Ramy Ashour calls an end to his professional career
Categories : Squash news around the world
Ramy Ashour has sadly said farewell to professional squash (Photo credit: Eurosport)
Main story: Tribute to an artist
“I hope I was one day able to draw a smile on your faces or inspire you in any way,” was one of Ramy Ashour’s last sentences in the video he posted last week, in which he announced the end of his professional squash playing career, at 31 years old. The dozens of messages read on the Web since then - whether from anonymous fans or major actors of the sport – leaves no room for doubt on this matter …
All the squash fans knew that it was inevitable, the Egyptian having not played since May 2018 and being plagued with injuries for – too – many years. However, hearing the words “Ramy Ashour” and “retirement” coming out of Joey Barrington’s microphone during Karim Abdel Gawad and Omar Mosaad’s encounter in El Gouna yesterday was still a shock. But certainly not as big as the shock that the three time world champion has been experiencing: even though he’s surely made his mind for quite some time now, we can feel the pain he’s going through when he says “I announce my retirement from the professional world of squash.” Ramy Ashour has always said that playing squash was the one thing he loves the most in this world. This is precisely the love he has for his sport that pushed him to try and come back after his injuries time and time again, instead of throwing the towel. But with the years going by, the stunning come-backs - how many athletes are capable of winning a major tournament after being sidelined for six months? - became less frequent, and the periods of time off the court increasingly longer. “Squash has given me so much, but also took a lot from me physically and mentally,” Ashour says in his video. He did not have the resources to come back one more time, and his last masterpiece will forever be his triumph at the Grasshopper Cup in March 2018, where he beat Grégory Gaultier and Mohamed Elshorbagy. It’s also against his younger compatriot that Ashour played – and won – three matches which are now part of squash history: the 2012 and 2014 World Championship finals, and the El Gouna Open final in 2015. Elshorbagy often says that battling with his elder rivals has been a key component of his learning process. After David Palmer, Thierry Lincou, Karim Darwish, Amr Shabana and Nick Matthew, Ramy Ashour’s retirement leaves James Willstrop and Grégory Gaultier as the sole active members of the so-called “golden generation.”
After six months out, Ramy Ashour had pulled an incredible comeback, winning his third - and last - World Championship in 2014 (Photo credit: PSA World Tour)
There are very few athletes who fully personify their sport, and Ramy Ashour was one of them. “He changed the way squash is played. He made all the players around him better,” said Matthew after hearing the news. Many people will remember Ashour for his unique technique and unparalleled ability to hit winners at will. But let’s not forget his incredible retrieving skills and mental strength (how many matches did he win after being 2-0 down?). It’s always difficult to compare different eras in a sport, and state that such and such champion is the greatest player in history, but Ramy is without a doubt right up there with the likes of Jahangir Khan and a few others. If Ramy Ashour had been a football or a tennis player, he would probably be a superstar. In his book - A shot and a ghost - James Willstrop says that the Egyptian is “undoubtedly one of the greatest sportsmen on the planet – certainly the most talented holding a racket in the modern generation. But unfortunately the man goes relatively unannounced globally, which is a terrible injustice.” Behind the player, there is also a unique personality. One shouldn’t be surprised that a few years ago he decided to move to New York, a city that’s boiling inside as much as he does. Ramy Ashour, it’s a hint of craziness helping the genius, as much inspired and intense on the court - where he used to often speak to himself - than he was in his post-match interviews. “I never wanted it to happen this way, but I’ve always believed that life gives us what we need rather than we want,” he says. “I hope that this decision will give me the mental freedom I deserve, and the freedom to give back to the sport that has been so rewarding to me.” The Egyptian took this opportunity to announce that he was going to organize a tournament - on the 19th of May in New York - with a new scoring system that “may revolutionize squash.” Sadly, we will never see him again with a racket in his hand on the professional tour, but may Ramy Ashour continue to surprise us …
Other squash news in April
Farag and El Welily continue to impress
--- World No.1s Ali Farag and Raneem El Welily took the honours on an all-Egyptian finals night at the El Gouna International last Friday, as they beat Karim Abdel Gawad and Nouran Gohar. Farag avenged his defeat to the former World Champion in December’s Black Ball Open by winning his maiden El Gouna crown. Farag, who turned 27 this week, finished runner-up to compatriot Marwan ElShorbagy 12 months ago, but he built on a strong start to win 11-9, 12-10 11-3, picking up his 17th PSA Tour title in the process. Gawad had his opportunities, leading 9-7 in the first game and 6-2 in the second, but Farag came back both times to take a two-game lead. An ankle injury suffered by Gawad in the second prevented him from really getting his teeth into the third, and Farag made no mistake to etch his name onto the trophy, his first title on home soil since February 2015. “It was really a shame what happened at the end of the second and in the third," said the victor. "I’m sure if he was better physically, it would have been a totally different story. I think he had an amazing week, he’s playing well this season, and it’s great to have him on tour. This season has been amazing for me, I couldn’t have asked for a better one. I might have won a lot of big titles, like the World Championships and claiming that No.1 spot at the ToC, but this one is a very special one as I’m sharing it in front of my people.” World No.1 Raneem El Welily successfully defended her El Gouna International title after overcoming fellow Egyptian Nouran Gohar to lift her third successive PSA Tour trophy. El Welily beat World No.2 Nour El Sherbini in last year’s final, and was up against the woman who ended El Sherbini’s run in this tournament at the quarter-final stage. The 30-year-old took the opening game, despite being under immense pressure from her hard-hitting opponent. Gohar, nine years El Welily’s junior, struck back in the second as El Welily went walkabout mentally and surrendered a 5-2 lead to lose 9 of the next 11 points as Gohar levelled. The momentum then shifted in El Welily’s favour as she came back to take the third 12-10 on the tie-break, and their battle continued into the fourth game where Gohar, sporting heavy strapping on her left knee, required an injury break after a lunge into the front corner to send El Welily 8-6 up. The World No.7 returned to court, but it was clear that she was having to protect the knee as she lacked the same explosivity in her movement, and El Welily closed out the win to earn the 22nd PSA Tour title of her career. "I'm glad I managed to come back after being 6-2 down [in the third],” El Welily said afterwards. “When you're in a final of such a great tournament, you do your best to stay in, and you do your best to win. That's what I was thinking at that point. It's always special here in El Gouna. Not just for the organisation, but also for the good weather, the great crowd, and there's nothing better than playing in front of your home crowd.”
--- The 2019 DPD Open Squash was held at the brand new DPD headquarters in Eindhoven, to mark the grand opening of their new distribution centre and it was the two Egyptian World No.1s who took home the inaugural titles. Raneem El Welily claimed her second successive PSA title, following her win last month at the Black Ball Squash Open. The "Enigma" - who had gone to five games in all of her matches in the Netherlands - held numerous game balls in the first game of the final, but Nour El Sherbini eventually took it on a tie-break. The three-time World Champion then doubled her lead, but her rival showed her mental strength to battle back in style and claim her 21st PSA title. “To come back from 2-0 down against Nour is almost impossible, mentally at least, so I’m really happy with the way I managed to push myself mentally and physically and show some character towards the end," said El Welily. Meanwhile, World No.1 and World Champion Farag dominated against rival ElShorbagy to claim the men’s title. It was the first meeting between the two players since January’s Tournament of Champions final when Farag won to take the World No.1 spot from ElShorbagy. The first game looked as though it was going to set the tempo for the rest of the match, ElShorbagy claiming it on a tie-break. But Farag came out firing in the second and never looked back as he controlled the rest of the match against a below-par ElShorbagy to take an 11-13, 11-6, 11-4, 11-4 victory. “The first game was a tough one to lose,” said the 26-year-old Farag afterwards. “I’m glad I regrouped myself and Nour [El Tayeb] gave me a very good tip after the first. Mohamed was No.1 when I was starting so he's always going to be favourite. I don’t put much pressure on myself but obviously I’m very happy with the way I handled things."
Annie Au and Diego Elias (bottom right) won in Macau, but Raneem El Welily and Ali Farag were once again the stars of the PSA World Tour in April (Photo credits: PSA World Tour)
--- Peru’s Diego Elias and Hong Kong’s Annie Au became the 2019 Macau Open Champions after defeating Egypt’s Omar Mossad and Malaysia’s Low Wee Wern. While the weather prevented glass-court action, World No.9 Elias dominated the first two games, before Mosaad picked up the pace in the third, but he wasn’t able to able to defeat the Peruvian with the game ending 11-9. "I’m happy with my performance," said Elias. "I’ve been playing better every day and I knew today was going to be a lot harder playing against a player like Omar. One of my goals is to qualify for the World Tour Finals and hopefully finish in the top five by end of the year.” In the women’s final, Au beat Low Wee Wern in straight-games, despite the Malaysian putting up a fight in the second. "I’ve been playing this event for many years and in the last few, it was either the semis or once the final, so I feel very happy that I took the opportunities I had this year” said Hong Kong’s No.1 Au.
Source: PSA World Tour
European Team Championships start today in Birmingham
--- The European Team Championships - which started on Wednesday in Birmingham - return to England for the first time since 2003. The event will see over 200 players, representing 22 nations battle it out for the coveted titles, in what promises to be an exciting foretaste of the world-class sport on offer at the Commonwealth Games in the city in 2022. The last five editions have seen England and France clash in the two finals, and it's likely to be the same again in the women's. France No.1 Camille Serme has been in superb form lately, but England - who boast 4 players in the world top 15 - are still favourites to win what would be a 41th title in 42 events. Things could be different in the men's, with the two countries missing the player who led them in so many campaigns - recently retired Nick Matthew and injured Grégory Gaultier. They still look the stronger on paper, but England and double title holders France will certainly be wary of opponents such as Germany - who have in their line-up the two highest ranked European squash players at the moment, Simon Rösner and Raphael Kandra - Spain, Scotland and Wales with their uprising star Joel Makin. Finals will take place on Saturday, 4th of May.
Will the European Team Championhips be another Anglo-French affair? (Photo credit: European Team Championships 2018)
European Junior Championships: Byrtus and Tyma make history for Czech Republic and Poland, tenth consecutive title for England
--- Home favourite Viktor Byrtus was the hero of the European Junior Championship, which were held in Prague, Czech Republic in April. Last year's runner-up did not drop a game in 12 matches! In the individual event, Byrtus lived up to his #1 seeding and overcame a strong challenge from Switzerland's Yannick Wilhelmi in the final (11-6 11-9 13-11), thus becoming the first Czech player to be crowned in the event. Byrtus also played a major part in helping his country clinch a third consecutive bronze medal in the team event. It was also a first time winner for Poland in the girls' draw, with Karina Tyma having a dream tournament: the 5/8 seed successively beat Ambre Allinckx in the quarters, #1 seed Elise Lazarus in the semis and then 16 year old Katie Mallif in the final, in straight games every time. It's not often that England doesn't get a gold medal in the first part of the week, but they made up for it by winning the team competition for the tenth time in a row. After an early exit in the individual event, 16 year old prodigy Sam Todd got a major win over Wilhelmi in the final, allowing his country to close it out in 2 matches against Switzerland.
Czech Republic's Viktor Byrtus and Poland's Karina Tyma stole the show at the European Junior Championship, but England managed to win the team event for a tenth consecutive time (Photo credits: England Squash & Karina Tyma)
2018/19 Tour Finals to be held in Cairo
The Professional Squash Association has announced that the PSA World Tour Finals - formerly know as the World Series Finals - will be held in Egypt for the first time, June 8-13. After having been successfully staged in Dubai over the past three years, the season-ending tournament will take place at the Wadi Degla club in Cairo, and the main sponsor will be CIB. Players who've won a Platinum this season are automatically qualified - Mohamed Elshorbagy, Ali Farag and Karim Abdel Gawad in the Men's, and Raneem El Welily, Nour El Sherbini and Joelle King in the Women's. The remaining ten spots will be at stake at the British Open, last Platinum event of 2018-19.
After organizing the 2016 World Men's Championship, the Wadi Degla club in Cairo will host the PSA World Tour Finals in June (Photo credit: PSA World Tour)
Source: PSA World Tour
--- May World Rankings
A semi-final finish at last week’s El Gouna International Squash Open has seen Egypt’s Fares Dessouky rise 24 places to World No.18. Dessouky, a former World No.8, had been ranked outside of the top 20 for 12 months as he recovered from a torn ACL sustained in November 2017. Eventual El Gouna International winner Ali Farag tops the men’s rankings for a third successive month ahead of ElShorbagy, while Tarek Momen ensures that it’s an all-Egyptian top three for a fourth month in a row. El Gouna finalist Karim Abdel Gawad moves up two places to No.4, while Germany’s Simon Rösner completes the top five. New Zealand’s Paul Coll drops a place to No.6, with Colombia’s Rodriguez staying at No.7. Peru’s Diego Elias rises to a career-high No.8 ranking after winning the Macau Open in April. He swaps places with Egypt’s Mohamed Abouelghar, while India’s Saurav Ghosal stays at No.10. Welshman Joel Makin rises three spots to a career-high No.12 ranking. Germany’s Raphael Kandra also reaches a career-high ranking, moving up one place to No.13, to sit ahead of Egyptian Zahed Salem and England’s Declan James, the latter of whom moves up to a career-high No.15 ranking. Frenchman Gregoire Marche is the fifth player in the top 20 to reach a career-high ranking this month as he moves up two spots to No.16. Meanwhile, former World Champion Gregory Gaultier has dropped out of the top 20 for the first time since April 2003. The Frenchman hasn’t played on the PSA Tour since October 2018 due to surgery on a knee injury and has fallen 13 places to No.26.
May PSA World rankings (Photo credit: PSA World Tour)
United States No.1 Amanda Sobhy has risen four places to sit at World No.8. Sobhy, the 25-year-old Harvard-graduate from Boston, last week reached her first PSA World Tour Platinum semi-final since rupturing her achilles in March 2017, with a run to the last four of the El Gouna International Squash Open. Meanwhile, El Gouna International champion Raneem El Welily remains at World No.1 for a sixth successive month ahead of World No.2 Nour El Sherbini. El Tayeb stays at No.3 ahead of France’s Camille Serme, who has cut the gap on the Egyptian to just 20 points. New Zealand’s Joelle King rounds off the top five. England’s Sarah-Jane Perry stays at No.6 ahead of El Gouna runner-up Nouran Gohar. Wales’ Tesni Evans drops to No.9, while England’s Massaro drops two spots to No.10, her lowest ranking since May 2008. Yathreb Adel rises two places to a career-high No.16 ranking to sit ahead of fellow Egyptian Hania El Hammamy. Malaysia’s former World No.1 Nicol David moves up a place to No.18. David, 35, spent an unprecedented nine years atop the World Rankings between 2006-2015 and will make her final appearance in the rankings this month as she brings a trophy-laden career to a close at the Allam British Open between May 20-26.
Source: PSA World Tour
May squash hotspots
England will be the center of the squash world in May, with three tournaments including the prestigious British Open
--- Taking place between May 20-26 at the University of Hull Sports and Fitness Centre, the British Open is squash’s longest-running tournament. Defending champion Miguel Rodriguez is seeded to play last year’s runner-up Mohamed ElShorbagy in the quarter final stage. The two-time British Open champion could come up against crowd favourite and three-time runner-up James Willstrop in the last 32, while top seed Ali Farag will have to navigate a tricky draw that could see him play the likes of World No.11 Marwan ElShorbagy, World No.8 Mohamed Abouelghar and World No.3 Tarek Momen en route to the final. Meanwhile, England’s top male player Declan James will face former World No.3 Omar Mosaad in round two. The women’s draw is headed up by 2018 runner-up Raneem El Welily who is seeded to play United States No.1 Amanda Sobhy in round three, World No.7 Nouran Gohar in the quarter-finals and World No.3 Nour El Tayeb in the semis. Five-time winner Nicol David will appear at the final tournament of her distinguished career, and a win over compatriot Rachel Arnold in round one would see her lock horns with El Tayeb. World No.2 Nour El Sherbini is pitted on the same side of the draw as former champions Laura Massaro and Camille Serme and is seeded to face the latter in the semi-finals.
Miguel Angel Rodriguez has created a massive upset last year at the British Open (Photo credit: PSA World Tour)
--- Seven of the world’s top 10 female players will line up in Manchester between May 9-13 for the inaugural PSA World Tour Silver tournament. World Championship runner-up Nour El Tayeb headlines the draw ahead of New Zealand’s Joelle King, England’s No.1 Sarah-Jane Perry and fellow Egyptian Nouran Gohar. England’s former World No.1 Laura Massaro, British National champion Tesni Evans and England’s former World No.3 Alison Waters all feature, while United States No.1 Amanda Sobhy and eight-time World Champion Nicol David will also be involved.
--- Egypt’s World No.11 Marwan ElShorbagy will lead the line-up at the Wimbledon Club Squash Squared Open (Bronze) from May 11-16 in London. It will be the fourth instalment of the event and the largest to date. Last season saw France’s Mathieu Castagnet claim the title and the Frenchman will once again return to defend it. ElShorbagy and Castagnet will be joined by Egypt’s former World No.3 Omar Mosaad, England’s No.1 Declan James and former World No.1 James Willstrop.
--- The XII Torneo Internactional PSA Sporta 2019 (Bronze) will start on the 29th of May in Guatemala. Defending champion and World No.7 Miguel Rodriguez will headline the draw, along last year's runner-up Diego Elias and Mexican twins Cesar and Arturo Salazar.
Source: PSA World Tour
--- The European Junior U15/U17 Team Championship will take place in Eindhoven, Netherlands, 9-12 May. Will it be once again all about England, who have made the double since 2007? Among the main challengers, there will be France and Spain, who clinched two medals last year, as well as other nations such as Czech Republic, Switzerland, Ireland and the Netherlands, who have a strong U15 team.
Winners: Ali Farag (Egypt) and Raneem El Welily (Egypt)
Winners: Diego Elias (Peru) and Annie Au (Hong Kong)
Winners: Raneem El Welily (Egypt) and
Winners: Viktor Byrtus (Czech Republic) and Karina Tyma (Poland)