Monday, March 27, 2023

Tour battle hots up at pinnacle of women’s squash

Laura Massaro believes that the DAC Pro Squash Classic can provide Gina Kennedy with another vital stepping stone in her bid to close the gap on the women’s big three, as the battle intensifies between World No.1 Nouran Gohar, world champion Nour El Sherbini and British Open champion Hania El Hammamy.

The British World No.9 has been in red hot form lately winning in Brooklyn at the Carol Weymuller Open and then also taking the title at the Cleveland Classic, in a successful defence of the title she won 12 months back.

But sandwiched in between these successes was a chastening defeat by World No.3 El Hammamy at the Tournament of Champions in New York, which as her coach Ben Ford had predicted, highlighted the work still to be done to turn the Commonwealth Games gold medallist into a live and dangerous threat for the women’s top trio.

Former World No.1 Massaro concurs. She said: “For Gina at the moment she has had such a long period of disjointedness in terms of competitive play and training that I would say for her it’s crucial to keep building from tournament to tournament.

“I heard she said her goal was to get to the quarter-final of ToC and I’m sure it was a target to win the Carol Weymuller and now she has also won the Cleveland Classic  and will have a lot of confidence.

“At the same time she will probably know she can also perhaps get through matches a little bit more economically rather than having too many five-game encounters.

“Some of these tough matches she said were down to being a bit mentally wobbly, and that could well have been caused by rustiness after her illness but now it’s just about getting a bit sharper mentally.

“Then she will figure out the rest of the stuff in terms of how she can get closer to Hania and maybe getting that bit more consistent in her short game, figuring how much she matches Hania on the physical side and how much she takes it to her with her shot play.

Nouran Gohar

“That all comes from experience of playing the top girls and she is putting herself in brilliant positions to do that as half of the battle with figuring out how to beat the best is to keep playing them.”

The familiarisation process when it comes to chasing down the big three has not been made any easier in the post ToC series of four US events in which only Nouran Gohar of the big three is entered to play and then just at next week’s Bahl and Gaynor Cincinnati Cup.

Breaking the Egyptian top three

Despite this Massaro believes the opportunity to taste success at these second tier tournaments is invaluable for the chasing pack: “When they (the top three) are not putting themselves out there in the tournaments outside the Platinum bracket it makes it very hard to actually play them and play them repeatedly and so figure stuff out,” said the former British Open champion.

She continued: “You look at Gina and she played Hania at ToC but she may not play her for another three events but may then actually come up against Gohar or Sherbini.

“That said with results the way they have gone over the last few events the top three are sharing the titles so it’s very exciting at the top end of the women’s game.

“Personally speaking I don’t think there is anything worse from a spectator’s point of view as knowing who will win time and time again.

“So from a neutral perspective it is exciting and great to see these three chasing each other and trying to get the edge but it would be nice to see a non-Egyptian upset them and throw the cat amongst the pigeons.

“So the tournaments slightly below the Platinum events are really good for the chasing girls to get their teeth into and get some really competitive match action under their belts and then use that as a springboard into the next Platinum Event and really try and make an impact on the top-three.”

When it comes to settling the argument over who is actually the best player in the world right now Massaro admits that all of the big three have a case to make.

The battle for squash No.1

The former world champion said: “You can make arguments for all three. Gohar is No.1 and No.1 for a reason and so for me she is the best player in the world right now as you just don’t get that ranking without being the best in the world.

“That said what I love about the women’s game right now is Nouran could turn up next week and lose to either Nour (El Sherbini) or Hania (El Hammamy), and that’s what makes the game so exciting and it’s the same for Sherbini.

“She could win her next big event and actually go to World No.1 and you could make a brilliant case for her and then you look at what Hania did in Hong Kong when she beat them both and it all just goes to show that on their day any one of the three could beat the others.

“But when Gohar and Sherbini step on the court, with their experience and age and the fact they have both been at No.1 and know how to handle it and stay there and get back to No.1, then that is an experience Hania has not had yet.

“So I would say that Hania will be at her most dangerous when she reaches that No.1 spot and it will then take her to that next level of belief and help her in terms of how she closes out tournaments and then learns how to stay at No.1, which will in turn make it interesting to see how the others react.”

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