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G.O.A.T: The Contenders 2000 – Present – Part Five

Over the past few weeks, we have been giving you the chance to decide the greatest players in squash history as we take a look at the achievements and legacies of some of the most recognisable names ever to take to a squash court.

This week, we're looking at the best players between 2000-Present – each day we will profile some of the best players from this period and you can then vote for who you think is the greatest in tomorrow's vote.

Read part one, part two, part three and part four from this era.

Voting is also open for the following eras:
1980-99
1960-79
Pre-1960s

Karim Darwish

Nationality: Egyptian
Highest World Ranking: #1
World Championship titles: 0
World Championship finals: 1
PSA World Tour titles: 23

Karim Darwish is a former World No.1 who was one of Egypt’s leading players in the 2000s.

Darwish first joined the professional ranks in 1999 and enjoyed a meteoric rise through the standings, taking just two years to break into the world’s top 20 at the start of a career that would see him go on to contest 42 tournament finals and compete in 500 PSA World Tour matches.

He reached the top ten for the first time in 2003, where he would remain for a combined 118-months, with the crowning moment of his career coming in January 2009 when, after winning the PSA World Series Saudi International upsetting Amr Shabana, Nick Matthew and Gregory Gaultier en route to the title, he topped the World Rankings for the first time.

He held onto the World No.1 ranking for 11 months during 2009, a year which also saw him crowned PSA Player of the Year.

Darwish also represented Egypt in seven successive World Team Championships since 2001, winning the title twice, including a dramatic victory in 2011 when he upset the odds to defeat James Willstrop in the deciding match to take the title away from top seeds England.

Away from the court. Darwish is heavily involved as sporting director of the famous Wadi Degla Sporting Club in Cairo.

James Willstrop

Nationality: English
Highest World Ranking: #1
World Championship titles: 0
World Championship finals: 1
British Open titles: 0
British Open finals: 3
PSA World Tour titles: 19

James Willstrop is a former World No.1 whose attacking style of play has seen him not only reach the very pinnacle of the game but also acknowledged as one of the most talented players on the PSA World Tour.

Known as ‘The Marksman’ after his accurate shot placement, he has a large, rangy build and stands at an impressive 6 feet 4 inches.

Willstrop had a sensational junior squash career – in 2002 he claimed his third consecutive British Junior Under-19 National Championship title to establish himself as England’s most successful junior player of all time having won National titles at all age groups and British Junior Open trophies. In the same year he also established himself as the world’s top junior player, claiming both the European and the World junior titles.

He went on to be one of the youngest players ever to play for the senior England team, representing his country for the first time at both the European and World Team Squash Championships in 2003.

The Englishman made his PSA World Tour debut in 2000 and has gone on to enjoy huge success under the tutelage of his father and coach Malcolm Willstrop.

He lifted the Qatar Classic in 2005 after losing out in the final of the British Open and picked up a silver medal alongside Vicky Botwright in the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

2008 saw more heartbreak at the British Open after a 3-2 defeat to David Palmer, despite Willstrop holding match ball on two occasions. He reached the final again a year later but lost out in a tense five-game match with long-term rival Nick Matthew.

Willstrop started 2010 with an impressive win at the Tournament of Champions, dropping just one game throughout the whole tournament. He lost out to Matthew though in arguably the biggest match of his career, the World Championship final, later that year.

The Englishman had a stunning 2011 and earned a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games after a defeat to Matthew again. Willstrop followed this up by winning 15 matches in a row to clinch the Hong Kong Open, the Kuwait Open and the Punj Lloyd PSA Masters. This led to him reaching a career high World No.1 ranking in January 2012 but he surrendered it to compatriot Matthew after defeat in the Tournament of Champions the same year.

Later that year, Willstrop wrote the book Shot and a Ghost which was released to positive reviews.

Injury dogged the next two years, however, Willstrop showed signs of getting back to his best when he picked up his third silver medal at the Commonwealth Games.

However, more injury problems went on to disrupt Willstrop’s career and his World Ranking took a hit as he dropped out of the top ten at the end of the 2014/15 season.

In 2018, Willstrop claimed the biggest title of his squash career, defeating New Zealand's Paul Coll 3-0 in a highly impressive dominant performance to win Gold at the Commonwealth Games. Following his outstanding performance on Australia’s Gold Coast, Willstrop became the most capped England squash player in history.

Leilani Rorani

Nationality: New Zealand
Highest World Ranking: #1
World Championship titles: 0
World Championship finals: 2
British Open titles: 2
PSA World Tour titles: 16

Leilani Rorani claimed 16 PSA World Tour titles throughout her impressive career, including two British Open crowns and reached the final of the World Championship on two occasions as well as holding the World No.1 ranking for a combined total of 11 months.

Rorani also won two Commonwealth Games gold medals and a World Doubles titles throughout her international career.

She grew up in a sports family, and played rugby, tennis and basketball as a youngster and at 10 was introduced to squash at the local YMCA by her sports-mad father, who coached her initially by using instructions from renowned coach Dardir’s book.

Rorani progressed through the junior ranks, winning New Zealand titles at every age level from under-13 to under-23, plus the Australian under-17 and under-19 titles. She later won four national senior titles.

Her first year on the international circuit was 1993 and she began a relentless climb up the rankings, reaching No.6 in 1998 and No.3 the year after. With long arms and legs, Rorani used her reach well and was a strong volleyer.

She really broke through in 1999, when she won her first British Open title in Aberdeen. She beat Natalie Grinham, Sue Wright, Stephanie Brind and Natalie Grainger without dropping a game and won a thrilling final 5-9, 9-6, 9-3, 10-8 against World Champion Cassie Jackman of England.

The following season, ranked No.1 in the world, she won her second British Open title, this time in Birmingham, not conceding a game in the tournament.

She came heartbreakingly close to winning a World Championship title in 2000 when she met Australia’s Carol Owens in the final and looked on target to win when she led by two games and held match points at 8-4 and 8-7 in the third. But Owens fought back and beat her in five games.

At the 2001 World Championships, Rorani again marched through to the final, in Melbourne, where she was beaten by hometown favourite Sarah Fitz-Gerald in straight-games.

In 1997 she teamed with long-time rival Philippa Beams to win the inaugural World Doubles title in Hong Kong. The New Zealanders upset Fitz-Gerald and Owens in the semi-final and Jackman and Wright in the final.

Then, right at the end of her career, Rorani played brilliantly at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games. She’d torn her Achilles tendon and had been told by a specialist she wouldn’t be able to walk properly for 12 months. Though she hadn’t been able to train well, she limped into the Commonwealth Games team. Then she confounded the experts by winning the doubles gold medal with Owens and the mixed doubles gold medal with Glen Wilson.

Rorani was New Zealand Sportswoman of the Year in 2000 and in 2001 was made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2001. In 2009 she was one of the inaugural inductees in the New Zealand Squash Hall of Fame.

Natalie Grainger

Nationality: South African
Highest World Ranking: #1
World Championship titles: 0
World Championship finals: 1
British Open titles: 0
British Open finals: 1
PSA World Tour titles: 23

Born in England but raised in South Africa, Natalie Grainger went onto achieve huge success in squash including a World No.1 ranking and reaching the final of both the World Championships and British Open.

Before reaching the age of three, Grainger was thrust into the world of squash by her mother, British champion Jean Grainger, and played at her parents own squash centre in Johannesburg.

She first made her mark on the international stage after reaching the quarter-finals of the World Junior Championships in both 1993 and 1995, whilst competing as a South African.
After moving to the USA in 2002 she transferred her allegiance to her country of residence and in 2007 became a US citizen.

In 2002, she finished runner-up to Sarah Fitz-Gerald in the final of the coveted PSA World Championships held in Doha, Qatar.

The following year, in June 2003 she became World No.1 for the first time and in 2004 finished runner-up to iconic Australian Rachael Grinham in the final of the sport’s oldest tournament – the British Open.

Throughout her career Grainger reached 44 finals and lifted a total of 23 titles. Off court, Grainger also contributed greatly to the sport in her position on the WISPA Board. She was elected the Association’s President in 2003 and Principal in 2010.

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