If there is one player that epitomises Egypt’s ability to churn out young, top-class squash talents it is 18-year-old World Junior Champion Nouran Gohar, whose ascent towards the very top of the game has been nothing short of miraculous.
The teenager, who hails from Cairo, has been hovering around the top 15 mark over the majority of the past two years, but took a significant step forward last season after enjoying a rise of epic proportions from 13th in the world to a career-high World No.5 ranking.
Gohar in action during the PSA Women's World Championship
Her on-court triumphs have been just as impressive, with a final berth at the prestigious British Open, semi-final finishes at the PSA Women’s World Championship and Tournament of Champions and a series of scalps over higher-ranked players – including eight-time World Champion Nicol David – seeing her emerge as one of the sport’s elite players.
“I’m extremely happy with my last season,” said Gohar.
“It has been an exciting season with lots of good matches and lots of challenges. I think I’ve learnt a lot from my losses and it helped me to work harder and be hungrier. Reaching the last stages in the World Series tournaments and qualifying for Dubai was a big thing for me.
“It is always a pleasure and a true satisfaction to see that all the hard work is paying off.”
A final appearance in the Macau Open saw Gohar break into the world’s top 10 the following month, before respectable quarter-final finishes at the Qatar Classic and Hong Kong Open helped her maintain her top 10 status.
The turn of the year saw Gohar hit her stride though and semi-final and quarter-final berths in New York and Chicago, respectively, was swiftly followed by a series of sensational displays in Hull which took her all the way to the final of the British Open, beating former World No.1 Raneem El Welily and defending champion Serme en route.
“I went to the British Open without any expectations,” the Egyptian recalled.
“When I put too much expectation on myself it never works. It just makes me feel pressured and you start more concentrating on the result than the game. My goal was just to try to play my best squash without any fear or pressure.
“Beating Raneem was truly hard because she has always been a role model for all the up-and-coming Egyptian players and we train at the same club. She has a great attitude on and off-court and I’m always learning from her.
“The semi-final against Camille was one of the longest and hardest matches I’ve ever played. It was a high quality match and I have so much respect for her, so reaching the final was a dream that I couldn’t believe.
“It was one of the best weeks of my life and having my mum beside me during the tournament made it extra special. She is the main reason behind these results. She understands me more than anyone else and knows exactly what I need.”
Gohar celebrates beating Camille Serme in the 2016 British Open semi-final
Gohar’s incredible run – which saw her become the second youngest British Open finalist of the modern era just two months after winning the junior edition – was eventually brought to an end by compatriot and current World No.1 Nour El Sherbini after a nail-biting encounter went all the way to five games.
While the disappointment of being so close to winning one of the sport’s most prestigious titles will live long in the memory, a mature Gohar says that she is looking to learn from the rare disappointments of her season, also citing her World Championship semi-final defeat to El Sherbini as an example.
“I was truly disappointed after losing in the [British Open] final as I felt I was very close to winning it,” she explained.
“But I believe that these defeats make you learn and improve. You either win or learn. It’s never easy to overcome them but they make you stronger and hungrier. They motivate you to become a better player.
“As I said before, you are never truly satisfied. You always want the best and try to become better everyday. My biggest disappointment was losing in the semi-final of the World Championship.
“It is always frustrating to not give it all and I felt I didn’t do what I needed to. But it’s a part of the game and you always learn and gain experience.”
Gohar looks on forlornly after suffering defeat to El Sherbini in the 2016 British Open final
Gohar’s strong showing throughout the season saw her place fifth on the PSA Road to Dubai Standings, which handed her a place at the season-ending PSA Dubai World Series Finals in May, where she finished bottom of a tough group, which also contained World No.2 Laura Massaro, David and United States No.1 Amanda Sobhy.
Her spirits were lifted a month later though as she moved into the world’s top five for the first time and a determined Gohar is eager to improve even more throughout the coming season.
“It [breaking into the top five] meant a lot,” said Gohar.
“Starting this season, my target was to prove to myself that I’m capable of competing with the best players in the world. I have always wanted to be amongst the world’s top 5, but what counted for me the most was my performances during the big tournaments. If you are performing well, results will come automatically and your ranking will improve.
“But thinking about it the other way round makes it more stressful. Being a professional squash player makes you never satisfied, you always want to achieve more and become a better player and that’s what makes it very challenging.”