By ALAN THATCHER – Squash Mad Editor
Egypt’s Hania El Hammamy avoided a shock exit on day two of the CIB PSA Black Ball Open as she overcame Scotland’s tenacious Lisa Aitken in a thrilling five-game battle at Cairo’s Black Ball Sporting Club.
World No.5 El Hammamy, 20, was a runner-up at this PSA World Tour Platinum tournament back in December, while she claimed her maiden Platinum title by winning the CIB Black Ball Open in March, 2020.
However, her strong run of form at this venue was under threat as she struggled to see off a determined Aitken, who battled away and made a series of impressive retrievals to send the match to a fifth game.
El Hammamy’s quality was evident in the fifth as she put her opponent under relentless pressure and she eventually closed out the win by an 11-8, 10-12, 11-6, 9-11, 11-7 margin to set up a third round clash with India’s Joshna Chinappa.
“It was definitely a tough match today,” El Hammamy said. “Lisa took me by surprise, to be honest. I wouldn’t say I played my best but I am glad to get through. All credit to Lisa, she is very talented and she really played well today.
“I managed to push to the end. I didn’t give up at some points when Lisa was really in control and I was behind her. She had a very good plan and the positive thing was that I found a way to get through it. With the pressure and playing five-gamers in the first round, it gave me the feeling of playing in the final, but it was slightly different.”
Earlier in the day, USA’s World No.33 Olivia Fiechter booked her spot in the third round of a Platinum event for the first time in her career after she overcame France’s Melissa Alves in an enthralling five-game contest.
It was a gargantuan contest between the two, with Fiechter squandering two match balls in the third as World No.31 Alves dug in and took the match to a deciding game.
It was Fiechter’s turn to fight back from the brink in the fifth game as she saved three match balls to finally get the upper hand in the fixture and she soon struck a fatal blow to win it.
“She’s a huge fighter and I’m just so pleased to pull that out, it really came down to the end there,” said Fiechter.
“I was literally just trying to focus on my breathing and trying to make sure that I hit shot-by-shot. I was trying to take it step-by-step and break it down rather than trying to think about finishing the match.”
Fiechter will play defending champion Sarah-Jane Perry for a place in the quarter-finals after Perry dispatched Egypt’s Mariam Metwally in straight games.
Perry, who won the most recent Black Ball Open in December, said: “I have won a couple of other tournaments after winning them the previous year and I am taking that for this one as well because they are different calendar years, even though it is literally the next tournament, so it is a bit different.
“Obviously everything is different with the COVID rules but the PSA have done a great job, so I am just trying to tick all the boxes with my preparation and then see what I can do on court.”
World No.1 Nour El Sherbini also began her tournament with a hugely impressive dismantling of USA’s No.3 Sabrina Sobhy, which saw the two-time runner-up win 3-0 in just 22 minutes.
“Every time I come here, I always want to put my name on the trophy but it never happens,” said El Sherbini.
“I will do my best this week and let’s hope I do so. It wasn’t a good one for me last time so it is hard for me mentally to come back and to play the same opponents as well. I am working hard on my mental game.”
El Sherbini will play Belgium’s Tinne Gilis next after she got the better of Wales’ Emily Whitlock, while there were also wins for Joelle King and Nadine Shahin, who beat the higher ranked Yathreb Adel in five games.
Women’s 2021 CIB PSA Black Ball Squash Open, Black Ball Club, Cairo, Egypt.
Second Round (Top Half):
 Nour El Sherbini (EGY) bt Sabrina Sobhy (USA) 3-0: 11-7, 11-4, 11-5 (22m)
Tinne Gilis (BEL) bt Emily Whitlock (WAL) 3-0: 11-5, 11-6, 11-8 (30m)
Olivia Fiechter (USA) bt Melissa Alves (FRA) 3-2: 4-11, 11-9, 11-2, 12-14, 15-13 (62m)
 Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) bt Mariam Metwally (EGY) 3-0: 11-2, 12-10, 11-6 (30m)
 Joelle King (NZL) bt Danielle Letourneau (CAN) 3-0: 11-7, 11-9, 11-4 (37m)
Nadine Shahin (EGY) bt Yathreb Adel (EGY) 3-2: 11-4, 5-11, 11-8, 8-11, 15-13 (59m)
Joshna Chinappa (IND) bt Hana Ramadan (EGY) 3-1: 11-6, 4-11, 11-8, 11-8 (43m)
 Hania El Hammamy (EGY) bt Lisa Aitken (SCO) 3-2: 11-8, 10-12, 11-6, 9-11, 11-7 (76m)
Second Round (Bottom Half):
 Camille Serme (FRA) v Mayar Hany (EGY)
Hollie Naughton (CAN) v Zeina Mickawy (EGY)
Millie Tomlinson (ENG) v Farida Mohamed (EGY)
Julianne Courtice (ENG) v  Amanda Sobhy (USA)
 Salma Hany (EGY) v Nele Gilis (BEL)
Sana Ibrahim (EGY) v Rowan Elaraby (EGY)
Sivasangari Subramaniam (MAS) v Olivia Clyne (USA)
Alison Waters (ENG) v  Nouran Gohar (EGY)
Third Round (Top Half, March 15):
 Nour El Sherbini (EGY) v Tinne Gilis (BEL)
Olivia Fiechter (USA) v  Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG)
 Joelle King (NZL) v Nadine Shahin (EGY)
Joshna Chinappa (IND) v  Hania El Hammamy (EGY)
Pictures courtesy of PSA