By RJ Mitchell
Hania El Hammamy has revealed that she is determined to turn her impressive Allam British Open triumph into a stepping stone to achieving her ultimate goal of becoming World No.1.
The 21-year-old showed tremendous mental resilience to overcome current World No.1 Nouran Gohar to win the ‘Wimbledon of Squash’ earlier this month and in the process, confound the form books and a harrowing head-to-head record with her compatriot who had boasted an 8-1 dominance over El Hammamy.
But with the season culminating in the PSA World Championships in Cairo in May, El Hammamy is hoping to use her breakthrough major triumph in Hull to bring the curtain down on what would be an unforgettable campaign with the sport’s biggest title.
Yet as she reflected on her seminal success, El Hammamy admitted it has taken some time to sink in that she has joined legend’s like Heather McKay, Susan Devoy, Michelle Martin, Sarah Fitz-Gerald, Nicol David and Nour El Sherbini, as a British Open victor.
“Being a British Open champion is something that I have always dreamt off and to finally hold the trophy in my hands was a magical and a really special moment and one I won’t ever forget,” she admitted.
“Also the fact that the British Open is just before the World Championships is something that I am very lucky to have as its just as important as the World Champs, almost like a second version of the Wold Champs. So, to be British Open champion then hopefully I can use that to help me build towards becoming a Wold Champion. For sure there are still a lot of steps I need to take to be World No.1 but that is going to take a lot of consistency.
“Nouran [Gohar] reached that spot at No.1 earlier this month and that was due to her consistency and that included winning five titles in a row. So that shows the level I have to focus on to reach my end goal of being No.1 and hopefully it will come one day.
“Going into the final, the head-to-head was 8-1 against me, so it was definitely tough for me mentally but every time I go on court I give it 100% and I never let things like that get to me. I never go on court thinking I am going to lose. I always try to see things positively and I watch every match and try to learn from my mistakes and that definitely helped me with the final in the British Open.
El Hammamy (left) on court with Nouran Gohar (right) in the final in Hull
“I thought that I tried to be as consistent as I could be to give myself the best chance to beat Nouran and obviously she is now No.1 in the world and playing at her best level in her career so far, so beating her is something that is so tough and I had to study the previous matches and spent quite a bit of time on them to come through it.
“Nouran is a very tricky player and if you go short and make attacking shots to often then you will lose, so it was just a question of getting the right balance to this. Produce a good weight of shot and really pick my opportunities and I thought I had a good plan, created the opportunities and I used them really well. So that was the key, I had to wait for my opportunities and then use them correctly and thankfully it worked out for me.”
Reflecting further on just how much her maiden win in the game’s oldest major meant to her El Hammamy said: “For any squash player the British Open is very important. The World Championships and the British Open are the two tournaments that any squash player hopes to win.
“Since I was a junior I was always so determined to do well in it and I had five British Opens and to be honest I just feel like there is something lucky about the British Open for me. Both from when I was a junior and what happened last week, I overcame so many challenges and the British Open is just really special to me. So, having my name on the trophy after all the legends that have their names on there before is something that I am so aware of and so proud of to follow them.
“The trophy is so big and there are a lot of names on either side and it took me some time to read them all but they are all there, the greatest names of the women’s game and it means a lot to have my name added to the trophy with them. I really struggled for a little while to take it all in.”
El Hammamy’s toughest match en route to her first British Open title was her tense five-game semi-final with a determined Joelle King, who had come up with a shrewd game plan which involved directing most of her traffic down El Hammamy’s back-hand wing.
With the Egyptian trailing two games to one, it took all of her renowned fighting spirit to overcome King’s fierce resistance in a bruising 71-minute encounter.
“Playing against Joelle is definitely tricky as she likes to attack as much as I do and I felt it was a battle of the backhand side and we both tried to keep the ball as tight as possible from this side and then attack from what was next,” said the World No.3.
El Hammamy (right) and Joelle King (left) in their British Open semi-final
“It was also a very tough match mentally and tactically as well as being a physical match and I thought that Joelle got the better of the tactical aspect but in this match my mentality and attacking shots helped me when I needed them. Overall it was absolutely tough and I was very pleased to win and make the final.”
As El Hammamy looked forward to the remainder of the season, which culminates with the PSA World Championships in her home city of Cairo, there was no doubting her determination to do everything she can to continue a meteoric rise that seems fated to achieve a World No.1 ranking.
“I think I am going in the right direction. The only thing I needed was a proper win against Nouran and at the time she was No.2 and now she is World No.1. So, knowing I can beat both No.2 and No.1 properly in a full best of five games match is something I am very happy with.
“Especially with the World Champs approaching, it is something I can take confidence from but to win the Worlds, I know I will have to beat both Nouran and Nour [El Sherbini] but I feel like I am ready now.
“Nouran had the edge over me in some aspects and a lot of that was mental and now I know how to set my mentality the right way to beat her so I will try to keep going and keep working with the same mentality. But as long as I am not No.1 then there is definitely a lot to improve. I think it is a long way and even if one day I reach No.1 I will still have other stuff to improve as the game keeps evolving all the time.
“So I will have to keep adapting and keep improving and so far I am happy with how it is going and I just have to keep working hard, become more consistent and keep going forward. For a while no one was competing against Nouran and she has been playing fantastically well and has raised the bar a bit but step by step people are adapting their games against her, just as I have had to do and find ways.
“This loop happens against whoever is at the top and it will happen to me if I get there and we all have to improve and we are all driving each other to get better.”