By RJ Mitchell
Jonah Barrington believes that if Nour El Sherbini remains fit, healthy, and motivated she could be on course to match and even beat Malaysia’s Nicol David’s record of eight World Championship titles.
The great Barrington was an enthralled spectator at home as he watched the World No.1 claim her fifth PSA World Championship in Chicago last week with an epic four-game victory over World No.2 Nouran Gohar, which also ensured El Sherbini remains top of the rankings summit come August 1.
That victory meant that the 25 – year-old joined Aussie icon Sarah Fitz-Gerald and Malaysia’s David as the only woman to have won five World titles, impressively it was also the Egyptian’s seventh appearance in a World Championship final and meant she has now won the last three World Championships in succession.
Yet despite the fact that still leaves El Sherbini three World titles short of David’s unsurpassed eight title haul and her career has at times been blighted by knee injury issues, Barrington reckons the Egyptian is in her best condition in years and believes that a new World title record may not be beyond her despite the increasing intensity of competition in the women’s game.
The six-times British Open champion said: “If Nour remains healthy then of course Nicol’s monumental record has to be potentially possible to reach. But a player has to remain obsessively hungry and other competitors will almost literally raise their standards to challenge at every twist and turn. Other players too will emerge and there is no rest for the wicked!
“Also, you just never know how long you have at the top and that happened with me after my last British Open victory in 1973, I felt I had more and better to come but the Gods of squash did not agree!
“Really you are only a moment away from injury and you look at the slips that Mohamed (ElShorbagy) had in the men’s final and that could have been a hamstring or a knee ligament injury so you never know, it could even be the end of a career.
“Yet Nour is certainly a strong candidate to do what would have seemed an impossibility a few years ago when Nicol David finally left the stage. So, it is very hard to make predictions in this respect, but the two key factors would be Sherbini remaining injury free and hungry to continue and if that is the case, she has every chance.”
Turning his forensic gaze on Sherbini’s title clinching performance, Barrington believes that the global COVID 19 Pandemic has provided a silver lining that the World No.1 has taken full advantage of: “I felt, and it was mentioned in the commentary on SquashTV, that Nour has in recent times been slightly flawed moving into the front right, but it was very evident in this match that she was very much at ease moving in that area and covering the court generally very freely.
“To me it seemed as if she was moving as well as she has been in a good while and in that relation, it may be that the time away from the court due to the pandemic has allowed her body to heal and to allow her to break the cycle of injury that she had endured.
“The quality of her squash is such it meant that she had managed to survive despite the difficulties she has had with her body and to you do feel her success would have been even greater if she had been free from injury.
“But possibly this last period where there have not been the same demands of play, and she has been at home and been able to carry out the rehab she has needed to do, has placed her in a position where she is now less plagued by these difficulties and discomfort while playing.
“For me, so distant from the story on the ground, Nour El Sherbini gives little away regarding injuries, and I’ve never heard her talking about her problems in an interview and I felt throughout the tournament that she was moving more freely, and that the likelihood was she would lift her level because of that in the final.
“To be fair she did play at the top end of her game and that combined with her improved movement was crucial and allowed her to move the ball about more confidently in the way she does and to do this so brilliantly.
“Ultimately when the chips were down and the pressure from her valiant opponent was almost overwhelming Sherbini had the character and such an all-round strength in her game to get the job done.”
Nour El Sherbini and Nouran Gohar battle it out in the women's World Championship final
Turning up the focus on his squash microscope to maximum, Jonah produced this succinct dissection of the memorable 53- minute contest: “The two finalists Nour El Sherbini and Nouran Gohar, are undoubtedly like the men’s finalists, the two best players in the world in their categories even although the girls are constantly under attack from an impressive group of challengers in the top-10.
“I really thought the women’s final was very special. Firstly, there was a complete contrast in styles, and it looked like Sherbini was on another demolition job initially. It was fascinating to see the way she broke up Nouran Gohar’s rhythm, so that she couldn’t employ that persistent driving force on the match that she had brought to bear so effectively on her way to the final.
“Really it looked as though it would be a three zero, but Nouran is a fantastic competitor, in fact one of the best ever, although in all honesty at the top end of the women’s game they are all ultra-competitive and tend to fight to the bitter end.
“But I had the feeling that Gohar was ready to pursue the victory even after the match seemed lost! She was just so steely in her determination. By sheer force she found a way back into the final and increasingly you could see the pressure that Nour came under because of that.
“It was just a class act as even though one player was on the rack that player did not succumb to and give way to what was coming so ferociously from the other side and neither girl wilted when the other had the upper hand.
“So, it was fascinating, and I felt that Sherbini was starting to come under more pressure physically as the match wore on and that meant the question marks over just how this was going and the way it was turning started to grow.
“But it was just such a wonderful match and yet another hugely positive statement for the women’s game.”
Yet following Nouran Gohar’s battling fight back in the final, which saw her almost claim her first World title and also reclaim the World No.1 status she lost to ElSherbini, Barrington has no doubt that the portents are positive for the World No.2 ahead of next month’s British Open.
The six-time British Open champion said: “In terms of taking the setbacks on the chin and starting the game with the next point and restarting the game with the point after that Nouran Gohar was simply immense.
“She worked on the principal that in a World Championship final, whatever the score, there can be a bit of vulnerability because of these special circumstances and Sherbini did become a little more vulnerable. The third game, when she was getting close to home in terms of winning the match, undoubtedly became the most difficult for Sherbini to win.
“That was in no small part because of the quality of Gohar on the other side and when Sherbini lost her unrelenting focus Nouran was on it like a flash – a chink in the armour and the ‘Terminator’ was there taking advantage of that fallibility – one of the ultimate predators in world squash. Full credit as always to her.
“Our sport is blessed with such considerable talent in the women’s game and our World Championship finalists and there awesome gladiatorial contests would have in comparison condemned so many so-called Olympic sports to the shadows!
“In this respect in terms of Nouran’s defence of the British Open there were a lot of positives to take forward to that.”
For more information on the rerelease of Jonah’s fascinating three books: “Murder in the Squash Court’, ‘The Life of Jonah’ and ‘Jonah: The Official Autobiography’ please visit wwwjonahbarrington.com.