By RJ Mitchell
Hania El Hammamy has admitted her delight at the news there will be a women’s CIB PSA Black Ball Open next month.
The news that the Black Ball Sporting Club will host back-to-back women’s and men’s PSA World Tour Gold events between December 7-18, broke on Monday and, as defending champion of the Platinum event and what was her first major title, the World No.5 is in no doubt this will be the best way to end a challenging year.
The women’s event will take place between December 7-12, with the men’s event beginning the following day with equal prize money on offer at both tournaments and the 20 year-old, who defeated Nour El Sherbini in an epic five-game final to win the title back in March before the COVID-19 pandemic caused the suspension of the PSA World Tour, admits the news was vital in preserving the continuity of the women’s tour.
“I am incredibly happy to hear the news about Black Ball being held next month. Obviously, it’s really special to me after winning my first ever Platinum event there, with unforgettable memories of the matches I won there and lifting the trophy,” said El Hammamy.
“I have never been a defending champion in a major tournament, so definitely it is a challenge I am really looking forward to. But I think for all the players it is important to have another tournament before the year is over.
“Obviously it was great to have squash back and to have the three tournaments on at Manchester, the World Tour Finals and the Egyptian Open and the PSA must take a lot of credit for all their hard work in making that happen but now we are back I think it was important for the players that we have another tournament before the New Year to keep continuity going.
“We as players just want to compete and play and we looked forward so much to the resumption of the tour after the suspension and it is great that the PSA and CIB/Black Ball have managed to get the tournament on and I know they have worked very hard to do that.
El Hammamy with the Black Ball Open trophy in March
“Looking back to March when I won the Black Ball last season, it was a frustration to not be able to build on that and I did wonder how it would affect my game so I was pleased when we got back and things went well. So, it is great we are keeping things going this time around.”
But the revelation that there will be a CIB PSA Black Ball Open next month wasn’t the only good news the fastest rising star of the women’s game has had, after El Hammamy was named women’s Player of the Month for October last week.
“I didn’t expect it at all and to be honest when I heard the news I was over the moon. Obviously with Nour El Sherbini winning the Egyptian Open and returning to No.1 in the rankings and Nour El Tayeb winning in Manchester and playing so well it was a very pleasant surprise that I managed to win this award.
“It is the second time I have won it, with the first being after I won the Black Ball in March and it just gives you a really nice feeling while it also confirms that you are making progress. But it is also an award that I will look back on when I have stopped playing and take pride in it and look back thinking that it was another marker of how my career had progressed.”
Yet El Hammamy’s most recent accolade was borne from a stunning triumph at the CIB World Tour Finals where she came back from two games down in the final to defeat Nour El Tayeb in a memorable final.
Given that it was her first appearance at the World Tour Finals there is small wonder the victory rated so highly in what is fast becoming, even at just 20 years-old, a stellar resume: “Of course, it was a big thing for me to win the CIB World Tour Finals. Because you are playing players who are ranked in the top-eight right from the start there is no chance to ease yourself into the tournament.
“To be starting the group games against Cami Serme, then have Amanda Sobhy and Nour [El Tayeb] was very tough and I was delighted to make the final and to face Nour once again. But then to go two games down was not good and I think that was because I was just so eager to win that I did not stick to my game plan, maybe forgot to execute the things I needed to, but at 2-0 down thankfully I was able to regroup and I came back.
“To manage to do that against Nour who was playing so well and had won in Manchester in the tournament before and also beaten me in our group game was huge for me but it was such an intense match and I think that our styles brought out the best in us.
“We are both intense players and we enjoy the battle, and it was great to come through that, an honour to win the World Tour Finals and a victory I will always treasure.”
But El Hammamy’s return to the fray has not been completely all-conquering and a titanic four game defeat to Nouran Gohar in the semi-finals of the Egyptian Open is something which has provided a vital learning experience as she admitted: “I felt I played well against Cami [Serme] in the quarter finals and of course I was very pleased to beat her in what was a tough game but I took confidence from it and was looking forward to the semi-final with Nouran [Gohar].
“But despite that I was not pleased with my performance against Nouran and I was left a bit frustrated by it, yet it was a great learning experience. I must also give credit to Nouran she had a game plan and she executed it very well and used her tactics effectively and that impacted on my game. So, I look back on that match now after some time and I can take so many learning points from it and these will be unbelievably valuable to me when we play again.
“Nouran has a lot of experience already in her career and she used that very well and now of course I am gaining experience and one thing I did learn is that you can’t play at your best all the time and when you don’t you must find a way to win.
“But again, I was happy to make the semi-final and it was another experience, overall, that I am sure will benefit the progression of my career.”
After having packed so much success into a year that was robbed of so much playing time the refreshingly candid young Egyptian admits that there has been an increasing burden of expectancy to deal with.
“This is a different phase in my career and it is a new challenge for me in that perhaps people are now expecting me to beat the other top players and for sure staying relaxed, learning to play with that extra pressure and expectancy is something I have to learn and am learning to cope with.
“When I won the Black Ball in March I was most definitely the underdog, the players I beat on my run to that title were all seeded to beat me and there was no pressure on me and I could just concentrate on my squash and enjoy the run.
“But now that has changed and as I said this is a different aspect of my career and I guess all part of my journey as a player.”