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Nele Gilis

Ones to Watch in 2021

Ahead of the New Year, we have taken a look at some of the PSA stars that you should keep your eye on in 2021.

Whether 2020 saw them claim their biggest titles, record huge upsets or reach milestones, we have picked 10 players we believe could make a charge in 2021.

Do you agree or are there other players on your list? Let us know on social media!

Nele Gilis

Belgium’s Nele Gilis made 2020 one of her standout years despite the PSA Tour suspension as she closes out the year at her highest World Ranking to date at No.12.

Gilis has gone from strength-to-strength throughout the year and has now become a consistent fixture in the last 16 of the major events, with her last event of the year seeing her push World No.5 Hania El Hammamy to five games in a thrilling spectacle at the CIB Black Ball Open.

The 24-year-old had been edging ever closer to getting a big win over one of the top 10 players and her moment finally came at the CIB Egyptian Open after she vanquished World No.7 Amanda Sobhy 8-11, 11-9, 6-11, 11-8, 12-10, overturning two match balls in the process.

Gilis went on to beat Canada’s Hollie Naughton to book her place in the quarter finals of the PSA Platinum event, where she lost out to World No.1 Nouran Gohar in front of the Pyramids in Egypt.

With just two places separating her from the top 10, can Gilis make the jump in 2021?

Fares Dessouky

2020 ended in the best possible way for Fares Dessouky as he lifted his biggest PSA title to date at the CIB Black Ball Open, PSA World Tour Gold event.

The World No.11 was a more than deserving winner after going on a huge run that saw him knock out the likes of defending champion and World No.5 Karim Abdel Gawad, World No.7 Diego Elias and World Champion Tarek Momen before coming from 2-0 down against World No.1 Ali Farag in one of the most thrilling finals of the year.

The 26-year-old has seen his career halted on occasion by serious injuries, dropping as low as World No.606 in December 2018, but with a title win coming at the Pittsburgh Open at the start of the 2020, Dessouky has enjoyed a stellar year with a semi-final finish at the Qatar Classic – his best result at a Platinum event along with the El Gouna International in 2019 – before rounding off the year with victory in Cairo.

We’ve seen the talented Egyptian break into the men’s top 10 before with his highest ranking of No.8 coming in November 2017, however, that was the last time he featured in the top 10. Will the New Year see him reclaim his place?

Sabrina Sobhy

We’ve become used to seeing one Sobhy name already at the top of the women’s game with USA No.1 Amanda Sobhy leading the charge for her country and a mainstay in the top 10. However, 2020 saw the rise of a new American talent in the form of Amanda’s younger sister, Sabrina.

Having fully committed to the PSA Tour last season following time away to focus on her academic studies at Harvard University, Sobhy has continued to see her stock rise – going from World No.39 in January to her career-high of World No.22 at the close of 2020.

The 23-year-old had already made waves on the PSA Challenger Tour, winning five titles from 10 finals, but Sobhy has now become one of the ones to watch at the top end of the sport after some impressive performances against the best players in the world.

Sobhy began the year with an impressive display at the 2020 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions, getting further than her older sister, as she reached the last 16 of the New York event – the first time she has reached that stage of a major event.

She got the better of Hong Kong’s Joey Chan and England’s Victoria Lust and went on to take a game off English No.1 Sarah-Jane Perry before falling to defeat at the hands of the experienced World No.6.

Two strong displays were to follow against France’s World No.4 Camille Serme with the two players meeting at both the Manchester Open and CIB Egyptian Open. In Manchester, Sobhy was able to take a game off eventual finalist Serme, but her best display of the year came against the Frenchwoman in Egypt with Sobhy pushing Serme all the way to five-games before narrowly losing out in the fifth.

A win over a player ranked inside the top 10 came for Sobhy at the end of the year at the CIB Black Ball Open though as she held of a comeback from Egypt’s Salma Hany to close out 11-9 in the fifth and set up a clash with World No.1 Nour El Sherbini in the second round, where she was unlucky to not take the first game with it going all the way to 16-14.

We’ll be keeping an eye on Sobhy in 2021 to see if she can progress and follow in the footsteps of her older sister, Amanda.

Youssef Ibrahim

Youssef Ibrahim is another player that has been no stranger to a big win in 2020.

Starting the year strongly at the E.M. Noll Classic, the top seed was beaten to the title by England’s Nathan Lake after going one game up. However, the best was yet to come from the Egyptian with his form enjoying an upturn following the six-month suspension of the PSA Tour.

Ibrahim announced his return to action in style at the CIB Egyptian Open, reaching the last 16 of the PSA Platinum event following wins over Scotland’s Alan Clyne and England’s Declan James – both ranked higher than him – before bowing out to Paul Coll in the last 16.

The 2020 Qatar Classic would bring the biggest win of Ibrahim’s career though. The week in Doha put Ibrahim on the map and marked him out as one to watch in the coming seasons. He began with a strong performance against Swiss Rocket Nicolas Mueller, before taking out Mexico’s Cesar Salazar, who was forced to retire from their match due to injury.

The crowning moment came against former World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy in round three. The Beast from Alexandria needed a big week in Qatar to stand a chance of getting his No.1 ranking back from Ali Farag. However, Ibrahim produced one of the performances of the season to defeat one of the sport’s greatest ever players in a five-game thriller and reach the quarter finals of a Platinum event for the first time in his career.

Sadly, for the Egyptian he missed out on the semi-finals as he came up against an excellent Fares Dessouky, who took the win 11-4, 12-14, 11-2, 10-12, 11-5.

Will Ibrahim be able to keep up his impressive form in 2021?

Farida Mohamed

2020 was the year Farida Mohamed announced herself on the PSA World Tour.

Despite only making her PSA debut in 2018, the young Egyptian delivered one of the knockout performances of the year at the CIB Women’s Black Ball Open in March when the event was a Platinum tier tournament.

Mohammed defeated Scotland’s Lisa Aitken in five-games before going onto come from two games down against New Zealand’s Joelle King to take out the World No.8 in a monumental comeback and produce one of the shocks of the season.

Proving it wasn’t just a one-time thing, the World No.35 went onto axe England’s No.1 Sarah-Jane Perry in straight games at the CIB Egyptian Open before narrowly bowing out to India’s Joshna Chinappa in the next round.

All those results meant that Mohamed has risen from World No.52 in January to World No.35 by the close of the year – can she keep up her streak?

George Parker

Our first English player on the list, George Parker has been showing us his skills on the PSA Tour since making his debut back in 2012.

With seven PSA titles to his name, the Leicester-born player has always shown he possess the racket skill to have what it takes, but it can sometimes be his discipline on court that lets him down.

However, in 2020 Parker has begun to show more mature performances. His run since the Pittsburgh Open in February has seen him only lose out to higher-seeded players with some strong performances coming against Mohamed ElShorbagy in Qatar following a big five-game round one win over France’s Victor Crouin.

These performances have seen him climb back to World No.41 after starting the year at No.56 in the world. Parker will be hoping for big things in 2021 as he looks to take the next step in his PSA career.

Hollie Naughton

Canada’s Hollie Naughton has been a consistent figure inside the top 30 for the last 18 months but made huge strides this year as she broke into the top 20 in November.

The 26-year-old lifted the Racquet Club Pro-Series PSA Challenger title back in February when she defeated USA’s Olivia Fiechter in the final to mark her third PSA title and first in three years. That was the only Challenger event for Naughton in 2020 as she began to make strides on the World Tour.

Her best finishes came towards the end of the year, when she reached the last 16 stage at three events in a row – the Manchester Open, CIB Egyptian Open and CIB Black Ball Open.

Perhaps Naughton’s biggest result of the year came in her last event of 2020 when she axed World No.14 Rowan Elaraby at the CIB Black Ball Open to take one of her biggest wins over a higher-seeded player.

With her place as Canadian No.1 cemented, Naughton will be looking to build on her new-found confidence in the big tournaments in 2021.

Mostafa Asal

Egypt’s rising star Mostafa Asal has divided the opinion of PSA World Tour fans like no other, whether it’s his style of play, controversial celebrations or even down to his sock and shoe combination. But no-one can deny that the 19-year-old has shook up the hierarchy of the men’s game with some of the biggest upsets coming at the hands of Asal in 2020.

The upsets began right at the start of the year for Asal as he took out compatriot and then-World No.9 Mohamed Abouelghar at the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions in a nick fest as he slammed in winner after winner to come from a game down to win.

Asal could have been playing the British Juniors that week but instead chose to go to New York for more professional experience and that decision was further proved right with the defeat of former World No.1 Gregory Gaultier in the next round, who was making his big return from injury.

The six-month suspension of the PSA Tour did not affect Asal’s confidence as he got the better of New Zealand’s World No.4 Paul Coll on two separate occasions in the 2020-21 season.

The first came in controversial style in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza at the CIB Egyptian Open where the enigmatic Asal fought back from 2-1 down in a thrilling contest to complete an 8-11, 11-9, 4-11, 11-3, 12-10 victory after 103 minutes of action – sparking wild celebrations that saw him rip off his shirt and sweatband and throw them out of the court.

The match veered from the sublime to the ridiculous, with passages of expertly crafted rallies, incredible shot-making and superhuman retrievals making way for scrappy periods of play and plenty of discussions with the referee, with Coll accusing his opponent of blocking on a few occasions.

Asal proved that his squash could speak for itself in the re-match two months later at the CIB Black Ball Open though as he displayed mature squash and defeated Coll on merit in five-games.

The celebrations remained the same though with the shirt coming off once more in front of his home crowd. The Egyptian went on to back that result up by downing Colombia’s World No.10 Miguel Rodriguez in straight games, but World No.1 Ali Farag proved too much in the semi-finals.

Those results have seen Asal’s stock rise from World No.21 at the start of the year to his current career-high World Ranking of No.14. Whatever your opinion of the Egyptian, it cannot be denied that he will be one to watch in 2021 – can he break the top 10?

Lucy Turmel

21-year-old Lucy Turmel is one of three English players to feature on our ‘Ones to Watch’ list.

Despite only making her PSA debut in 2016 and playing 40 PSA events, Turmel has continued to impress and has now begun a more consistent figure at the big events on the PSA World Tour.

A last 16 finish at the Windy City Open PSA Platinum event in Chicago proved to be her biggest result of the season as she battled past the likes of former World No.1 Rachael Grinham and England’s Victoria Lust to reach the last 16.

Under the guidance of coach Lee Drew and former World No.1 Laura Massaro, those big wins kept coming with victory over higher-seeded Nada Abbas at the Manchester Open – the first PSA tournament following the COVID enforced suspension – showing her progression and led to her sitting at her highest World Ranking to date of World No.36.

Is Turmel the future for English squash on the women’s tour?

Patrick Rooney

England’s Patrick Rooney completes our list, with the Englishman making a steady rise up the men’s rankings in 2020.

Starting the year outside the top 60, Rooney has seen his form improve and be rewarded in his ranking which now sees him make the cut for the major events on his own merit.

His performances over the course of the 2019-20 season also saw the Englishman nominated for PSA Young Male Player of the Year.

Rooney ended 2019 with a runner-up finish at the London Open, losing out to former World No.1 James Willstrop in the final and despite finding his tournament time halted by the suspension of the Tour, he has been able to impress on the big stage with his last match at the Qatar Classic seeing him miss out on the second round in a five-game battle with home favourite Abdulla Mohd Al Tamimi.

Now sitting at World No.53 – will 2021 see Rooney break into the top 50 and add to his PSA title haul which currently sits at four?

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