All-Egypt clashes in both British Open finals
By ALAN THATCHER and NATHAN CLARKE
Egypt’s global supremacy in squash was perfectly illustrated in Hull today as the four semi-finals in the Allam British Open delivered two all-Egyptian finals at the Airco Arena tomorrow.
While many would have backed world No.1 Mohamed Elshorbagy and former world champion Ramy Ashour to overcome Karim Abdel Gawad and Gregory Gaultier, the women’s semi-finals were far less predictable.
Two young Egyptian women, the 20-year-old Nour El Sherbini and 18-year-old Nouran Gohar, produced performances of outstanding maturity to beat Nicol David, who held the world No.1 position for 109 months, and the reigning champion, Camille Serme.
It will be the first time that Egypt has supplied all four finalists in the British Open, and the first time a single nation has provided all four finalists since Australia in 1977.
Producing such a collective conquest of the most prestigious title on the world calendar on British soil (and, fittingly, sponsored by an Egyptian) illustrates the shift in the sport’s balance of power from the host nation to the visiting Egyptians.
Three years ago England ruled the rankings, with numerical superiority in both male and female divisions. Now, as England’s numbers are thinning in the ranking lists, the Egyptian presence is constantly swelling in numbers.
Ashour earned his place in the showpiece finale after coming through a spectacular 74-minute encounter against World Champion Gregory Gaultier. The duo drew loud applause from a capacity crowd at the end of a series of brutal, breathtaking rallies, full to the brim with attacking artistry and frantic retrieving from both combatants.
Ashour looked to have conceded the initiative after allowing a two-game lead to slip through his grasp but he recovered from five-points down in the fifth to take an 11-6, 12-10, 8-11, 9-11, 11-7 victory through to the next stage.
“When the injury happened to me in November in Seattle I was thinking that I was done,” said Ashour, who was making his first appearance in four months after a hamstring injury sustained in the World Championship.
“For some reason, I didn’t remember where the years went. I would go back and watch and I wouldn’t feel anything. I was thinking that there was something wrong there.
“I was thinking about losing the match in the fifth. At the same time, you’re playing the World Champion. It’s a mental battle, not just physically. There’s no words to describe how I’m feeling. It was very dreamy for me just to be back.”
Meanwhile, defending champion Elshorbagy advanced to the final for a second successive year after sweeping to victory against compatriot Karim Abdel Gawad.
Elshorbagy dominated the 44-minute spectacle and gave Gawad very little chance to attack with a series of punishing drives keeping his younger compatriot rooted in the back of the court and he duly triumphed courtesy of an 11-8, 11-7, 11-7 scoreline.
The World No.1 will take on Ashour in a mouthwatering repeat of the 2014 World Championship final, a match widely renowned to be one of the greatest of all time. Elshorbagy is 7-1 down on the head-to-head record between the two but admits he is looking forward to the encounter.
“Playing Ramy tomorrow will be completely different,” Elshorbagy said.
“I’m three years younger than the older generation, Nick, Greg and Ramy and I’ve been playing with them for so many years. I wasn’t relaxed when I was playing them because I was trying to catch up with them and win titles like them. This time, I know I have already won this title last year so I will be a bit more relaxed.
“If we both stay injury free we’re going to give something special for our sport. He played an amazing match today because Greg [Gaultier] was playing so well and it was great to see him moving and he has been getting better every day. I am sure that, tomorrow, we will have such an amazing match in front of an amazing crowd.”
The Women’s final will be a battle between the two youngest finalists in British Open history with 18-year-old World Junior Champion Gohar set to meet El Sherbini, who was just 16 years of age when she reached the 2012 final.
Gohar played with pace and precision in a virtuoso performance against last year’s winner Serme to surge into a two-game advantage but a resilient Serme fought back to ensure parity. A nailbiting fifth game was decided by the narrowest of margins but it was Gohar who edged it to reach her first ever World Series final, where she could become the youngest ever Women’s winner – just two months after triumphing in the the junior edition of the iconic tournament.
“It’s amazing, it’s a very good thing, it’s my biggest achievement so far being in the British Open final,” she said.
“I was in the British Open Junior final just a few months ago and now I’m in the final of the senior tournament. Being in the final of the most prestigious tournament of the year is an unbelievable achievement. I’ve been playing lots of tournaments, lots of matches so it has given me experience and helped me improve my game.”
El Sherbini defeated five-time winner Nicol David with a superb 3-1 victory. The World No.5 extended her unbeaten run over the Malaysian superstar to four games.
El Sherbini took little time in setting the pace with a number of impressive winners seeing her establish a comfortable 7-3 lead in the first. David rallied and took three points on the bounce but El Sherbini was soon back on top and she closed it out 11-6 to a game up.
A vintage display from David in game two saw the World No.2 storm ahead to level proceedings for the loss of just two points before the momentum shifted in El Sherbini’s favour and she regained her composure in the third to take it by the narrowest of margins.
The 2012 runner-up was dominant from the outset of the fourth and final game as a period of eight straight points left her on the brink of a second British Open final appearance. David gave it everything to get back within touching distance but there was no stopping the supreme confidence of El Sherbini, who closed out an 11-6, 2-11, 11-9, 11-6 win to seal her spot in the showpiece event.
“It means a lot to be in the final,” said El Sherbini. “The British Open is the biggest tournament on tour, I think, and everyone comes and gives it everything they have. It really means a lot to be in the final again.
“I got some confidence after beating her in the last three matches. Being on court with Nicol gets the best stuff out of me.
“It’s been a long week for me. It’s never easy to beat Nicol and every time I go on court with her and beat her it is a special one for me.”
Even though the loss was tough to take for David, she believes she played a good game and can still take positives from the result.
“She hardly gave me any space in that match and, like she said, she always brings out her best game when she plays me so I knew that I played a good match today in patches,” she said.
“Now it’s just really trying to push through for the next step up I think. That game I played [in the second] is about getting that consistency and staying up with that game. She started playing that sort of style and I just had to be more assertive at certain moments and I didn’t quite stay on that.
“It’s a new challenge for me to build new tools, new things and, although I’m disappointed not to get to the final, there are definitely a lot of positives for me.”
2016 Allam British Open, Hull, England.
 Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY) bt Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) 3-0: 11-8, 11-7, 11-7 (44m)
 Ramy Ashour (EGY) bt  Gregory Gaultier (FRA) 3-2: 11-6, 12-10, 8-11, 9-11, 11-7 (74m)
Final (March 27):
 Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY) v  Ramy Ashour (EGY)
 Nouran Gohar (EGY) bt  Camille Serme (FRA) 3-2: 12-10, 11-9, 9-11, 9-11, 11-9 (80m)
 Nour El Sherbini (EGY) bt  Nicol David (MAS) 3-1: 11-6, 2-11, 11-9, 11-6 (43m)
Final (March 27):
 Nouran Gohar (EGY) v  Nour El Sherbini (EGY)
Pictures by PATRICK LAUSON (www.patricklausonphotography.co.uk)