Nouran Gohar’s fondness for squash’s oldest tournament is hardly surprising. After all, she is the defending champion. But for the 23-year-old Egyptian there is far more to it than this.
“The British Open is very special to any squash player. But for me, from the very first Open I played I felt it was one of my favourites,” she explains.
Gohar first played at the Open in 2014 aged just 16, where she went out in the last 32 following a narrow defeat to Raneem El Welily. Two years later, the then-ranked World No.8 came agonisingly close to winning the tournament when she was beaten in the final 3-2 by future World No.1 Nour El Sherbini.
“When I reached the finals in 2016, I remember it was one of the best weeks of my career,” Gohar says. She adds: “Although I lost at the end, it was very special. I think that’s when I realised that I might become one of the top players.”
But it is not just Gohar’s warm memories of her unexpected trip to the final that makes the British Open special. For Gohar, the prestige of the event and the enthusiasm of the fans are equally important.
“Knowing that I’m playing the biggest event of the year was always huge for me,” she says. “One of the main reasons why I love playing the British Open is the crowd, it’s unbelievable. From the very first round it’s full, even when you’re playing at noon. I don’t know what the secret is behind this!”
Although Gohar says she’s grateful to be able to play squash once again, she admits that her love of the crowds has made the sport’s gradual return somewhat bittersweet. “The first tournament we had when we came back was Manchester. I didn’t play and honestly, seeing it on TV without a crowd was really sad,” she explains.
However, now with restrictions loosening and the British Open expected to be at 50% capacity, Gohar is excited to play her favourite venue in front of a crowd once again. “I think definitely having the crowd the will make it very special,” she says.
Gohar and El Sherbini clash in the 2016 tournament
Despite her early flourishes in the tournament, Gohar would have to wait until 2019 to lift the trophy when she beat Camille Serme 3-0 in a dominant 30-minute display. Reflecting on that match, Gohar describes it as: “The highlight of my career so far.”
Although Gohar admits that coming into the tournament as the defending champion adds some pressure, she is generally relaxed about the tournament, thanks in no small part to her parents.
“They have been incredible supporters and even now I still need their support. I can’t do it by myself and they know this very well so I’m just grateful for that,” she says.
But it is not just her parents helping Gohar to raise her game, with the World No.2 believing that something about the British Open helps her to play her best squash.
She concludes: “I really enjoy playing there, I really find my range and really find myself. There are some places where it just clicks. The British Open is one of these places. I’m glad it’s back this year.”