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Egypt's squash hub
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 21 - 03 - 2019

Within six months, the Black Ball Squash Club held two major squash tournaments: the PSA Men's Platinum Black Ball Open in December and the PSA Women's Gold Black Ball Open this month. Both tournaments were superbly organised and saw the participation of the world's top ranked players in the sport.
The Black Ball Squash Open was the first major international women's squash event of the Gold category to be held in Egypt. “We are glad to be the hosts of such a supreme and spectacular women's squash event where 24 of the best players participated. It was a successful event and we are proud of having both the Platinum and Gold events being held by the Black Ball Squash Club,” Mohamed Raef, Black Ball CEO and tournament director, told Al-Ahram Weekly.
“We are planning for more squash events to be held in the club's premises in Cairo this year. In June, we are hosting the Black Ball Juniors Squash Championship. This is going to be bigger with around 300 participants taking part in a one-week competition. We are lucky to have found this date on the PSA calendar which is already packed, but we managed to book it. However, the first edition of the junior competition will face a tough challenge as it will coincide with the popular football Africa Cup of Nations which will be held in Egypt at the same time. But, we had to get it and all we hope for now is that our matches will not overlap with the dates and times of Egypt's matches. We will do our best to make sure there is no overlapping so squash fans will attend our matches.
“We are also considering a fourth event, giving us one big event every three months. We'll see if we can apply it in 2019, ” Raef added.
Like most international squash tournaments, the final of the inaugural PSA Black Ball Women's Squash Open featured two Egyptians in the $107,000 prize money tournament: Raneem Al-Welili and Nour Al-Sherbini.
Al-Welili came out the champion. In front of a high spectator turn-out, the world's top ranked player confirmed her status when she beat her fellow countrywomen, the world No 2 Al-Sherbini, to win the tournament held at the Black Ball Club in the Fifth Settlement in New Cairo from 11 to 15 March and which saw the participation of 24 of the world's best players.
In front of their home crowd, Al-Welili and Al-Sherbini, who were playing in their 11th successive PSA final, entertained the audience with a world-class performance and an exhilarating five-set game that made spectators hold their breath with every ball.
But, after an epic final, it was Al-Welili who ended the game in her favour in 53 minutes as she beat the reigning world champion Al-Sherbini 3-2 (9-11, 11-2, 6-11, 11-1, 11-5).
Actually, it has been a great season for Al-Welili, who celebrated winning her third title of 2018-2019. Since the beginning of 2019, Al-Welili has won the China Squash Open and US Open to nudge compatriot Al-Sherbini from the No 1 spot which she has kept for over two years. In addition, the victory put Al-Welili ahead in their head-to-head encounters as she now leads 11-10.
“It feels good to have won this match,” Al-Welili addressed the audience from the glass court following her remarkable victory. “Playing Nour is never easy and today was a little bit different than any other time we have played. We both played well and I am very happy to have been a part of this good match. In the fourth set, I was tense, so I decided to go back to basics. Every time we get on court, it's a different situation. I have got to believe that it's going to be a different match, a different result, and that the last match doesn't mean anything,” 30-year-old Al-Welili said.
The Black Ball champion said she and Al-Sherbini were very good friends off court, and “we fight until the end and respect each other. I think that is why we fought so hard tonight.”
Runner-up Al-Sherbini said it had been a tough week, “but it was a bonus to be playing in Egypt in front of my friends, family and my team. I'm glad I made it to the final here after winning the world championship a few days ago.”
En route to the final, Al-Welili went through a marathon semi-final against her teammate the world No 8 Nouran Gohar which took 66 minutes to seal her 3-2 victory (9-11, 11-7, 11-5, 4-11, 15-13).
In contrast, Al-Sherbini's semi-final was a piece of cake as she needed only 34 minutes to beat world No 3 Joelle King of New Zealand in three sets (11-7, 11-4, 12-10 ) to earn her place in the final of the five-day event.
Tournament technical director Ashraf Hanafi said it was the “huge and long experience of both players on the courts that has taken them to the highest levels and the finals of almost every international competition they have played. Reaching this final is proof of their leadership of the women's sport. They displayed an exciting and thrilling final which the home crowd enjoyed. Spectators never before had the opportunity to watch them play together in Cairo. This is why it was a significant tournament,” Hanafi told the Weekly.
Tournament Director Raef also confirmed the superiority of the two finalists in the world of squash. “Having the top two players in the world, Al-Welili and Al-Sherbini, reaching the final of our competition affirms the dominance of Egypt's women in squash, just as we saw an all-Egyptian men's final in the $180,000 PSA Platinum Black Ball Men's Squash Championship, ” Raef told the Weekly.


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