Defending Champion El Hammamy begins CIB Black Ball Open with a win
By ELLIE MAWSON – Squash Mad Correspondent
Egypt’s World No.5 Hania El Hammamy got her CIB Black Ball Open defence off to a winning start against Canada’s Danielle Letourneau on the opening day of action at the PSA World Tour Gold event taking place in Cairo, Egypt this week.
El Hammamy’s biggest title win came just nine months ago on the same stage when she defeated four-time World Champion Nour El Sherbini to become the Black Ball Open champion, with the tournament being a Platinum tier event in March.
And the 20-year-old Egyptian ensured her winning streak continued at the Black Ball Sporting Club with a strong showing over Canadian Letourneau to prevail in straight games.
“I think it’s a bit of nerves and excitement,” said El Hammamy afterwards. “It’s a different experience [being defending champion] and a different challenge for me. I went on court today wanting to play the best and hopefully I can defend my title.
“All credit to Danielle, she played really well throughout the whole match but particularly in the second, I lost a little of my game plan and then she took advantage. She moved to Cairo and has been training well here – she gave me a hard time in the match.”
El Hammamy will face Belgium’s World No.12 Nele Gilis in the second round after she got the better of Egypt’s World No.19 Nada Abbas by an 13-11, 11-6, 11-5 scoreline.
Abbas showed her strength on home soil by taking the lead in the first game. However, good tactics from Gilis saw her lengthen out the rallies and begin to put a lot of work into the legs of Abbas – which she was rewarded for – taking the crucial first game before comfortably closing out in three.
“To be honest, I felt a little unsettled on there,” said Gilis. “At the start I was a bit nervous, but I tried to make it as physical as possible because I knew she would get tired quicker than me. We don’t get a lot of opportunities to play, so I just tried to enjoy every minute of it.”
Meanwhile, an imperious showing from World No.1 El Sherbini saw her comfortably book her place in the last 16 after she dispatched compatriot Zeina Mickawy in 22 minutes.
El Sherbini, who is a two-time runner-up at this event, came flying out of the traps and never allowed her opponent a chance to get into the match, prevailing 11-4, 11-3, 11-9.
“Zeina and I, we play every week,” said the 25-year-old. “We play in the same club and have the same fitness coach. She loves to attack a lot, I just wanted to start strong and that’s what I did.
“Surprisingly, my knee injury is the same as last year, I am just handling it better now. The struggle is the same, but the time off made me understand my body more. It helped me know when to push and when to stop.”
El Sherbini will face World No.22 Sabrina Sobhy in the second round, following the American’s big win over World No.10 Salma Hany in the only upset to the seedings on the first day of action.
Sobhy managed to hold off a comeback from Hany after going 2-0 up to prevail in five games and claim her first win over a player in the top 10 of the World Rankings.
“I had a good start and then I started to fatigue,” said Sobhy. “And when you fatigue against Salma and you give her the loose balls, she’s just unbelievable.
“I was up 4-1 in the third and she won 11-4 because she just had time on the ball and when you give her time, she just puts everything away. I told myself at the end of that game “this is it, we might not have another tournament for a while, so you’re giving it everything you have”. I’m pleased I snuck that out at the end, it could have gone either way.”
It proved to be a strong day for Team USA overall in Egypt as Amanda Sobhy joins her younger sister in the second round, along with compatriot Olivia Clyne.
World No.7 Amanda will face Egypt’s Nadine Shahin for a place in the quarter finals following their respective victories over USA’s Olivia Fiechter and Haley Mendez in round one.
“I have a pretty horrendous record in Cairo,” admitted Amanda. “I haven’t really won the last couple of times I’ve been here, so that’s been lingering in the back of my mind and I wanted to get a win on board and try and reverse the scoreline.
“I wouldn’t say my performance was rock solid, but I got by and I’m happy with that, hopefully I can keep improving.”
Meanwhile World No.13 Clyne will go head-to-head in the second round with Wales’ World No.9 Tesni Evans following hard-fought wins over Egypt’s Mariam Metwally and England’s Lucy Turmel respectively.
It will be the first time the two players have faced each other since Evans was forced to limp off court during their match at January’s J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions due to an ankle injury, which then resulted in her missing the remainder of the 2019-20 season.
“My physicality is something that I’ve been struggling with since the start of the season and something I’ve been working hard on over the last block,” said Evans.
“I’m really happy because if anything I had to grind and run out today, which isn’t really my style, but I think I needed that blow out and hopefully it will stand me in good stead.”
Round one continues tomorrow (Tuesday, December 8) with the bottom half of the draw taking to the court. Play starts at 11:00 (GMT+2) and will be shown live on SQUASHTV and the official Facebook page of the PSA World Tour (excluding Europe & Japan).
CIB Women’s Black Ball Open, Black Ball Club, Cairo, Egypt.
Round One (Top half):
 Nour El Sherbini (EGY) bt Zeina Mickawy (EGY) 3-0: 11-4, 11-3, 11-9 (22m)
Sabrina Sobhy (USA) bt  Salma Hany (EGY) 3-2: 11-8, 13-11, 4-11, 6-11, 11-9 (59m)
 Nadine Shahin (EGY) bt Haley Mendez (USA) 3-1: 10-12, 11-6, 11-3, 11-3 (33m)
 Amanda Sobhy (USA) bt Olivia Fiechter (USA) 3-0: 11-8, 11-7, 11-5 (29m)
 Tesni Evans (WAL) bt Lucy Turmel (ENG) 3-1: 6-11, 12-10, 11-8, 11-4 (52m)
 Olivia Clyne (USA) bt Mariam Metwally (EGY) 3-1: 8-11, 11-5, 11-8, 11-8 (40m)
 Nele Gilis (BEL) bt Nada Abbas (EGY) 3-0: 13-11, 11-6, 11-5 (38m)
 Hania El Hammamy (EGY) bt Danielle Letourneau (CAN) 3-0: 11-6, 12-10, 11-3 (32m)
Round One (Bottom half, December 8):
 Camille Serme (FRA) v Melissa Alves (FRA)
Millie Tomlinson (ENG) v  Tinne Gilis (BEL)
 Joshna Chinappa (IND) v Julianne Courtice (ENG)
Emily Whitlock (WAL) v  Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG)
 Joelle King (NZL) v Donna Lobban (AUS)
Hollie Naughton (CAN) v  Rowan Elaraby (EGY)
 Alison Waters (ENG) v [WC] Menna Nasser (EGY)
Farida Mohamed (EGY) v  Nouran Gohar (EGY)
Round Two (Top half, December 9):
 Nour El Sherbini (EGY) v Sabrina Sobhy (USA)
 Nadine Shahin (EGY) v  Amanda Sobhy (USA)
 Tesni Evans (WAL) v  Olivia Clyne (USA)
 Nele Gilis (BEL) v  Hania El Hammamy (EGY)
Pictures courtesy of PSA