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Nour El Sherbini and Ali Farag are 2018-2019 world champions!
Categories : Squash news around the world
Egypt's Nour El Sherbini and Ali Farag were crowned 2018-2019 World Champions on Saturday night (Photo credit: PSA World Tour)
Main story: Dream weekend for Farag, while El Sherbini grabs third World Championship title
It was another exceptional night for Egyptian squash yesterday in Chicago, as Nour El Sherbini and Ali Farag beat compatriots Nour El Tayeb and Tarek Momen to become 2018-2019 World Champions.
“As I stand here today, I can’t help but think about the road I’ve taken,” were the first words of Ali Farag in his prize ceremony speech, after the Harvard-graduate won his first World Championship title on Saturday night in Chicago. "If you had told me five years ago, no chance I would have believed you. As a senior at college, I never thought about going pro and the main driving force behind it is my wife." He's of course referring to Nour El Tayeb, who lost in the women's final before he had to come on court (see below). "At least we won't be both upset tonight," she said smiling. It could have been an unforgettable night for the Egyptian couple, but they still have much to celebrate: twenty-four hours before the final, Farag had reached the World No.1 spot for the first time. Both he and his opponent were competing in their first ever PSA World Championship final, Tarek Momen having caused a huge upset by taking out defending champion Mohamed ElShorbagy in the semis. Farag took the first game comfortably, before Momen was able to calm his nerves and level the score at 1-1. The Egyptian pair were both playing at their best in the third game, but despite saving three game balls Momen had to conceed (13-11). "This game was crucial," he said during the ceremony, understandably disappointed. The 31-year old is yet to win a major title after featuring in 3 finals as well as 7 semi-finals. "I kept trying to push myself but I came up short. All credit to Ali for handling his previous matches very well and coming into the final fresher than me." The fourth game was one-way traffic, and it was only a matter of time before Ali Farag was able to close it out (11-3). “Winning the World Championships is one thing, but winning it in front of this crowd is something else.," added Farag. "Thanks to the Walter Family, it’s the biggest prize purse that’s ever been on offer in squash and it’s a huge honour. Me and Tarek have been practising together for the last ten years and I hardly ever beat him. It’s always tough against him, I see how hard he works every day and I was a bit lucky today in the third, I think that made the difference.”
Nour El Sherbini and Ali Farag, a few seconds after their victory (Photo credits: PSA World Tour)
Before that, Egypt's Nour El Sherbini claimed her third PSA World Championship title after defeating compatriot Nour El Tayeb by an 11-6, 11-5, 10-12, 15-13 scoreline. Interestingly, they had met in two World Junior Championship finals, back in 2009 and 2011. Both players had come through tough five-game battles in the semis, El Tayeb taking out World No.1 and defending champion Raneem El Welily in a huge upset. 23-year-old El Sherbini, who won her previous World titles in 2015 and 2016, started the match the stronger and took a commanding two-game lead. it looked as though she was going to win in straight games, but El Tayeb did not surrender. Not only she saved a match ball and won the game 12-10, but she was in front for most of the fourth, while El Sherbini started to look tired. However she lived up to her nickname - the Warrior princess - and it was her turn to save three game balls. She put her second match ball into the tin at 13-12, but it was going to be third time lucky for the former World No.1. At 13-14, El Tayeb had an opening for a backhand dropshot but tinned it, handing the match to her opponent. “I think I’m out of words,” said a delighted El Sherbini, following her victory. “The last two games were really close and she was coming back. I think she likes it like that – she was a little bit tense in the first two games and then she started to relax.“I was trying to focus point after point. I always try to be calm, relaxed and not put too much pressure on myself. It was a really tough tournament for me, and a lot of things happened before I came here and behind the scenes. But I’m really glad that I came because one of the options was that I wouldn’t be able to come. I was improving match after match and I had a lot of tough matches in the earlier rounds but I’m really glad that I managed to get everything together this week.” She did not refer to it specifically, but the newly crowned World Champion had been wearing a thigh strap during the whole tournament. "Today was the biggest day of my squash career," said El Tayeb. "I gave everything I had but the occasion itself was overwhelming. Nour dealt with it, she is more experienced as it was her fifth final. I hope I get another chance." Farag and El Sherbini will each take home over $70,000 in prize money, which is the largest prize winnings in the history of professional squash. This was made possible thanks to the generosity of the main sponsor Mark Walter, renowned in US sport for being the owner of the baseball franchise LA Dodgers.
Source: PSA World Tour
Other squash news in February
--- For Jacques Fontaine, squash rejected bid is "a devastating decision"
The news came as a shock for the world of squash: on the 21st of February, Tony Estanguet - president of the organizing committee of the 2024 Paris Olympic Games - announced the list of additional sports that will be submitted to the IOC, and squash has been left out once again. While skateboarding, surfing and climbing had already been invited to the party for the 2020 Tokyo Games, surprise package breakdance may join them in the French capital. Why this choice? Tony Estanguet repeatedly used the word "youth," explaining that they wish to connect with young people, whose tastes and lifestyle may no longer be in phase with the Olympic Games, as well as motivating them to take up sport. Visibility on social networks, as well as durability and the vision of Paris 2024 were among the other criteria mentioned. This vision was based around the will of the organizing committee to submit sports that are accessible and capable of establishing a link between sport and culture. Squash was undoubtedly at the top of the list of the disappointed sports. Speaking to the French sport newspaper L'Equipe, World Squash Federation's president Jacques Fontaine said that he could not spot any weaknesses in his sport's bid. "People from the olympic movement had highlighted the insufficient involvement of the professional association. We gave them a presentation on the 8th of January with two renowned French champions in the likes of World No.5 Camille Serme and World Junior Championship runner-up Victor Crouin. We had responded to all their requests: our glass showcourt can be setup in front of any iconic venue, only requires a 70m² surface on the ground, 25 hours to set up and 15 hours to dismantle. Our project was low-cost as well as universal: squash is widely played on all five continents, thanks to the United Kingdom and their dominions. I am very disappointed for the athletes, for example 17 year-old Toufik Mekhalfi. I've heard he sleeps with the medal he earned at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires! Now, it'll be up to Los Angeles to decide if squash is good enough to be part of the Olympic Games."
Sources: Francs Jeux & L'Equipe
2024 Paris Olympic Games organizing committee president Tony Estanguet posing with people from the additional sports they chose, and squash is unfortunately not among them (Photo credit: Francs Jeux)
--- Nicol David to retire at the end of the season
A few days before the PSA World Championships, Malaysia’s eight-time World Champion Nicol David had announced that she will call time on her record-breaking career at the end of the 2018/19 season. The 35-year-old from Penang is one of the most successful squash players of all time and spent an unprecedented nine years at World No.1 between 2006-2015. In addition to her eight World Championship wins, David also lifted five British Open titles, two Commonwealth Games gold medals, five Asian Games gold medals and three World Games gold medals. David’s reign atop the PSA World Rankings came to an end in September 2015, but she continued to write her name into the record books, setting a new record for the longest unbroken run inside the world’s top five at 143 months, before staying inside the top 10 for a record 177 months. Since turning professional in 2000, David has won 81 tour titles and reached 102 finals, winning 567 of her 680 matches on the tour. David was also voted as the greatest female squash player of all time in a poll conducted by the Professional Squash Association (PSA) in summer 2018, with squash fans voting in their thousands. Away from the court, David became the youngest person ever to be awarded the title 'Dato’' from the Penang State Government and in 2008 was honoured with the Order of Merit. The highest order of 'Datuk' from the Federal Government was conferred to David by HRH The King in 2017. David’s last PSA tournament will either be the Allam British Open, which takes place in Hull between May 20-26, or June’s PSA World Tour Finals, which she will participate in if she qualifies. Here is her complete statement:
Nicol David, here alongside MC Jenny Duncalf, made her final appearance at the World Championship (Photo credit: PSA World Tour)
“This decision has been thought through for quite some time and I do know that this is my last season,” said David. “My mind and body have battled it out to stay at the very top of my game for such a long time that I feel that I only have this last big push left for the final season to give it all I have before I enter the next phase of my life. “Competing on tour and being in these amazing venues all around the world is the first thing I’ll miss. However, I’m going to make the most of it over these next few months the best I can. After having time to reflect, I can honestly say that staying at No.1 for nine years in a row is what stands out for me most. I never fully understood it until I was not there anymore. I’m very proud of this achievement. “I love squash with all my heart, and it will always play an important role in my life, which is why I would like to give back in three ways. By working closely with the Professional Squash Association (PSA) to raise the awareness of our sport globally and to build a support team for our professional squash athletes as they continue to raise the bar on tour. “By helping the younger Malaysian generation through the Nicol David Foundation, which seeks to empower girls through sport to reach their full potential. And to the people of Malaysia, I will be sharing my story, ‘Nurturing Belief’, through a series of talks and writings. “Thank you from my heart for the amazing support from the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the National Sports Council the Institute of Sport Malaysia, the Penang Sports Council, and all squash associations involved throughout my career – SRAM, SRAP and The Penang Squash Academy. And, of course, my technical and support team with the incredible Liz Irving working with me for 16 wonderful years together – what a great journey it has been. “Thank you to all my fans, my supporters and my followers for joining me on my journey throughout all these years. I would like to enjoy my last few tournaments together with everyone throughout this campaign, and I would like to encourage all of you to keep on rooting for me. The dream remains.”
A few days later, David made her final appearance at the PSA World Championships, losing to France's Camille Serme. “She beat me so many times and of course she is a legend and it’s an honour to be her last match at the World Championships,” said the Frenchwoman. “She used to be called “Duracell” because she was physically so strong, and I think that’s why the top girls push themselves so hard because she was so physical. She’s so fair as well, she never cheats and she will always say ‘good shot’, it’s just so enjoyable to play against her.” David said: “It’s been so great to be part of this major event. It’s our first $1 million event and I got a chance to play in it, which is great. “Squash has come a long way, so to get this far is a thrill for me. With [this being] my last Worlds, I gave it my all, I’ll take whatever I got and I really enjoyed my match today.”
Source: PSA World Tour
--- Abouelghar, El Tayeb and Marche grab titles
Before the World Championships, 3 tournaments of the PSA World Tour were held in February. First to write his name on a trophy was Mohamed Abouelghar at the Motor City Open in Detroit. He may still be chasing a first semi-final spot in a Platinum event, but the 25-year old from Cairo continues to shine in other big tournaments. After winning a Gold event at the start of the season in China, he clinched a Silver one in the US, beating Peruvian Diego Elias in the final after a 5 game thriller. He thus became the seventh Egyptian to win the MCO in the past 10 years at the Birmingham Athletic Club. Veteran referee Mike Riley called it one of the five best matches he has ever called. “I’m very, very happy and proud to put my name on the trophy with so many legends,” Abouelghar said. “It’s very special.”
Abouelghar, El Tayeb and Marche won a significant title in February (Photo credits: Andrea Dawson & PSA World Tour)
A couple of days later, another Egyptian won on US soil, with Nour El Tayeb coming out as the victor at the Cleveland Classic. Facing Tesni Evans in the final, she was in control in the first two games. Despite the Welshwoman fighting very hard to come back, El Tayeb was able to close it 11-9 in the fourth, claiming the eighth PSA Tour title of her career.
Gregoire Marche prevented an Egyptian treble in February, overcoming Zahed Salem in the final of the Pittsburgh Open (Bronze). The final would be the longest match of the tournament, lasting 83 minutes as Marche took an early lead, before Salem fought back to tie the game through four. However, Marche stayed strong mentally after going behind at the beginning of the fifth, eventually winning it 11-5 to take his eighth PSA title and biggest one to date. It was also his first title outside of France since 2009, and this catapulted him to his highest world rankings on the 1st of March (17th).
Source: PSA World Tour & US Squash
--- Willstrop and Evans capture British National titles
England’s James Willstrop and Wales’ Tesni Evans prevailed on finals day at the AJ Bell British National Squash Championships in Nottingham a couple of weeks ago. Yorkshire’s James Willstrop held off a stern challenge from second seed Daryl Selby to claim his third championship title with a 4 game victory (recently retired Nick Matthew had won the last 7 editions). “It’s a huge title and a very special thing to be able to achieve, so I’m very, very happy." said Willstrop."In a sport like squash, it’s not an easy sport to keep playing when you’re old, and historically speaking we are old squash players.” In the women’s final, defending champion Tesni Evans retained her crown with a dominant straight-games victory over fourth seed Emily Whitlock. She had become the first Welsh player to win the tournament in 2018 and never looked like relinquishing her title this time around. “It’s pretty special. It makes it even more special that I can defend it and take it back to Wales, that makes it even better,” said Cardiff-born Evans. “Last year was amazing to win it and I definitely didn’t think I’d be standing here after winning it again.”
Source: PSA World Tour
James Willstrop and Tesni Evans were crowned 2019 British National champions (Photo credit: PSA World Tour)
--- March World Rankings
We already knew it was going to happen (see blog of the 1st of February A dream come true for Ali Farag), but it became official last Friday. Ali Farag has overtaken compatriot Mohamed ElShorbagy to become the new men’s World No.1 after the PSA Men’s World Rankings for March were released. Farag, the 26-year-old Harvard-graduate, is the sixth Egyptian male to top the rankings, following in the footsteps of ElShorbagy, Karim Abdel Gawad, Ramy Ashour, Karim Darwish and Amr Shabana. His win at the Tournament of Champions coupled with ElShorbagy’s ranking points for the Windy City Open expiring meant Farag now boasts a higher points average. Farag, ElShorbagy, Tarek Momen and Karim Abdel Gawad make it an all-Egyptian top four, while Rösner drops a place to No.5. Colombia’s Miguel Rodriguez rises to No.6, swapping places with New Zealand’s Paul Coll, with Egypt’s Mohamed Abouelghar rising a place to a career-high No.8 ranking. Peru’s Diego Elias has moved up to a career-high ranking of No.9, while Egypt’s Marwan ElShorbagy drops two places to No.10. Zahed Salem enjoys an eight-place increase to a career-high No.14 ranking, while former World No.1 James Willstrop rises to No.15. Victory at the Pittsburgh Open has seen Frenchman Gregoire Marche rise 13 places to No.17 – marking the first time he has featured inside the top 20.
PSA World rankings (Photo credits: PSA World Tour)
The Women’s World Rankings features an all-Egyptian top three after Nour El Tayeb moved up a spot to sit behind compatriots Raneem El Welily and Nour El Sherbini. El Tayeb had dropped down to No.4 last month after being overtaken by New Zealand’s Joelle King, but the 25-year-old has reclaimed her place amongst the top three once again on the same day that husband Ali Farag has become the men’s World No.1. Camille Serme leap-frogs New Zealand's Joelle King to rank World No4. England’s Sarah-Jane Perry stays at No.6 and is followed by compatriot Laura Massaro, while Egypt’s Nouran Gohar retains her No.8 ranking ahead of Alison Waters and Wales’ Tesni Evans, who moves back into the top 10 at the expense of United States No.1 Amanda Sobhy. Sobhy drops three spots to No.13. Egypt’s Hania El Hammamy rises three places to a career-high No.15 ranking.
Source: PSA World Tour
March squash hotspots
--- The schedule will be very busy in March with no less than 5 events on the PSA World Tour! Action will start in Canada, New Zealand’s World No.6 Paul Coll headlining a high-quality draw at the Troilus Canada Cup Squash in Toronto between March 3-7. This season’s Canada Cup Squash tournament will be the biggest PSA tournament in the country’s history with a total prize purse of $81,500 on offer. The Kiwi is seeded on the same side of the draw as the likes of Egypt’s World No.9 Mohamed Abouelghar, England’s former World No.12 Tom Richards and Hong Kong’s Tsz Fung Yip. Seeded at the opposite end of the draw is Egypt’s World No.8 Marwan ElShorbagy. The Egyptian is seeded to meet Peru’s World No.10 Diego Elias in the semi-finals, but will first have to navigate a draw that includes the likes of England’s Declan James and last season’s tournament runner-up Australia’s Ryan Cuskelly.
--- A few days later, former World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy will begin his title defence at the Citigold Wealth Management Canary Wharf Classic. After receiving a bye into round two, a win over former World No.3 Omar Mosaad or Borja Golan could pit him against younger brother Marwan ElShorbagy in the quarter-finals. 2018 runner-up Tarek Momen is seeded to meet Mohamed in the last four. No.2 seed Simon Rösner is on the opposite side of the draw as the ElShorbagys. The World No.4 will contest his round two fixture with either 2016 champion Mathieu Castagnet or tournament wildcard Sam Todd, the U17 British Junior Open runner-up who hails from Pontefract. 2017 runner-up Fares Dessouky is seeded to play Rösner in the quarter-finals. In addition to Yorkshiremen Willstrop and Todd, there will be a quintet of Englishmen in action, with Colchester’s Daryl Selby, Hersham’s Tom Richards, Nottingham’s Declan James, Leicester’s George Parker and Enfield’s Adrian Waller all competing. The best-of-three games format will be trialled for a second successive year up until the semi-finals.
--- World No.1 Raneem El Welily headlines the draw at the CIB Black Ball Squash Open PSA Gold tournament in Cairo, Egypt from March 11-15. It'll be the first major women’s tournament to take place in Egypt’s capital since the 2016 Wadi Degla Open when El Welily took the title and she will be looking to repeat that performance in her home city next month. El Welily and Nour El Sherbini are seeded to meet in the final, and other home favourites at the tournament comes in the form of World No.4 Nour El Tayeb and World No.8 Nouran Gohar. New Zealand’s World No.4 Joelle King faces the prospect of meeting World No.2 El Sherbini in the semi-finals should both players play to their seeding. Meanwhile, France’s Camille Serme and English pair Sarah-Jane Perry and Laura Massaro will all be in action in the Egyptian capital and be among the top eight seedings at the tournament. World No.5 Serme is seeded to meet El Sherbini in the quarter-finals, while Massaro could meet El Welily in the last eight and Perry faces the prospect of a showdown with King for a place in the semi-finals.
After the disappointment of losing both the World No.1 spot and the world title, Mohamed ElShorbagy will be looking to keep his trophy at the CW Classic in a couple of weeks (Photo credit: Eurosport)
--- A world-class draw, featuring eight of the world’s top 10 players, will line up at Zurich’s Halle 622 between March 26-31 as the battle for the prestigious Grasshopper Cup, PSA World Tour Gold title commences. Last year's runner-up Mohamed ElShorbagy – who lost to Ramy Ashour - tops the draw ahead of 2017 runner-up Ali Farag, World No.3 Tarek Momen and World No.4 Simon Rösner. 2016 World Champion Karim Abdel Gawad, British Open champion Miguel Rodriguez, 2016 Grasshopper Cup winner Marwan ElShorbagy and World No.9 Mohamed Abouelghar all feature, while former World No.1 James Willstrop and 2012 winner Daryl Selby will also be involved. Home favourite Nicolas Mueller will get his tournament under way in round one against Hong Kong’s Tsz Fung Yip. Zurich-based Mueller, 29, has taken ElShorbagy, Ashour and Rösner all the way to five games in recent years and he will play Abouelghar in the last 16 if he can overcome Yip.
--- England’s No.1 Sarah-Jane Perry will headline the J Warren Young Memorial Texas Open when the PSA Bronze tournament takes place from March 26-31 in Dallas, United States. The Texas Open is hosted alternatively between Dallas and Houston every year and is the second oldest women’s professional squash tournament in the United States. This year’s tournament sees the prize purse increase as the tournament becomes a PSA Bronze tier event for the first time. Last year’s edition of the tournament, which was held in Houston, saw United States No.1 Amanda Sobhy take home the title after beating compatriot Reeham Sedky in the final and she will once again feature at this year’s event. Perry and Sobhy will be joined by the likes of Wales’ World No.10 and recently crowned British National champion Tesni Evans, England’s World No.14 Victoria Lust and former World No.1 and World Champion Rachael Grinham, who claimed the Texas Open crown in 2011 in Dallas. Home interest, along with Sobhy, comes in the form of World No.45 Haley Mendez and World No.52 Olivia Fiechter as they look to impress in front of a home crowd.
Source: PSA World Tour
Winner: Mohamed Abouelghar (Egypt)
Winner: Nour El Tayeb (Egypt)
Winner: Grégoire Marche (France)
Winners: Ali Farag (Egypt) and Nour El Sherbini (Egypt)
Winners: James Willstrop (England) and Tesni Evans (Wales)