Egypt defended their WSF Women’s World Team Championship title but their stellar line-up was made to work hard for victory by the USA in front of a sell-out crowd at the Madinaty Sporting Club in Cairo.
The hosts, represented by world no.1 Nouran Gohar, world no.2 Nour El Sherbini, world no.3 Hania El Hammamy and world no.6 Nour El Tayeb, had reached their sixth final without dropping a match, with Gohar’s 3-1 win over Aifa Azman in Thursday’s semi-final representing the only game lost by the top seeds.
The USA, represented by world no.5 Amanda Sobhy, world no.10 Olivia Fiechter, world no.15 Sabrina Sobhy and world no.20 Olivia Clyne came into Friday night’s tie having already made history by reaching the final, with fifth being the no.2 seeds’ previous highest finish.
In a thrilling opening match, the best contest of the tournament, Gohar was pushed to the very brink by Sobhy.
The world no.1 had looked in complete control when she took a 7-0 lead in the first game, only for Sobhy to dig in brilliantly. Sobhy began to pull points back and although it was too late to rescue the first game, which Gohar took 11-7, the American levelled the scores with a well-deserved 11-5 win in the second.
The 29-year-old then took a hard-fought and feisty third game 12-10, putting Egypt behind for the first time in the tournament.
Now, though, it was Gohar’s turn to show her mettle. After falling behind in the fourth game, ‘the Terminator’ saved two match balls to level the tie with a 13-11 win.
Roared on by 1,500 fans and with her opponent beginning to wilt, Gohar pressed her advantage in the decider, firing past Sobhy time and again to hand Egypt a crucial one-match lead with an 11-8 victory.
In the second match of the tie, El Sherbini quickly snuffed out any hopes of a repeat of the tension that had accompanied the first tie.
The ‘Warrior Princess’, the defending individual as well as team world champion, wasted no time in going after Fiechter, with the American going down 11-3, 11-4, 11-5 in 21 minutes to deliver a fifth title for Egypt.
“If this match hadn’t been played in Egypt, I don’t think I’d have done it,” Gohar said. “The comeback was purely because of the crowd. A big thank you to them and all my team-mates, they’re the best, honestly. They’re the best in the world.”
El Sherbini added: “I was very nervous and tense [watching Gohar’s match]. I couldn’t warm up because I was just there watching. It was very hard to come on court after her match!”
Egypt coach Engy Kheirallah said: “Winning the title at home feels amazing. I kept telling Nouran ‘You are a champion, you’ve been through much worse. You can do it and we’re all backing you.”
USA coach Ong Beng Hee reflected: “We are very proud of the girls, with the way they have been all week, close together, pushing in the same direction and playing as a team. It was a fantastic performance.”
At the prize ceremony, bronze medals were given to England and Malaysia, while awards were also given out to recognise a number of outstanding achievements.
Japan’s Satomi Watanabe, who won all six of her matches, was awarded Most Valuable Player. South Africa, who beat their predicted finish of 12th by three places, were awarded Team of the Championship.
WSF President Zena Wooldridge OBE, said: “This Women’s World Team Championships concludes a really outstanding year of squash events in the post-COVID era.
“This is the first Women’s World Teams we’ve had for four years, so it’s great to see everyone back. The Women’s World Team Championship is always a special event, and I think it’s something the players really enjoy; they don’t get to play team events too often. You can tell the dynamic, the atmosphere and the experience is really fantastic for the teams.
“Here today, we’ve had two nations fielding the strongest women’s teams that they’ve ever had and it’s produced some really world-class squash. We also see a representation of the universality of squash; we have four teams from four different continents on the podium this evening.”
Wooldridge added her gratitude to the Egyptian Squash Federation and venue owners Talaat Moustafa Group and to the refereeing team, which was represented evenly by male and female referees for the first time in tournament history.