By RJ Mitchell
Jenny Duncalf has revealed that she believed Nouran Gohar was destined for the World No.1 slot the first time she saw her relentless pursuit of perfection conducted far away from the spotlight of a show court.
The former World No.2 spent 29 months attempting to dislodge the legendary Nicol David from her position at the top of the PSA women’s rankings and that experience has enhanced Duncalf’s admiration for Gohar’s emergence as the new ‘Queen of the Court’.
The former US Open champion, who retired at last year’s Allam British Open, had time to watch as Gohar blossomed from rookie professional breaking into the PSA top 20 at just 17 years-old.
Two years later Gohar made the final of both the Tournament of Champions and the British Open and finished the season at No.2 but just as she seemed set to scale the rankings summit a slight dip saw Gohar fall back outside the top five only to become resurgent in taking last year’s British Open title and finally ascending to World No.1 in the aftermath of Raneem El Welily’s retirement in June.
As she reflected on all of that Duncalf has no doubt Gohar will prove a worthy successor to her close friend El Welily.
“Nouran has gone No.1 at 22-years-old, which is a comparatively young age but then she has achieved everything at a young age,” said Duncalf.
“I believe she made the British Open final at 18 and went to World No.2 at 19 and then she has had a period of consolidation and had to regain momentum once more and now she has made it to No.1 at 22-years-old which is a tremendous achievement.
“Nouran is just really driven and has been right from the start. I remember watching her when she was breaking through and I was still at the top end of the rankings and I was lucky enough to watch her complete a solo practise on a back court and also some of her core exercises and she made sure that she did everything to her absolute best. Her attention to detail was meticulous.
“There were no short cuts taken like some players do. There was no one there, the spotlight wasn’t on her, but she was just so focused and exact about her work and I thought to myself that one day she would have every chance of making it all the way to the top although maybe not as young as at 22!
“Her ball striking, and timing is superb, and she knows how to win a match the hard way when it is required. Although I can understand there may have been a bit of frustration that she went top when the game was in suspension and Raneem had called it, you know Nouran put herself in that position, where she was in a very strong position to go top of the rankings and the chance came her way.
“So, I say congratulations to her and that she has not got anything, believe me, that she hasn’t earned.”
It was at the tournament that was to provide Duncalf’s swan song to a her own hugely impressive 20-year career, the 2019 Allam British Open, that Gohar was to provide two formidable performances that underlined to Duncalf that Gohar’s elevation to number one was not far away.
The former England No.1 said: “I think there were a couple of really big wins for Nouran that underlined she was going to go all the way and they both happened at the British Open last year.
Nouran Gohar in action against Raneem El Welily at the 2019 British Open
“First of all, she took care of Raneem in straight-games in the quarters and was completely ruthless. You could say that perhaps Raneem was not at her best but Nouran smelled blood and she went for the jugular and took full advantage.
“That was a huge win given the stage of the British Open, the fact that Raneem was World No.1 and had been for a long time and also that she had a strong winning record against Nouran and I know she took huge confidence from that victory.
“Then in the final she did a real number on Camille Serme and had her off the court in 30 minutes and given we are talking about a former British Open champion in Camille and a player who was established top four and is one of the toughest competitors on the tour, plus this is the biggest final of the lot with it being the British Open, then that was no mean feat.
“I think that loss was a tough one for Camille to take and it also underlined the fact with Nouran that mentally she just isn’t going to go away even in the biggest matches. So, it made the point that she has not only the game of a World No.1 and major winner but that mentally and physically she has it all in her locker.
“Of course, she is going to face tremendous competition for top spot but as she demonstrated in winning the British last year, Nouran has more than enough to fight fire with fire.”
As a long – standing World No.2, Jenny is in a unique position to assess where the main threats will come to Gohar’s reign: “There is no doubt that Camille Serme is one of the biggest dangers to Nouran’s No.1 ranking. But I do think that for Camille in coming back to win another one of the major titles at ToC in January, will have given her a huge belief that she can get to No.1. She has been No.2 and now at 31, she is at her peak and she is a tremendously dedicated player with a great support team around her.
“The one thing that is in Camille’s favour and everyone else in the top five or six who are looking at winning a major or chasing down the No.1 ranking, is that Raneem El Welily has retired. So regardless if it is Camille, Nour El Tayeb, Nour El Sherbini, Hania El Hammamy or SJ (Perry) that is just a massive motivating factor in itself.
“That said you just can’t discount Nour El Sherbini. She won the worlds last year when she was nursing that knee issue and again at the CIB Black Ball, the last tournament before suspension, she was not fully injury free, but she took Hania to 13-11 in the fifth.
“She is still just 24 and has more major winning experience than anyone else in the top-10, she has been No.1 before unlike the rest, so if she can get 100% fit than she will be very hard to stop.
“But that just underlines how exciting and vibrant the women’s game is right now. We have mentioned half a dozen girls who will fancy their chances of winning a major and chasing down the No.1 ranking and that probably still doesn’t cover them all.
“So, without doubt you can say there are hugely exciting times ahead in the women’s game and Manchester, as it’s the first tournament back, will be a fascinating watch.”
Duncalf, who is now National Junior Coach in her adopted Australia, has no doubt that the sense of relief felt by the players at the announcement of the PSA provisional tournament list last week will be huge: “The PSA have done a brilliant job to get a provisional calendar out, of that there is no doubt. From a personal perspective I couldn’t imagine losing six months of my career and so for the players to have these provisional dates for the tournaments listed is a real light at the end of the tunnel.
The Commonwealth Games silver medallist continued: “You can look at it from many ways in terms of every one of the top players. For example, Nouran Gohar had a bad problem with a foot injury and she was injured at the final tournament in Egypt. On the other hand, Hania [El Hammamy] played arguably the best tournament of her career and knocked off four girls ranked above her before winning the Black Ball.
“So, you look at that and you say that for Nouran the suspension came at a good time and for Hania, well maybe not. But what the suspension has meant, in my opinion, is that no one has an excuse not to be in their best possible shape.
“The players have all had what amounts to an extended pre-season to get into peak physical condition, while if they’ve needed to take time to recharge the mental batteries before getting back into it, they’ve had that too.
“Now from the date of the announcement of the provisional calendar they have five weeks to top up and tailor their plans to make sure that when Manchester starts, on September 16, they are good to go. So, they have to embrace all of that.”