Written by RJ Mitchell
Nouran Gohar has admitted that the announcement of the PSA World Tour’s resumption is the moment that she has been praying for.
The 22-year-old was anointed World No.1 during the tour’s enforced suspension when the long-reigning Raneem El Welily retired at the end of June, but that elevation was tinged bitter sweet, coming as it did without a nick having been slammed in earnest and far away from the white heat of battle.
Further frustration has ensued with the tour’s continuing suspension entering its fifth month but now at last Gohar has a date to plan her first court appearance as No.1 which she intends to make at the Manchester Open, starting on September 16.
While with the World Tour Finals, and three Platinum events including the CIB Egyptian Open, El Gouna International and CIB Black Ball Open all scheduled for Egyptian soil, before Christmas, Gohar has, at last, plenty of reasons to be cheerful.
“I am just super happy that the tour is back up and the news is very exciting and also pleasantly surprising as to how busy it is and I think the PSA deserve huge credit for pulling this all together under such difficult and challenging circumstances,” said the women’s World No.1.
“From my own point of view, it will be a very special moment to step on the court for the first time as No.1 and play my first match in that regard and I will be hoping to do that in Manchester.
“I think for me that has been one of the most frustrating things in that I became No.1 when Raneem [El Welily] retired and the tour was suspended and I had worked so hard to get there and then I did not get the chance to walk on court as No.1 and really savour that experience and what it meant. But now I can look forward to that for the first time and that is a nice feeling.
“Obviously there is still uncertainty in some areas with second spikes of the pandemic but my plan is to play in Manchester on September 16, in fact when I got the news I was trying to get my Visa but the office in Cairo was shut, so I will be doing everything I can to travel to the UK.
“But along with the excitement there was just relief that we now have a date to prepare for and something to build training towards. A focal point is really important when you have been trying to keep a balance between staying in good shape and not over training and becoming stale but now there is a date and that is a massive plus.
“Looking at the provisional calendar then it is fantastic that there are four huge tournaments in Egypt. With the World Tour Finals coming after Manchester I think it makes playing in the UK even more important to get your match time up and sharpen your preparation in a way that only competitive matches can achieve.
“To follow that up with the Platinum events in the Egyptian Open in Cairo, then the El Gouna later in November and the Black Ball in December is just something that as an Egyptian player is fantastic and has left me with a huge smile on my face ever since I heard the news.”
Gohar (left) in action at the Windy City Open against Amanda Sobhy (right)
Yet, as Gohar admitted, the fact that all tournaments will abide by strict protocols in relation to health and safety, international travel policies and social distancing guidelines, while there will of course be no fans on-site until local situations improve, will take more than a bit of getting used to.
“The fact we will have no fans present is something that will be very strange. When you are on tour and playing at the British Open, the US Open, Tournament of Champions or wherever then you have fans from the very first round and they provide so much colour, energy, noise and warmth and obviously as players we will miss them.
“So, I have to be honest and say that will be a bit strange and something that I will need to get used to but at the end of the day as a professional player you must focus on producing the best performance you can the minute you walk through the door.
“Maybe now, as No.1, I have an additional responsibility and for sure I plan to be in the best shape I can be when we get going. The other thing is that we know that the fans will be back and that getting the tournaments up and going again is the first step towards that happening.
“But I am just very optimistic, despite the challenges we still face, about the game going forward and we know that thanks to SquashTV the fans will be able to see just about every match.”
While Gohar’s excitement at having four major tournaments being held on her home soil is not surprising she reserves special joy for the opportunity to return to the scene of her first major triumph in Hong Kong, which will come at the Everbright Sun Hung Kai Hong Kong Open from November 30 – December 6.
“Hong Kong will always have a special place in my heart as it was the first World Series title for me when I beat Amanda Sobhy in 2016 and it was such a shame that due to the situation there last year it was not played.
“I got so much confidence from winning that title and it played a huge part in giving me a momentum that took me into the world’s top two inside the next five months. So, when you have won your first big title at a certain event it stays with you and always inside you there are memories that are so special and that is the case with me in Hong Kong.
“I also must say that it is just a fantastic place to play squash and although the fans, who are so knowledgeable and passionate, will be badly missed, personally speaking I can’t wait to play there again.”