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Raneem El Welily (bottom left) looks on as husband Tarek Momen plays at the Windy City Open

2020: Year In Review - PT.1

What a wild year 2020 has been! We may have missed out on half the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there has still been plenty of quality action around the world on both the PSA World Tour and the PSA Challenger Tour across the last twelve months.

In the first of two parts, we are taking a look back at what happened in the three month spell of play from January to March, before the sport had to be put on a hiatus due to the pandemic, with lockdowns happening around the globe.

January
It was a slow start to the calendar year for the squash world, with just four tournaments ending in the month of January. However, the first of those saw the PSA World Tour travel to New York for the long-standing J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions, which was, once again, held in the spectacular Grand Central Terminal.

It was an amazing event to start off the year, particularly in the women’s draw, as eventual winner Camille Serme downed the top three in the World Rankings, in Raneem El Welily, Nouran Gohar and Nour El Sherbini, to take the Platinum level title. It was the Frenchwoman’s first major title since winning the same event three years earlier.

The men’s event at Grand Central Terminal saw Mohamed ElShorbagy take the title with relative ease, as he dropped just a single game throughout the entire tournament to win the 38th title of his illustrious career.

That victory, which came after he defeated compatriot, and reigning World Champion, Tarek Momen in the final, also saw ‘the Beast’ reclaim the World No.1 spot, 11 months after he last stood at the summit of the World Rankings.

Camille Serme and Mohamed ElShorbagy with the Tournament of Champions trophies

The only PSA Challenger Tour event in the opening month of 2020 came in Berlin, with the Airport Squash & Fitness Xmas Challenger being held from January 14-18. There was a first career title for Egypt’s Moustafa El Sirty, who has since moved into a career-high spot in the rankings of World No.83.

A week later, and the PSA World Tour continued it’s American run, with a pair of Bronze events held in the United States. It was the top seeds that were successful at both the Pittsburgh Open and the Carol Weymuller Open, with Fares Dessouky and Nouran Gohar lifting their respective titles.

January Title Winners
(Event level in brackets)
J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions (Platinum) – Mohamed ElShorbagy & Camille Serme
Airport Squash & Fitness Xmas Challenger (5) – Moustafa El Sirty
Pittsburgh Open (Bronze) – Fares Dessouky
Carol Weymuller Open (Bronze) – Nouran Gohar

February
There were 19 events across the PSA World Tour and the PSA Challenger Tour in the month of February, with professional squash played across eight countries and four continents.

The month started in Odense, Denmark, where Jan van den Herrewegen won the Challenger 5 title, with Danielle Letourneau winning the Seattle Open later that day. Also that weekend, Donna Lobban won in Edinburgh and Milou van der Heijden lifted the Savcor Finnish Open crown.

There were also two events on the opening weekend of the month that featured both men’s and women’s events. Nathan Lake and Olivia Fiechter were the victors at the E.M. Noll Classic in Philadelphia, while Ibrahim Elkabbani won in just his second tournament on the Tour. He was successful in the men’s draw at the Jaipur leg of the HCL SRFI Tour, while Jana Shiha lifted the women’s trophy.

The first PSA World Tour event of February was the Cleveland Classic, where Nour El Tayeb retained the title she had won twelve months earlier. She downed Sarah-Jane Perry in the final to win the title, the 10th of her professional career.

Nour El Tayeb (blue) and Sarah-Jane Perry (maroon) after the Cleveland Classic final

The following week saw three more events on the Challenger Tour, along with a Silver level World Tour event. Canada’s Holle Naughton won the biggest title of her career in the only women’s event of the weekend, as she beat Olivia Fiechter to win the Challenger 20 level Racquet Club Pro-Series event in St. Louis.

Also on America soil, Jamaican No.1 Christopher Binnie secured the fourth title of his professional career, after he defeated Canada David Baillargeon in the final of the Life Time Atlanta Open. Ivan Yuen won the other Challenger Tour title of the weekend, getting the better of Tayyab Aslam to win the 14th CNS International Squash Championship, held in Pakistan.

At the Silver level Motor City Open, held in Bloomfield Hills, Detroit, Peru’s Diego Elias reigned supreme. The now-World No.6 beat the unseeded Mohamed ElSherbini in the final, with the Egyptian climbing to a new career-high ranking following the event.

Five events took place on Canadian soil in the latter part of February. Swiss No.2 Dimitri Steinmann was the victor at the Linear Logistics Bankers Hall Club Pro-Am, with Lyell Fuller winning the Assante Wealth Management Carter Classic four days later.

The Chronicle Wealth Guilfoyle PSA Squash Classic was won by Czech No.1 Daniel Mekbib and Graeme Schnell won on home soil, despite being unseeded, at the Mount Royal University Open, winning for the first time in five years.

The Silver level Troilus Canada Cup was won by reigning World Champion Tarek Momen, with the Egyptian claiming his first victory since that infamous day in Qatar when he became the fifth consecutive first time winner of the prize.

Tarek Momen (middle) with the Canada Cup trophy

Momen defeated New Zealand’s Paul Coll in the final, in a repeat of the World Championship final in Doha, with the Egyptian taking the Canada Cup title, the eighth crown of the World No.3’s career.

There were three tournaments on non-Canadian soil in the final week of the month, including a Bronze level women’s event in Cincinnati. US No.1 Amanda Sobhy took the title at the Bahl and Gaynor Cincinnati Cup, after she beat England’s Sarah-Jane Perry in a four-game final.

The Oregon Open, a Challenger 20 level tournament, was won by India’s Vikram Malhotra, while on home soil, Yahya Elnawasany and Sana Ibrahim were the victors at the CIB Egyptian Tour 4 event in Cairo.

February Title Winners
(Event level in brackets)
Odense Open (5) – Jan van den Herrewegen
Seattle Open (10) – Danielle Letourneau
Edinburgh Sports Club Open (20) – Donna Lobban
Savcor Finnish Open (10) – Milou van der Heijden
E.M. Noll Classic (10) – Nathan Lake & Olivia Fiechter
HCL SRFI Indian Tour – Jaipur Leg (5/10) – Ibrahim Elkabbani & Jana Shiha
Cleveland Classic (Bronze) – Nour El Tayeb
14th CNS International Squash Championship (20) – Ivan Yuen
Racquet Club Pro-Series (20) – Hollie Naughton
Life Time Atlanta Open (10) – Christopher Binnie
Motor City Open (Silver) – Diego Elias
Linear Logistics Bankers Hall Club Pro-Am (10) – Dimitri Steinmann
Assante Wealth Management Carter Classic (10) – Lyell Fuller
Oregon Open (20) – Vikram Malhotra
Chronicle Wealth Guilfoyle PSA Squash Classic (5) – Daniel Mekbib
Mount Royal University Open (5) – Graeme Schnell
Bahl and Gaynor Cincinnati Cup (Bronze) – Amanda Sobhy
Troilus Gold Canada Cup (Silver) – Tarek Momen
CIB Egyptian Tour 4 (5) – Yahya Elnawasany & Sana Ibrahim

March
The Windy City Open presented by the Walter Family ran from the end of February and into the start of March, and was the last Platinum event that featured both a men’s and women’s draw before the suspension of the Tour due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Once again, the city of Chicago held an epic tournament, with shocks and surprise galore, before the major players came to fore towards the end of the eight-day squash extravaganza.

Both finals went the distance, and there was a similar story in the women’s event, as the top two in the world, Raneem El Welily and Nour El Sherbini, went head-to-head for the 24th, and ultimately, the last, time on the PSA World Tour.

We didn’t know it then, but El Welily would retire as World No.1, having found out that she was expecting a baby with husband Tarek Momen. Earlier in the year, the pair had been recognised by Guinness World Records after becoming the first couple to both win World Championships in the sport.

It was the ‘Warrior Princess’ that reigned supreme in their last battle, bringing their final match tally to 12-12, a fitting end to a great battle, and with it, taking the crown in Chicago. The men’s final, between Ali Farag and Paul Coll was an instant classic.

The Kiwi had already taken out World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy and World No.4 Karim Abdel Gawad, but it was a step too far in the final. He took a two-game lead, but Ali Farag fought his way back into the match, before winning in Chicago for the second straight year, following his win at the 2018-2019 PSA World Championships presented by the Walter Family, which had been held at the city’s famous Union Station.

On the Challenger Tour, the Hampshire Open was another event that straddled both February and March, with Japan’s Ryosei Kobayashi taking the title. On the other side of the world, Henry Leung won the Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Open.

Three Challenger Tour events were held in Canada as the North American swing continued. There was double glory for Danielle Letourneau, as she won both the Calgary CFO Consulting Services PSA Women’s Squash Week and the Queen City Open, the last tournament held before the suspension of the Tour.

The other event to be held in Canada was won by Nathan Lake, as the Englishman claimed his second title in 2020, after winning the Challenger 10 level Qualico Manitoba Open.

There were two final events on the PSA World Tour before the suspension, with the annual double-header from London and Cairo taking place. The St. James’s Place Canary Wharf Classic and the CIB Black Ball Women’s Squash Open were held in the second week of March, as the world started to close down due to COVID-19.

The Canary Wharf Classic, a Gold level event, was held at East Wintergarden in London’s financial district once more, and the final was a typically great encounter between the best two players in the game, Mohamed ElShorbagy and Ali Farag, and it led to this epic picture showing such respect between the pair.

Mohamed ElShorbagy (left) and Ali Farag (right) share a moment after the Canary Wharf Classic final

It was ElShorbagy that was successful on this occasion, as he lifted the final men’s title of the early part of 2020, while the women’s Platinum event in Cairo went on for a day longer, and what a day it would be.

Having already taken out No.3 seed Camille Serme, No.8 seed Amanda Sobhy and No.7 seed Sarah-Jane Perry, World No.10 Hania El Hammamy was on a mission, but she had the four-time World Champion, Nour El Sherbini in her way.

The 20-year-old showed her class, and showed that she would be a star of the sport for the next decade at least, as she took her compatriot all the way before winning in the final game tie-break, to become the sport’s latest major winner.

March Title Winners
(Event level in brackets)
Hampshire Open (5) – Ryosei Kobayashi
Windy City Open presented by the Walter Family (Platinum) – Ali Farag & Nour El Sherbini
Calgary CFO Consulting Services PSA Women’s Squash Week (20) – Danielle Letourneau
Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Open (5) – Henry Leung
Qualico Manitoba Open (10) – Nathan Lake
St. James’s Place Canary Wharf Classic (Gold) – Mohamed ElShorbagy
CIB Black Ball Women’s Squash Open (Platinum) – Hania El Hammamy
Queen City Open (20) – Danielle Letourneau

And with that, the Tour was suspended. It would be 180 days from the final of the Queen City Open before the next professional match on the PSA World Tour was played.

Keep your eyes peeled for the second part of our review of 2020, as we go through what happened after squash returned, which will be published tomorrow, on December 24.

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