Hania El Hammamy, a star is born
Categories : Squash news around the world
Main story: Hania El Hammamy's giant killing run at the Black Ball Open
For numerous squash followers, Hania El Hammamy is a superstar in the making and she proved them right a few weeks ago in Cairo. The 19-year old was crowned Black Ball Open champion after beating four-time World Champion Nour El Sherbini in the final, to lift her maiden Platinum title.
Rather than the Covid-19 disease and its major impact on squash, we have chosen to focus on positive news for our March main story. Winning a first major title before turning 20 is something that not many players have been able to achieve, the last one being Nouran Gohar in Hong Kong in 2016. Hania El Hammamy's 2019-2020 season was already his best one to date, reaching the semis at the World Championship in the fall - also in Cairo. But the young Egyptian stepped up a few gears at the Black Ball Open, with an incredible giant-killing run. Her round of 16 match against World No.3 Camille Serme - rematch of the Windy City Open - was another fierce battle but this time El Hammamy came out as the victor. She carried the momentum forward in the following days, downing World No.8 and World No.7, Amanda Sobhy and Sarah-Jane Perry, to face World Champion and compatriot Nour El Sherbini in the final. The two Egyptians had met three times before, El Sherbini claiming comfortable victories each time. However, she came up against an entirely different prospect in the Black Ball Open final as El Hammamy showed how far she has come with a mature performance on one of squash’s biggest stages to hold off a resilient El Sherbini, who twice came back from a game down. The Warrior Princess took a 9-4 lead in the fifth and final game and it looked like she was going to add another title to her list of prizes. But El Hammamy was able to claw back, and to hold her nerves at the crucial moment to save Championship ball from the grips of El Sherbini before converting her own at the second attempt on the tie-break to seal her maiden Platinum title.
Hania El Hammamy showed great determination to upset Nour El Sherbini at the Black Ball Open (Photo credit: Black Ball Squash Open)
“I’m out of words,” said El Hammamy after the match. “I’m living a fairy tale. This morning, I was just hoping to play a good match, not like in the Worlds, after beating Camille [Serme] where I just didn’t show up. I just wanted to enjoy my first ever Platinum final, and prove to myself I’m not too far away from the top girls. I think I’ve played the toughest matches of my career this week. I’ve put in a lot of effort to win this title. I’m really proud of what I’ve done and hopefully I can keep going and keep making the same effort. I worked on my weaknesses, I improved my physical and squash game and I’m really pleased to be beating the top players now. I’ve played against Nour a few times and they were all straight-games. I kept learning from each match and playing against a four-time World Champion is not easy at all, she’s a fighter and a champion, I’m so happy to beat her today.” Her first Platinum title has allowed Hania El Hammamy to rise in the rankings, reaching a career high of World No.7. No doubt that she will be a force to be reckoned with when the tour resumes ...
Source: PSA World Tour
Other squash news in March
--- Stay Safe with Squash
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, its impact on international sport as a whole has been well documented throughout the media. Here is part of a media release published by the World Squash Federation a few days ago, which is a good summary of the current situation for squash.
For the first time since the inception of amateur and professional sport, the entire sporting world has stopped operating - creating an unheard-of scale of disruption for athletes, International and National Federations, sponsors, broadcasters and, most importantly, for millions of fans. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games have been postponed to 2021 and sporting experts are trying to gauge the scale of the daunting task that looms for the Olympic Movement. Today, this pandemic has resulted in unprecedented action which was virtually impossible to foresee. PSA has suspended its pro tour for several weeks and a vast majority of squash players are being locked down and confined to their homes with no possibility to keep playing their favourite sport. Following regulations imposed by the English Government, the World Squash Federation office is working remotely and we try to remain available for our National Federation Members which are facing huge organisational and operational challenges. We are also discussing with both organising committees of the World Junior Championships and the World Masters to assess the situation and take the appropriate measures to ensure the health and safety of our athletes while also needing to abide by the regulations imposed by governments and local health authorities. On the other hand, for the last couple of days we have seen many initiatives all over the world - with squash being played in unusual places because of the confinement; squash players sheltered in place practising their favourite sport; and National Federations or squash clubs finding unexpected ways to maintain a certain level of activity for their athletes. "Squash is a fantastic sport which helps people stay healthy - and this is our role, to promote our sport and its enthusiasts in all circumstances, in particular during this worldwide pandemic," said WSF CEO William Louis-Marie.
Source: World Squash Federation
WSF has launched a new #StaySafeWithSquash tag to show that the squash community continues to help people get through this dire period with a sense of solidarity and creativity (Photo credit: World Squash Federation)
--- Skills and sportsmanship on display at the Canary Wharf Classic
Did they want to leave a positive impression before the Tour was put on hold because of the Covid-19 virus outbreak? Not only Mohamed Elshorbagy and Ali Farag treated the fully packed crowd of Eastwinter Garden with a fantastic display of high-quality squash in the final of the Canary Wharf Classic, but another talking point in London was the mutual respect between the two best players in the world - both during the match and the post-match interviews. The pair were meeting for the 20th time in their careers: ElShorbagy held an 11-8 advantage but Farag had won their last meeting in straight games at the U.S. Open. The former won a highly contested first game, and saved four game balls thanks to a couple of incredible cross-court nicks in the second game. However, Farag was able to restore parity and then held a lead in the third. But his rival went to a run of seven straight points to take a one-game lead again, before carrying that momentum into the fourth game. Elshorbagy found himself only three points away from victory, but was also looking increasingly tired. However, he was able to dig very deep into his mental strength, saving three game balls before eventually winning the tie-break 15-13 to claim a second title at the Canary Wharf Classic. "The longer you play on Tour, you realise you spend more time with your rival than your family. Ali is not just a rival for me, he is someone who really inspires me and he makes me want to be a better squash player every day,” ElShorbagy said after claiming the win. “I have played so many different players form many different generations, but if I get asked who is the toughest opponent I have played in my life, it will be him. It keeps getting harder every time we play and he keeps bringing something different to the game. This could probably be the last match we play this season, and to have the two best players, it was good to have that. Honestly, what we are facing right now is something that the whole world needs to come together for. I hope that everyone takes care of themselves, not just squash fans, but everyone. I hope this is something that goes away very fast and that we can just come back to normal." Both players also praised the crowd, arguably one of the best on the Tour. “The season is suspended now so we wanted to give you a match to remember before we stop!" said Farag. "We did our sport very proud today, Mohamed and I have come to enjoy our battles a lot recently, especially when it is played in front of such an amazing crowd like you guys. We cannot be more grateful really."
Source: PSA World Tour
Mohamed ElShorbagy helps Ali Farag get up off the floor after a brutal rally in the final of the St. James’s Place Canary Wharf Classic (Photo credit: Patrick Launson)
--- PSA announce rankings to be frozen during suspension
The Professional Squash Association (PSA) has announced that the PSA World Rankings have been frozen during the ongoing suspension of the PSA Tour due to the global outbreak of COVID-19. The rankings are frozen as of March 16 to take into account the fact that there were three tournaments taking place over the weekend the announcement was made to suspend the tour. The frozen rankings mean that points accrued from the 2019 edition of tournaments postponed or cancelled due to the suspension of the tour – for example the Grasshopper Cup and El Gouna International – will remain on players rankings as the 2020 edition of those events cannot take place at present. An expiry date for these points will be finalised when the tour resumes. The same will apply for tournaments later in the year if the suspension of the tour is extended. Egyptian duo Mohamed ElShorbagy and Raneem El Welily will stay at the summit of the PSA Men’s and Women’s World Rankings, respectively, until the tour resumes. Ali Farag sits less than 30 ranking points below ElShorbagy following his defeat to the Bristol-based Egyptian in the Canary Wharf Classic final. Karim Abdel Gawad moves up a place to overtake World Champion Tarek Momen, while Marwan ElShorbagy leapfrogs Germany’s Simon Rösner. Other changes in the men’s top 20 include Omar Mosaad moving up two spots to No.15, Zahed Salem rising to No.17 and England’s Adrian Waller rising to No.19. Former World No.1 James Willstrop drops five places and takes the last spot in the top 20. In the women’s rankings, Nouran Gohar stays at No.2 ahead of World Champion Nour El Sherbini, who overtakes France’s Camille Serme to make it an all-Egyptian top three. England’s Sarah-Jane Perry rises to a joint-career high of World No.6 to sit ahead of Hania El Hammamy, who rises three places to a career best No.7 ranking courtesy of her maiden Platinum title win at the Black Ball Open in March. Kiwi Joelle King falls three places to No.9, while Welshwoman Tesni Evans stays at No.10. Elsewhere, Olivia Blatchford Clyne rises three spots to No.13, while Rowan Elaraby moves up five spots to a career high No.16 ranking. Nada Abbas takes the final spot inside the women’s top 20, moving up seven places to reach the top 20 for the first time.
Source: PSA World Tour
PSA April World rankings (Photo credits: PSA World Tour)
--- Annie Au and Victor Lust call an end to their professional career
During the last few weeks, two players belonging to the women's world top 20 have announced the end of their professional career with immediate effect. 31-year-old Annie Au is the most successful Hong Kong player of all time. Besides her 17 PSA titles - the biggest one being a Bronze tournament at the Macau Open - she also achieved success on the international scene, winning a gold medal in the team event at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, and helping Hong Kong to a bronze medal at both the 2016 and 2018 WSF Women’s World Team Squash Championship. “All these achievements were so meaningful to me," Au said. "To have a career-high of World No.6 and to have made history for Hong Kong squash is my greatest achievement. I’ve enjoyed playing on the tour for the last 10 years, but I think it is time for me to have a change of life. It is still a question for me [about what lies next after squash] but I think after taking some rest and exploration, I will find the answer quickly and tell everyone.” A few days later, it was England's Victoria Lust's turn to announce the end of her career. She turned professional in 2007, and her ranking consistently improved over the years. She finally broke into the top 20 in early 2016 and reached a high of World No.12 in June 2019. During her career, Lust won nine titles, with the biggest coming at the Monte Carlo Classic and the Granite Open, both in 2016. Over the last year, Lust admitted that she had started to lack the motivation required to train every day. "My favourite memories on tour are probably from representing my country, there is nothing better then stepping out on court for England," she said.
Source: PSA World Tour
Annie Au is the most successful Hong Kong player of all time (Photo credit: PSA World Tour)
Winner: Mohamed El Shorbagy (Egypt)
Winner: Hania El Hammamy (Egypt)