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Mostafa Asal (right) celebrates after beating Paul Coll (left) in the CIB Egyptian Open last eight

2020: Year In Review - PT.2

180 days after the PSA World Tour and PSA Challenger Tour were both suspended due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, professional squash returned to action in September.

You can take a look back at the first part of our 2020 review right here, where we looked back at the first three months of the calendar year.

In the second part of our 2020 review, we take a look at the last four months of the year, as both the PSA World Tour and PSA Challenger Tour made a tentative, but successful, return despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

All tournaments on the PSA Challenger Tour were limited to either being domestic events or to only allowing cross-border participation. The PSA World Tour enforced strict protocols to try and keep everyone safe whilst at major events, and the action continued in some style.

The strict rules in place at the Manchester Open, the first PSA World Tour event in the 'COVID era'

The tour returned with a new World No.1 in the women’s game, following the retirement of Raneem El Welily. The former World Champion announced her decision in the summer, and also announced that she and husband Tarek Momen were expecting their first child.

September
The first professional event to be held in almost six months was a Challenger 10 level tournament in Prague in the Czech Republic, with some big names featuring.

It was the ‘French General’, former World Champion Gregory Gaultier, that was the victor. The now-38-year-old, who lives in the Czech capital, defeated Germany’s Raphael Kandra in the final to win the 41st title of his lengthy and illustrious career.

The PSA World Tour stopped in Manchester for the first televised event after the six-month suspension of the tour, with the National Squash Centre playing host to the best the sport has to offer in the first tournament of the new 2020-2021 campaign.

World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy won the men’s event, after coming through some tough battles, including an amazing five-game clash with New Zealand’s Paul Coll in the semi-finals.

The women’s event was won by Nour El Tayeb, who was the No.2 seed for the tournament as new World No.1 Nouran Gohar and four-time World Champion opted not to travel to the United Kingdom for the Silver level event.

Mohamed ElShorbagy and Nour El Tayeb with the Manchester Open trophies

The ‘Black Widow’ had some tough challengers to contend with still, and defeated US No.1 Amanda Sobhy, English No.1 Sarah-Jane Perry and French No.1, and the event’s top seed, Camille Serme to win the title.

September Title Winners
(Event level in brackets)
Expression Networks Nolan and Liam’s Tournament (10) – Gregory Gaultier
Manchester Open (Silver) – Mohamed ElShorbagy & Nour El Tayeb

October
There were just three events in October, with the 2019-2020 season finally coming to a conclusion, four months later than originally planned.

The CIB PSA World Tour Finals 2019-2020 took place at the end of September and into the start of October, with the top eight players from the last season featuring in both the men’s and women’s draws.

The men’s title was take by Marwan ElShorbagy, while Hania El Hammamy won the second major title of her career, following up on her breakthrough victory at the CIB Black Ball Women’s Squash Open back in March.

Marwan ElShorbagy and Hania El Hammamy with the CIB PSA World Tour Finals trophies

The 20-year-old El Hammamy had to fight from behind to win the women’s event at the season-ending tournament in Cairo, as she came from two games down to defeat compatriot Nour El Tayeb in the final.

No.5 seed Marwan ElShorbagy took on No.4 seed, and defending CIB PSA World Tour Finals champion, Karim Abdel Gawad, in the final, with the ‘Jackal’ winning in straight games to take the title.

The PSA World Tour stayed in the African nation for the CIB Egyptian Open, which started just seven days after the World Tour Finals had brought the 2019-2020 season to a conclusion. Once again, the event was held in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza, one of the most incredible backdrops in the sporting world.

Following the end of this Platinum level tournament, things would change at the top of both sets of World Rankings, as Ali Farag and Nour El Sherbini both lifted the titles in front of the Pyramids. With the wins, the pair would both become World No.1 once again come the start of November.

One of the other major stories from the CIB Egyptian Open came in the form of 19-year-old Mostafa Asal, who went viral after his celebration following a victory against New Zealand’s World No.5 Paul Coll.

The pair spent over 100 minutes on court, with the young Egyptian spurred on by the home crowd all the way. He made it through to the semi-finals of a major tournament for the first time in his fledgling career in the process, something he would achieve again at the CIB Black Ball Open in December.

The other event held in the month of October was at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex in Doha. The venue, which has held the World Championships on four occasions, was the host of a Challenger 5 level event. The QSF 3 Open was won by Syed Azlan Amjad, who claimed the first title of his career.

October Title Winners
(Event level in brackets)
CIB PSA World Tour Finals (Finals) – Marwan ElShorbagy & Hania El Hammamy
CIB Egyptian Open (Platinum) – Ali Farag & Nour El Sherbini
QSF 3 Open (5) – Syed Azlan Amjad

November
Both tours continued in November, with more events coming to the fore on the PSA Challenger Tour, as restrictions were starting to be lifted across the world. All events remained either domestic-only or just allowed cross-border participation, but there were four events on the Challenger Tour in the penultimate month of the year.

The first was the Swiss Open, which was won by Japan’s Ryosei Kobayashi, who was featuring in his first event since March, where he won the Hampshire Open. The Austrian Open was also a Challenger level 5 tournament, won by Hungary’s Farkas Balazs.

There were also two events with both men’s and women’s draws, with the Swiss duo of Nicolas Mueller and Ambre Allinckx winning the Liechtenstein Open titles. Tayyab Aslam and Amna Fayyaz were the victors on home soil at the BISL International Squash Championship in Pakistan.

The only PSA World Tour event in November was the Platinum level Qatar Classic, where World No.1 Ali Farag defended his crown, having won the tournament two years earlier, the last time it was held.

Ali Farag celebrates with the Qatar Classic prize

With the 21st victory of his professional career, Farag extended his advantage at the top of the World Rankings, and there was further good news for the Egyptian, as his wife, Nour El Tayeb, announced she would be taking a break from the sport as she was pregnant with their first child.

November Title Winners
(Event level in brackets)
Swiss Open (5) – Ryosei Kobayashi
Qatar Classic (Platinum) – Ali Farag
Austrian Open (5) – Farkas Balazs
Liechtenstein Open (10) – Nicolas Mueller & Ambre Allinckx
BISL International Squash Championship (10/5) – Tayyab Aslam & Amna Fayyaz

December
The first event in December saw Ambre Allinckx win a second straight title on the PSA Challenger Tour. She won the women’s event at the Sihltal Classic, held in Switzerland, but there was a big shock in the men’s event. Nicolas Mueller lost to a fellow Swiss player for the first time in 13 years, as he was beaten by Dimitri Steinmann in the final, ending a run which dated back to 2007.

Like Allinckx, Tayyab Aslam also secured a second straight title, as he won the men’s event at the Pakistan International Squash Tournament, while it was a battle of the sisters in the women’s final. Madina Zafar downed older sister Faiza to win the event.

The CIB Black Ball Squash Open held back-to-back Gold level events in December over a twelve day period, with the women playing over the first six days, before the men took to the court for the second half of the tournament.

Defending champion Hania El Hammamy looked like she was on course to take the title again, but England’s Sarah-Jane Perry had other ideas. The World No.6 came from two games down to take the title, the 11th, and biggest, of her career so far, in a cracking final.

There were plenty of shocks in the men’s event as well, as World No.1 Ali Farag took on World No.11 Fares Dessouky in the final, and once again, there would be a comeback from the lower-ranked player. ‘Fearless Fares’ came from two down to win 3-2, claiming the biggest title of his career to date.

There were several events on the PSA Challenger Tour in the final few weeks of 2020, with four men’s Challenger 10 tournaments taking place. There was a second win of the year for both Syed Azlan Amjad and Gregory Gaultier, as the pair both won in the same venues as they took their first title.

Amjad won the QSF 4 in Doha, while Gaultier was victorious on his 38th birthday at the Expression Networks Prague Open. There was also another French victory as Victor Crouin defeated the higher-ranked Lucas Serme in the final of the PSA Bordeaux Nord.

There were two events in Spain as well, as Bernat Jaume won the Costa Del Sol Open, while Hugo Varela lifted the title at the Challenger 5 level Open Federacion Espanola just two days before Christmas.

December Title Winners
(Event level in brackets)
Sihltal Classic (10) – Dimitri Steinmann & Ambre Allinckx
Pakistan International Squash Tournament (10/5) – Tayyab Aslam & Madina Zafar
CIB Black Ball Squash Open (Gold) – Fares Dessouky & Sarah-Jane Perry
QSF 4 (10) – Syed Azlan Amjad
Costa Del Sol Open (10) – Bernat Jaume
PSA Bordeaux Nord (10) – Victor Crouin
Expression Networks Prague Open (10) – Gregory Gaultier
Open Federación Espanola (5) – Hugo Varela

Still To Come
Life Time City Centre Challenger (3) – December 29-30

And with that, one of the strangest years in recent history is almost over. There are several events in the calendar for the early part of the year on the PSA Challenger Tour, as the up-and-coming talent continues to showcase their skills.

Unfortunately for the PSA World Tour, there are no events that have been announced as yet, but the PSA are doing everything they can to bring world class squash to you as soon as possible.

Who knows what 2021 will bring, but let’s hope that it will be a year that is slightly more normal than 2020 has been! Here’s to more squash in the New Year!

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