On Sunday, Manchester Central Convention Complex hosted the world’s most prestigious squash event, the AJ Bell World Squash Championships.
A sell-out crowd packed into the arena to witness an-all Egyptian affair where Nour El Sherbini and Raneem El Welily played out the women’s final and Mohamed Elshorbagy took on younger brother Marwan in the men’s event – the first sibling encounter in a final since the Grinham sisters ten years ago.
World number two Mohamed Elshorbagy, who has reached the final of every tournament this season, was striving for his first world championship victory after previously losing out to Ramy Ashour in both 2012 and 2014.
However, younger brother Marwan, who himself has six PSA titles to his name, was equally gunning to lift his maiden world championship trophy in his first ever world final.
The match proved to be a tense contest, characterised by gruelling rallies, pin-point drop shots and moments of huge drama when points had to be settled by numerous video refereeing decisions which led to the match being settled by a fifth deciding game.
Despite being 6-4 down, older brother Mohamed was forced to dig deep before toiling to a remarkable 11-6 victory to land the Bristol-based star his first world championship – winning 11–5, 9–11, 11–7, 9–11, 11–6 in 71 minutes.
Immediately after the final, Mohamed and Marwan embraced each other on the court before inviting their parents out of the crowd to share an incredible moment of success, not only for the Elshorbagy family but also for Egyptian sport.
“He has been quite a bad brother to me for quite a long time now,” 26-year-old Mohamed joked to MM.
“He beat me earlier this year and now he was trying to take that world championship away from me now, so I am not very happy with him.
“I have never in my life seen my brother play that well. Going 6-4 down in the fifth, it was so tough for me to have that and I had to fight and fight and fight. Maybe I fought that little bit extra and that was the difference at the end. He gave it everything.
“He is the most underrated player inside the top ten… I know he will make it to world number one, one day after I retire.”
Despite the sport’s modest following, this year’s championships hit the headlines earlier this year after it was announced that male and female competitors would receive equal prize money of $45,000 for winning the competition, making squash the first ever sporting event to offer such parity.
In a repeat of the 2016 world championship final (played in April this year), world number one El Sherbini was vying to capture her third title in as many years against fellow compatriot El Welily who current sits second in the world rankings.
After shaking off first game nerves, the 28-year-old El Welily grew into the tie, unleashing a flurry of unstoppable straight drops and recovering on several occasions to assert her dominance and put herself ahead over the course of the first three games.
However, it wasn’t until the fourth game that the underdog El Welily really demonstrated her ability, feeding off the energy of the crowd to work her opponent around the court before wrapping up a surprise 3-11, 12-10, 11-7, 11-5 victory in just 43 minutes.
“She was under more pressure than me today,” said the former number one El Welily.
“I felt so different today compared to the last world championship final. That one was a nightmare, today I was so much more relaxed.
“So much has changed since 2014. The game has changed, I have changed, the sport is different from then.
“We’re all adapting and improving. I hope I can keep the same attitude for the remainder of the season. From this moment to the next event I don’t know what will happen, but I know I don’t want to stop with just this one success.”
PAKISTAN, AUSTRALIA, NOW EGYPT
Despite the relative niche of the sport, squash continues to appeal to a huge demographic across the globe with spectators of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities filing into Manchester, the home of England Squash, throughout the week to witness squash’s main event.
Whilst English hopes frittered away at the quarter-final stage following the defeat of three-time world champion Nick Matthew to Mohamed Elshorbagy in his final world championships, it is evident that Egypt have been handed the initiative for the foreseeable future.
Although the Elshorbagy brothers reside in Bristol, it is a remarkable statistic that six out of the eight quarter-finalists were Egyptian, with all four finalists coming from the same city, Alexandria.
“Every country has their time where they are dominating,” Mohamed Elshorbagy told MM.
“Pakistan had their time, the Australians had their time and now it is Egypt.
“I am sure someone will take over, that is what sport is like.”
Although English squash may not see an immediate successor to the likes of the retiring Matthew or 34-year-old Laura Massaro, it will remain to be seen whether staging squash’s show-case event in the heart of Manchester for the third-time since 2008 will go some way to inspiring the future generation for many years to come.
— Manchester Central (@mcr_central) December 15, 2017
Image courtesy of PSA World Tour via YouTube, with thanks.