Time is running out for the world’s leading squash players to qualify for the PSA World Series Finals in Dubai. Gruffudd Owen profiles some of the stars heading to the Windy City Open in Chicago this week, where valuable ranking points will be on offer
From the El Shorbagy brothers and the veteran James Willstrop in the men’s draw to the flying Frenchwoman Camille Serme and the great Nicol David in the women’s competition, a fascinating week of squash awaits at the Windy City Open in Chicago as the PSA Road to Dubai draws ever closer to its conclusion.
Here, we profile five key players who will be hoping for convincing performances at the University Club of Chicago, be it to maintain the strong showings they have displayed so far during this season’s PSA World Series or to ensure that they don’t drop out of the running for Dubai altogether…
Karim Abdel Gawad
Having won the previous two PSA World Series events – the 2016 Qatar Classic in November and the Tournament of Champions in New York City last month – 25-year-old Karim Abdel Gawad might as well book his flight to Dubai already.
The Egyptian sits at the top of the Road to Dubai men’s rankings, 85 points ahead of Mohamed El Shorbagy in second, and having been gifted a relatively kind draw, the ‘Baby-Faced Assassin’ will fancy his chances of making it a third PSA World Series title in a row in Chicago this week.
Mohamed El Shorbagy
Despite his world no. 1 ranking, Mohamed El Shorbagy has found it difficult to justify his best men’s player tag this season. A 2016 US Open triumph notwithstanding, ‘The Beast’ has been outshone by Karim Abdel Gawad, a humbling 3-0 defeat to his compatriot in the final of the Qatar Classic hinting that a shift in power at the summit of the men’s game is perhaps upon us.
El Shorbagy will be determined to dismiss such speculation at the Windy City Open – although an opening round match against world no. 16 Paul Coll will be no walk in the park.
At 33 years of age, former world no. 1 James Willstrop is proving that he can still compete with the younger squash generation.
A series of consistently strong outings – including two semi-final appearances at the US Open and the Tournament of Champions – sees him heading into the Windy City Open as the third-ranked player on the Road to Dubai.
Hot on his heels is Nick Matthew – both are currently tied on 120 ranking points – but with his fellow Englishman having pulled out of Chicago through injury, there is an opportunity for Willstrop to consolidate his lofty position at a crucial period in the PSA World Series.
However, he will need to be wary of eighth seed Omar Mosaad in what is a tricky first round encounter for ‘The Marksman’.
Squash is a sport that is traditionally dominated by Egyptian players, yet France’s Camille Serme is proving to be an exception in the women’s draw.
Like her top-ranked male counterpart on the Road to Dubai, the 27-year-old world no. 2 has won the past two events and currently enjoys a 75-point lead over Nouran Gohar in the standings.
The fact that there are two fewer tournaments in the women’s PSA World Series compared to the men means the Windy City Open is the penultimate competition before Dubai for Serme. She will be looking to keep up her good run of form when she faces Heba El Torky in the first round.
Regarded as one of the greatest squash players of all time, Nicol David is still a force to be reckoned with despite her relatively senior age.
Two quarter-finals and a semi-final have seen David accrue 90 Road to Dubai points so far, but she will still need to be wary of those vying to overtake her – only 35 points separate the Malaysian and ninth-ranked Nour El Tayeb.
With progress to the Finals in Dubai limited to the top eight, going far in the Windy City Open will allow the ‘Duracell Bunny’ some breathing space and send a signal to her rivals that her time at the elite level of the sport is not over just yet.