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Familiar faces
Published in Ahram Online on 06 - 10 - 2020

Egyptian squash was able to shine again after a six-month suspension due to the COVID-19 global pandemic which halted all major sports events around the world, including the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Egyptian duo Hania Al-Hammami and Marawan Al-Shorbagi won the prestigious CIB PSA World Tour Finals after they claimed respective wins over two other Egyptians, Nour Al-Tayeb and Karim Abdel-Gawad, in the women's and men's finals last week at Cairo's Mall of Arabia.
The CIB PSA World Tour Finals brings the curtain down on the 2019-20 season after being postponed from June 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the end of the year, Al-Hammami, 20, became the youngest female ever to win the prestigious title after completing an incredible comeback from two games down against Al-Tayeb.
Al-Tayeb came into the match off the back of winning the Manchester Open last week – the first event following the six-month suspension of the PSA World Tour – while Al-Hammami was appearing in her second final in her last three tournaments after claiming her maiden PSA Platinum title at the Black Ball Open back in March, which was the final event before the suspension.
Al-Tayeb had won six of their previous seven matches and the match looked to be going according to form as she played some immaculate squash to go two games ahead.
But Al-Hammami has a mental resilience that belies her tender years and the world No 6 struck back in the third to catch back into the game. That rattled Al-Tayeb, who went off the rails completely as Al-Hammami stormed to a 9-11, 9-11, 11-9, 11-4, 11-3 triumph to lift her sixth PSA World Tour title.
“I'm over the moon, I can't believe I actually did it,” said Al-Hammami in her post-match interview.
“2-0 down against Nour Al-Tayeb. It's a nightmare and I want to see the time of the match – it's really tough playing against her. She's so strong physically and I'm really proud of myself after being 2-0 down. I kept pushing and I kept digging in.
“I think I'm at my best when I'm down. I was so stressed at the beginning, whereas last year, I had no pressure. I was the underdog, I was playing freely, and I was so hungry. But this year, I feel I'm on the top girls, and the pressure is on me. When I got to 2-0 down, I told myself, ‘oh well, if I lose, I don't mind,' but I want to perform well at least.
“For the past week the positive thing has been that I kept fighting and today I can add that I am so happy with my performance.
“At the beginning I kept making a lot of errors and that gave her the advantage in the first two games. When I became patient and I kept playing straight lines and found my length and shots then that made the difference.”
Like Al-Hammami, Al-Shorbagi lifted the second major PSA title of his career and his first since the 2018 El-Gouna International after taking out reigning champion Abdel-Gawad by an 11-6, 11-5, 11-3 margin.
Al-Shorbagi captured his 10th PSA World Tour title and kept the CIB PSA World Tour titles in Egyptian hands for a fourth successive season in the men's event, while Al-Hammami's win means the women's event has had three Egyptian winners in as many seasons.
“Karim is a great player. I was joking with Ali Farag yesterday and we said that last night was our final because Karim never loses in Cairo, but of course as soon as I got inside the match I didn't think about that. I was really happy with my performance, it's been a really tough two years for me. The last time I played a World Tour Finals was after El-Gouna in 2018, so to go through those two years and come back here and win, it means a lot to me and family – this is for them. Thanks to CIB for supporting our sport.”
Both Al-Hammami and Al-Shorbagi take home equal prize money of $49,875 each, the most lucrative winner's prize in the history of the CIB PSA World Tour Finals.
They will next be in action at the CIB Egyptian Squash Open between 10-17 October, the first Platinum event to take place since the restart of the PSA World Tour. The tournament will be held in front of Cairo's iconic Great Pyramid of Giza.
Al-Shorbagi and Al-Tayeb have been named the PSA Players of the Month for September after picking up the Manchester Open trophies.
World No 1 Al-Shorbagi looked as though he had spent no time away from the court as he picked up where he left off before the suspension to wipe out the competition and defeat compatriot and former world No 1 Abdel-Gawad in the final.
That win marked his 42nd PSA title and means that he surpasses French veteran Gregory Gaultier to become the sole holder of fifth place on the all-time men's PSA title winners list behind only Jansher Khan, Jahangir Khan, Mike Corren and Peter Nicol.
World No 4 Al-Tayeb, meanwhile, become only the second woman to get her name etched onto the Manchester Open trophy as she recovered from a slow start to down top seed Camille Serme 3-11, 11-8, 11-7, 11-3 in 45 minutes in the final at the National Squash Centre.
In addition, Egypt's Salma Hani broke into the top 10 at the PSA Women's world rankings for the first time following a quarter-final finish at the Manchester Open last month.
The PSA world rankings had been frozen as a result of the six-month suspension due to the pandemic. But the rankings have resumed with a new ranking system coming into place to ensure that no player rankings are affected during the restart of the PSA World Tour which resumed last month at the Manchester Open.
The 24-year-old Hani overtakes India's Joshna Chinappa to secure the No 10 spot, while her compatriot Nouran Gohar stays at world No 1 for a fourth month in succession.
The rest of the top 10 remains unchanged, with Nour Al-Sherbini (No 2), Camille Serme (No 3) and Manchester Open winner Al-Tayeb (No 4) all hot on the heels of Gohar.
Sarah-Jane Perry stays at No 5 ahead of Al-Hammami (No 6), Amanda Sobhy (No 7), Joelle King (No 8) and Tesni Evans (No 9).
According to the website of the Professional Squash Association, the new system uses a cumulative total of points made up of the top 10 tournament results for men and top nine for women. This differs from the previous system, which divided the total number of points a player had accumulated over a 12-month period by the number of tournaments played to give an average score.
In addition, to safeguard players' rankings during the pandemic, the number of months counting towards the ranking system will be temporarily increased. Rankings from 1 October 2020 to 21 January 2021 will include points earned in tournaments from March 2019 to date.
Points will then gradually come off in a staggered rhythm from 1 February 2021, with the normal 12-month rolling time period expected to return by 1 July 2021.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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