Mohamed ElShorbagy crowned his return to the PSA World Tour with a scintillating performance to capture the Squash On Fire Open title in Washington DC, while Nour El Sherbini came from behind to win her first tournament of the year.
After spending four months away from the Tour, there were concerns that top seed ElShorbagy could be rusty against Joel Makin in his first final since September’s Egyptian Open. Whilst there were some nervous moments for the 31-year-old earlier in the tournament, today ElShorbagy looked imperious.
Accurate, calculating, and possessing legendary power, ElShorbagy blew World No.8 Makin away in the second half of the first game, quickly moving from a narrow 5-4 lead to take a commanding 11-5 win.
Makin recovered well in the second game and kept the Egyptian within reach with his typical drive and energy and at 9-9, the crucial second game was there for the taking for both men. Despite the best efforts of Makin, who threw himself across the court in a desperate attempt to keep the rally, and his scoring momentum, alive, he could only watch, marooned, as ElShorbagy smashed a winner before wrapping up the 31-minute game 11-9.
Buoyed by this morale-raising win, ElShorbagy continued to attack in the third game and, although the Welshman was able to save one championship ball, he could do little to prevent the resurgent ‘Beast’ from seeing out the match with an 11-8 victory.
“I’m really proud of how I performed here. It’s been a good week for me to win like this. I wanted to try and win three love as well, to send a message that I’m trying to come back again. I’m definitely going for the number one spot. I want to go for it for another time in my career. I know I have it in me. I know I can do it.”
He added: “To be out for four months and come back in your first event, I definitely didn’t feel comfortable at the beginning of the tournament, losing the first game.
“I would say it was my best performance of the tournament, because I had to raise my level. If I played Joel in the semis, I would have probably have had to raise my level the same way.”
In the women’s final World #1 El Sherbini survived a scare from New Zealand’s seconnd seed Joelle King to record a comeback victory. Ahead of today’s match, El Sherbini boasted a 12-1 record against King, with the Kiwi’s last win coming in the first round of the 2012 U.S. Open.
If King was intimidated by this record, she certainly didn’t show it on court. The 33-year-old came flying out, taking eight unanswered points after falling behind on the way to an 11-6 win. While El Sherbini still didn’t look her best in the second game, there was a marked improvement on the first, and the Egyptian began to show more of her old accuracy in an 11-8 win.
With the scores level, both players went all out in an 18-minute third game In a nail-biting finish, both players had game ball, before eventually El Sherbini took advantage to claim a 16-14 win.
King battled hard in the fourth, and drew applause from the crowd when she saved two championship balls with the scores at 10-8 to have a game ball of her own at 11-10. King, though, was unable to convert as El Sherbini fired back to take the game 13-11 and the match 3-1.
After the match, El Sherbini said: “I’m feeling really good after a tough match, Joelle played really, really good. She surprised me a little bit, I think she was playing very good squash today. I think I wasn’t 100 percent focused on my game plan and then was up and down the whole match, but I’m happier now that I won.”
“I just tried to relax a bit “[after losing the first game]. I tried to think of what I’m supposed to do and find my myself more I tried just to place myself and be ready for all her shots and to change it a bit in my game plan.
“Today is the only day I can celebrate and then I need to try to forget this week and focus on next week’s Windy City Open. So a small celebration today and then I’ll try to regroup and focus for next week.”
Semis : Home hopes extinguished as top seeds reach DC finals
Hopes of a home winner at Washington DC’s Squash On Fire Open were doused in the semifinals, after the USA’s last remaining representative, Sabrina Sobhy, lost to second seed Joelle King.
World No.6 King dominated early proceedings with her typical accuracy, settling more quickly than Sobhy and finding her rhythm on the way to an 11-5 win in the first game and an 11-4 win in the second. To the crowd’s delight, Sobhy was able to find a foothold in the match as an improved performance in the third game was rewarded with an 11-9 win. King, though, quickly refocused and stormed out in the last game to wrap up the match with an 11-3 win.
After the match, King said: “I’m definitely pleased with that performance. Sabrina and I have had some tough, tough battles over the years. So I’m just happy with the way I was able to close out the match. I think, in the third game, I became a bit rattled, she came back at me and tried to find a way to get back into the match, which she did. But I was really pleased with the way I finished the fourth.”
King will face World #1 Nour El Sherbini in the final after the top seed survived a spirited challenge from an improving Nour El Tayeb.
El Tayeb, who was playing in only her second tournament since the 2020 Egyptian Open after giving birth last summer, lost to El Sherbini 3-0 when the pair played last December. Today, though, the former World No.3 looked considerably sharper.
After El Sherbini took the first game 11-7, the No.3 seed fired back with an excellent range of shots to take the second game 11-5. With the scoreline level, the third game was always likely to be crucial psychologically, and both players pushed themselves to the limits to secure the advantage.
In a game that ebbed and flowed, El Sherbini took a 5-2 lead, only to be pegged back to 7-7. Both players then traded points and with the scores at 10-10, the game was anyone’s to win. As she so often does at crucial moments, it was El Sherbini who kept her cool, taking the third game 12-10 before finishing the match with an 11-8 win in the fourth game.
Afterwards, El Sherbini paid tribute to her compatriot Tayeb’s improving form: “It’s amazing to see Nour play like this again. It’s the second tournament for her, and the second time in two months we’ve played each other and this time she improved on the last time we played.
“I’m really happy to see her play and I’m really happy that we’re having these kinds of battles again and I hope she keeps going and we can play more matches like this.”
Second seed Makin’s match against the fourth seed was an at times fractious affair, with both players competing fiercely over every inch of space. Makin initially looked to be cruising into the final after taking the first two games 11-8 and 11-5. However, a more focused Soliman struck back in the third, eventually winning the 26-minute slog 14-12 after going match ball down at 11-10.
The Golden Tiger, however, promptly shut down any hopes of a comeback when he came roaring out in the fourth game, taking the first seven points on his way to an 11-6 win, to finally bring 80 minutes of intense squash to an end.
Makin said after the match: “We had a few [exchanges] during the match about understanding each other’s lines properly. It’s a good side of the game, that, understanding where each other are coming from.”
Makin’s final opponent, top seed ElShorbagy, may go into his final feeling bittersweet, after what was looking to be an entertaining match was curtailed by an injury to Pajares. The No.7 seed had severely tested ElShorbagy in the first game, going toe-to-toe with The Beast in a narrow 13-11 defeat, before an injury suffered during the second forced him to withdraw.
After the Spaniard was applauded off by the crowd, ElShorbagy said: “That’s only the second time my career my opponent has retired, even though I have been on tour for so many years. I definitely don’t want to go through like that.
“I told him after the match that he was a beast. He showed his character and showed how tough he is. I think he has a lot of potential to do really well in the future.”
Quarters : Nour El Tayeb in thrilling comeback in Washington
report from PSA, photos by Brandon Tobias
Nour El Tayeb staged a spectacular comeback at the Squash On Fire Open to reach her first semi final since returning to the PSA World Tour.
El Tayeb, playing in only her second tournament since the 2020 Egyptian Open after giving birth last summer, found herself in hot water after going two games down against an energised Sivasangari Subramaniam.
The Egyptian, though, while still not back to her devastating best, was able to force her way back into the match with a hard-fought 11-6 win in the third game, levelled with an 11-9 win in the fourth, and followed up with a swift 11-4 fifth-game victory against an exhausted Subramaniam to complete the comeback.
Speaking after the match, El Tayeb, who will face top seed Nour El Sherbini in the semi final, said: “I’m happy to come back, and literally in the match! I’m taking it one point at a time and trying to do my best every point. This is my mindset since I’ve come back on tour, and I think it helped me a lot today that at 2-0 down I didn’t think I was out of the tournament.
“I can’t say I’m back to form, I can see a lot of areas where I’m not back to where I was, but I think I’m improving at a very nice pace, and I’m enjoying the improvements. I didn’t think, coming into this tournament, that I was going to win two matches, to be honest. But to be in the semis of a Bronze event, I’m very proud of myself.”
El Tayeb’s wasn’t the only comeback story today in Washington DC, with the USA’s Sabrina Sobhy reaching her first PSA Bronze semi final courtesy of win over Malaysia’s Rachel Arnold. Despite the 3-0 scoreline, this match was anything but a simple affair for the World No.24 who tyrailed in all three games.
Speaking after her match, Sobhy said: “I’m still processing this match to be honest. I really felt like I was scrambling on the edge a little bit throughout the entire match. So just having that finish, I’m a little bit taken aback, in awe, very surprised, happy and excited!”
Sobhy will face second seed Joelle King in the semi final, after the Kiwi beat England’s Lucy Turmel in straight games.
At the top of the men’s draw Mohamed ElShorbagy continued his resurgence with a powerhouse performance against Egyptian compatriot Omar Mosaad. ElShorbagy had looked at times vulnerable in his second-round tie against Patrick Rooney, but today produced the sort of commanding performance for which he is famed.
ElShorbagy took the first game 11-5 before coming from 9-5 down in the second to win 11-9. The increasingly confident-looking top seed carried this momentum through to the third, drawing great applause from the crowd with a powerful strike to end the game 11-7 and the match 3-0.
“Omar is someone I looked up all the way through my junior career,” ElShorbagy said afterwards. “If you give him any opening he’s going to take it and that’s what happened in the second game when I lost focus for a few seconds and found myself five down. We haven’t played in so many years, so it’s great to be back on court one more time with him.
“I really want to win here. I’m playing every single point to try and win. Any of the top guys have to always find ways to win even when they’re not at their best and I’m definitely feeling much sharper than yesterday.”
In the day’s other matches, Egypt’s fourth seed Youssef Soliman reached his maiden Bronze semi final after a straight-game victory over Mexico’s Cesar Salazar, Joel Makin continued his impressive form with a 3-1 victory over James Willstrop, El Sherbini breezed past fifth seed Nele Gilis 3-0, and Iker Pajares beat Greg Lobban 3-1.
Day Two : Seeds tumble as ElShorbagy returns
report from PSA, photos by Brandon Tobias
Former World #1 Mohamed ElShorbagy made his long-awaited return as five seeded players crashed out before the quarter finals on a day of surprises at the Squash On Fire Open.
Early on inside the Squash On Fire club, which sits above an active fire station, there were alarm bells ringing for the ElShorbagy comeback when England’s World No.28 Patrick Rooney earned a shock one-game lead on the back of his impressive power at the front.
The top seed would have been under no illusions as to the challenge ahead of him, having seen four seeded players crash out before his match. Rooney’s early momentum was soon extinguished, though, as The Beast roared back in the second game, wowing the crowd with the speed of his reactions and his immaculate positioning to level the tie with an 11-8 victory.
In an epic third game in which both players had opportunities to win, it was ElShorbagy who was eventually able to break through, with the Egyptian taking the game 15-13. Although Rooney continued to fight hard in the fourth, ElShorbagy was able to keep him at arm’s length and close out the tie in 57 minutes with an 11-8 win, to set up a quarter final match with No.6 seed Omar Mosaad.
After the match, ElShorbagy said: “I felt really burned out at the end of last season, from all the years. And I felt like I need to step away a little bit and tell myself to take a step away and give myself a break, to rethink what I need to do what I need to work on.
“I’m really happy to be back again, happy to be part of battles, battles like I had today, and I’m just really glad to be back in the tournament mode again. When I was down, I had to tell myself that I need to find a way, in situations like this, to win and I had to turn the match into a bit of a dogfight.”
While ElShorbagy may have avoided an upset, other favourites were not so fortunate.
Sabrina Sobhy got the day’s play off to a thrilling start when she knocked out fourth seed and American compatriot Olivia Fiechter in three games to proceed to a quarter final against Malaysia’s Rachel Arnold.
After Sobhy took the opening two games, Fiechter initially appeared to have found her rhythm at the beginning of the third game and took the first two points. However, Sobhy quickly rallied to devastating effect, taking nine of the game’s next ten points, before eventually securing an 11-7 win.
“It’s a big win as Olivia has done so well in the past year or so, she’s shot up in the rankings and has just been playing some outrageous squash with some really great victories. So just to have the opportunity to play against her, and to have a good performance against her as well, it really does mean a lot to me,” Sobhy said.
In the day’s final match, Greg Lobban shocked third seed Eain Yow Ng, following defeats to Women’s sixth seventh and eighth seeds Nadine Shahin, Hollie Naughton, and Danielle Letourneau earlier in the day.
Scotland’s Lobban took a battling first game 11-6, before stunning an increasingly frustrated Eain Yow 11-1 in the second. Although the Malaysian regained his composure in the third game, he struggled to trouble the confident-looking Lobban, with the Scot able to control the majority of proceedings on his way to an 11-6 win.
Lobban said: “I’m really delighted as I’ve not had many performances like that in the last two years and I’d started to think: ‘Was I ever going to have one of them again?’ Everything just felt good tonight. I’ve been working really hard with Paul Price and getting into the zone like that. I felt in control, I felt really good. It’s been a long time coming, but maybe it’s made it sweeter that it took so long.”
Elsewhere, Women’s top seed Nour El Sherbini saw off Egyptian compatriot Farida Mohamed in a stop-start encounter, Nele Gilis came from behind to beat sister Tinne, and hopes of a male home winner were ended by Todd Harrity’s 3-0 defeat by Omar Mosaad.
Day ONE : Mixed Fortunes for Home Hopes
report from PSA, photos by Brandon Tobias
The USA’s Sabrina Sobhy and Todd Harrity progressed to the second round of the Squash On Fire Open, while US Men’s #1 Shahjahan Khan endured more torment at the hands of Nathan Lake on an entertaining opening day in Washington DC.
World No.24 Sobhy, younger sister of World No.4 Amanda and a 2021 Squash On Fire Open semi-finalist, got the day’s play off to a perfect start for the home crowd when she downed Hong Kong’s Tze Lok Ho 3-0. While the match was a more even affair than the scoreline suggests, the 25-year-old American was deserving of the win, fully utilising her impressive pace to cover the entire court and keep Ho guessing. Sobhy fought her way through two tight first games, then recovered from 2-8 in the third to set up an all-American clash with fourth seed Olivia Fiechter in the second round.
Speaking after the match, Sobhy said: “I’m feeling very pleased that I got through. We’ve never played before, or not since under 19s. It was difficult to have an 11am start and be the first match of the tournament, which is a new experience for me, so I’m just lucky I don’t have to deal with long jet-lag or anything. I’m honestly just pleased to get through to the second round.”
In the day’s final game on the glass court, Harrity overcame a spirited second game charge from France’s Sebastien Bonmalais to ensure that the US would have representation in both draws tomorrow, after US #1 Shahjahan Khan suffered his fourth defeat in two months to England’s Nathan Lake.
Harrity, 31, had looked the sharper of the pair in the first game, before an epic duel in the second wowed the crowd. Both players led on seven occasions in a helter skelter second game, with thrilling rallies at the front of the court dazzling the fans. Eventually, though, Harrity was able to take it 14-12 and went on to close it out 11-4 in the third to set up a second round match against Omar Mosaad.
Afterwards, Harrity said: “That second game was very important for me. It was very close and touch and go. At the end I felt I was getting tired, but I could feel he was getting tired, too and it was a good thing I won the first game because that gave me energy to push. On the Squash On Fire venue, he It’s a great venue, a great court, and it’s great to be in DC. I have friends and family here who can come and watch. I have great memories of here, I won a national title here so I felt really confident today because I love playing in this venue.”
Outside of the American contingent, the biggest cheers of the day went to wildcards Ineta Mackevica and Karan Malik, both of whom coach at Squash On Fire. There was to be no fairytale for either player, though, with Latvia’s Mackevica losing 3-0 to Malaysia’s Sivasangari Subramaniam and India’s Karan Malik going down by the same scoreline to Scotland’s Greg Lobban.
There was some joy for the qualifiers, though, with the day’s biggest upset coming in the day’s second match on the side court, where Hong Kong’s Tsz Fung Yip beat Egypt’s Moustafa El Sirty 3-0 in just 25 minutes to earn a second-round matchup with Mexico’s No.8 seed Cesar Salazar.