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Tom Ford in action at the Canary Wharf Classic in March

2019/20 Round-Up: Challenger Tour Shocks of the Season

Despite a shortened 2019/20 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was still enough time during the campaign for some serious shocks and surprises on the Challenger Tour.

We have already counted down the top ten shocks on the PSA World Tour, but what about the biggest shocks of the Challenger Tour? Well, there were quite a few tournaments won by unseeded players, along with those who had to defy all the odds to get their hands on a title, but who takes the top spot?

Take a look at the PSA World Tour Shocks of the Season Part 1 here.

Take a look at the PSA World Tour Shocks of the Season Part 2 here.

10 – Hana Ramadan winning the HCL SRFI Indian Tour – Mumbai Leg

Hana Ramadan in action at the Black Ball Sporting Club

22-year-old Hana Ramadan went into the Mumbai Leg of the HCL SRFI Indian Tour as the No.7 seed, and projected to reach the quarter-finals of the tournament, but she downed three players seeded above her in the event to lift the title, the fifth of her short career.

After defeating a fellow Egyptian, in Nour Aboulmakarim, in the second round, Ramadan started her run of upsets en route to the title, beginning with the biggest scalp of them all, the tournaments No.1 seed.

She needed just 21 minutes to overcome Malaysia’s Rachel Arnold in that quarter-final, before then getting the better of the No.6 seed, India’s Tanvi Khanna. The young Egyptian then defeated No.2 seed Lucy Turmel in the final to claim the title, restricting the Englishwoman to just seven points in the final two games of their clash.

9 – Elliott Morris Devred winning the Internazionali D’Italia

Next on our list of the biggest Challenger Tour shocks of the 2019/20 season is Welshman Elliot Morris Devred, as he won the Internazionali D’Italia back in November, despite being the tournament’s No.15 seed.

The Welshman sat at No.267 in the World Rankings coming into the event in Rende, and started out with a comfortable victory over Spaniard Marc Lopez. The second round clash against Dutchman Marc ter Sluis was much more difficult, as Devred had to fight back from 2-1 down to stay in the tournament.

After downing two unseeded players, the Welshman got his chance against the No.2 seed, Yannik Omlor, and he took it, winning in straight games. Devred then defeated No.3 seed Yuri Farneti in a five-game clash in the semis, having lost the first on a tie-break.

The final saw the Welshman in action against Austrian No.1, and the tournament’s No.4 seed, Aqeel Rehman, who had featured in the PSA Men’s World Championship just a couple of week’s prior. It would be Devred who took the victory, though, thanks to a perfect week in Rende.

8 – Marwan Tarek winning the CIB Egyptian Tour 3

To claim your first title as a professional is special, but to down the top three seeds en route to winning your first title, that’s even better! That’s exactly what Marwan Tarek did at the CIB Egyptian Tour 3 in late December.

After a bye through the first round, and a comfortable victory over Ahmed Abualela in just 20 minutes in the second, No.5 seed Tarek was then faced with the toughest test, a clash against the tournament’s top seed, Ahmed Hosny.

It did not look tough though, as the Egyptian overcame his higher-ranked opponent inside half an hour, before winning in almost the exact same time against No.3 seed Khaled Labib. The final was tougher, but Tarek got the better of No.2 seed Yahya Elnawasany, who sat more than 130 places higher in the World Rankings, to take the victory, and his maiden PSA Tour title.

7 – Donna Lobban winning the Edinburgh Sports Club Open

Lobban celebrates at the Windy City Open in Chicago

The Edinburgh Sports Club Open will always have a place in Donna Lobban’s heart, as she took her first title since returning from injury in the Scottish capital back in early February.

The Australian had knee surgery following the FS Investments U.S. Open Squash Championships in 2018, returning 11 months later at the J.P. Morgan China Squash Open in September 2019. A few months later, and she was back in the winners’ circle.

After defeating South Korean Yura Choe in the second round, No.5 seed Lobban had to do battle against the tournament’s top seed, Emily Whitlock. The Englishwoman sat 20 places higher in the World Rankings, but the 33-year-old was able to take the win in a gruelling five-game clash that lasted more than an hour.

It didn’t get any easier for the Australian, as she then found herself two games behind against No.4 seed Alexandra Fuller. She fought back, winning both of the final two games in a tie-break to reach the final. In that match, she faced off against Englishwoman Julianne Courtice, and again it went to five. Lobban was able to win the deciding game to take the title, her first since returning from injury.

6 – Graeme Schnell winning the Mount Royal University Open

Unseeded, on home soil, and you beat four of the top five seeds en route to win what is only your third tournament on the PSA Tour since 2015. That’s what Graeme Schnell managed to achieve at the Mount Royal University Open in Calgary.

Schnell was last in the PSA World Rankings in December 2015, but 50 months later, and the Calgary native was back on top. He beat Englishman Simon Herbert in the first round before his giant killing run got underway.

Mexican No.5 seed Miled Zarazua was dispatched in just 32 minutes, before a titanic tussle with No.2 seed Rory Stewart, which saw the Canadian fight back from 2-1 down to win 3-2, saw him through to the semi-finals.

He then got the better of South African No.3 seed Tristan Eysele, once again winning in straight games, before beating No.1 seed David Baillargeon, who had led Canada in the WSF Men’s World Team Squash Championships in Washington, D.C. two months prior, to take the title.

5 – Tom Ford winning the Cognac Open

After spending over two years away from the professional game due to chronic fatigue and other issues, Tom Ford returned to the PSA Tour in September 2019, finishing runner-up in Madeira. A couple of months later at the Cognac Open, the Englishman took his first title in three years, despite being unseeded going into the tournament.

Ford got the better of fellow countryman Robert Dadds in the first round before setting about the seeded players in Cognac. It started with a victory over Dutch No.3 seed Roshan Bharos in the second round, before a win against No.5 seed Sam Todd in the quarter-finals, taking both in four games.

In the last four, Ford needed all of his strength and ability to fight back from two games down against No.2 seed Fabien Versaille. He eventually won in 90 minutes, before getting the better of the tournament’s top seed, Hungary’s Farkas Balazs, in the final to win the title.

4 – Patrick Rooney winning the Arnold Homes Tring Open

Having won in Madeira, beating the aforementioned Tom Ford in the final, Patrick Rooney came into the Arnold Homes Tring Open on home soil in good form, but few would have expected the Englishman to embark on a run to the title like the one he had.

As the tournament’s No.8 seed, Rooney was given a bye through to the second round, where he overcame a challenge from Italian Yuri Furneti, before then downing No.4 seed Mohamed ElSherbini in straight games in the quarter-finals.

It got better for the young Englishman in the last four, as he defeated fellow countryman, top seed, and former World No.9 Daryl Selby in straight games. He finished the tournament with a comprehensive victory over Ben Coleman, the tournament’s No.4 seed, to secure the title, his second straight.

3 – Sabrina Sobhy winning the London Open and Monte Carlo Classic back-to-back

Sobhy (left) got the better of Zeina Mickawy (right) in the semi-finals in Monte Carlo

Nothing beats one surprise victory, like two back-to-back. That’s what American starlet Sabrina Sobhy managed to do in November and December of 2019, as she won both the London Open and the Monte Carlo Classic in the space of three weeks.

Her run started in London, where she was the No.6 seed, and looking to go one better than her runner-up finish at the same tournament in 2018. She started with a comfortable victory over Czech No.2 Eva Fertekova, before beating No.4 seed Rachael Chadwick in just 22 minutes.

She went on to defeat Egypt’s Menna Nasser, the tournament’s No.2 seed, in the semi-finals, ahead of a meeting with top seed, and home favourite, Jasmine Hutton in the final. Sobhy needed just 35 minutes, restricting the Englishwoman to just 11 points in the entire match, as she won her first title of the season.

In Monte Carlo three weeks later, that soon became two titles, as she won once more, this time as the No.4 seed. The American began with victories over England’s Kace Bartley and Australian Donna Lobban before a titanic clash in the last four.

Sobhy had to fight from 2-1 down against Egypt’s Zeina Mickawy to advance to the final, eventually winning out in 66 minutes, before facing the tournament’s top seed Yathreb Adel in the final. The American got the better of an Egyptian for the second day in a row to take the title, her second in as many events.

2 – Aqeel Rehman winning the MTC Squash Russian Open to qualify for the World Championships

Austrian No.1 Aqeel Rehman came into the MTC Squash Russian Open as the tournament’s No.6 seed and this was not just any event, as a place in the PSA Men’s World Championship in Qatar was on the line for the eventual victor.

After receiving a bye in the first round, Rehman then defeated Ukrainian Valeriy Fedoruk in a four-game affair. His giant-killing run started in the last eight, as he got better of Hungarian No.2 seed Farkas Balazs before overcoming No.3 seed Rory Stewart in the semi-finals.

Rehman faced off against the tournament’s top seed Henrik Mustonen in the final, and took the victory in four games, securing his first title in over a year, and with it, a place in the main draw of the World Championships for the first time in his long career.

1 – Aifa Azman winning the Roberts & Morrow North Coast Open and Squash Melbourne Open back-to-back qualifying for the World Championships in the process

Azman (right) in action against Sarah Cardwell (left) at the Melbourne Open

Taking the top spot on our list of the biggest shocks on the PSA Challenger Tour over the course of the 2019/20 season is young Malaysian star Aifa Azman, who won back-to-back titles in Australia despite being unseeded in both events. She also managed to qualify for the Women’s World Championships at the Pyramids of Giza in the process.

She started this incredible run at the Roberts & Morrow North Coast Open, dropping just a single game throughout the entire tournament, despite facing four of the top six seeds. No.2 seed Sarah Cardwell was the first victim, losing out 3-1, with Azman then going on to defeat No.6 seed Abbie Palmer later that same day in the quarter-finals.

The young Malaysian then got the better of a second Australian, Jessica Turnbull, ahead of a clash with the tournament’s top seed, Vanessa Chu, in the final. Azman needed just 23 minutes to take the title, her first victory outside of her native Malaysia. The win secured a place at the Women’s World Championships in October.

That great form continued a week later in Melbourne, as she beat four of the top six seeds once more, including two players she had already defeated a week earlier in Coffs Harbour. She began with a victory over Georgia Adderley in the first round, before downing top seed Vanessa Chu in straight games for the second time in six days.

Azman went on to defeat No.5 seed Chloe Mesic, No.4 seed Ooi Kah Yan and No.2 seed Sarah Cardwell to win the title, going through the entire tournament without dropping a game, and needing no more than half an hour in any of the five matches.

Since those two surprise victories, when she was ranked outside the top 160 in the World Rankings, Azman has since moved up into a career-best World No.57 in July 2020 and she has now won seven titles. Amazingly, the Malaysian is still yet to lose in a final!

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