Following the conclusion of the El Gouna International – the last tournament on the PSA Road to Dubai – Sam Price looks at the eight contenders set to take the stage for the finals at Dubai Opera
Karim Abdel Gawad, Egypt
Despite losing the deciding match to Gregory Gaultier, the El Gouna International was nonetheless a happy home tournament for Karim Abdel Gawad, whose run to the final confirmed him as the new world no. 1 after a stunning breakthrough season.
It has certainly been a dramatic ascent for the 25-year-old, who failed to qualify for last year’s finals but followed up a maiden world title in Cairo with back-to-back PSA World Series successes in Qatar and New York – while his return to form on the banks of the Red Sea suggests he could be peaking at the right time ahead of his Dubai debut.
Gregory Gaultier, France
What to say about Gregory Gaultier? Last year’s PSA World Series Finals champion told Vision Sport that his Dubai triumph was the “best moment” of an illustrious career, but the 34-year-old has taken his form to even greater levels in 2017.
The ‘French General’ is on a 19-match winning streak having won the last three tournaments on the PSA Road to Dubai – the Windy City Open, British Open and El Gouna International – and will enter Dubai Opera as strong favourite to retain his crown.
“I didn't do well in the first part of the season so my motivation since January has been to come back and get the victories to ensure I qualify for Dubai,” he says. “It's a really big event, the kind of one you want to peak for and I'm sure everyone will be putting on a great show for it again this year.”
Mohamed El Shorbagy, Egypt
Undoubtedly one of the best players ever to wield a squash racket, Mohamed El Shorbagy has endured a frustrated 2016-17 campaign, with flashes of brilliance – including a second US Open triumph – interspersed with some uncharacteristically early tournament exits.
A comprehensive defeat to compatriot Gawad in the Qatar Classic final back in November indicated a changing of the guard at the top of the men’s game, but the world no. 3 will be determined to restore order in Dubai by improving on last year’s semi-final showing.
Marwan El Shobargy, Egypt
2017 will go down as the year when the talented Marwan El Shorbagy finally stepped out of his elder brother Mohamed’s shadow.
An emotional five-game victory in Chicago was a first in eight clashes against his more decorated sibling, but he backed it up with a more comfortable 3-0 success in El Gouna – and is now excited for his first appearance at the PSA World Series Finals.
“I feel honoured that we will be the first sportsmen and women to compete in such an iconic place as the Dubai Opera, and we are very excited about what this will do for the sport of squash,” said the youngest player in the eight-man line-up.
Nick Matthew, England
His body may not be as robust as it once was, but Nick Matthew still resembles a hugely formidable opponent thanks to his deep reserves of mental strength.
The 36-year-old failed to advance from the group stage in Dubai last year – starting too slowly before signing off with a win over Mohamed El Shobargy – but after a recent run to the British Open final better can be expected from this veteran of the glass court.
James Willstrop, England
Another player to snap a losing streak this year was James Willstrop, who gained his first victory since 2007 over long-term rival Matthew when reaching the semi-finals of the Tournament of Champions in New York.
That should give the ‘the Marksman’ the freedom to play his sumptuous natural game in Dubai, where he will be a threat to anyone if on song.
Simon Rösner, Germany
Consistency has been the watchword this season for Simon Rösner, who will return to Dubai having reached five quarter-finals on the 2016-17 PSA World Series.
The German failed to progress beyond the group stage last year, and with a stronger-looking men’s line-up this time around it will be a surprise to see him fare any better.
Ramy Ashour, Egypt
A season that started so promisingly with victory in the Hong Kong Open has turned into another injury nightmare for Ramy Ashour, who has been forced to miss three of the last five PSA World Series events.
However, the popular three-time world champion has still earned enough points for a berth in Dubai, and will put his body to the test when warming up at the Bellevue Squash Classic in Washington, D.C (US) in May.
The 2017 PSA World Series Finals take place at Dubai Opera on 6-10 June. Tickets are available at www.dubaiopera.com