By ALAN THATCHER (Squash Mad Editor)
Commonwealth Games medal winners Joelle King, Declan James and Saurav Ghosal are in action alongside World Games champion Victor Crouin as the popular Open de France de Squash returns to the calendar next month.
The main draws have been released with World No.9 Marwan ElShorbagy and women’s World No.5 King headlining the men’s and women’s events taking place from September 12-17 as the PSA World Tour Bronze event is staged for the first time since 2019.
King recorded a golden double in the women’s and mixed events in the Commonwealth Games (partnering Amanda Landers-Murphy and Paul Coll), with James claiming gold in the men’s doubles alongside James Willstrop, the man he beat to win the Nantes final on stage in the Théâtre Graslin in 2018. Ghosal, meanwhile, claimed bronze in Birmingham in the men’s singles by beating close friend Willstrop in the play-off for third place.
This year’s Nantes event (with the venue still to be announced) will use a best-of-three games scoring format up to and including the quarter-finals, before reverting to the traditional best of five scoring format for the semi-finals and finals.
The top seed in the men’s event, ElShorbagy, will open his campaign on day two against England’s Nick Wall or Egypt’s Yahya Elnawasany, who will play on the opening day. ElShorbagy’s last event win came in October 2020 when he won the CIB PSA World Tour Finals. That match was also his last appearance in a final, so he will be determined to capitalise on his No.1 seeding.
Three-time champion Gregoire Marche is the No.2 seed for this year’s event, and after receiving a bye in round one will face tough competition in round two as he faces either compatriot Auguste Dussourd or Scotland’s Rory Stewart.
Marche and Dussourd played out a tough five-game match at the 2021-22 PSA World Championships, which the elder Frenchman took in 71 minutes. Meanwhile, Stewart will be full of confidence after an impressive showing at the Commonwealth Games as he takes part in his first PSA Bronze event.
France’s World Games gold medalist Victor Crouin comes in as the No.4 seed for the tournament as he looks to start his new season on the front foot. Crouin beat No.2 seed Marche in the final of the World Games in Birmingham, Alabama less than a month ago and currently sits at his highest world ranking at No.18.
Aside from Dussourd against Stewart, another exciting match on day one will pit England’s George Parker against Egypt’s Aly Abou Eleinen. The Egyptian currently sits at No.60 in the PSA World Rankings but produced two amazing performances at last season’s El Gouna International, beating established players Omar Mosaad and Saurav Ghosal to take his place in the last 16 as a wildcard.
In the women’s event, New Zealand No.1 King leads the draw and will make her Open de France debut after taking her Commonwealth Games haul to eight medals, putting her level with Australia’s Rachael Grinham.
King has won 14 titles throughout her career and will start on day two against either Japan’s Satomi Watanabe or wildcard Ana Munos from France.
The Gilis sisters, Nele and Tinne, from Belgium, are the No.2 and No.3 seeds for the tournament and sit next to each other in the current world rankings at No.12 and 13.
Nele has reached the final of this event twice, winning it in 2018 after beating Emily Whitlock in a 72-minute final. After an injury at the start of last season, Tinne finished the 2021-22 season in terrific style, picking up two PSA titles in Dublin and Annecy as well as reaching the quarter-finals at the British Open and the El Gouna International. She also picked up a Gold medal at the World Games, so poses a big threat to the top two seeds.
Unseeded Egyptian teenager Kenzy Ayman is a player to watch out for in this year’s event. The 18-year-old has already reached five PSA finals in her career, picking up one title.
She also produced a great performance to trouble World No.2 Nour El Sherbini at this year’s World Championships in Cairo, narrowly losing out in four close games.
She will also be looking to become the World Junior Champion before the Open de France de Squash takes place as she competes in Nancy for that event as the No.1 seed.
All the action from the Open de France de Squash will be shown live on SQUASHTV.
2022 Open de France de Squash, Nantes, France:
 Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY) [Bye] Nick Wall (ENG) v [9/16] Yahya Elnawasany (EGY)
[9/16] Declan James (ENG) v [WC] Benjamin Aubert (FRA)
 Shahjahan Khan (USA) [Bye]  Iker Pajares Bernabeu (ESP) [Bye] Mazen Gamal (EGY) v [9/16] Lucas Serme (FRA)
[9/16] Bernat Jaume (ESP) v Zahed Salem (EGY)
 Saurav Ghosal (IND) [Bye]  Victor Crouin (FRA) [Bye] Aly Abou Eleinen (EGY) v [9/16] George Parker (ENG)
[9/16] Leonel Cardenas (MEX) v [WC] Edwin Clain (FRA)
 Omar Mosaad (EGY) [Bye]  Karim El Hammamy (EGY) [Bye] Faraz Khan (USA) v [9/16] Mahesh Mangaonkar (IND)
[9/16] Auguste Dussourd (FRA) v Rory Stewart (SCO)
 Gregoire Marche (FRA) [Bye]
 Joelle King (NZL) [Bye] [WC] Ana Munos (FRA) v [9/16] Satomi Watanabe (JPN)
[9/16] Enora Villard (FRA) v Saskia Beinhard (GER)
 Melissa Alves (FRA) [Bye]  Zeina Mickawy (EGY) [Bye] Menna Nasser (EGY) v [9/16] Nour Aboulmakarim (EGY)
[9/16] Julianne Courtice (ENG) v Hana Moataz (EGY)
 Tinne Gilis (BEL) [Bye]  Tesni Evans (WAL) [Bye] [WC] Elise Romba (FRA) v [9/16] Cristina Gomez (ESP)
[9/16] Cindy Merlo (SUI) v Kenzy Ayman (EGY)
 Lucy Turmel (ENG) [Bye]  Yathreb Adel (EGY) [Bye] Millie Tomlinson (ENG) v [9/16] Nicole Bunyan (CAN)
[9/16] Marie Stephan (FRA) v Tessa ter Sluis (NED)
 Nele Gilis (BEL) [Bye]
Pictures courtesy of PSA World Tour