Victory for Laura Massaro and Gregory Gaultier at the PSA Dubai World Series Finals in May 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 broken, rivalries ignited, careers forged and history made.
Over the next few weeks we're looking back at the major moments that lit up the PSA World Tour during 2015/16, starting with the breakthrough performances, to the most outstanding performers and performances, shock moments, and rising stars that ensured the 2015/16 season – the first full season of combined governance since the PSA and WSA joined forces in a historic merger back on January 1st, 2015 – will go down in the sporting annals as one of the best ever.
January got 2016 off to a stunning start, and we have a look back at the big talking points throughout an electric month of action.
Nour El Sherbini roars with delight during her Tournament of Champions clash with Amanda Sobhy
Following on the coattails of an enthralling 2015, January saw the iconic J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions take place in the stunning setting of Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall once more in New York.
Laura Massaro was named as the new Women’s World No.1 at the start of the month, overtaking Egypt’s Raneem El Welily to become only the third Englishwoman to reach the summit of the World Rankings, and the first since Cassie Jackman 12 years previously.
However, the 32-year-old’s reign got off to an inauspicious start, as she suffered a shock quarter-final defeat to 18-year-old Egyptian talent Nouran Gohar in New York, with Gohar eventually going down in the next round to home hero Amanda Sobhy, who had displayed her title credentials with a shock second round win over El Welily.
Amanda Sobhy celebrates a hugely significant victory over Raneem El Welily
Roared on by a partizan home crowd, Harvard graduate Sobhy came up against Nour El Sherbini in the final and, after an intriguing battle, eventually fell in four as El Sherbini celebrated lifting her maiden World Series crown and a share of the lucrative $150,000 prize purse after the prestigious tournament committed to parity in prize money between men and women athletes for the first time in history.
Meanwhile, Mohamed ElShorbagy’s exploits at the Hong Kong Open several weeks earlier saw him reclaim top spot in the January Men’s rankings as he usurped World Champion Gregory Gaultier to establish himself once more as the world’s top male player – and his dominant form continued in New York as he fought to his third successive World Series title.
He met England No.1 Nick Matthew in a climactic final, with ‘The Wolf’ battling past Mohamed’s brother, Marwan, in the last eight, before his semi-final clash with Gaultier was cut short after the Frenchman suffered an ankle injury, ensuring he would take on ElShorbagy in a repeat of the previous year’s final, which the man from Alexandria eventually won 3-2 to capture the coveted title.
ElShorbagy’s nine-match win streak was brought to and just a few weeks later by fellow Egyptian Ali Farag at the Motor City Open in Detroit who, after a sensational set of results that also saw him down current World No.7 Mathieu Castagnet and Matthew, claimed his biggest ever title which would see him break the world’s top 20 for the first time a month later.
Ali Farag with the Motor City Open winner's trophy
January also saw Canada play host to no less than five PSA World Tour events, with the first of those tournaments, the Penticton Open, seeing England’s Angus Gillams prevail, while his compatriot, Victoria Lust, won the Granite Open in Toronto less than a week later.
Elsewhere in the country, Ben Coleman and Emily Whitlock completed an English quartet of successes when they triumphed at the Holtrand Open in Medicine Hat, and the Winnipeg Open, respectively, while Raphael Kandra was the only non-English player to win in Canada as he sealed the Bankers Hall Club Pro Am crown courtesy of a win over local player Shawn Delierre in the final.
Elsewhere, Delierre’s fellow Canadian, Danielle Letourneau, fared better than her older compatriot at the Liberty Bell Open as the World No.62 defeated England’s Georgina Stoker to lift her maiden Tour title.
Emily Whitlock in action
The Helsinki Winter Challenger and Finnish Open tournaments also took place and saw Ausralia’s Matthew Hopkin overcome Baptiste Masotti in the former, while Egypt’s Shehab Essam came through a dramatic five-game thriller against Geoffrey Demont in the latter.
Christophe Andre and Millie Tomlinson were the other victors in January, with Andre dispatching qualifier Oliver Pett in the Open du Gard Final and Tomlinson triumphing over Germany’s Sina Wall in the showpiece finale of the Edinburgh Open.
Farag’s sublime displays resulted in him being named as the PSA Men’s Player of the Month for January, while El Sherbini was awarded the Women’s award.
Full List of Winners
Men’s J. P. Morgan Tournament of Champions 2016 – Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY)
Women’s J. P. Morgan Tournament of Champions 2016 – Nour El Sherbini (EGY)
Open du Gard 2016 – Christopher Andre (FRA)
Sandman Hotels Open Penticton 2016 – Angus Gillams (ENG)
Slaight Music and Roundtable Capital Granite Open 2016 – Victoria Lust (ENG)
Holtrand Open 2016 – Ben Coleman (ENG)
Liberty Bell Open 2016 – Danielle Letourneau (CAN)
Motor City Open 2016 – Ali Farag (EGY)
Suez Helsinki Winter Challenger 2016 – Matthew Hopkin (AUS)
Savcor Finnish Open 2016 – Baptiste Masotti (FRA)
Winnipeg Winter Club Women’s Open 2016 – Emily Whitock (ENG)
Bankers Hall Club Pro Am 2016 – Raphael Kandra (GER)
Edinburgh Sports Club Open 2016 – Millie Tomlinson (ENG)