Title wins for Egyptian duo Mohamed ElShorbagy and Nour El Sherbini at the ATCO PSA Dubai World Series Finals earlier this month brought the curtain down on another thrilling season the PSA World Tour.
We’ll be reviewing all of the major talking points from the past 10 months of action over the next few weeks and have already analysed the season’s most outstanding players.
Today we’re kicking off our look at the breakthrough stars of the 2017/18 campaign who showed their potential as they surged up the World Rankings.
World Ranking: #23
2017/18 Honours: N/A
Win Percentage: 62.5%
When Germany’s Raphael Kandra arrived in Hull to play the British Open last month he was an unknown quantity who had only progressed beyond the opening round of a PSA World Series tournament on one occasion.
But, courtesy of an astonishing giant-killing run that saw scalp three-time World Champion Nick Matthew and World No.3 Marwan ElShorbagy en route to a maiden World Series semi, he ended the week as a real crowd favourite with fans swamping the 27-year-old for autographs after his incredible victories.
Kandra began the season ranked at World No.44 and coming into the British Open had enjoyed a decent, if unspectacular, campaign which brought about semi-final finishes at both the Montreal Open and the Wimbledon Open.
A surprise win over Hong Kong’s Max Lee at the El Gouna International showed signs of improvement and took him through to the the second round of a World Series tournament for the second time, but it was the British Open – the sport’s longest-running tournament – where he really made his name.
Kandra began the tournament in the qualifying stages but swept to 3-0 wins against Peter Creed and Tsz Fung Yip to earn his place in the main draw of the prestigious event for the first time.
A comfortable 3-0 win over Frenchman Mathieu Castagnet then took the German through to round two where home favourite Matthew – playing the final ranking PSA World Tour event of his career – stood in his way.
Matthew had edged a thrilling five-game clash between the pair seven months earlier at the Qatar Classic but Kandra had too much for the 37-year-old veteran to handle as he put in a gritty and tenacious performance to dispatch Matthew in four games and send the Yorkshireman to a shock defeat in front of his home crowd.
And his stunning run continued in the quarter-finals with an incredible 3-2 win over ElShorbagy which sent shockwaves through the world of squash as he became the first German player to reach the semi-finals of the British Open.
Kandra’s journey came to an end against eventual winner Miguel Angel Rodriguez in the last four but his superb run was enough to see him rise to No.23 in the world and he will eye up a place in the top 20 next season.
World Ranking: #12
2017/18 Honours: N/A
Win Percentage: 57.1%
Welsh star Tesni Evans enjoyed a successful season which saw her achieve a career-high World Ranking of World No.12 in addition to breaking through to the latter stages of the sport’s major events for the first time.
Evans reached the semi-finals of the HKFC International in the opening months of the season but it wasn’t until the final months of the 2018 that she really hit top gear, with a fine run of form beginning at the Hong Kong Open.
The 25-year-old from Rhyl opened up her event with a comfortable 3-0 victory over qualifier Milou van der Heijden but it was her second round win against number eight seed Alison Waters that really saw Evans break new ground as she progressed to a maiden World Series quarter-final.
She fell to England’s Laura Massaro in the next round – a feisty 3-1 defeat – but got her revenge on the former World No.1 with a brilliant performance in Manchester the following month as she battled through to the quarter-finals of the PSA World Championships.
A captivating 77-minute battle went the way of Evans as she became the first Welsh player since former men’s World No.5 and current PSA Chief Executive Alex Gough a decade previously to reach the last eight of the World Championships.
Evans and Massaro went head-to-head once more as they met in the quarter-finals of the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in April with Evans again getting the better of the 2013 World Champion as she moved on to set up a semi-final clash with Massaro’s compatriot, Sarah-Jane Perry.
Despite falling to a defeat against the World No.8, Evans was sublime as she overcame Malaysia’s two-time Commonwealth Games gold medalist Nicol David in the bronze medal play-off to become the first Welsh player in 20 years to claim a coveted medal.
Evans completed a successful season with a quarter-final finish at the iconic British Open as she beat World No.4 Joelle King – who took a gold medal on the Gold Coast – to become the first female Welsh player ever to reach the last eight of the sport’s oldest tournament.
A place in the world’s top 10 awaits Evans if she can continue her improvement and she’ll be a force to be reckoned with for any player next season.
World Ranking: #38
2017/18 Honours: Tring Open
Win Percentage: 58.5%
Evans’ compatriot Joel Makin also enjoyed a strong season that saw him take the honours at the Tring Open in addition to ending Wales’ decade-long wait for a male player to reach the main draw of the British Open.
The season started well for the 23-year-old as he reached two finals in his first three tournaments but was unable to land a PSA World Tour title as he fell to England’s Tom Richards and Mexico’s Cesar Salazar in the title deciders of the Nash Cup and the Chicago Open, respectively.
Makin memorably troubled World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy in their second round match at the World Championships – forcing the eventual winner into two tie-breaks – while he also recorded a semi-final finish at the Pittsburgh Open in February.
But it was the final two months of the season that saw Makin impress the most as he followed up a semi-final berth at the Irish Open – again losing out to Richards – with a run to the British Open main draw for the first time in his career.
Makin defeated Englishman Patrick Rooney before avenging his defeats to Richards in the final round of qualifying to become the first Welshman to make the main draw since 2008.
Defeat to then World No.9 Mohamed Abouelghar brought an end to his tournament but he backed it up with his sole title of the season as he defeated fellow Welshman Peter Creed to capture the Tring Open crown – the third PSA World Tour title of his career.
That victory saw Makin move up to a career-high ranking of World No.38 and he will look to plot his way into the top 30 when the season resumes in September.