Against all odds, Egypt’s world No 10 Hania Al-Hammami was crowned the 2020 CIB Women’s Black Ball Squash Open champion.
The 19-year-old beat the four-time Egyptian world champion Nour Al-Sherbini in the final of the event which was held at the Black Ball Club in New Cairo, Egypt, to lift her first Platinum title.
It wasn’t easy for Al-Hammami but she was up to the challenge against the mighty Al-Sherbini as she managed to score a 3-2 win in 71 minutes, 11-6, 9-11, 12-10, 8-11 and 13-11.
Throughout the one-week tournament, the younger player had had a remarkable tournament on home soil as she outclassed three higher-seeded players on her road to the final including France’s world No 3 Camille Serme, the USA’s world No 8 Amanda Sobhi and England’s world No 7 Sarah-Jane Perry. Beating her fellow countrywoman Al-Sherbini in an epic five-game thrilling final confirmed Al-Hammami’s status among the top of the women’s game thanks to her formidable display during the event.
Both Al-Hammami and Al-Sherbini had met three times before with former world No 1 Al-Sherbini claiming comfortable victories each time. But Al-Sherbini was stunned to face an entirely different prospect in the Black Ball Open final as Al-Hammami showed how far she has come with a mature performance on one of squash’s biggest stages to hold off a resilient Al-Sherbini who twice came back from a game down.
It was Al-Hammami who took the opening game, taking advantage of a slow start from Al-Sherbini before the world’s No 4 twice fought back to level the scores.
However, according to the Professional Squash Association PSA, the young prodigy Al-Hammami held her nerve at the crucial moment to save championship ball from the grips of Al-Sherbini and then convert her own at the second attempt on the tie-break to seal her maiden Platinum title. Winning this title also means the champion has automatically qualified for the season-ending CIB PSA World Tour Finals which are scheduled to take place in June.
“I’m out of words,” Al-Hammami said. “I’m living a fairy tale. This morning, I was just hoping to play a good match, not like in the Worlds, after beating Camille Serme where I just didn’t show up. I just wanted to enjoy my first ever Platinum final, and prove to myself I’m not too far away from the top girls.
“I think I’ve played the toughest matches of my career this week. I’ve put in a lot of effort to win this title. I’m really proud of what I’ve done and hopefully I can keep going and keep making the same effort. I worked on my weaknesses, I improved my physical and squash game and I’m really pleased to be beating the top players now.
“I’ve played against Nour a few times and they were all straight games. I kept learning from each match and playing against a four-time world champion is not easy at all. She’s a fighter and a champion. I’m so happy to beat her today,” the winner told media.
Runner-up Al-Sherbini said that her opponent had showed, in the final, that she was a good player and how much of a fighter she was in the game and how much she was determined to win.
“She’s now there and has won her first Platinum event. Of course, I’m disappointed to lose, but it’s been very tough for me, playing a lot of tournaments, so I’ll try to forget this one and move onto the next one,” Al-Sherbini added.
The event was held from 8 to 14 March at the squash courts of the Black Ball Club located in the Fifth Settlement of New Cairo.
According to Mohamed Raef, Black Ball Club CEO and tournament director, the one-week tournament hosted the top 68 world women’s squash players representing 14 countries, including the US, France, Wales, Hong Kong, India, Belgium, Australia, Canada, Malaysia, Scotland and South Africa.
“New to this year’s second edition of the Black Ball Championship, we have upgraded the tournament from the gold category to the Platinum category, the highest in the squash tournaments categories in terms of prize money, raising the total prize money to $180,000,” Raef revealed.
He added that the club had provided “all necessary facilities to make this event a successful and unique one. Our club’s strategy was to ensure Egypt remains the leading nation of the sport and a generator of distinguished talented players,” Raef said, thanking Egypt’s Youth and Sports Minister Ashraf Sobhi for his continuous support to the club and squash.
The 2020 Black Ball Squash Open was aired live on the Egyptian channel ON Sport and for worldwide viewers on Squash TV in 55 countries.
The Black Ball Open is the final PSA World Tour event to take place until the end of April after the PSA announced yesterday the suspension of the PSA Tour due to the coronavirus.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 March, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly