Dubai: The Egyptian duo of Mohammad Al Shorbagy and Nour Al Sherbini, men and women’s favourites for the squash PSA World Series Finals to be held at Emirates Golf Club from June 5-9, know that such billing means nothing.
Men’s world No. 1 and Road to Dubai leader Al Shorbagy, 27, of Egypt was the favourite in 2016 having won all but one title throughout the season, only to fall in the semis to Australian outsider Cameron Pilley.
Last year, it was England’s James Willstrop who made a surprise run to the final, but Al Shorbagy recovered from a disappointing season to deny him and make up for the year before by taking his first finals title.
Al Shorbagy returned to form this season winning three out of seven qualifying events and the world championship while recapturing his World No. 1 spot. But now drawn in Group A with his brother Marwan, France’s three-time finals winner Gregory Gaultier and Colombia’s Miguel Angel Rodriguez, who beat him in this month’s British Open, he won’t be leaving anything to chance.
“The year when I won six events, I had broken down mentally and physically when it came to Dubai and I couldn’t really perform how I wanted,” he said. “This year I want to perform strongly until the end. I want to show everyone that I can keep going until the last tournament, even though I have played so many more matches.”
Al Sherbini feels the same. The Egyptian 22-year-old women’s World No. 1 and Road to Dubai leader won four out of seven qualifying events this season and is now bidding for her first finals title.
After falling to England’s Laura Massaro in the 2016 semis and losing again to Massaro in last year’s final, she’s now hoping to go one better, but will first have to navigate her way out of Group A with fellow Egyptians Nour Al Tayeb, Nouran Gohar and New Zealand’s Joelle King.
“It’s the last tournament of the season so you always want to keep playing and winning but you don’t know what will happen,” she said. “You just play and try to enjoy it rather than putting pressure on yourself.
“Two years ago, I lost in the semis and then last year I lost in the final, so maybe this year I can go all the way.”
Only the top eight in the Road to Dubai standings qualify for the finals. Five of the eight men qualified and four of the eight women hail from Egypt, with Egyptians dominating the top three positions in both the men’s and women’s Road to Dubai and world rankings tables. This year’s finals are set to be one of the most competitive to date with six current and former World No. 1s across both draws, where a total prize purse of $320,000 (Dh1.175 million) will be split equally across both men’s and women’s divisions.
Groups stage matches are best-of-three, the top two in two groups of four progress to the semis where it returns to a best-of-five format in the knockouts.
Group stage matches between June 5-7 will take place at 3pm, 3.45pm, 4.30pm and 5.15pm in Group B and 8pm, 8.45pm, 9.30pm and 10.15pm in Group A. Semis take place at 8pm on June 8 with the finals set for 8pm on June 9.