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Season Review: Outstanding Performers - Part One

#SeasonReview

Victory for Laura Massaro and Gregory Gaultier at the PSA Dubai World Series Finals last month brought an end to what has been one of the most remarkable and memorable seasons ever in the history of professional squash – a nine-month spell that saw records made, rivalries ignited, careers forged and history made.

Mohamed ElShorbagy takes on Nick Matthew in the 2016 Windy City Open final

World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy was the dominant force on the PSA World Tour last season and consolidated his position as the man to beat after winning an incredible six out of seven World Series titles.

Despite an unparalleled period of dominance, the Egyptian’s season began in the worst possible fashion, with a shock defeat to Hong Kong’s Max Lee sending him out of the China Open at the first hurdle.

Unperturbed, ElShorbagy sprang back into action at the AJ Bell British Grand Prix in mid-September and, in the first tournament of the 2015/16 season to be broadcast live on SQUASHTV, dispatched long-term rival Nick Matthew in the final to take the crown.

A narrow defeat to ‘French General’ Gregory Gaultier in the US Open a month later then stunted his momentum for a short while, before he avenged his loss in the Qatar Classic in November against the same player to open his World Series title account for the season.

A year on from a heartbreaking World Championship final defeat to compatriot Ramy Ashour, ElShorbagy came into 2016’s instalment as the pre-tournament favourite in Bellevue. But a shock defeat to former World No.1 James Willstrop in the third round stunned the world of squash and that loss, coupled with Gaultier’s eventual triumph, saw ElShorbagy surrender his World No.1 ranking to the Frenchman.

December saw ElShorbagy return to form by winning the Hong Kong Open to reclaim top spot in the January rankings, and he followed that up by retaining his Tournament of Champions title later that month – again beating Matthew in the final.

The man from Alexandria’s form in 2016 was sublime, with a period of one defeat in 25 matches seeing him add the Colombia Open crown to his collection, in addition to three more World Series titles at the Windy City Open, British Open and El Gouna Internationals – a period that also saw him break the record for the highest ever World Rankings points average in April, overtaking Ashour in the process.

The latter two titles in particular had real significance for the Bristol-based 25-year-old. The British Open final pitted him against Ashour, against whom he had lost the last three matches prior to their meeting in Hull’s Airco Arena, including the 2014 World Championship final. He banished any demons left over from those defeats though, as a scintillating display saw him take the match in straight games to defend his crown.

Yet another matchup with Gaultier then beckoned in El Gouna, where ElShorbagy came back from 2-0 down to lift a World Series title on home soil for the first time.

A 21-match unbeaten run eventually came to an end with defeat to Matthew in the season-ending PSA Dubai World Series Finals, before he exited at the semi-final stage to Pilley.

ElShorbagy was named the PSA Player of the Year shortly afterwards in recognition of his efforts over the past nine months – and the Egyptian looks set to go from strength-to-strength in the coming season.

Nour El Sherbini

Nour El Sherbini celebrates winning the Naza PSA Women's World Championship

Egypt’s Nour El Sherbini was a serial record-breaker throughout the 2015/16 season and has developed into the world’s leading female player since the turn of the year, currently holding top spot in the World Rankings.

The 20-year-old began the season ranked 7th in the world, having been on the verge of breaking through to the world’s top three the season before.

She started the campaign in fine fettle, winning the Carol Weymuller Open with victory over Joelle King, before falling to then World No.4 Camille Serme in the last eight of the US Open, which would be her worst tournament placing of the season.

A strong run to the Qatar Classic final, where she took out eight-time World Champion Nicol David en route, was eventually halted by England’s Laura Massaro in November before she came out all guns blazing in the Tournament of Champions two months later.

She avenged her US Open defeat to Serme in the quarter-final, and came out on top against David yet again to set up a final clash with home hero Amanda Sobhy – emerging victorious to lift her first ever World Series crown.

El Sherbini came close to doubling her World Series title collection in March’s Windy City Open, but was felled by compatriot Raneem El Welily at the final hurdle. However, she bounced back in impressive style later that month as she became the first ever Egyptian woman to capture the iconic British Open title and the second youngest winner after Susan Devoy in 1984, beating fellow Egyptian and World Junior Champion Nouran Gohar in the showpiece finale.

There were still greater things to come though as she saved some of her best performances for April’s Women’s World Championship in Malaysia. An imperious run of form, again getting the better of David, took her to the final, where she would face Massaro in a repeat of the pair’s 2013 World Championship final clash, in which Massaro triumphed.

After going 2-0 down, history looked to be set to repeat itself, but El Sherbini mounted a virtuoso fightback to take the title – becoming the youngest ever World Champion and overtaking Massaro at the summit of the World Rankings in the process.

Massaro gained a measure of revenge for that defeat a month later in the PSA Dubai World Series Finals after beating El Sherbini in the semi-final, but the Egyptian will be back with a vengeance next season as she looks to add yet more silverware to her collection.

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