Egypt’s squash stars ready to take on the world

The planet’s best squash players gather in Cairo this week for the men’s world championship – and, as Will Jones reports, the host nation has a great chance of taking the title

Take a quick look at the PSA world rankings and one flag dominates the tables. With five players in the women’s top ten, and no fewer than seven of the top nine players in the men’s rankings, Egypt is the undisputed ruler of the squash court. No other nation comes close.

Egypt looks set to confirm its squash supremacy this week at twin tournaments in Cairo, one of which is the pinnacle of the sport. On 27 October, 64 of the game’s best male players will gather for the start of the Wadi Degla PSA Men’s World Championship. Four days later, 16 of the world’s top female players will take to the court for the first ever Wadi Degla Open. Both finals will take place on 4 November – and only a fool would bet against Egyptian involvement at the business end of both competitions.

The country’s on-court dominance isn’t a recent development: the men’s World Open, for example, has been won by Egyptian players seven times since 2003. Nor is it limited to adults: Egyptians have won 18 of the last 22 men’s and women’s individual titles at the World Junior Squash Championships, open to players aged 19 and under – and also finished second in 17 of them.

Many observers have suggested that the turning point for Egyptian squash arrived exactly 20 years ago, when the Al-Ahram International was staged in a dramatic location by the Great Pyramids. Local fans were gripped by the spectacle, not least because an unheralded 19-year-old Cairo native named Ahmed Barada stunned the squash world by reaching the final.

Barada went on to reach no. 2 in the world but his achievements were soon overshadowed by Amr Shabana, two years his junior, who won the World Open and rose to the top of the rankings. Between them, Barada and Shabana inspired a whole new generation of squash players in Egypt, and many of them will be battling for the sport’s biggest prize this week.

The favourite for the men’s title is world no. 1 Mohamed El Shorbagy, who’s in good form after winning both the China Open and the US Open in recent months to put himself in pole position in the Road to Dubai standings. He’ll face stiff competition from fellow Egyptians such as Ramy Ashour, a three-time champion and winner of the Hong Kong Open in August, and Omar Mosaad, last year’s runner-up, but also from two Europeans: defending champion Grégory Gaultier, from France, and Nick Matthew, the Englishman who won in 2010, 2011 and 2013.

There’ll be four Egyptians among the top five seeds in the women’s Wadi Degla Open, but they’ll do well to beat Malaysia’s Nicol David – the top seed is an eight-time world champion and arguably the greatest female player of all time. However, most observers’ eyes this week will be on the men’s event, as Egypt looks to keep the home fans happy with yet another world title.

The Wadi Degla PSA Men’s World Championship 2016 (starting on 27 October) and the Wadi Degla Open 2016 (starting on 31 October) both run until 4 November.