Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1289, (31 March - 6 April 2016)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1289, (31 March - 6 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Lessons for the British

Egyptian players continued to dazzle the world of squash after sweeping the men’s and women’s titles of the British Open, Inas Mazhar reports

The Egyptian quartet
The Egyptian quartet
Al-Ahram Weekly

It was the British who invented squash and took the game across their empire colonies and states in the past century. Being one of the British colonies, Egypt was one of those students who took up the sport and have since surpassed their teacher. In recent years Egyptians have excelled in squash and have even ruled it the past two years. But it was beyond anyone’s imagination to see full dominance by the Egyptian players on British soil in the finals of both the men’s and women’s events.

Women’s world No 5 Nour Al-Sherbini and men’s defending champion Mohamed Al-Shorbagi captured the 2016 Allam British Open PSA World Series titles after respective victories over fellow Egyptians Nouran Gohar and Rami Ashour in Hull’s Airco Arena – with Al-Sherbini becoming the first female Egyptian to lift the coveted title.

Al-Sherbini’s match with Gohar saw the lead change hands multiple times throughout the 75-minute encounter with both players trading points with delight and enthusiasm in a tightly-contested and highly-charged battle. Al-Sherbini eased to the opening game before Gohar, playing with a maturity that belied her youth, fought back to go a game ahead and put herself within touching distance of the famous crown.

But Al-Sherbini came back at her and showcased the credentials that has seen her surge to the upper echelons of the women’s game, taking the match 11-7, 9-11, 7-11, 11-6, 11-8 to become the tournament’s second youngest winner at just 20 years of age after New Zealand’s Susan Devoy in 1984.

“It was a really tough match,” Al-Sherbini told world squash website following her impressive victory.

“Nouran is just 18 and she brought out all of the squash I had today. I really had to do all I could to win; it was really close. The last two points were really hard. I’m speechless.

“I’m really proud to be representing Egypt anywhere, so to be the first Egyptian to win the British Open is a huge thing for me. I’m really proud to be one of the four finalists today. I’m really happy that Egypt is proud of me and I want to keep making them proud.”

In the meantime, Al-Shorbagi made it five World Series titles in a row after a strong display saw him end a four-match winless streak against fierce rival Egyptian Ashour.

The man from the Egyptian coastal city of Alexandria was in fine fettle against 2013 winner Ashour whose movement looked inhibited, and powered to victory in the first two games before seeing off a resurgent Ashour in the third to close out an 11-2, 11-5, 11-9 triumph.

“I’m really happy to be able to defend my title and win my second British Open,” said Al-Shorbagi.

“It’s been a crazy season for me. Last season, when I won four World Series titles, I was telling my mother and my brother that I didn’t know how I was going to keep up with that next season but I’ve won five already so this is a dream for me. I’m just really proud of what I have been achieving this season.

“I have to be thankful to my team. They are the ones that are keeping my body healthy because our matches are just something different. We give something different to our sport and I really hope we keep playing for the future and we have such a great rivalry. It’s great to have Ashour back here again.”

The Egyptian quartet of Al-Shorbagi, Ashour, Al-Sherbini and Gohar had already stunned the world when they reached the finals of the 2016 Allam British Open, PSA World Series tournament after securing semi-final wins the day before at Hull’s Airco Arena.

Ashour had earned his place in the showpiece finale after coming through a spectacular 74-minute encounter against former world champion Gregory Gaultier. The duo drew loud applause from a capacity crowd at the end of a series of brutal, breathtaking rallies, full to the brim with attacking artistry and frantic retrieving from both combatants.

Ashour looked to have conceded the initiative after allowing a two-game lead to slip through his grasp but he recovered from five-points down in the fifth to take an 11-6, 12-10, 8-11, 9-11, 11-7 victory through to the next stage.

“When the injury happened to me in November in Seattle I was thinking that I was done,” said Ashour, who was making his first appearance in four months after a hamstring injury sustained in the World Championship.

“For some reason, I didn’t remember where the years went. I would go back and watch and I wouldn’t feel anything. I was thinking that there was something wrong there.

“I was thinking about losing the match in the fifth. At the same time, you’re playing the world champion. It’s a mental battle, not just physically. There are no words to describe how I’m feeling. It was very dreamy for me just to be back.”

Meanwhile, defending champion Al-Shorbagi advanced to the final for a second successive year after sweeping to victory against compatriot Karim Abdel-Gawad.

Al-Shorbagi dominated the 44-minute spectacle and gave Abdel-Gawad very little chance to attack with a series of punishing drives keeping his younger compatriot rooted in the back of the court and he duly triumphed courtesy of an 11-8, 11-7, 11-7 scoreline.

The world No 1 then took on Ashour in a mouthwatering repeat of the 2014 World Championship final, a match widely renowned to be one of the greatest of all time. Before the final, Al-Shorbagi was 7-1 down on the head-to-head record between the two but admitted he was looking forward to the encounter. Now, its 7-2 after the final victory.

“Playing Rami in the final will be completely different,” Al-Shorbagi had said before the final match. “I’m three years younger than the older generation, Nick, Greg and Rami and I’ve been playing with them for so many years. I wasn’t relaxed when I was playing them because I was trying to catch up with them and win titles like them. This time, I know I have already won this title last year so I will be a bit more relaxed.

“If we both stay injury-free we’re going to give something special for our sport. He played an amazing match today because Greg was playing so well and it was great to see him moving and he has been getting better every day. I am sure that, tomorrow, we will have such an amazing match in front of an amazing crowd.”

The women’s final saw a battle between the two youngest finalists in British Open history with 18-year-old world junior champion Gohar and Al-Sherbini who was just 16 years of age when she reached the 2012 final.

Gohar played with pace and precision in a virtuoso performance against last year’s winner Camille Serme to surge into a two-game advantage but a resilient Serme fought back to ensure parity. A nail-biting fifth game was decided by the narrowest of margins but it was Gohar who edged it to reach her first ever World Series final, where she could have become the youngest ever women’s winner – just two months after triumphing in the junior edition of the iconic tournament.

“It’s amazing, it’s a very good thing, it’s my biggest achievement so far being in the British Open final,” she said.

“I was in the British Open Junior final just a few months ago and now I’m in the final of the senior tournament. Being in the final of the most prestigious tournament of the year is an unbelievable achievement. I’ve been playing lots of tournaments, lots of matches so it has given me experience and helped me improve my game.”

Al-Sherbini defeated five-time winner Nicol David with a superb 3-1 victory, sending her into a final that was completely dominated by Egyptians – the first time a single nation has provided all four finalists since Australia in 1977.

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