Where the finest women are
Look no further than the Egyptian version of Soho Square to find the world's best female squash players. Ghada Abdel-Kader reports from Sharm El-Sheikh
The Soho Square 2010 Women's World Squash Open in Sharm El-Sheikh, featuring the top 32 players in the world, was scheduled to end yesterday 22 September. Deadline constraints prevented Al-Ahram Weekly from covering the final but Omneya Abdel-Qawi became the first Egyptian to reach the final after beating Frenchwoman Camille Serme 11-4, 11-7, 11-6 . In the final Abdel-Qawi will meet world No 1 Nicol David who beat Alison Waters 14-12, 11-2, 11- 6.
The final is scheduled for 8pm.Abdel-Qawi, the fourth seeded Egyptian with the brilliant front court skills, saved three game points in the second game of the semi-final and survived the pressure of home expectations by winning 11-8, 14-12, 6-11, 11-5 against the much-improved tenth-seeded Australian Kasey Brown.
Soho Square 2010 is being held for the first time in Egypt, boasting record prize money worth $147,000, the biggest award in the history of the women's game, and giving Egypt "a good reputation," director of the tournament Ahmed Said said, describing the championship held last year as "very successful."
Said was a former squash player and has organised seven world championships for squash and tennis in Qatar. He told the Weekly, "At that time squash was not very popular. Then we started with some investors who love Egypt and established the first Sharm El-Sheikh International Championship in 2008, followed by the first Soho Square Women's International Squash Championship in 2009 with $42,000 in prize money and which was chosen the best organised championship worldwide in 2009.
"It took four months to build a squash complex like this. It has the newest technology, two open glass courts with a spectator capacity of 200 viewers, and changing rooms, in addition to a four-sided glass court brought especially from abroad that can accommodate up to 600 spectators. The management of Soho Square, Savoy and Sierra hotels have prepared guests well for the tournament", added Said.
"The organising committee -- composed of public relations, referees, media, players affairs and security -- started preparing six months ago."
"It is very important for squash to spread throughout the world," chairman of the Women's International Squash Players' Association (WISPA) Ingrid Lofdahl-Bentzer said. "We are very lucky to have Egypt as a partner for this World Open. Egypt has a very strong tradition in squash. It has a grand numbers of young players and great history as well. We are very happy to be here."
Bentzer told Al-Ahram Weekly, "We have very good experience with the organisation and execution of the tournament. Being in Sharm El-Sheikh the championship is really fantastic. The organisation is brilliant and to build a glass court here, I think it is really impressive."
The tournament is named after Soho Square in Soho, London whose park and garden area at its centre dates back to 1681 and the neighbourhood of which is universally regarded as the most prestigious (and expensive) address of London's media organisations. Soho Square is also an elite tourist area in Sharm El-Sheikh.
"The choice behind this place in particular," Said explained, "is that Sharm El-Sheikh is an international city of peace but it needs a big sports event. So, our goal is not just Soho but establishing Soho Square Squash Academy with the best international coaches. Soho Square in Sharm El-Sheikh will host many international squash events during the next few years. We look forward to holding training camps for players and teams from all over the globe."
Before the final, the Weekly met with some of Egypt's best. Junior Kanzi El-Defrawi, 16, is 45 in the world. In qualifying round two, El-Defrawi beat Egyptian Mennat Nasser 6-11, 11- 2, 12-10, 9-11, 11-9. In the qualifying finals, El-Defrawi beat India's Joshna Chinappa seeded No 35 11/4, 11/7, 5/11, 11/9.
In the round of 32, England's Alison Walters, seeded No 4 beat El-Defrawi 11-2, 11-2, 11-3. El-Defrawi said of Walters, "She's 26 years old. She put great pressure on me during the whole match so I didn't play well. I'm satisfied with my results so far though because this is the first time I reach the main draw."
Engi Kheirallah, 29, and 12th in the world, was in the final of the 2006 Texas Open, her best result to date. She also made the British Open semi-final in 2006, was runner up in the World Open Team Event in 2006, and won the Egyptian Circuit No 1 in 2003 and the Winner Squash Works Open in 2005.
Last year, Kheirallah reached the round of 16 at the Women's International Soho Square Squash Championship in Sharm El-Sheikh. She lost to Raneem El-Weleili in the final of the Heliopolis Open in April but won the Atco Miro in June in Cairo, beating prodigy Nour El-Sherbini in the final. In the Sharm El-Sheikh Open Kheirallah took second place after she was defeated by Rachael Grinham, the world No 3. This year she reached the final of Egypt's Hurghada International after beating Serme in the semi-final.
"The competition was very strong this year," Kheirallah said. All the world champions are playing. Even the first qualifying rounds were very tough.
"This time we are playing in our country with our families and friends." Squash star husband Karim Darwish is with Kheirallah "and he is a great back up for me.
"I don't want to get too far ahead of myself. I'm concentrating day by day in every match. I hope I can reach the final."
Kheirallah thought the organisation was "amazing; even the weather is wonderful."
El-Weleili 21 is the current world No 11. The highlight of El-Weleili's junior career was becoming the world junior champion in 2005. She was voted WISPA Young Player of the Year for 2005 for the second time after winning it in 2004.
Her best performance was in 2009 when she won the Heliopolis Open. In 2010, she reached the semi-finals of the World Championship in Cleveland and New York in January and the Hurghada International in April. El-Weleili also got to the semi-finals of the Malaysian Open and the Singapore Masters in July. In Singapore, El-Weleili was defeated 3-1 by Malaysia's world No 1 Nicol David. This was El-Weleili's first big championship.
Said El-Weleili, "For the first time all the Egyptian players are participating in the tournament."
There were 19 countries in the tournament: Egypt, Malaysia, France, Ireland, Denmark, India, Italy, The Netherlands, England, Australia, Mexico, Hong Kong, New Zealand, the US, the Czech Republic, Germany, Russia, South Africa and Guyana.
The preliminary rounds took place from 15-17 September. In round 16, England's world No 2 Jenny Duncalf beat Egypt's world No 12 Engi Kheirallah 11-9, 11-9, 11-2. Malaysia's world No 1 Nicol David beat Egypt's world No 11 Raneem El-Weleili 11-7, 11-7, 11-7. Egypt's world No 5 Omneya Abdel-Qawi defeated New Zealand's world No 15 Jaclyn Hawkes 11-8, 13- 11, 11-4. Malaysia's world No 23 Low Wee Wern beat France's world No 19 Isabelle Stoehr 8-11, 11-7, 11-5, 11-8. England's world No 4 Alison Waters defeated Hong Kong's world No 16 Annie Au 11-2, 11-7, 14-12. The Netherlands's World No 14 Vanessa Atkinson defeated the USA's world No 21 Natalie Grainger 2-11, 9-11, 13-11, 13-11, 11-9. Australia's world No 10 Kasey Brown beat Ireland's world No 7 Madeline Perry 11-7, 9-11, 11-8, 11-8. France's world No 9 Camille Serme beat England's world No 8 Laura Massaro 11-6, 8-11, 12-10, 3-11,11-6.
In round 32, Kheirallah beat France's world No 20 Joelle King 2-11, 12-10, 11-8, 12-10. El-Weleili beat Egypt's Nour El-Serbini 11-3, 11- 3, 11-7. Annie Au defeated Egypt's world No 39 Nour El-Tayeb 11-8, 11-8, 11-8. Abdel-Qawi beat England's Tanai Bailey 11-7, 6-11, 11-8, 11-8. Australia's world No 3 Rachael Grinham withdrew following a calf injury suffered in Al-Kersh Heliopolis Open. Nicol David beat Egypt's world No 98 Farah Abdel-Meguid 11-2, 11-3, 11-5.