With the 2017 PSA Dubai World Series Finals just around the corner, Gruffudd Owen takes a look at the players who will be competing for one of squash’s grandest prizes
The 2016/17 PSA World Series reaches its conclusion in June when the Finals return to Dubai.
The past 10 months have seen the eight best men and eight best women in the world of squash earn their place at the lucrative season-ending tournament, which will offer a total prize pot of US$160,000 in both draws.
Two players will progress from each four-person group to the semi-finals of the competition, meaning there is no room for error at the Dubai Opera, the impressive new venue for the Finals following last year’s outing in front of the Burj Khalifa.
Here, we assess the chances of the men and women vying for glory this year…
Group A (Men)
Having failed to progress beyond the quarter-final stage in any of the seven World Series events prior to the Finals, world no. 11 Simon Rosner faces a significant challenge if he is to make it out of Group A.
Veteran 36-year-old Nick Matthew and Egyptian Marwan ElShorbagy – ranked fourth and fifth in the world respectively – are expected to battle it out for second spot, but to lead the group look no further than world no. 1 Karim Abdel Gawad.
The Egyptian won two World Series events on his way to topping the Road to Dubai rankings, and heads to the Finals as one of the pre-tournament favourites.
“It will be my first time at the World Series Finals so I’m really excited to be going and to be playing at such an amazing venue,” he said ahead of the Finals.
“It’s going to be very tough. I want to try to play my best and see what happens.”
Group B (Men)
James Willstrop’s chances of surviving what was previously dubbed the ‘Group of Death’ have received a boost after illness forced the withdrawal of former world no. 1 Ramy Ashour.
Replacing the decorated Egyptian will be fellow countryman Ali Farag, who finished ninth in the Road To Dubai standings and whose best regular season performance was a run to the semi-finals of the Windy City Open.
Nevertheless, the two most likely to reach the semi-finals are world no. 3 Mohamed ElShorbagy and Gregory Gaultier of France, the latter in ominous form having won the last three World Series events.
“I’ve had an amazing run since January and I want to finish the season on a high note in Dubai,” the world no. 2 and defending Finals champion revealed.
"There’s no secret, it’s all about hard work. I’ve been training hard for 30 years.”
Group A (Women)
Alison Waters would have missed out on the Finals were it not for the absence of Amanda Sobhy due to injury, and the world no. 9’s chances of avoiding an early elimination seem slim.
Nouran Gohar of Egypt began the season very strongly by winning the Hong Kong Open but has failed to live up to her early promise. Her compatriot and world no. 2 Raneem El Welily also has one World Series title to her name – the Windy City Open – and will be confident of a last-four berth.
Completing the group is Frenchwoman Camille Serme, whose two World Series triumphs at the US Open and the Tournament of Champions saw her reach the summit of the Road to Dubai rankings.
“This has been the best season of my career so far," she said.
"The Women’s Tour is incredibly tough at the moment and you never know who is going to win – there are so many players capable of it.”
Group B (Women)
Making it through such a testing group will be a monumental task for Sarah-Jane Perry, despite an impressive run to the final of the British Open in March.
Of the other three players – world no. 1 Nour El Sherbini, reigning Finals champion Laura Massaro and Nicol David of Malaysia, one of the greatest squash players of all time – who will qualify for the semi-finals really is anyone’s guess.
David is a two-time Finals winner with a wealth of experience, the hugely exciting 21-year-old El Sherbini possesses enormous talent while Massaro ended the regular season very well and is desperate to retain her Finals crown.
"It’s arguably the toughest event to win because the level is so high from day one,” Massaro said.
“This year, going in as the defending champion makes it a little different. I know exactly what to expect but I’m really excited.”
The PSA Dubai World Series Finals run from 6-10 June at the Dubai Opera