By RJ Mitchell
Jonah Barrington has hailed Nour El Sherbini as the greatest female player in the history of the game.
In the first of an exclusive two-part review spanning both the women’s and men’s game, Barrington described the current quality of squash at the elite end of the women’s game as the highest he has observed in over 60 years in the sport.
Barrington, still known to squash fans as ‘Mr Squash’ for his pivotal role in transforming squash from a past time of the privileged into a fully professional sport back in the late 60s and early 70s, was also full of praise for El Sherbini’s chief rival Nouran Gohar and also Hania El Hammamy, who has reached her highest ranking of World No.3 in the January PSA Women’s World Rankings.
“I am now convinced that over the course of 2021, despite everything, we saw in Nour El Sherbini, now apparently in a good place physically, the greatest female player in the long history of the game,” said Barrington.
“Nour has an instinctive squash brain and a super technical expertise with a forehand [hold] to die for and a hugely underestimated athleticism, all of which make her now preeminent in the pantheon of our game’s great women’s champions.”
The six-time British Open champion, who celebrated his 80th birthday in April of last year, believes that while the chasing pack has never been stronger or more insatiable, the gap to the top-three Egyptians will prove a huge challenge to bridge over the course of 2022.
Barrington’s admiration of El Sherbini’s two chief rivals, World No.2 Gohar whom she defeated in the finals of both the World Championship and Allam British Open, and El Hammamy, who defeated El Sherbini in the semi-final of the U.S. Open final before losing the final to Gohar, is glowing.
Hania El Hammamy (right) takes on Nouran Gohar (left) in the semi finals of the 2021 CIB Squash Open Black Ball
Barrington said: “El Sherbini’s current main rival, Nouran Gohar, is so hugely potent with her crushing and constant pressure hitting which is also unlike anything I have ever seen before.
“Meanwhile, Hania El Hammamy has general quality, smooth athleticism and competitive drive and is swiftly closing the gap, while also being already very much in contention for the major titles at this early stage in her career.
“When Nour El Tayeb is fully fit again, and I expect this to be soon with such an all-consuming attitude, and with Camille [Serme], Amanda [Sobhy[, SJ [Perry] and other lurkers present, there are again going to be absolutely riveting matches.
“In the recent past, the women have basically saved the day, and it could well happen again in 2022. So, I must repeat myself here, a short time ago when the wonderful Raneem El Welily was still in full flow, El Sherbini her greatest rival, Nour El Tayeb and Gohar at their most combatant and Camille Serme also thriving, I knew I was watching the highest level ever and that remains the case.”
When it comes to 2022’s potential stars, Barrington says there are plenty to pick from: “I believe that the general level of the women’s game is higher than ever yet the gap, between those at the very top and the aspirants below is still substantial.
“Much credit has to already go to the young pretenders like Farida Mohamed and Nada Abbas from Egypt and also Zeina Mickawy, the Gilis sisters [Nele and Tinne], America’s Olivia Fiechter and Sabrina Sobhy, Sivasangari Subramaniam & Aifa Azman from Malaysia and Georgina Kennedy, Lucy Turmel and Jasmine Hutton from England, and others with obvious potential.
“That will not be realised until there is an awareness that the hardest and most intelligent work is still to come. To bridge this gap needs an obsessive daily application to what makes a world-class performer.
“They must never stop trying to improve because at the top of the women’s game we are witnessing the most fantastic squash.
Six-time British Open champion Jonah Barrington
“Even though the commitment may be total, there is still no guarantee that any of those that I have mentioned will topple Nour, Nouran or Hania in 2022 and beyond.”
Barrington had special words of wisdom for the woman who has made the greatest rise in the rankings at the elite level, Georgina Kennedy. The Englishwoman’s final appearance in Detroit at the DAC Pro Squash Classic and her run to the semi finals of the CIB Squash Open Black Ball in December saw her end 2021 at No.17 in the world having started it outside of the world’s top 150.
“One example is the swift advance of Georgina Kennedy,” Barrington said.
“She is one of a number with significant ability but is extremely raw and already has a creditable win over the unpredictable but extremely dangerous SJ Perry, but it cannot be hidden from that there is much to learn.”