By RJ Mitchell
Nour El Tayeb has admitted that the resumption of the PSA World Tour in Manchester on Wednesday September 16 will finally help her to put arguably the most challenging season of her career behind her.
The World No.4 started the 2019/20 season on fire with an impressive victory in the final of the China Open against then No.1 Raneem El Welily, backing this up with a final appearance at the Oracle NetSuite Open in San Francisco before coming up just one match short of claiming her second US Open crown, only to lose to new global ruler Nouran Gohar in the title encounter.
It was then that family tragedy struck and caused El Tayeb to take time away from the PSA World Tour but when ’The Black Widow’ returned she was once again weaving a web around her opponents and finished the Covid-19 Pandemic aborted campaign with victory at the Cleveland Classic over Sarah-Jane Perry before once against besting El Welily in the semis of the Black Ball Open only to succumb to World Champion Nour El Sherbini in a tight four game semi-final.
Yet despite that late surge in the final furlong of last season, El Tayeb admits that the suspension came at a good time for her and allowed her to regroup, apply perspective and start to move on in earnest: “Obviously I had started last season very strongly and then we suffered a family tragedy that affected us all and for me to come back to squash when I did and then finish up positively well the suspension came at a good time.
“It allowed me to enjoy family time, to clear my mind of squash and move on and now I am looking forward and things are good. But what I will say is that I was extremely glad to end last season playing well and in good form.
“To have won at the Cleveland Classic and beaten SJ [Perry] in the final was really good and then also to make the semis at the Black Ball having beaten Raneem in five in the quarters and had a good match with Nour [El Sherbini] in the semis before losing in four, was a positive way to enter the suspension.
“It really gave me a platform to build on when we started to get back on court. Mentally, now I am just eager to compete and I can’t wait to get to Manchester. The other thing about playing in Manchester is that it provides a return to competition ahead of the World Tour Finals.
“I would not want to have been going into the finals and facing one of the top eight players in my first match back after the suspension. So, Manchester, as well as being an important tournament in its own right, has added value in this respect for me.
“I think I was No.1 seed last May and now I am No.2 seed and just delighted to be coming back to Manchester. But I am not going to look back at last season when I lost to Tesni [Evans] and say that will give me more motivation this time around because I am looking forward. I am just really happy to be coming to Manchester and playing competitive squash in a fantastic venue again.”
Refreshingly honest and open in her thoughts, El Tayeb has no hesitation in admitting that the Covid-19 Pandemic has helped her reassess just how important squash is to her and her family which, of course, includes husband and World No.2, Ali Farag:
“Of course, I am incredibly happy that squash is back. In Egypt we did start back on court, July 1, but of course we did not have confirmation that Manchester would go ahead until September 4 and that was great news.
“I know that conditions will be different and maybe a bit strange but you know you can take your sport for granted and what has happened with the Pandemic has certainly meant that I am aware of just how important squash is to me and my family.
“I am not sure how I will deal with the fact there will be no fans present as I have never played a competitive match on the tour behind closed doors and with no fans. But we as players must be ready for these new conditions and must adapt and on the positive side I am playing an English girl, Jasmine Hutton, at Manchester in the first round and that means without the fans we will have equal support!” joked El Tayeb.
Of course, while next week will see El Tayeb reunited in competition with many familiar faces, there is one star of the women’s game who will be missing: “I am going to miss Raneem [El Welily]. Miss playing her, miss training with her and miss travelling with her, she was just such a lovely person,” admitted the World No.4.
“But in pure squash terms I have moved up from World No.4 to No.5 because of her retirement and that is quite a significant move up for me.
“That said if you look at how Hania [El Hammamy] came through at the end of last season and won the Black Ball and just how competitive it is at the top of the women’s game it will still be every bit as tough to win the big titles.
“When Nicol David dominated I think this forced the other girls to look at things and their training and everyone lifted their intensity and then Nour [El Sherbini] came along with her all court game and now you look at the top six or seven players and the level of competition is just frightening.
“So, for me the level and depth of quality at the top end of the women’s game has never been stronger and as we get ready to resume the tour that is just a really exciting thing for our game.”
Still just 27 years-old, the Egyptian ace is now entering her prime squash years and even down the line there is a sense that El Tayeb is coming back to the court with a sense of unfinished business and renewed purpose which, for sure, will once again mean that an encounter with The Black Widow will prove, in squash terms at least, fatal even to the best in the business.
The former US Open champion said: “I still believe there are things I can improve in my game and particularly in terms of my mindset. I started this process with my coach Hossam Nasser and my fitness coach Mohamed Abbas in the summer of 2019 and it showed immediate benefits at the start of last season.
Hossam Nasser (left), Nour El Tayeb (centre), Mohamed Abbas (right)
“Obviously things were put on hold when I had to take time away but we have carried on that positive work since we returned to the court and it is fair to say I know exactly what my weaknesses are and we are well on the way to making sure that these weaknesses will not be so weak!” laughed Nour.
The Manchester Open will be shown live on SQUASHTV (rest of world), Eurosport Player (Europe only), the official Facebook page of the PSA World Tour (excluding Europe and Japan) and multiple mainstream broadcast channels around the world.