Nour Al-Sherbini and Karim Abdel-Gawad, both from Egypt, recently claimed two big titles: Al-Sherbini was crowned the women’s world champion while Abdel-Gawad won the Egypt Open.
That the Egyptians dominated both events was news enough but the victories once again put forth the question long asked: why are Egyptians so dominant in squash?
One renowned newspaper, The New York Times, asked the question in a recent story by David Segal who described Egypt’s excellence in ‘A squash mystery in Egypt. Is there something in the Nile?’
Segal related the story of Egypt’s history throughout the years for both men and women and on all squash levels, juniors and seniors, delving more deeply in order to unveil the secret, which after talking to many stakeholders, believed that the secret may be in the Nile itself.
Whatever the truth is, Egyptians have for the past many years more or less owned world squash. For example, in the just concluded Women’s World Championship, Al-Sherbini celebrated her 24th birthday in style as she captured her fourth World Championship trophy after overcoming her fellow countrywoman and world No 1 Raneem Al-Welili in front of Cairo’s spectacular Great Pyramids of Giza to win the 2019-20 CIB PSA Women’s World Championship.
According to the Professional Squash Association official website, Al-Sherbini is only the fourth – and youngest – female player to win four World Championship trophies, while she is the first person to win a World Championship trophy at the Pyramids since Australia’s David Palmer in 2006. Her latest triumph, which comes after an 11-4, 9-11, 11-5, 11-6 victory over Al-Welili, is made all the more incredible given the fact she was appearing at her first tournament of the season after suffering with a knee injury.
But Al-Sherbini was at her best, moving around all areas of the court to complete the win in 41 minutes and capture the biggest title in women’s squash. Al-Sherbini took home $61,000 in prize money and also qualified for the season-ending PSA World Tour Finals, which will take place in June.
“The last couple of months for me have been really hard,” Al-Sherbini said after the 20th PSA Tour title of her career. “I didn’t know what I was going to do… but I took the risk and took the decision that I wanted to play this tournament badly, and I wanted to come and try and see how it goes. I was getting better every match and I’m very grateful and happy to be standing here right now.
“I missed playing with all the top players and especially Raneem. She is closest to my heart and it’s very hard to play her mentally and emotionally, but we try to leave the emotions and focus on squash once we get inside the court. I think because today is my birthday, I was making sure not to be sad. I was very relaxed and it took a lot of pressure off thinking about the messages, so it helped me a lot.
“We are very happy to have this tournament back, and playing in front of the Pyramids was always a dream of mine. I would really like to thank I-Events, Amr Mansi and his team, and especially CIB for hosting and helping the women’s game get bigger and for giving women the chance to have prize money bigger than the men’s.
“It is a big risk and hopefully we deserved that and played matches that were worthy of that. All of the players are very grateful,” Al-Sherbini said.
The Women’s World Championship final followed on from the men’s CIB Egyptian Squash Open, a PSA Platinum event, where world No 4 Karim Abdel-Gawad got the better of world No 1 Ali Farag, also of Egypt, in a repeat of the men’s 2016 Al-Ahram Open final.
Abdel-Gawad thus became the first man in a decade to win a trophy in front of the Pyramids when he beat Farag in straight games three years ago, and he matched that 3-0 scoreline to continue his 100 per cent record at the iconic landmark.
The eventual winner Abdel-Gawad was firing on all cylinders during the 61-minute match and, while Farag stayed in the rallies well, he was unable to fight off a master class from Abdel-Gawad who, with this win, captured his 22nd PSA Tour title. He joins Al-Sherbini in qualifying for the World Tour Finals, while he wins $25,000 in prize money.
“Playing Ali is always very tough for me. He is the world No 1,” said Abdel-Gawad after celebrating his victory.
“He’s always been my competitor since we were seven years old until now. I know how hard it is. We played in the final [in front of the Pyramids] in 2016 and now we’re playing again in the final here. He’s dealing with a lot of hard moments and he is just a champion to be on court and he fights until the end with this amazing spirit – best of luck with him and his family.
“I talked a lot with my coaches, Omar Abdel-Aziz, Mahmoud Abdel-Kader and Ahmed Faragallah. We talked a lot and put together different plans. With the world No 1 it’s very difficult so you have to have different plans and more than a plan to just win. Winning today means a lot to me in such an amazing venue for me and for everyone.”
Following this event, the world rankings of November 2019 saw six Egyptian players among the men’s top 10 in the world, with the first four all Egyptians, in addition to No 8 and 10, whereas the women’s rankings had Egyptians the first four in the world, just like the men.
Next on the PSA World Tour is Doha, Qatar, for the 2019-20 PSA Men’s World Championship which kicks off tomorrow at the Khalifa International Tennis & Squash Complex. The one-week event runs until 15 November.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 November, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.