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18-year-old Mostafa Asal in action against World No.1 Ali Farag

2018-19 Season Review: Breakthrough Stars - Part One

The CIB PSA World Tour Finals brought the curtain down on the 2018-19 season last month as Egyptian duo Karim Abdel Gawad and Raneem El Welily took silverware in two epic finals held at Cairo’s Mall of Arabia.

It’s been one of the most captivating seasons in recent memory, and we’ll be reviewing all the major talking points from the past 10 months. We’ve already looked at the campaign’s outstanding performers, the players to watch ahead of next season, the season’s biggest shocks and the most incredible comebacks.

Today, we're recapping some of the players that made their breakthroughs during the 2018-19 season.

Gregoire Marche

World Ranking:* #16
2018-19 Honours: 
Pittsburgh Open
Metropole Open
Played: 31
Won: 18
Lost: 13
Win Percentage: 58.1%

Gregoire Marche in action at the British Open

Between 2013-2018, Gregoire Marche seemed to exist in a limbo between the top 20 and top 30 ranking places, with his incredible athleticism and remarkable speed on the court underpinned by a mental fragility and inconsistency that saw him unable to fully establish himself as an elite player.

But last season, the 29-year-old from Aix en Provence took a real step forward in his career with title wins at the Pittsburgh Open and Metropole Open seeing him finish the campaign firmly entrenched in the world’s top 20.

It took a while for the Frenchman to get going as he failed to retain his Open International de Squash de Nantes title, falling to eventual winner Declan James in the quarter-finals stage.

A series of nondescript performances followed, before Marche exploded into life in February’s Pittsburgh Open to lift the biggest PSA title of his career to date.

Seeded sixth for the tournament, Marche earned wins over England’s Richie Fallows, before dispatching the Salazar brothers, Arturo and Cesar to earn his spot in the final.

Egypt’s No.3 seed Zahed Salem awaited Marche in the title decider, where Marche – then ranked at No.30 in the world – went two games up against the World No.22.

Salem came fighting back to draw level, but Marche kept his composure to see out victory in the fifth, bringing an 83-minute battle to a close with his ninth PSA title.

That victory saw Marche leap 13 places up the rankings to earn his spot inside the top 20, while he finished the season off with victory over former World No.1 James Willstrop in the final of the Metropole Open last month.

The next goal for ‘The Acrobat’ will be break the world’s top 15 and claim some scalps against the world’s top players over the coming months.

Yathreb Adel

World Ranking: #16
2018-19 Honours: 
Pakistan Open
Played: 24
Won: 15
Lost: 9
Win Percentage: 62.5%

Yathreb Adel playing at the Tournament of Champions

Two years ago, Egypt’s Yathreb Adel had fallen to World No.218, but the 23-year-old finished the 2018-19 campaign at a career-high No.16 ranking after claiming a number of scalps along the way.

Adel was sidelined for 18 months through injury between January 2016 and September 2017 and after a season getting used to life back on tour, she really pushed ahead the following campaign.

She claimed upset wins over World No.4 Nouran Gohar and World No.14 Salma Hany at the U.S. Open, before dispatching former World No.1 Laura Massaro in November’s Hong Kong, one of the biggest wins of her career so far.

A month later, she won her biggest title on the PSA Tour, beating a trio of her compatriots en route to the Pakistan Open title.

That win saw her move into the top 20 for the first time, while some consistent performances towards the end of the campaign have set her up for an assault on the top 15 next season.

Mostafa Asal

World Ranking: #29
2018-19 Honours:
CAS International
Played: 36
Won: 24
Lost: 12
Win Percentage: 66.6%

Mostafa Asal at the British Open in Hull

World No.29 Mostafa Asal burst onto the scene last season and the Cairo-born 18-year-old shows all the hallmarks of being the next big thing to emerge from Egypt’s shores.

He began the season ranked outside of the top 50, but it didn’t take long for his potential to come to the fore as he reached the final of his first tournament of the season, the Aspin Cup, going down to India’s Vikram Malhotra in the title decider.

A semi-final finish at the Chicago Open then came in October, a month in which he also appeared at the Buenos Aires Youth Olympic Games, where squash was a showcase sport.

Two months later, he claimed his biggest win in front of the SQUASHTV cameras, beating England No.1 Declan James en route to the third round of the Black Ball Open in his home town.

He tested World No.1 Ali Farag in an eventual defeat at the Black Ball Open and two months later at the PSA World Championships, while a title win at the British Junior Open was sandwiched in between.

In April, Asal captured his fourth, and biggest, PSA title at the CAS International in Pakistan. He was seeded to reach the semi-finals, but a landmark win over top seed Greg Lobban saw him advance to the final, where he came back from two games down to defeat fellow Egyptian Youssef Soliman.

He would also reach the semi-finals of the Wimbledon Open before the season was out, while the youngster took a game off Farag at the prestigious British Open in his final appearance of the campaign.

If he can continue his upward trajectory, Asal will be a real handful for many of the world’s leading players over the next 12 months, and he will be eyeing up a few scalps as he looks to break into the top 20.

Stay tuned for part two, which will be published on Monday July 15.

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