By RJ Mitchell
Laura Massaro believes that Hania El Hammamy’s CIB PSA World Tour Finals victory has made her the player to beat ahead of this weekend’s Egyptian Open.
The 20-year-old’s stunning comeback from two games down in the final against Nour El Tayeb firmly underlined her status as the women’s game’s fastest rising star.
But while former two-time World Tour Finals winner Massaro admits that El Hammamy is now a fearsome prospect to beat over five games, she is backing the rest of the women’s top 10 to mount a concerted challenge to the young Egyptian.
Massaro was also hugely impressed by the performance of beaten finalist Nour El Tayeb, who had beaten her younger compatriot over the best-of-three games format in the group stage. El Tayeb had also already claimed the Manchester Open the previous week.
But the great Massaro, a two-time British Open champion and former World Champion, has no doubt that a victory, in what was the most lucrative ever World Tour Finals, should be viewed as a major triumph for El Hammamy.
“There is no doubt that Hania is setting a bar for the other girls physically and after watching the final, I would have to say that she is the player to beat at the moment,” said Massaro
Massaro continued: “But I must say that I 100 per cent expect the other girls to respond to the challenge and I think the level of competition is such that no one is going to dominate for maybe the next two seasons or so. That said, based on the World Tour Finals, Hania will be tough to stop.
Hania El Hammamy in action during the 2019-20 CIB PSA World Tour Finals
“I think the other thing for the rest of the girls is that she is just 20 years-old and she will not be resting on her laurels. What is clear is that in a best of five match, Hana’s athleticism, determination, and fitness all come through.
“If you look at the group stages then Nour beat Hania 2-1, and of course if the final had been best of three the fact that she was 2-0 up would have meant she would have won again, but best of five is a marathon rather than a sprint and Hania is proving very hard to beat over best of five.”
Yet while the evidence of El Tayeb and El Hammamy’s triumphs in Manchester and Cairo, respectively, point to the duo emerging fastest out of the suspension traps, Massaro reckons there was plenty of promise from the rest of the field.
The former England No.1 said: “I don’t think that anyone can argue that after the first two tournaments, Hania and Nour have set the level but although she will have been disappointed to lose the World Tour Finals, Nour El Tayeb has made the finals of both these tournaments and that will have given her a fantastic platform going forward.
“Equally, you look at Nour El Sherbini and she was unbelievable earlier in the week and then turned in a strange performance against Nour El Tayeb.
“Nouran Gohar also looked very good early on and now, when we look forward to the Egyptian Open, she will have got that first tournament as No.1 out of the way and it will be fascinating to see how she responds.
“When I look back to when I went No.1, it is a completely different mindset to being No.1 compared to that needed to get there and Nouran will be learning all of that. “
Reflecting on her own World Tour Finals triumphs back in 2016 & 2017, when she triumphed over Nour El Sherbini and Raneem El Welily, respectively, Massaro had no doubt about rating the tournament among the game’s major titles.
Massaro (right) takes on Raneem El Welily (left) during the 2015-16 PSA World Tour Finals
“There is no question for me that winning the World Tour Finals was right up there with winning the British or World Open titles. It is a major title in its own right and the unique thing about it is that you are competing against the absolute best from day one,” said Massaro.
“You also have to adapt your game to the best of three format and, to be honest, when we had our first World Tour Finals in the ladies’ game, that was something I worried about quite a bit.
“Fortunately, it turned out quite well for me and I adopted an approach where it was absolutely vital to make as strong a start as possible. If you could execute that part of your game plan it proved invaluable.
“But when you look at it, in best of three format, you could be a game down and 6-6 then you are only a few points from losing, so you have to adapt your whole approach mentally, tactically and physically and it is just a different dynamic.
“Then of course if you are lucky enough to make the final and go all the way you need to readjust again to best-of-five games, so the World Tour Finals pose a unique set of problems to players and I think that makes it extra special if you can come through it all.
“For me looking back, it was right up there with anything I have won.”
Turning her attention to her successor as England No.1, Sarah-Jane Perry, Massaro has no doubt that her compatriot will have benefitted from her jousts with Nouran Gohar, Joelle King and Nour El Sherbin in Cairo.
She said: “For SJ, I think it will have been good for her to be in the mix at the World Tour Finals in that she was not only getting matches against the best girls in the world, but that it was also a bonus event in that the rest of the tour outside the top-eight aren’t playing it.
“Maybe SJ did not start as she would have liked but she is just so feisty and determined and getting these matches under her belt will definitely benefit her going forward to the Egyptian Open.”
Sarah-Jane Perry in action
Looking forward to this weekend’s Egyptian Open, Massaro said: “I am also looking forward to seeing how a couple of the young Egyptian girls run out in their first event post-lockdown. Rowan Elaraby and Yathreb Adel are capable of great things and it will be interesting to see how they have used lockdown and how they play in their first event back.
“But I think the women’s game is in great shape just now and the level of competition and the depth is fantastic and that is really positive.”