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Mohamed ElShorbagy

Year in Review: Star Performers - Part One

As 2017 draws to a close, we look back at the star performers throughout an electric 12 months of action on the PSA World Tour

Mohamed ElShorbagy

Mohamed ElShorbagy lifts the Men's 2017 PSA World Championships trophy

2017 in Numbers
Matches Played: 51
Matches Won: 44
Matches Lost: 7
Win percentage: 86.3%
Titles Won: 6
World Series Titles Won: 3
Runner-Up Finishes: 1
Highlight: Lifted 2017 Men’s PSA World Championship title, beating brother Marwan in the final
January World Ranking: 1
December World Ranking: 2

2017 was a year of two halves for Bristol-based Egyptian Mohamed ElShorbagy as he recovered from a loss of motivation and his World No.1 ranking to re-establish himself as one the most dangerous players on the PSA World Tour by the year’s end – culminating in the greatest achievement of his career to date as he finally got his hands on the most prestigious title in squash earlier this month.

The 26-year-old had lost in both the 2012 and 2014 finals of the World Championships to compatriot Ramy Ashour, but he vanquished his long-term rival in the third round in Manchester, before going on to end home hero Nick Matthew’s campaign in the quarter-finals.

Up next came World No.1 Gregory Gaultier, who toppled ElShorbagy in the last four stage of January’s Tournament of Champions – an encounter which was named as the 2016/17 PSA Men’s Match of the Season.

But ElShorbagy had the final say in Manchester as a bruising encounter went the way of the Egyptian and he disposed of younger brother Marwan in the final to finally lift the only major omission from his glittering trophy cabinet.

ElShorbagy’s World Championships triumph capped off an up-and down year for the 26-year-old, which started in inauspicious style after the first five months of the year passed without a single final – resulting in ElShorbagy losing his 15-month grip on the World No.1 spot.

But he fought back with a vengeance in June’s PSA Dubai World Series Finals as the imperious ElShorbagy of old returned, with a nervy semi-final victory over Germany’s Simon Rösner being followed up with a comfortable final win over former World No.1 James Willstrop inside Dubai Opera to collect the World Series Finals title for the first time.

That title win – coupled with ‘The Beast of Alexandria’ beginning work with coach and two-time World Champion David Palmer in the summer – acted as a catalyst for ElShorbagy’s latter-year dominance.

Six title wins in seven tournaments followed, with a final defeat to Farag at the U.S. Open the only loss ElShorbagy has suffered since May, a run that encompasses title wins at the Oracle NetSuite Open, the Channel VAS Championships, the Qatar Classic and the Hong Kong Open, in addition to his World Championship title.

ElShorbagy now has Gaultier’s World No.1 spot in his sights, with a strong performance from the Egyptian at the Tournament of Champions – the first World Series tournament of 2018 – likely to see him usurp the Frenchman at the summit of the World Rankings.

Raneem El Welily

Raneem El Welily poses with the Women's 2017 PSA World Championships trophy

2017 in Numbers
Matches Played: 38
Matches Won: 29
Matches Lost: 9
Win percentage: 76.3%
Titles Won: 2
World Series Titles Won: 1
Runner-Up Finishes: 3
Highlight: Lifted 2017 Women’s PSA World Championship title, beating Nour El Sherbini in the final
January World Ranking: 3
December World Ranking: 2

There was also World Championship triumph at the third attempt for women’s World No.2 Raneem El Welily after she ended the year by capturing the sport’s most prestigious title courtesy of a 3-1 victory over defending champion Nour El Sherbini in Manchester.

El Welily had suffered World Championship final heartbreak twice before – in 2014 when she surrendered four championship balls against Nicol David and in April where a nervous display from the 28-year-old saw her dominated by El Sherbini.

But she got her revenge against her younger compatriot two weeks ago inside Manchester Central Convention Complex after coming back from a game down to lift the iconic title.

El Welily began her week with straightforward victories over World Junior Champion Rowan Elaraby and England’s Victoria Lust before moving on to avenge her 2014 defeat in Cairo to David, dispatching the eight-time winner in four games.

The dangerous World No.3 Camille Serme was then dispatched with ease by El Welily, who was hitting full flow, and she recovered from a nervy start against El Sherbini to walk away with over $45,000 in prize money in what was the first time in World Championship history that the prize money was equal in both the men’s and women’s draw.

El Welily also tasted title success in Chicago as she lifted a third Windy City Open title in a row, with El Sherbini falling again to her fellow Egyptian in the final for a second year in succession.

El Welily was seeded third for the tournament and racked up wins over former World No.2 Jenny Duncalf, Hong Kong’s Annie Au and former World No.6 Amanda Sobhy to set up a semi-final meeting with Egypt’s Nouran Gohar.

A titanic battle went the way of the older Egyptian as El Welily prevailed in five games, while in the final, just as she did against El Sherbini in the title-decider 12 months earlier, she fought back from a game down to take a third Windy City Open crown on the bounce.

Yet more tussles with El Sherbini would result in runner-up finishes in April’s Women’s World Championship and November’s Hong Kong Open, while she also fell to a surprise defeat against Nour El Tayeb in the final of the U.S. Open.

But her sensational end to the year at the December World Championships will leave her in prime position to push on in 2018 and put El Sherbini’s 20-month reign at World No.1 under serious threat.

Karim Abdel Gawad

Karim Abdel Gawad

2017 in Numbers
Matches Played: 44
Matches Won: 32
Matches Lost: 12
Win percentage: 72.7%
Titles Won: 1
World Series Titles Won: 1
Runner-Up Finishes: 3
Highlight: Lifted 2017 Men’s Tournament of Champions title, beating Gregory Gaultier in the final
January World Ranking: 2
December World Ranking: 4

2017 was a mixed year for Egypt’s Karim Abdel Gawad, but the last 12 months still brought about a title win at the iconic Tournament of Champions, while he was also rewarded with the coveted World No.1 spot in May.

After dominating the Tour in the latter stages of 2016 – a period that saw him lift the World Championship title and a maiden World Series crown at the Qatar Classic – Gawad was one of the favourites to challenge ElShorbagy and Gaultier at the summit of the World Rankings heading into 2017.

And the ‘Baby-Faced Assassin’ made a perfect start after blitzing his way to the Tournament of Champions crown in January as he lifted the first World Series title of the year.

The 26-year-old was made to work hard for it after being put through his paces against both Zahed Mohamed and Simon Rösner either side of a dramatic five-game thriller against Australia’s Cameron Pilley.

But he made short work of former World No.1 James Willstrop in the semi-final before recovering from a one-game deficit against Gaultier inside Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall in New York to add his name to the list of famous former winners and keep it in Egyptian hands for a fifth year in a row.

A further high point was to come in April as he fulfilled a lifelong dream of becoming World No.1 for the first time.

He had already squandered previous opportunities to take the World No.1 spot at both the Windy City Open and British Open, with defeats to Borja Golan and Mohamed Abouelghar denting his chances of reaching the milestone.

But on El Gouna’s New Marina, against the backdrop of the Red Sea, Gawad battled all the way through to the final, with his semi-final victory over compatriot Fares Dessouky seeing him finally claim his place atop the World Rankings in May.

Defeat to the man he had dethroned – Gaultier – in the final then followed as the Frenchman reclaimed the World No.1 berth in June and Gawad would suffer a further final defeat to ElShorbagy before the year was out, with his compatriot getting the better of him in the Oracle NetSuite Open final.

Gawad hasn’t quite been able to reproduce his early-year form so far in the opening months of the 2017/18 season, with disappointing defeats to Paul Coll and Simon Rösner at the U.S. Open and Qatar Classic, respectively, contributing to his slide down to World No.4.

A shin injury didn’t help matters at the World Championships earlier this month as he fell to Marwan ElShorbagy in the quarter-finals and Gawad will be looking to return to top form as he gears up for his title defence at next month’s Tournament of Champions.

Camille Serme

Camille Serme

2017 in Numbers
Matches Played: 37
Matches Won: 29
Matches Lost: 8
Win percentage: 78.4%
Titles Won: 2
World Series Titles Won: 1
*Runner-Up Finishes: *0
Highlight: Lifted 2017 Women’s Tournament of Champions title
January World Ranking: 4
December World Ranking: 3

World No.3 Camille Serme picked up where she left off after a prolific end to 2016 as she became the first female French player ever to lift the Tournament of Champions crown.

Serme had one of the toughest draws of anybody at the event, coming through matches against Tesni Evans and Joshna Chinappa to set up a blockbuster quarter-final clash with Egypt’s Nouran Gohar, who had won the Hong Kong Open just a matter of months previously.

But Serme was sensational as contained Gohar’s hard-hitting style of play to take a 3-1 win, before going to upset World No.1 and defending champion Nour El Sherbini in a dramatic five-game semi-final clash to reach the final of the Tournament of Champions for the first time in her career.

2014 runner-up Laura Massaro awaited Serme in the final, where a confident Serme started well but then faded as the 28-year-old surrendered a one-game lead to go 2-1 down.

But Serme responded impressively to force a decider, where she stepped up the court to claim victory, etching her name onto the renowned trophy and lifting back-to-back World Series titles for the first time in her career.

Her winning streak continued at the Cleveland Classic in February as she powered through the field to take the title, culminating in a 3-2 victory over England’s Alison Waters in the final to make it two titles on the bounce.

February also saw her move up from World No.4 to a career-high No.2, which she stayed at until April, when El Welily overtook her.

Serme finished the 206/17 season in first place on the PSA Women’s Road to Dubai Standings, qualifying for June’s PSA Dubai World Series Finals in the process as she reached the semi-finals at Dubai Opera before losing out to El Sherbini.

However on the eve of the tournament, she was rewarded for her superb form throughout the 2016/17 season – which also saw her win the U.S. Open – as she was named the PSA Women’s Player of the Season alongside compatriot Gregory Gaultier, who won the men’s award.

There was to be no further title successes for Serme in 2017 as she racked up three further semi-final finishes, including in the World Championships where her tournament came to an end at the hands of El Welily.

But Serme will have the opportunity to exact her revenge on El Welily next month, with the pair seeded to meet in the last four as Serme looks to make it two Tournament of Champions titles on the bounce.

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