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Nour El Sherbini and Mohamed ElShorbagy with the El Gouna International trophies

2021 Year In Review: Part 1

Following on from the unique year that was 2020, this year has seen the Tour get back to somewhat closer to normality, but with tournament bubbles still in place at several of the bigger events.

The year started slowly in terms of the number of tournaments, and with all events being restricted to only domestic entrants due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

As the year went on, and the world started to open up once again, tournaments eased restrictions on entrants, with regional and international events coming back on to the calendar.

There were just three major tournaments in the first half of the year, with all of those being held in Egypt, including the season-ending CIB PSA World Tour Finals, which was one of the final events of June.

However, there was still plenty of action on the PSA Challenger Tour, with events ranging from Challenger 3 all the way to Challenger 20, with tournaments around the globe.

This is the story of the first part of the year…

January

Ali Farag and Nour El Sherbini kicked off the new year as the two leading players in the sport, while thanks to his victory at the Black Ball Sporting Club in December, Fares Dessouky made the move back inside the top ten in the rankings for the first time since November 2017.

Qatar’s Syed Azlan Amjad was the biggest mover inside the men’s top 100, climbing up to World No.69, while Madina Zafar, who won the Pakistan International Squash Tournament in December, moved inside the women’s top 100 again, climbing to World No.93.

The first month of the year was a quiet one, with only four tournaments being held, across three countries. All four events were Challenger 10 level, with the first being held in Bielsko-Biala in Poland, the Expression Networks Enjoy Open.

Gregory Gaultier (left) won the first title of the year in Poland

That event, along with the Czech Pro Series 1, which was the last tournament of the month, held in Prague, were both won by Gregory Gaultier. Compatriot Melissa Alves took victory at the PSA Squash95 Paris, the first won’s tournament of the year.

The only event held in January which did not take place on European soil was the Sandgate Open, and it saw one of the stories of the year. Tamika Hunt was making her return to the Tour after having a baby, and was unseeded for the event.

However, the Australian downed four of the top six seeds, including former World No.1 Rachael Grinham, on her return. She got the better of the tournament’s No.2 seed Sarah Cardwell in straight games in the final to claim her first title since 2017, whilst continuing her run of making at least the last eight in every event she had entered, going back 14 tournaments.

January Title Winners
(Event level in brackets)
Expression Networks Enjoy Open (M 10) – Gregory Gaultier (FRA)
PSA Squash95 Paris (W 10) – Melissa Alves (FRA)
Sandgate Open (W 10) – Tamika Hunt (AUS)
Czech Pro Series 1 (M 10) – Gregory Gaultier (FRA)

February

Thanks to no events in January on the World Tour, both the men’s and women’s top 20 remained the same heading into February, where the Challenger Tour started to get busier, with ten tournaments taking place in eight countries across five continents. Three of those events came in France, with the two men’s tournaments being claimed by Victor Crouin.

The young Frenchman won the PSA Challenger 10 Le Reve Nancy at the beginning of the month, before doubling up with the title at the Cognac Open at the end of the month as well. Meanwhile, Melissa Alves secured her second title of the year with a win at the Le Havre PSA Challenger.

The Volkswagen Australian Open titles were claimed by Rhys Dowling and former World No.1 Rachael Grinham, while Nasir Iqbal and Madina Zafar also won titles in their home nation of Pakistan, at the BISL 4 Southern Punjab International Squash Tournament.

Valentin Rapp won the first of several events at the Sportwerk Club in Hamburg, while Evan Williams notched up his first title of the year at the Henderson Rochelle Hobbs Open. Also winning on home soil were Sajad Zareian Jahromi in Tehran, Shahjahan Khan in Houston, and Juan Camilo Vargas in Bogota.

February Title Winners
(Event level in brackets)
PSA Challenger 10 Le Reve Nancy (M 10) – Victor Crouin (FRA)
Volkswagen Australian Open (M/W 10) – Rhys Dowling (AUS) & Rachael Grinham (AUS)
Le Havre PSA Challenger (W 10) – Melissa Alves (FRA)
DSQV Sportwerk Challenger (M 3) – Valentin Rapp (GER)
BISL 4 Southern Punjab International Squash Tournament (M/W 10) – Nasir Iqbal (PAK) & Madina Zafar (PAK)
Henderson Rochelle Hobbs Open (M 5) – Evan Williams (NZL)
Commemoration Of The Martyrs Of The Iranian Navy Army (M 5) – Sajad Zareian Jahromi (IRI)
Life Time City Centre Men’s Open Presented By NH Specialists (M 10) – Shahjahan Khan (USA)
Squash Colombia Challenger (M 5) – Juan Camilo Vargas (COL)
Cognac Open (M 10) – Victor Crouin (FRA)

March

Once again, the top end of the rankings remained unchanged for both the men and women, while Pakistan’s Madina Zafar made another move up the rankings, following her second win in three months. She moved up 13 spots to World No.80, with USA’s Spencer Lovejoy the biggest mover in the men’s rankings, as he broke into the top 100 for the first time.

The first SquashTV event of 2021 took place in March, with the cameras going back to the Black Ball Sporting Club in Cairo, returning just three months after Sarah-Jane Perry and Fares Dessouky had claimed the crowns at the Gold level event in December.

In March, the tournament was a Platinum level major, and it was double delight for Egypt. World No.1 Nour El Sherbini started off what would be a dominant year for the top two women in the world, while Marwan ElShorbagy secured his second major title, three years after winning in El Gouna.

Elsewhere in the month of March, there were plenty of first-time winners on Tour, including Fayrouz Aboelkheir, who at just 15 years of age, won in her first tournament, claiming victory at the Egyptian Challenger Tour #1. That event would also see the start of the monumental year for Moustafa El Sirty, as he took the first of a Tour-leading nine titles in 2021.

Other first-time winners in the month of March included Frenchman Toufik Mekhalfi, Hungary’s Hannah Chukwu, New Zealand’s Kaitlyn Watts and Lwamba Chileshe, Spaniard Ivan Perez and Switzerland’s Cindy Merlo.

March Title Winners
(Event level in brackets)
DSQV Sportwerk 5 & 3 (M 5/W 3) – Raphael Kandra (GER) & Saskia Beinhard (GER)
Zarbaf Farahan Squash Tournament (M 5) – Sajad Zareian Jahromi (IRI)
2nd Sylvester Trophy (M 5) – Ryosei Kobayashi (JPN)
CIB PSA Black Ball Squash Open (M/W Platinum) – Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY) & Nour El Sherbini (EGY)
SquashBerek Open (M 5/W 3) – Balazs Farkas (HUN) & Hannah Chukwu (HUN)
Egyptian Challenger Tour #1 (M/W 5) – Moustafa El Sirty (EGY) & Fayrouz Aboelkheir (EGY)
Chairman Cup (M/W 10) – Chi Him Wong (HKG) & Liu Tsz-Ling (HKG)
Royal Oak Open (W 3) – Kaitlyn Watts (NZL)
Swiss Open (W 10) – Cindy Merlo (SUI)
Squash Eredivisie – Speelronde 3 (M 3) – Joeri Hapers (BEL)
Morrinsville Open (M 3) – Lwamba Chileshe (NZL)
Annecy Lake Open (M 5) – Toufik Mekhalfi (FRA)
Open des Bretzels (W 10) – Enora Villard (FRA)
Open Squash Aguadulce (M 5) – Ivan Perez (ESP)

April

USA’s Amanda Sobhy made it into the top five of the World Rankings for the first time in her career in April, while Salma Hany also moved up to a career-high of World No.9. In the men’s rankings, Marwan ElShorbagy moved back inside the top five.

April saw the first Challenger 20 level tournament of the year, and it was USA’s Todd Harrity that claimed the win at the 2nd HCL SRFI Indian Tour – Chennai Leg 1, while Hana Moataz secured the win in the women’s Challenger 10 level draw at the event.

Poland’s Karina Tyma made history in April, as she became the first Polish player to ever win an event on the Tour, while Spaniard Cristina Gomez and the South African duo of Dewald van Niekerk and Lizelle Muller all claimed their maiden victories.

Karina Tyma (second right) claimed her first Tour title in April

Mexico’s Leonel Cardenas and Egypt’s Yahya Elnawasany, winners of the Life Time Plano International Open and Egyptian Challenger Tour #2 respectively, both took the first of four victories in 2021, with both players continuing to rise up the World Rankings throughout the year.

There were also wins for Ivan Yuen and Aifa Azman on home soil in Malaysia, and the pair would both go on to win three more titles in 2021. England’s Robert Downer finally got his first win on Tour after over a decade, as he claimed the title at the Czech Pro Series 2.

There were also wins for Germany’s Yannik Omlor and Latvian No.1 Ineta Mackevica in April, with the pair both securing their maiden titles at the DSQV Sportwerk Series No.5. Sana Ibrahim also got her first title of the year, winning on home soil in Egypt.

April Title Winners
(Event level in brackets)
2nd HCL SRFI Indian Tour – Chennai Leg 1 (M 20/W 10) – Todd Harrity (USA) & Hana Moataz (EGY)
SOAP Engineering Squash Open (W 10) – Karina Tyma (POL)
Life Time Plano International Squash Open (M 10) – Leonel Cardenas (MEX)
Egyptian Challenger Tour #2 (M/W 5) – Yahya Elnawasany (EGY) & Sana Ibrahim (EGY)
SRAM PSA 1 (M/W 10) – Ivan Yuen (MAS) & Aifa Azman (MAS)
Czech Pro Series 2 (M 10) – Robert Downer (ENG)
Codep94 Val de Marne International (W 10) – Cristina Gomez (ESP)
DSQV Sportwerk Series No.5 (M/W 3) – Yannik Omlor (GER) & Ineta Mackevica (LAT)
Western Province Open (M/W 3) – Dewald van Niekerk (RSA) & Lizelle Muller (RSA)

May

The top 40 in both men’s and women’s ranking stay unchanged going into May due to no World Tour events being held in April, but there were big ones for Robert Downer and Yahya Elnawasany, with the Englishman breaking into the top 100 for the first time in his career.

After their maiden wins on Tour, both Cristina Gomez and Karina Tyma climbed more then ten places to occupy their highest ever position in the World Rankings, while Aifa Azman moved inside the top 60.

The PSA World Tour returned to Egypt in the month of May, with the El Gouna International Squash Open, held at the brand new Conference and Culture Centre in the resort town, and it was the top two seeds that secured victory on home soil.

Nour El Sherbini and Nouran Gohar faced off in the first of four finals in 2021, and the ‘Warrior Princess’ secured her second major title of the year, following her victory at the Black Ball Sporting Club two months previously. In the men’s event, Mohamed ElShorbagy took what would be his only win of the year, ad he defeated New Zealand’s Paul Coll in straight games in the final.

On the Challenger Tour, Evan Williams won three times in May in his home nation of New Zealand, claiming victories at the Waikato Open, Panmure Tecnifibre Open and the Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Open. Compatriot Kaitlyn Watts joined him in being victorious at the first two of those, while Australia’s Jessica Turnbull, who also won in Auckland, was another to win twice in the month, also securing the title at the North Coast Open.

Malaysia’s Bryan Lim Tze Kang also won the latter of those events, along with securing the win at the Squash NT Open later in the month. Hong Kong’s Chan Sin Yuk secured her first win on Tour at the Chairman Cup 2, as did Alireza Shameli, with the Iranian winning on home soil at the Kish Yasi Cup. The South African duo of Dewald van Niekerk and Lizelle Muller both won again, with the pair claiming victory at the Assore/Balwin Johannesburg Open.

There were also victories for Leonel Cardenas, Faraz Khan, Ryosei Kobayashi, Alicia Mead, Daniel Poleshchuk, Valentin Rapp, Jakub Solnicky, Vladislav Titov, Ryunosuke Tsukue, Milou van der Heijden, Yannick Wilhelmi and Tsz Fung Yip.

May Title Winners
(Event level in brackets)
Archi Factory Open Lorient (M 5) – Yannick Wilhelmi (SUI)
Texas Auto Save Life Time San Antonio 281 International Squash Open (M 10) – Leonel Cardenas (MEX)
Waikato Open (M/W 3) – Evan Williams (NZL) & Kaitlyn Watts (NZL)
Japan PSA Satellite Series Vol.1 in SQ-CUBE (M 3) – Ryunosuke Tsukue (JPN)
Chairman Cup 2 (M/W 10) – Tsz Fung Yip (HKG) & Chan Sin Yuk (HKG)
North Coast Open (M/W 3) – Bryan Lim Tze Kang (MAS) & Jessica Turnbull (AUS)
Open de Mulhouse (M 5) – Ryosei Kobayashi (JPN)
Panmure Tecnifibre Open (M 5/W 3) – Evan Williams (NZL) & Kaitlyn Watts (NZL)
Czech Pro Series 3 (M 5) – Jakub Solnicky (CZE)
Assurance Financial Austin South Squash Open (M 10) – Faraz Khan (USA)
El Gouna International Squash Open (M/W Platinum) – Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) & Nour El Sherbini (EGY)
AS Insurance Services Ltd Pontefract Ladies Challenger (W 3) – Alicia Mead (ENG)
DSQV Sportwerk Series: Esche Cup (M 5/W 3) – Valentin Rapp (GER) & Milou van der Heijden (NED)
Assore/Balwin Johannesburg Open (M/W 5) – Dewald van Niekerk (RSA) & Lizelle Muller (RSA)
Kish Yasi Cup (M 5) – Alireza Shameli (IRI)
Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Open (M 10/W 5) – Evan Williams (NZL) & Jessica Turnbull (AUS)
Squash NT Open (M 3) – Bryan Lim Tze Kang (MAS)
Moscow Challenger 3 (M 3) – Vladislav Titov (RUS)
R.D.I. Polska Enjoy Open Challenger 3 (M 3) – Daniel Poleshchuk (ISR)

June

Hania El Hammamy moved back inside the top five of the women’s rankings going into May, while Rowan Elaraby and Olivia Fiechter both moved up to their highest spots of World No.12 and World No.20, respectively. The men’s top ten remained unchanged, but Egypt’s Youssef Ibrahim and Malaysia’s Eain Yow Ng both made moves up to career-high placings.

The CIB PSA World Tour Finals took place in June, with World No.2 Nouran Gohar coming through her group with a perfect 12 points, before then coming out victorious as she got the better of Hania El Hammamy in an high-octane, all-Egyptian final.

The men’s final saw Mostafa Asal claim his first major title, as he came through his group in 1st place, beating Marwan ElShorbagy and Ali Farag to advance. He then went on to defeat Tarek Momen in the semis, before then downing Mohamed ElShorbagy in the final!

It was a big month for Egypt’s Aly Hussein and Spanish No.1 Cristina Gomez, as the pair won their respective titles at a World Championship qualifying event, the Odense Open, securing their spots in the draw in Chicago in July.

After spending four years at college in the Untied States, England’s Georgia Kennedy came back to the Tour and secured her maiden win, and the first victory of eight she would take in 2021, at the Sumner Malik Memorial. She then also went on to secure the win at the Pontefract Ladies Challenger 2 as well.

There was also more success for the Hong Kong duo of Tsz Fung Yip and Chan Sin Yuk, as the pair took the titles at the Hong Kong Football Club PSA in June.

Faraz Khan, Alireza Shameli and Daniel Poleshchuk all secured their second victories on Tour in as many months, while there were also victories for for the English trio of Richie Fallows, Joe Lee and Jasmine Hutton, Colombia’s Ronald Palomino, Poland’s Karina Tyma, Austrian No.1 Aqeel Rehman, New Zealand’s Lwambe Chileshe and Frenchman Sebastien Bonmalais.

June Title Winners
(Event level in brackets)
Atlanta Open (M 10) – Faraz Khan (USA)
Life Time City Centre Women’s International Squash Open (W 10) – Karina Tyma (POL)
Salzburg Open (M 5) – Aqeel Rehman (AUT)
Anyos Park Open (M 5) – Sebastien Bonmalais (FRA)
Northland Open (M 5) – Lwamba Chileshe (NZL)
Ramadan Cup (M 5) – Alireza Shameli (IRI)
R.D.I. Polska Enjoy Open Challenger 3 – 2 (M 3) – Daniel Poleshchuk (ISR)
Sumner Malik Memorial (M 10/W 3) – Richie Fallows (ENG) & Georgina Kennedy (ENG)
Colombia Squash Challenger 2 (M 5) – Ronald Palomino (COL)
Odense Open (M/W 5) – Aly Hussein (EGY) & Cristina Gomez (ESP)
Hong Kong Football Club PSA (M/W 10) – Tsz Fung Yip (HKG) & Chan Sin Yuk (HKG)
Pontefract Ladies 3k Challenger 2 (W 3) – Georgina Kennedy (ENG)
CIB PSA World Tour Finals (M/W F) – Mostafa Asal (EGY) & Nouran Gohar (EGY)
Bexley Open (M/W 3) – Joe Lee (ENG) & Jasmine Hutton (ENG)

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