A month by month look at 2018, squash-wise …
The year started, as usual, with the British Junior Open, but this time in Birmingham and with Under 11s for the first time, and it was the Malaysian Girls who stole the show as they claimed four of the five available titles.
History was made in Saudi Arabia with the first women’s professional sporting event – a World Series at that – as Nour El Sherbini beat Raneem El Welily in the start of a year-long rivalry.
Sherbini repeated the trick in New York’s ToC, this time beating Nour El Tayeb in the final, while Simon Rosner claimed his first World Series title.
There was an Egyptian winner in Scotland too, where Nadine Shahin and home favourite Greg Lobban claimed the Edinburgh SC Open titles.
On the PSA front, qualifying was abolished and the new 24 and 48 player draws came into force.
The Egyptian train rolled into Sweden as Ali Farag won in Linkoping, but in equally cold Canada it was Max Lee who got to don the famous Canada Cup gown.
Nick Matthew concluded his British Nationals career (unless he enters the Masters?) with a 10th title, but it was a first for Welsh Wizard Tesni Evans as she raced through a strong field.
What month would be complete without an Egyptian double – it was Mohamed ElShobagy and Nour El Tayeb who took the win out of their competitors’ sails in Chicago.
The ever-popular Canary Wharf Classic trialled best-of-three for the early matches, the sellout crowds seemed to enjoy it but the reaction from some of the players was mixed, champion Mohamed ElShorbagy included.
It was best of five in Zurich where Ramy Ashour was in sparkling form, taking our Rosner, Gaultier and MoElShorbagy, all in straight games, to claim the Grasshopper Cup. Sadly Ramy would play just one more match this year.
In Wimbledon France’s Mathieu Castagnet claimed his first title since 2016, taking out a trio of Englishmen in the process.
England and France shared the honours in the Euro U19s in Poland as Victor Crouin ended his junior career with a repeat win and Lucy Turmel claimed the Girls’ title. Viktor Byrtus’s semi-final celebration was a highlight!
The Commonwealth Games in Australia dominated the first half of the month, and it was New Zealand who topped the squash medal table as Joelle King won singles and doubles Gold. England kept their grip on the men’s title, but this time it was James Willstrop’s turn to win after settling for Silver in the previous two editions.
Hosts Australia claimed men’s and mixed doubles Gold.
The seventh edition of the El Gouna International produced another Egyptian double, Raneem El Welily getting the better of Nour El Sherbini and Marwan Elshorbagy taking out Karim Abdel Gawad, his elder brother, and Ali Farag on his way to claiming a first World Series title.
Rounding out the month, Edmon Lopez collected the winner’s cheque in Switzerland’s Sekiusui Open, and Ukraine (W) and Sweden (M) won the Euro Div 3 team titles in Latvia.
The Euro Teams continued with the Div 1 and 2 champs in Poland where France and England met in both finals, and they again shared the Men’s and Women’s titles.
In Cardiff Richie Fallows dashed home hopes in the final of the resurrected Welsh Open, while over in Germany Paderborn produced another Bundesliga double.
The British Open returned to Hull, where Nour El Sherbini won the latest round of her battle with Raneem El Welily and Miguel Rodriguez took out a host of top seeds, beating MoElShorbagy in a compelling marathon final for his first World Series final.
Back on the League scene it was St George’s turn at last as they edged past Tradition@RAC in a home PSL final.
The season was winding down now, so it was time for the end of season World Series Finals in Dubai where Nick Matthew – reprieved after thinking he’d finished in Hull – made an emotional last PSA outing.
The event finished with an Egyptian double, Nour El Sherbini and Mohamed ElShorbagy underlining their top of the world spots.
British Champion Tesni Evans turned her hand to tournament promotion, and it was Lisa Aitken who claimed the inaugural Bangor Classic title.
This was the time for the Youngsters and Oldies. In Chennai Rowan El Araby retained her World Junior title in a repeat final against Hania El Hammamy, and Mostafa Asal dethroned Marwan Tarek to become Boys’ champion. The Egyptian boys strolled through the tournament to regain the team title.
Starting on the day of the junior team finals over in the States, 19 World Masters Champions were crowned in Charlottesville, 14 of them top seeds with Australia and England taking 11 between them.
Regional Championships month, resuming with the Asian Games in Jakarta, where Nicol David claimed her 5th Gold medal, on her birthday, no less, and Leo Au won an all-Hong Kong men’s final against Max Lee.
Hong Kong’s women claimed the team title, but there was no clean sweep as Leo and Max both lost against Malaysia in the men’s team final.
The Pan American Championships hit the Caribbean for the first time, and it was top seeds Diego Elias and Amanda Sobhy who won the individual titles (Sobhy’s third) in the Cayman Islands.
Amanda, having beaten younger sister Sabrina in the final, went on to claim a golden hat-trick as she and ’Beans’ wrapped up the doubles and team titles, while Mexico’s men took the team title along with the men’s doubles. Colombia’s Miguel Rodriguez and Catalina Pelaez were mixed champions.
Over in Austria it was Borja Golan and Millie Tomlinson who became European Individual Champions.
The season swings into gear in spectacular fashion in the Nantes International asDeclan James and Nele Gilis beat top seeds James Willstrop and Emily Whitlock in two five game finals in the opera house.
It’s an Egyptian double for Mohamed Abouelghar and Raneem El Welily in China, while the World Universities in Birmingham produces an English double for Josh Masters and Lily Taylor.
No surprise as Egypt retain the Women’s World Teams title in China, while Hong Kong Football Club it’s a home double for top seeds Max Lee and Annie Au.
Edgbaston retain their European Club Champs crown in Eindhoven, where Paderborn reclaim the men’s crown, while Pakistan, Malaysia, Hong Kong and hosts India share the Asian Junior Champs titles.
Finishing as it started, the top seeds are beaten in both San Francisco finals where Sarah-Jane Perry and Ali Farag take the spoils.
The first World Series – now termed Platinum – event of the season saw world champs Mohamed ElShorbagy and Raneem El Welily win in Philadelphia, but there was an early exit for Mohamed in St George’s where Tarek Momen prevailed in the Channel VAS Champs to claim his biggest title yet.
Over the pond Nour El Tayeb became Carol Weymuller champion.
Egyptian domination of the month continued in Qatar where Ali Farag won his first Qatar Classic title, in the process qualifying for the renamed and revamped end of season World Tour Finals.
Laura Massaro claims her third Monte Carlo Classic title, and the last major event of the year is the inaugural CIB Black Ball Open.
The new club in Cairo produced a quality Platinum event and spectacular squash. Karim Abdel Gawad found his best form as, playing his third tournament in a row, he took out the top three seeds to become the first Black Ball champion.
A quiet end to the year with a few small events, the last word going to Scotland’s Lisa Aitken who won twice in a week to claim titles in Italy and Finland.
And that was 2018 …………….