at the Tournament of Champions, El Sherbini was quickly back into final action in Chicago, where she met compatriot Raneem El Welily in the title decider of the Windy City Open.

El Welily played some sensational squash to topple the number one seed as she picked up a third consecutive Windy City Open crown – but it wouldn’t take El Sherbini long to have her revenge.

After conceding a two-game lead against eventual winner Laura Massaro to exit the British Open at the semi-final stage, El Sherbini came into the April PSA Women’s World Championship in a patchy run of form having not won a major title since her first World Championships 12 months earlier – where she became the youngest World Champion of all time.

But the 22-year-old peaked at just the right time in El Gouna with a series of spell-binding displays as she made it two World Championship crowns in a row.

Wins over Samantha Cornett, Tesni Evans, Sarah-Jane Perry and Nouran Gohar propelled El Sherbini through to the title-decider, where a dominant display against compatriot El Welily saw her down the World No.2 in straight games to become Egypt’s first female double World Champion.

El Sherbini finished her season off with a runner-up finish at the World Series Finals, while the 2017/18 campaign began with a title victory at the China Open, beating Gohar in a comfortable final victory.

A disappointing quarter-final finish in October’s U.S. Open then followed for the woman from Alexandria, but it didn’t take her long to hit top gear once more, taking victories at the Carol Weymuller Open and Hong Kong Open before reaching the final of the World Championship for a third successive time.

El Sherbini was a class above for much of the tournament in Manchester as she obliterated the field in the early rounds, while her steely determination came to the fore against compatriot Nour El Tayeb, with a stunning 11-0 victory in the fifth game of their semi-final encounter.

But it wasn’t to be for the 22-year-old as she came up against an impressive El Welily in the final, who recovered from a game down to inflict a defeat on El Sherbini to end her sensational run at the sport’s biggest tournament.

After completing a calendar year at World No.1, El Sherbini will now look towards having a prolific 2018 as the Egyptian sensation targets yet more silverware to add to her already glittering trophy cabinet.

Gregory Gaultier

Gregory Gaultier celebrates his World Championship quarter-final victory over Paul Coll

2017 in Numbers
Matches Played: 47
Matches Won: 40
Matches Lost: 7
Win percentage: 85.1%
Titles Won: 6
World Series Titles Won: 3
Runner-Up Finishes: 1
Highlight: Became the sport’s oldest ever World No.1 in April
January World Ranking: 3
December World Ranking: 1

If the latter half of 2017 saw Mohamed ElShorbagy dominate the PSA World Tour, the first half of the year truly belonged to France’s Gregory Gaultier, with the French General at his effervescent best.

An ankle injury sustained at last year’s Tournament of Champions had frustrated Gaultier for much of 2016, with a two month spell on the sidelines following, before an injury to the same ankle ended his World Championship title defence at the semi-final stage in November 2016.

So it was fitting that one of 2017’s most memorable matches featured Gaultier at the Tournament of Champions in an epic five-game semi-final thriller with ElShorbagy.

The Frenchman strutted around court in a manner befitting of his ‘General’ moniker, gesticulating with abandon as he stormed two games up and 8-7 ahead in the third.

But a pivotal decision from the video referee in ElShorbagy’s favour, incorrectly calling a reviewed pickup good, saw Gaultier lose his head as ElShorbagy pounced to take the next two games.

After losing the fourth 11-4, Gaultier looked to be on his way home after needing treatment on a glute injury and he finished the game crumpled on the floor and seemed destined to shake hands.

But he continued to fight on and, playing on one leg, got inside ElShorbagy’s head as he incredibly got the better of the Egyptian to bring an end to a drama-filled match.

He went on to lose out in the final to then-World Champion Karim Abdel Gawad, but that would be the only defeat that Gaultier would suffer for another four months as he went on a stunning 27-match unbeaten run that saw him win six PSA World Tour titles in a row.

Wins over Gawad and Marwan ElShorbagy yielded the Swedish Open and Windy City Open titles before he wrote his name into the history books in March’s British Open.

Gaultier, then ranked at No.3 in the world, came into the tournament as a dark horse for the World No.1 spot, with both then-World No.1 ElShorbagy and then-World No.2 Gawad ahead of him in the pecking order.

But a shock second round defeat for Gawad, coupled with a semi-final defeat for ElShorbagy put Gaultier in the driving seat, with the Frenchman needing to win the tournament to take top spot for the first time in 16 months.

And against home hero Nick Matthew in the final, Gaultier came back from a game down to win squash’s longest-running tournament for the third time, becoming the sport’s oldest ever World No.1 at 34 years and 3 months, overtaking former women’s World No.1 Sarah Fitz-Gerald by a month.

He followed that up by becoming the first non-Egyptian to lift the El Gouna International trophy in April, while two more titles, at the Grasshopper Cup and Bellevue Classic, were to follow before the season was through.

The amount of matches he was playing soon caught up with the Frenchman though as his 27-match unbeaten run came to an end at the hands of Ali Farag in June’s PSA Dubai World Series Finals, with his title defence coming to an end as he failed to make it past the group stage.

However, the blow was softened by the fact that, on the eve of the tournament, the ‘French General’ was awarded the 2016/17 PSA Men’s Player of the Season award after a stunning spell of form for the now-35-year-old.

Another ankle injury has seen Gaultier limited to just three tournament appearances so far in the 2017/18 campaign.

With World Champion Mohamed ElShorbagy breathing down Gaultier’s neck as he attempts to reclaim the World No.1, he will need to be at top form at next month’s Tournament of Champions, with the two seeded to meet in a final clash which will decide the destination of top spot in February’s World Rankings.

Laura Massaro

Laura Massaro lifts the 2017 British Open trophy

2017 in Numbers
Matches Played: 35
Matches Won: 26
Matches Lost: 9
Win percentage: 74.3%
Titles Won: 2
World Series Titles Won: 2
Runner-Up Finishes: 1
Highlight: Became the first Englishwoman since Janet Morgan in 1951 to win the British Open twice
January World Ranking: 5
December World Ranking: 4

England’s Laura Massaro claimed two of the sport’s three biggest titles in 2017 as the 34-year-old proved her class once again at the most crucial of times.

After kicking the year off with a runner-up finish at the Tournament of Champions and a quarter-final finish at the Windy City Open, Massaro sprung to life at the prestigious British Open as she became the first Englishwoman since Janet Morgan in 1951 to lift the iconic title twice.

Wins over Dipika Pallikal Karthik and Mayar Hany pitted Massaro up against current World No.2 Raneem El Welily in the quarter-finals, where El Welily was the heavy favourite.

But a masterclass from Massaro saw her put in one of her most complete performances of the year as she dispatched the reigning World Champion in four games to set up a meeting with two-time World Champion Nour El Sherbini in the semi-finals.

The Lancastrian looked to be heading to defeat after El Sherbini dominated the early stages of their match to go two games ahead. But Massaro, drawing on the energy of a passionate home crowd, dug in resiliently and swung the momentum of the match on it’s head to come through in five and move to within one win of the sport’s oldest title.

Massaro came up against compatriot Sarah-Jane Perry in the final in the first female all-English British Open final since 1991.

And it was 33-year-old Massaro who imposed her game plan on the encounter to seal the win by an 11-8, 11-8, 6-11, 11-6 scoreline to earn her place in the record books once more.

After falling to El Welily in the quarter-finals of the World Championship a month later, Massaro returned to top form in June’s PSA Dubai World Series Finals as she became just the second player after Malaysia’s Nicol David to win the lucrative title on two occasions.

Massaro topped her group after wins over David and Perry, with El Sherbini the only player to take a match off her.

Massaro then recovered from a game down to defeat World No.5 Nouran Gohar in the semi-finals to set up a titanic final clash with El Sherbini.

And Massaro was superb as she controlled proceedings at Dubai Opera, taking the win in straight games to avenge her group stage defeat to the Egyptian and capture the 22nd Tour title of her career.

The 2017/18 campaign hasn’t quite been as fruitful for the Englishwoman, with three semi-final finishes bookended by disappointing last-16 exits at the China Open and World Championship.

But Massaro is a fierce competitor and few would bet against her achieving more title glory by this time next year.

Ali Farag

Ali Farag celebrates during the PSA World Championships

2017 in Numbers
Matches Played: 51
Matches Won: 37
Matches Lost: 14
Win percentage: 72.5%
Titles Won: 1
World Series Titles Won: 1
Runner-Up Finishes: 6
Highlight: Lifted the U.S. Open title alongside wife Nour El Tayeb to become the first married couple in sporting history ever to win the same major sports title on the same day.
January World Ranking: 7
December World Ranking: 3

Harvard-graduate Ali Farag exceeded all expectations during a superb 2017, which culminated in him claiming a maiden World Series title at the U.S. Open alongside wife Nour El Tayeb in a historic win for the pair.

Their title victories in Philadelphia saw them become the first married couple in sporting history ever to win the same major sports title on the same day.

Seeded fourth, Farag was relatively unfancied for the title and he had to fight hard for his place in the title-decider, coming through brutal five-game matches with Mazen Hesham and Fares Dessouky en route.

A comfortable 3-0 win over former World No.3 Omar Mosaad then saw the 25-year-old reach the final, where defending champion Mohamed ElShorbagy stood between Farag and the coveted title.

A contentious conduct stroke given against ElShorbagy in the first game put the older Egyptian off his stride and Farag took full advantage as he responded with a masterclass to take the match in straight games to join El Tayeb – who beat Raneem El Welily earlier in the night – in lifting a first World Series title.

While that was the solitary PSA World Tour title that Farag picked up during 2017, he was a finalist on no less than six other occassions, with a runner-up finish coming at the Motor City Open in January where he fell to a surprise defeat to Australia’s Ryan Cuskelly.

Back-to-back runner-up finishes to Gregory Gaultier at the Grasshopper Cup and Bellevue Classic elevated him into the world’s top five for the first time in June, while he kicked off the year with a run to the final at the China Open, with an enthralling five-game battle with Ramy Ashour going the way of his opponent.

His U.S. Open final over ElShorbagy the following month then began a run of four meetings in as many tournaments as the two built up a captivating rivalry, with ElShorbagy avenging his defeating Philadelphia by defeating Farag in both the Channel VAS Championship and Hong Kong Open finals either side of a quarter-final victory in the Qatar Classic.

His run to the Hong Kong Open final saw Farag move up to a career-high World No.3 ranking and he finished off the year by reaching the semi-finals of the PSA World Championships for the first time, where he narrowly lost out to ElShorbagy’s younger brother, Marwan, by a 3-2 margin.

After impressing during the latter half of 2017, Farag will look to push on next year and have a real crack at breaking into the world’s top two.

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