One of the most prodigious talents Egyptian squash has ever seen took a huge step towards fulfilling her potential last season as 20-year-old Nour El Sherbini cemented her status as the world’s leading female player throughout a whirlwind 2015/16 campaign.
After finding herself ranked at No.7 in the world at the outset of the season and without a Tour title in over a year, El Sherbini looked to be struggling to build on the early promise she showed when bursting onto the scene as she reached the prestigious British Open final at the age of just 16.
El Sherbini celebrates during her 2016 Tournament of Champions final clash with Amanda Sobhy
But a period of dominance over the past seven months has seen records tumble and opponents crumble in her wake as she followed up a maiden World Series crown in January’s J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions by becoming the first Egyptian female winner of the British Open.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was the scene of her biggest triumph though where, in the Nicol David Arena having beat the arena’s namesake en route to the final for a fifth time in a row, she recovered from 2-0 down to defeat then World No.1 Laura Massaro, completing one of the greatest comebacks in World Championship history just two years after losing out to Massaro in the final of the same tournament in Penang.
“It was one of the best moments of my life,” said El Sherbini.
“I remember it during the final match when everything was not going my way and I was two games down. I thought that I could start everything again next season and I would stay the same like any other player just dreaming of winning it, or I could just do something about it now.
“What I remember the most, apart from the title, is the fighting spirit to achieve what I wanted, proving to myself that I am strong enough to achieve what I dreamt of.
“The media attention I got was enormous, so I decided to stop accepting some of it. Instead of rewarding myself with a nice vacation, I found myself traveling all day to studios and media outlets. But now I have finally got my vacation and started training again.”
El Sherbini v Massaro in the PSA Women's World Championship final
Victory in Malaysia was hugely significant for El Sherbini as not only did she leapfrog Massaro to become the new World No.1, her momentous triumph also saw her become the youngest ever winner of the biggest prize on the Women’s Tour – overtaking the legendary Susan Devoy, who set the previous record over three decades ago.
While El Sherbini will stay at the summit of the World Rankings for at least another month, she will have to defend top spot amidst arguably the most competitive Women’s Tour of all time.
El Sherbini plays a shot against Nicol David in New York
With the likes of Massaro, former World No.1 Raneem El Welily and eight-time World Champion David all vying for supremacy at the highest level of the game, El Sherbini is weary of the challenge that lies in front of her as she tries to see of hold on to her position at the top.
“Its always tough and it will never be easy, everyone is hungry,” she said.
“The Women’s game has changed and everyone is improving. Laura Massaro [has impressed the most last season], I believe she keeps improving each tournament.
“She’s fit and she keeps developing her game, it’s really impressive how she does it at that age .
“I hope to stay on top for a while as long as I can and, most importantly, to defend my World Championship title. I don’t want it to be a one time thing, I want to win as many as I can.”