PSA Road to Dubai: squash gearing up for triumphant return to the emirate

With the PSA World Series Finals only a couple of months away, Gruffudd Owen talks to last year’s champions about why the Dubai event is so special and what it will mean when they return to the emirate in June

If there is one sport that epitomises this age of convenience in which we live, then it is surely squash.

While the ubiquitous smartphone with its myriad apps fulfils the needs and desires of the user at their beck and call, the portable nature of the squash court similarly allows it to be put to use pretty much anywhere.

This on-demand sport has seen tournaments being played at iconic locations including the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt and New York’s Grand Central Station – and as of June, the stunning Dubai Opera will be added to this esteemed list.

Following the first edition of the PSA World Series Finals to be staged in the emirate last year – in front of the awesome Burj Khalifa, no less – squash’s lucrative end-of-season event heads to the nearby and newly-built Opera for the next two years, a change of location that has certainly captured the imagination of the tour’s leading players.   

“The fact that we have a glass court means we can put it anywhere, even in the most spectacular venues in the world,” says men’s world no. 3 Gregory Gaultier.

“It's fantastic to have it at the Dubai Opera. Of course, there's going to be more space than last year, so more people can come and watch.

“Dubai hosts so many sporting events, and what we see on TV is always gigantesque, as we French would say!”

Last year’s Finals hold a special place in Gaulter’s heart after the Frenchman won the competition for the first time.

And having experienced one of the highlights of his career in the emirate, the 34-year-old will be desperate to emulate his achievement this time round.

“It was fantastic to celebrate with my family. It was probably the best moment of my career,” he reveals.

“Seeing my kid running everywhere on the court, lifting the trophy, being with me in front of the cameras; it made it very special and unique for me.

“The best thing was that the trophy was bigger than him!”

Of course, it is one thing to host major sporting events in stunning, camera-friendly locations; another thing entirely to ensure the competition is well attended and a vibrant atmosphere sustained throughout.

If last year’s Finals are anything to go by, Dubai emphatically ticks all boxes.

The players gracing the glass court were regularly greeted to a full house, with the French out in force to cheer on Gaultier as well as strong Egyptian support for the likes of Mohamed El Shorbagy, Raneem El Welily and Nour El Sherbini.

The move to the Dubai Opera means the tournament can now accommodate 2,000 fans per match, promising an even better atmosphere in 2017 and beyond.   

“The players really felt the atmosphere playing in such a superb location,” reigning women’s champion Laura Massaro says.

“We don't play in Dubai for the whole year, so it'll be nice to go back there: there's great food and plenty of heat and sun, especially for the Brits!

“The overall feel of the tournament is special, and the needs of the players are given priority. You don't get that everywhere.”

Speak to the players who competed at last year’s Finals and you soon realise that this sense of appreciation at how they are treated when they visit Dubai is unanimous, proving that the emirate has already left a positive impression on the PSA circuit.

After all, it must be doing something right when it receives a glowing endorsement from a genuine squash legend such as Nicol David.

“We’re pretty much treated like royalty,” the two-time Finals champion and former world no. 1 explains.

“Everything is waited on us hand and foot. Sometimes we find it bizarre because we’re just athletes; we do what we do.

“But when we get to Dubai, it’s a whole different world. They look after us so well, the hotel facilities are incredible, and the atmosphere when we are competing in the show courts is pretty spectacular.”

Dubai’s role as host of squash’s season-ending tournament may still be a relatively recent one, but as far as the players are concerned, the message is loud and clear: bring on the Finals in June.