Gaultier is back to defend men’s title
By ALAN THATCHER and SEAN REUTHE
World No.1 Nour El Sherbini and World Champion Raneem El Welily are seeded to meet in the final of the first ever women’s El Gouna International between April 20-27 after the draw for the PSA World Series tournament – which takes place at the El Gouna Marina – was released today.
El Sherbini and El Welily contested the final of the women’s PSA World Championships at this venue 12 months ago, with the former prevailing on the banks of Egypt’s Red Sea to claim a second World Championship triumph.
This year’s tournament features a women’s World Series tournament alongside the men’s event for the first time in history, with a total prize fund of $330,000 split equally between both draws.
El Sherbini and El Welily are joined in a top-class draw that also features the likes of Windy City Open champion Nour El Tayeb, the in-form New Zealander Joelle King, former World No.1 Laura Massaro and eight-time World Champion Nicol David.
El Sherbini gets her tournament under way against England’s Emily Whitlock in round one, while El Welily, El Tayeb, King, Massaro and David all face qualifiers.
Should the tournament go to seeding, El Sherbini will line up against Massaro in the semi-finals, while the other last four fixture will be contested between El Welily and El Tayeb.
Meanwhile, there is a return to action for former World No.4 Omneya Abdel Kawy, who makes her first PSA World Tour appearance since January 2017 after taking time off the tour due the birth of her son, Selim, in September.
The 32-year-old will play Hong Kong’s World No.22 Joey Chan in round one and could come up against Massaro in the second round.
World No.12 Tesni Evans of Wales faces Amanda Sobhy in a fascinating first round encounter, with the American keen to build on the progress she has made since her comeback from injury, and the rising Welsh star keen to continue her rise up the rankings by taking out another big-name rival.
World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy heads up the men’s draw opposite number two seed and defending champion Gregory Gaultier, who faces Egyptian maverick Mazen Hesham in the opening round, while ElShorbagy will line up against a qualifier.
ElShorbagy is set to meet younger brother Marwan in the semi-finals as he looks to improve on last year’s quarter-final finish, where he lost out to Marwan in what was only the younger ElShorbagy’s second win over his older sibling.
World No.2 Ali Farag is seeded to meet Gaultier in the other semi-final, with the 25-year-old Harvard-graduate playing Switzerland’s Nicolas Mueller in round one. Gaultier will hope to summon up the incredible form from last year when he was playing the best squash of his life until being struck down by injury.
Last year’s runner-up Karim Abdel Gawad also features and he plays Hong Kong’s Leo Au in the opening round of action.
From an English perspective, the draw represents a possible insight into a new era for the game. With Nick Matthew having announced his impending retirement from the PSA World Tour, James Willstrop and Daryl Selby are also both absent from the draw, coming so close to the Commonwealth Games.
Ahead of qualifying, the only English contenders in the main draw are Declan James and Tom Richards. They could end up facing each other in the second round, but first Richards must take out No.7 seed Simon Rosner and James needs to beat Zahed Mohamed.
With James, Laura Massaro, Sarah-Jane Perry and Alison Waters all moving on from Gold Coast to the Red Sea to compete, we wait to hear if there will be any announcements about Willstrop or Selby’s future career plans.
The qualifying rounds take place between April 18-19 at the El Gouna Squash Complex, while the main draw will be staged between April 20-27, with matches split between the glass court situated at El Gouna Marina and the qualification venue.
Points for the PSA World Series Standings are also up for grabs as players aim to join the ElShorbagy brothers, Farag, Tarek Momen, Simon Rösner, El Sherbini, El Tayeb, El Welily and King in guaranteeing a top eight berth on the standings, which brings with it qualification for June’s PSA World Series Finals.
Glass court action from the main draw will be shown live on SQUASHTV (Rest of World) and Eurosport Player (Europe only), while matches from the semi-finals and finals will be broadcast live on mainstream channels around the world, including BT Sport, beIN Sports, Fox Sports Australia and Astro.
2018 El Gouna International, Egypt.
Men’s First Round Draw:
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) v [Qualifier]
Paul Coll (NZL) v Omar Mosaad (EGY)
Zahed Mohamed (EGY) v Declan James (ENG)
Tom Richards (ENG) v  Simon Rösner (GER)
 Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) v Leo Au (HKG)
Diego Elias (PER) v [Qualifier]
Mathieu Castagnet (FRA) v [Qualifier]
[Qualifier] v  Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY)
 Ali Farag (EGY) v Nicolas Mueller (SUI)
Borja Golan (ESP) v [Qualifier]
Max Lee (HKG) v [Qualifier]
[WC] Mostafa Asal (EGY) v  Tarek Momen (EGY)
 Mohamed Abouelghar (EGY) v Miguel Angel Rodriguez (COL)
Cesar Salazar (EGY) v [Qualifier]
Gregoire Marche (FRA) v [Qualifier]
Mazen Hesham (EGY) v  Gregory Gaultier (FRA)
Women’s First Round Draw:
 Nour El Sherbini (EGY) v Emily Whitlock (EGY)
Amanda Sobhy (USA) v  Tesni Evans (WAL)
 Victoria Lust (ENG) v Salma Hany (EGY)
Dipika Pallikal Karthik (IND) v  Camille Serme (FRA)
 Nicol David (MAS) v [Qualifier]
[WC] Rowan Elaraby (EGY) v  Joshna Chinappa (IND)
 Omneya Abdel Kawy (EGY) v Joey Chan (HKG)
[Qualifier] v  Laura Massaro (ENG)
 Nour El Tayeb (EGY) v [Qualifier]
Hania El Hammamy (EGY) v  Olivia Blatchford (USA)
 Alison Waters (ENG) v Mariam Metwally (EGY)
[Qualifier] v  Nouran Gohar (EGY)
 Joelle King (NZL) v [Qualifier]
[Qualifier] v  Annie Au (HKG)
 Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) v [Qualifier]
[Qualifier] v  Raneem El Welily (EGY)
Picture by PATRICK LAUSON