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PART 2. January 2023 – June 2023

The squash World welcomed in the new year with a two month ‘North American Tour’. First up for many players were the Carol Weymuller Bronze in Brooklyn for the ladies, and the Houston Gold for the men, while some players held off for the TOC a week later to make their 2023 debut. Georgina Kennedy returned to the tour after a few months away through injury and won her first PSA event for a year when she beat top seed Olivia Fiechter in the final.

Asal blitzed his way through the men’s draw to claim the winners trophy, beating Mohamed ElShorbagy convincingly in the final.

The next week was the very cool Tournament Of Champions Platinum event played in the iconic Grand Central Terminal. We saw a full entry with the only notable absentee being Ali Farag as he continued his recovery from injury. There were some fine performances, notably Miguel Rodriguez turning back the clock to beat Shorbagy 3-2 as he did when he won the 2018 British Open, and followed it up with a win against Mazen Hesham to reach the semi-finals. Asal retired after one game in his match against Victor Croin, adding to the tension between the two of them. Diego Elias claimed his second platinum event of the season as he ended the run of Marwan in the final. In the ladies event there was an incredible match where Nouran Gohar overcame Nour El Tayeb 3-2. El Sherbini looked to be back on top form as she beat Amanda Sobhy, followed by a tight 3-1 win over Hania El Hammamy, before beating Gohar in the final as Gohar was forced to retire with injury. This was ElSherbini’s fourth TOC title.

February begun as January did, with two separate men’s and women’s events on at the same time. The Motor City Silver in Detroit, and the Cleveland Classic Silver. Mazen Hesham reached his third final of the season but lost out to Diego (playing his fourth final of the season so far). Elias was collecting his third title of his 22/23 campaign. Dessouky beat Paul Coll in the quarter-final which was incredibly the fourth time they had played each other this season, with a 2-all head-to-head. 

Georgina Kennedy continued her fine start to the year with another win, this time beating home favourite Olivia Clyne in the final.

February continued to be a rare month where the boys and girls World Tour tournaments remained separate. Immediately after the two events just mentioned, players were hosted for two more silver level competitions, the Pittsburgh Open for the men while the ladies enjoyed their turn to travel to Detroit for the DAC Pro Squash Classic. Ali Farag chose Pittsburgh to return to the tour where he lost out to Youssef Soliman 16-14 in the fifth. Another very notable comeback to form after 18 years away from the tour following knee surgery, is that of Mohamed Abouelghar. The former World No.7 is a class act, with a sublime backhand.  In this event he defeated top ten players Tarek Momen and Joel Makin, before losing out to Diego Elias in the semi-final. Marwan defeated Mazen Hesham again on his way to another final but lost to Diego Elias who collected yet another winners trophy.

In the Detroit final, Olivia Fiechter gained revenge on Georgina Kennedy, after losing to her in Brooklyn the month before. This was Olivia’s biggest title of her career.

The next two North American cities to host events were Cincinatti for the Cincinatti Silver and Calgary for the Canadian Open Bronze. The girls travelled to Ohio where Olivia Clyne was in the middle of some fine performances but came up against the formidable Gohar in the final. The World No.1 won 3-1 after a tight first game.

North of the border in Calgary, Victor Crouin notched up another final appearance after overcoming Rodriguez in the semi. Joel Makin was on top physical form as he beat Crouin, exacting revenge for the Frenchman’s win in Qatar. This was the Welshman’s second career World Tour title (after winning the Manchester Open in April 2022).

The final stops on the North American run of events were Washington DC for the Squash On Fire Bronze for both men and women, followed by Philadelphia for the women’s Chestnut Hill Bronze. Yes, you guessed it, Victor Crouin continued his love affair with bronze events by reaching another final to play surprise finalist Mohamed ElSherbini. Sherbini beat Swiss Steinmann, Mosaad and Ghosal to make the final. Victor got the victory to go with his Open De France title in September. Washington top seed Tinne Gilis won her first World Tour event beating the wild card entrant in the final. This is where the majority of the squash World was first introduced to 15-year-old Amina Orfi. On her way to the final, the teenager beat nippy Malaysian Sivasangari Subramaniam, Nada Abbas and Sabrina Sobhy. We will see Amina feature again at The World Open in Chicago. 

Olivia Clyne

Completing a memorable month, New Yorker Olivia Clyne reached a third final in a row after she ousted top seed Nele Gilis in Philly. Unfortunately, she couldn’t go home with the main prize as she lost to a very much in-form Olivia Fiechter, who was also competing in her third final of the new year.

At the start of March, Asal was at the top of the men’s world rankings, with Diego just behind, while Gohar was still holding on to the number 1 position in the women’s list.

All the players travelled to Cairo once again for the Black Ball Open Gold event. There were some seeding upsets in the quarter finals with Amanda Sobhy remarkably beating Nour ElSherbini 3-2, Fearless Fares Dessouky beating Mostafa Asal, Joel Makin beating Paul Coll and then Marwan, and Mo winning the latest clash in his long-standing rivalry with Ali Farag. We saw some absolutely epic semi-finals; Hania beat Amanda Sobhy 3-2, Mo beat Diego 3-2 (preventing Diego from reaching World No.1) and Tarek beat The Golden Tiger, Joel Makin 3-2 to reach his first final of the season. Nouran Gohar and Hania had their customary long battle, with Gohar prevailing this time 3-1. Mohamed beat long-time rival Tarek to win his 5th tournament this season!

Pretty much all of the top men travelled to London a week later for the 20th Anniversary edition of the Canary Wharf Classic Gold. Makin fought his way into the final, reversing previous losses this season against Diego Elias, Tarek Momen and Mostafa Asal, the latter being a gruelling 100-minute match. Paul Coll continued his love affair with this event, beating Joel Makin in the final after an unsurprisingly long 3-1 match, to win the tournament for a third time. The delighted Kiwi seemed to be rediscovering his top form again after losing the World No.1 spot and dropping down the rankings to No.5.

London was where many of the guys stayed for the Optasia Gold Championships in Wimbledon. A humungous upset occurred in round one when a slightly struggling Mohamed ElShorbagy lost to local wild card Charlie Lee. What a moment for the organiser’s son. There were other good wins for Masotti (beating Marwan and Joel), Yow (who beat Crouin), Mazen (beat Ali Farag 12-10 in the fifth), and finally 8th seed Youssef Soliman reached the final by outlasting Hesham in the semi-final. However, something very ominous for the top ranked men was starting to happen – the return to top form of former World Champion and World No.1, Karim Gawad. Gawad had been away from the tour for an entire season. He showed signs at Canary Wharf that he was close to regaining his full movement when he lost a very close match to eventual winner Paul Coll. Gawad won here in Wimbledon in only his third tournament back since the 10 month lay-off.

At the same time as this event, the women were welcomed to Toronto for the Canadian Open Bronze. The top two seeds reached the final and it was the higher ranked Amanda Sobhy who beat Salma Hany.

We had just one event in April before a huge May. Birmingham held the prestigious British Open Platinum. There were no upsets in the ladies draw until the quarter-final stage when Amand Sobhy played perfectly to beat Hania El Hammamy. Almost inevitably we would see the final contested between Nour El Sherbini and Nouran Gohar. People were unsure of how well El Sherbini was playing as she only just beat Sobhy the round before. She was awesome in the final and beat her top spot rival comfortably. Gawad set the men’s tournament alight by beating ElShorbagy 3-2 in a fantastic spectacle, but then couldn’t quite back it up against a deadly Mazen Hesham. Ali Farag, still not looking quite back to top form worked his way into the final with repetitive 3-1 wins, and there he’d meet Diego Elias. Farag claimed his first British Open title with another 3-1 victory.

Where the ranking stand at the end of April – Asal had been banned for a few events for some ‘cheeky’ behaviour on court, allowing the consistent Diego Elias to become the first South American to hold the top ranking. Nouran is still holding on at the top of the women’s rankings.

A 4-week break from tournaments saw everyone return to The States for the mammoth World Open in Chicago from 3rd-11th May. Ali Farag was hoping to join Amr Shabana and Geoff Hunt on 4 World Titles after winning 3 of the last 4 events (the last only 11 days after becoming a father for the first time). Diego, Coll and Asal all desperate to win their first. Sherbini was looking for her 7th, to edge closer to Nicol David’s record of 8, while Hania and Noran eager to win the event for the first time. In the round of last 16 we almost had a big upset as 36-year-old Saurav Ghosal went 2-0 against World No.1 Diego Elias, and then had 2 match balls in the last game but couldn’t convert. All the other top men looking in top form, including Gawad as he beat Marwan 3-0. The top ladies were also looking good as they moved through the draw, but Hania El Hammamy almost came unstuck against 15-year-old sensation Amina Orfi, scraping through 3-2. Nele Gilis and Georgina Kennedy were also putting themselves in the mix. The women’s quarter-final stage were all straight-forward matches with the top 4 seeds emerging. The only 3-0 victory in the men’s QF’s was Gawad taking out Elias. Shorbagy and Tarek had a classic battle as they so often have done, with Mo winning in 5. Farag beat Coll in 4, and Asal beat Mazen 12-10 in the fifth.

Gohar and Hania played out an outrageous match, where the top seed saved three match points to win after 105 minutes, the longest women’s World Championship match of all time. Sherbini beat Joelle in the other half of the draw. Gawad beat Shorbagy for the second event in a row in a classic encounter, as Farag booked his final spot by comfortably beating Mostafa.

Could Gawad achieve the impossible? He was in a wheelchair 7 months ago after surgery. No, he couldn’t. Farag was just too good, and Ali claimed his 4th World Title.

In the female final, Sherbini edged ever closer to equalling Nicol’s ridiculous record of World titles by beating her rival Gohar 3-0. This win also took Nour back to World No.1.

The season is still not over! A few days later many flew back to England to play in the Manchester Open Silver event. Almost impossibly, Farag and Gawad managed to back up their emotional World Championship week by getting to the final once more. Ali won 3-1. Nour El Tayeb line up against surprise package, Nele Gilis in the other final. Nele had beaten top seed Joelle King, a previous winner in Manchester. Satomi Watanabe also made her first major semi-final beating SJ Perry and Tesni Evans. Tayeb claimed her second tour title of the season. I know it’s happened a few times before, but once again the squash World had the incredibly unique situation of a husband and wife taking home both winners trophies.

One more massive event to end the season, this time back in Egypt for the sunny El Gouna Platinum. If Ali Farag won his fourth event in a row, which would surely be impossible, he would find himself back at World No.1. But Asal, Shorbagy and Diego could also finish the season at the top. Nouran also has the chance to pinch her No.1 place back. What an event!

Crazily Elias and Gawad had to play each other in the first round, with Diego getting payback for the World Championship defeat. The top four seeds reached the semi-final stage in the men’s event. Asal faced ElShorbagy and Elias was up against Farag. Asal took a 2-0 lead, but the experienced Mohamed fought back, but was spent in the 5th game and Asal raced to victory, ending the 110-minute marathon match. Diego won the first game but Ali rallied and retrieved, eventually grinding the Peruvian to a stand-still. In the final Ali Farag did the same to Mostafa, rendering him helpless as Ali won his fourth tournament in a row, and with it, taking the World number one back.

Three of the top four seeds made it through in the women’s event, while Nele Gilis gate-crashed the party, putting together the kind of quality performances she’s been threatening to do all season. Nele didn’t stop there either. Phenomenally, she beat Nour El Sherbini 3-0 in her semi-final. The other semi-final was another marathon, with Gohar and Hania lasting longer than they had done two weeks before. This lasted 107 and they only played four games!! Nouran Gohar amazingly backed up this performance by beating Gilis 3-0 in the final.

Ali Farag completed the ridiculous feat of winning 4 tournaments in a row after returning from two months out with injury. He returned to World No.1, as did Nouran Gohar who held the position for the majority of the season. The season ending ranking at the start of June were as follows:

1.Farag, 2. Elias, 3. ElShorbagy, 4. Asal, 5. Coll, 6. Marwan, 7. Crouin, 8. Mazen, 9. Tarek, 10. Makin, 11. Gawad, 12. Soliman.

1. Gohar, 2. Sherbini, 3. El Hammamy, 4. Joelle, 5. Sobhy, 6. El Tayeb, 7. Nele Gilis, 8. Kennedy, 9. Fiechter, 10. Elaraby, 11. Hany, 12. Tesni.