Egypt’s World No.10 Hania El Hammamy defied the odds to be crowned the 2020 CIB Women’s Black Ball Squash Open champion after beating four-time World Champion Nour El Sherbini in the final in Cairo, to lift her maiden Platinum title.
El Hammamy had already enjoyed an impressive week on home soil, taking out three higher seeded players in France’s World No.3 Camille Serme, USA’s World No.8 Amanda Sobhy and England’s World No.7 Sarah-Jane Perry en route to the final, and the World No.10 further cemented her place at the top of the women’s game with a formidable performance against El Sherbini in a thrilling five-game battle.
She did so at the tender age of just 19-years-old, becoming one of the youngest ever winners of a major title in PSA World Tour history, and she says that it will always be a special moment in her life.
“When I look back to this tournament, I will always remember the process I went through to win the tournament. I am absolutely over the moon with the way I performed and backed up after each match during the whole tournament,” El Hammamy admitted.
“My journey to the finals was one of the toughest ever; I played against all higher seeded players and I was able to beat great players such as Camille Serme, Amanda Sobhy, Sarah Jane-Perry and finally, the four-time World Champion Nour El Sherbini.
“I have become one of the youngest ever to win a major title and that was always something that I admired about the Egyptian players such as Raneem El Welily, Nouran Gohar and Nour El Sherbini. So I am very pleased to be added on this list.”
It was only going to be a matter of time until this victory came, as El Hammamy was inside the top 50 on the World Rankings before her 16th birthday. Where did it all start, though?
El Hammamy was always expected to be one of the next big stars of Egyptian squash, but she suffered heartbreak at the World Junior Championships, losing out twice in the final. However, she believes it helped mould her into who she is today.
“I think I have experienced so many tough times during my junior career including losing twice in the final of the World Junior Championship which helped me to grow in my senior career,” the young Egyptian explained.
“I learnt a lot from my junior career and it took me a lot of time to learn how to deal with my losses and how to back it up. I had the privilege of playing on the PSA while being a student and a junior and I am so grateful that I was able to share the court with legends like Nicol David and Omneya Abdel Kawy before they retired, because they personally inspired me in so many ways.
El Hammamy (left) in action against Nicol David at the 2017 Windy City Open
“Playing matches against these top players at a young age helped me work on myself and my weaknesses. It allowed me to see where I was and what I needed to do to become a top player.”
She then broke into the top 20 before her 18th birthday. However, that was just the next step on her rise up the rankings.
The Egyptian won twice in the space of two weeks on the PSA Challenger Tour in February 2019, as she showed her class at the Edinburgh Sports Club Open, and then the Bahl and Gaynor Cincinnati Cup just seven days later, claiming what was the biggest title of her career at that point, despite being just 18.
“Once I broke into the top 20, I was so excited at first and happy with the achievement but then I realised that it’s a completely different challenge for me now,” she admitted.
“This task was so, so difficult because on one hand I had to be consistent against the lower seeded players and on the other hand try as much as I can to have good matches against the top players and push them hard. It was a phase of heavy learning, experiencing bad losses and also playing against the top 16 players which was, for sure, a privilege for a junior.
“I was the youngest inside the top 20 so I always tried to be positive and learn from other experienced players. As a kid, I used to admire some players and considered them as idols but I had at some point learn to believe that I could beat them while respecting them.”
Her continued breakthrough showed even more promise at the CIB PSA Women’s World Championship 2019-2020, held in front of the Pyramids of Giza.
The Egyptian (left) celebrates after beating then-World No.3 Camille Serme in the quarter-finals
El Hammamy went all the way to the semi-finals of the biggest tournament in the sport, beating England’s Jasmine Hutton, Australia’s Donna Lobban and Malaysian Sivasangari Subramanium, before then overcoming World No.3 Serme. She lost out to the eventual champion, El Sherbini, in the last four, but the experience did the 19-year-old the world of good.
“It was incredible for me, I shared a new experience of not only playing in front of the Pyramids, which was always a dream of mine, but also reaching the semi finals after a tough match against the French No.1 Camille Serme, which made it extra special,” El Hammamy explained.
“I was overwhelmed with the victory and being among the other top 3 Egyptians in the semis. It gave me so much confidence and it pushed me to go further and work harder because I felt like I was not far from where I wanted to be.”
After that result in the World Championships, El Hammamy moved inside the top ten in the World Rankings for the first time in her fledgling career, which was one of her main goals for the 2019-2020 season. She also knows how much work it will take to continue that rise up the rankings.
“I had a goal of reaching the top ten and after I did, my goal was breaking into the top eight before the end of the season. Unfortunately, tournaments were suspended but luckily for me I was able to capture the Black Ball Open title before the season ends which helped me for sure to achieve my end of season’s goal” the 19-year-old explained.
“Reaching the No.1 spot is the hardest task any athlete will have to go through. It needs consistency and I will, for sure, do my best to reach that position as soon as I can.”
Despite the rise up the World Rankings, and claiming her first major title, El Hammamy would not rate her season as the perfect one just yet.
El Hammamy with the Black Ball Open trophy
“I think if I will rate my season, I can give it 9 out of 10. I had a good season without doubt, achieving my goal for this season. That was breaking into the top eight before it ends, and I think after my Black Ball Open win, it will most probably be the case,” she said.
“But, eventually it is not where I want to be at the end so I will keep working even harder!”
The 19-year-old is still continuing her academia away from the court, as she studies Marketing at the The American University in Cairo.
During the extended break due to the COVID-19 outbreak, El Hammamy will continue her studies, along with resting up to make sure her body is ready to go when the action gets back underway.
All we know is that Hania El Hammamy, the 19-year-old PSA Platinum title winner, is one to watch for the next decade, and if not longer, on the PSA World Tour.