By RJ Mitchell
Hania El Hammamy has revealed that she has consigned her glory run at the CIB Black Ball Open in Cairo last season to the history books to concentrate solely on the resumption of the PSA World Tour.
The World No.6 will tread the boards at the National Squash Centre, Manchester, against Enora Villard of France tomorrow in her first competitive outing since she put an astonishing run together in Cairo to beat four players ranked above her, culminating in an epic five-game victory over World Champion Nour El Sherbini in her homeland in what was her breakthrough Platinum Series victory back in March.
That hot streak took the 20 – year-old to a career high No.6 in the World Rankings, but sadly the Covid-19 pandemic enforced suspension of the PSA World Tour halted El Hammamy’s marvellous momentum and produced a frustrating six-month hiatus.
But when she takes to the court tomorrow against Villard, the young Egyptian says that all her focus will be on reproducing the all-conquering quality of her play in the land of the Pharaohs as she looks to start off where she finished.
“I am excited squash is back and it will be great to be competing again,” said El Hammamy.
“Of course, I am pleased that I ended last season so well, but it has gone now, and I am looking forward and Manchester is an important part of that.
“I have thought of the Black Ball and I have watched some of my matches back but that is last season and I have been working hard with my coach Haitham Effat and making sure that my fitness and my game is at the level it was at in Cairo when we finished up before the suspension.
“We maybe didn’t have enough time to make some of the changes and improvements we would have in a normal off season and the last thing you want to do is rush technical things like that. But I am happy with where I am at and the work we have done and, as I said, if I can start at the level I achieved in Cairo, in March, then I will be happy.”
When it comes to El Hammamy’s first match back ‘The Gazelle’ hopes that her friendship with France’s Villard, which dates back to their time on the PSA Challenger Tour, will help dispel any opening night nerves: “Enora and I are good friends. We first played each other a couple of years back in Pakistan on the main tour and we have also played at Challenger level when I was coming through, but she is a lovely girl and we get on very well.
“When Enora comes to Egypt, we always grab lunch and, in some ways, it will be nice to have that first match back with someone you know, respect and like.
“But of course we will both be looking to win and for me, as I said, my target is to produce a performance that is as close to the level I was playing at in the Black Ball as I can. It will be especially important to make a strong start and give myself a positive platform to build into the tournament.”
Of course, the Manchester Open will be played without fans and behind closed doors but El Hammamy has snapped on the blinkers to make sure what may be a surreal atmosphere will not blur her focus.
“From my perspective I know that things will be different in Manchester and of course there will be no fans. But to be honest when I go on court my focus is totally on the match and so of course you want the fans back as soon as it is safe for them to be there but for me my focus must be total.
“The great thing is that we have competitive squash back and I know that the PSA worked very hard to make this happen and although with this being my first match of the season, to some extent I will not know what to expect in terms of my performance, it is still just great to be looking forward to that first match back.”
El Hammamy’s No.4 seeding in Manchester has put her on a collision course with French top seed Camille Serme with whom she had two epic tussles in Chicago at The Windy City Open and in Cairo in the third round of The Black Ball, with the score at 1-1 this calendar year in their head-to-head a possible semi-final match-up is a mouth-watering prospect.
Hania El Hammamy celebrates her PSA World Championship quarter final victory over Camille Serme
For her part El Hammamy has pinpointed why the duo bring out the best in each other: “So I know that with me being in Cami’s half of the draw we may meet again and I just hope if we do we can bring that level of squash and that intensity of match out of each other we did last season in Chicago and Cairo, as for sure it would be good for both of us.
“I think it’s like every time Cami and I play we seem to bring out the best in each other. Maybe that is because we have similar styles and we both move well and that means that our matches are always clean and also that they tend to be five-setters.
“We had a fantastic match at the Windy City where Cami came out on top in a very tight fifth set and then in Black Ball, I won in four and the last two games were both tie breaks.
“But first I must have my full focus on Enora and making the best start possible that I can.”
Although both World No.1 Nouran Gohar and World Champion Nour El Sherbini will be missing in Manchester, El Hammamy says this does not diminish the draw: “It’s an extremely exciting time for women’s squash and even although Nouran [Gohar] and Nour [El Sherbini] are not playing Manchester the quality of the field is tremendously strong.
“Everyone will be fit and fresh and of course very keen to start strongly I think that will mean we will see some great squash in Manchester.
“But I think that the benefit of Manchester is that on top of it having great importance as the first tournament back it will help to sharpen up my game ahead of the World Tour Finals.
“Obviously this will be my first appearance at the Finals, and I want to do as well as I can and getting the competitive game time I hope to get at Manchester, will be very important in my preparation for the Finals.”
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.
Manchester Open: Men’s Draw:
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) v Raphael Kandra (GER)
Tayyab Aslam (PAK) v  James Willstrop (ENG)
 Greg Lobban (SCO) v Richie Fallows (ENG)
Tom Richards (ENG) v  Joel Makin (WAL)
 Paul Coll (NZL) v Baptiste Masotti (FRA)
Alan Clyne (SCO) v  Fares Dessouky (EGY)
 Mohamed Abouelghar (EGY) v George Parker (ENG)
Abdulla Mohd Al Tamimi (QAT) v  Tarek Momen (EGY)
 Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) v Lucas Serme (FRA)
Victor Crouin (FRA) v  Declan James (ENG)
 Omar Mosaad (EGY) v Nicolas Mueller (SUI)
Mathieu Castagnet (FRA) v  Simon Rösner (GER)
 Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY) v Benjamin Aubert (FRA)
[WC] Patrick Rooney (ENG) v  Adrian Waller (ENG)
 Gregoire Marche (FRA) v Youssef Soliman (EGY)
Nathan Lake (ENG) v  Ali Farag (EGY)
Manchester Open: Women’s Draw
 Camille Serme (FRA) v Sabrina Sobhy (USA)
[WC] Lily Taylor (ENG) v  Nele Gilis (BEL)
 Nada Abbas (EGY) v Lucy Turmel (ENG)
Ineta Mackevica (LAT) v  Joelle King (NZL)
 Salma Hany (EGY) v Melissa Alves (FRA)
Hana Ramadan (EGY) v  Coline Aumard (FRA)
 Nadine Shahin (EGY) v Danielle Letourneau (CAN)
Enora Villard (FRA) v  Hania El Hammamy (EGY)
 Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) v Lisa Aitken (SCO)
Hollie Naughton (CAN) v  Millie Tomlinson (ENG)
 Alison Waters (ENG) v Julianne Courtice (ENG)
Zeina Mickawy (EGY) v  Tesni Evans (WAL)
 Amanda Sobhy (USA) v Emilia Soini (FIN)
Haley Mendez (USA) v  Tinne Gilis (BEL)
 Donna Lobban (AUS) v Rachael Chadwick (ENG)
Jasmine Hutton (ENG) v  Nour El Tayeb (EGY)