World No. 1 Nour El Sherbini headlines a strong field this week at the Saudi Women’s Masters — the first-ever women’s squash tournament to take place in Saudi Arabia.
The tournament, which kicks off on Sunday afternoon and concludes on January 12 at Princess Nora bint Abdul Rahman University, features a host of the world’s top players including recently crowned world champion Raneem El Welily and Malaysian legend Nicol David.
It marks a historic moment for sport in Saudi Arabia, where women’s sports events are only just starting to appear on the calendar.
Last November, a first women’s basketball tournament for universities was staged in Jeddah, but this week will see the first time an international sports event for women is held in the Kingdom.
Thanks to Princess Reema for graciously hosting us @psaworldtour women last night with Ziad. Truly honoured to be part of this historical moment in Saudi Arabia. #saudiwomensquash #firstwomensportevent pic.twitter.com/GF2znwPfYT
— Nicol Ann David (@NicolDavid) January 7, 2018
Egypt’s El Sherbini, the top seed, opens her campaign on Sunday night against France’s Coline Aumard. Battling for a prize purse of $165,000, 32 of the world’s best have descended on Riyadh and are ready to impress at the first World Series event of 2018.
Ex-world No. 1 David is thrilled to be taking part in such a groundbreaking milestone for Saudi sport.
“Truly honoured to be part of this historical moment in Saudi Arabia,” said the record eight-time world champion.
A post shared by Nour El Sherbini (@noursherbini) on
Full draw of the inaugural Saudi Women’s Masters
 Nour El Sherbini (EGY) v Coline Aumard (FRA)
Hania El Hammamy (EGY) v  Donna Urquhart (AUS)
 Salma Hany (EGY) v Dipika Pallikal Karthik (IND)
Heba El Torky (EGY) v  Alison Waters (ENG)
 Annie Au (HKG) v Jenny Duncalf (ENG)
Fiona Moverley (ENG) v  Joelle King (NZL)
 Victoria Lust (ENG) v Nadine Shahin (EGY)
Rachael Grinham (AUS) v  Nouran Gohar (EGY)
 Raneem El Welily (EGY) v Nele Gilis (BEL)
Mariam Metwally (EGY) v  Olivia Blatchford (USA)
 Tesni Evans (WAL) v Millie Tomlinson (ENG)
Joey Chan (HKG) v  Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG)
 Nicol David (MAS) v Mayar Hany (EGY)
Samantha Cornett (CAN) v  Joshna Chinappa (IND)
 Nour El Tayeb (EGY) v Liu Tsz-Ling (HKG)
[WC] Nada Abo Alnaja (KSA) v  Camille Serme (FRA)
Laura Massaro avenged defeat to Nour El Sherbini in the group stages by retaining her PSA Dubai World Series Finals title Saturday night with a comprehensive 3-0 victory against the world number one.
England’s Massaro, 33, had contemplated retirement in 2015 and took an extended break from the game citing a punishing schedule and loss of form. But she returned and hasn’t looked back as the titles have flowed, including this year’s British Open and last year’s World Series Final triumph.
When these two opponents faced each other a year ago, Massaro lost a five-set thriller 3-2 to the young Egyptian, with the win seeing the 21-year-old replace the veteran as the world number one.
But having fought the urge to retire in recent years, Massaro revealed she will be sticking around as long as she’s winning titles.
“I feel as long as I’m in contention to win titles then I’m happy,” said the Great Yarmouth-born world number four.
“I keep saying every World Series event we play, I’m one of the older ones now. To be able to win the odd one and get to finals makes me feel I’m still in contention and win titles.
“If that’s still happening I’ll carry on playing. I’m not going to be around long if I’m not winning. I’m proud of my efforts, the training I’m putting in and getting back to back titles.”
Dubai is a special place for Massaro for a few reasons. Apart from winning two end-of-season titles, it’s also where she came to find solace when she was contemplating calling it a day.
“I came to Dubai when I felt I’d almost had enough,” she added.
“And it put everything in perspective and I realised I still had more to achieve. Luckily in the last two years I have achieved a decent amount and I’m enjoying my squash. As long as that’s the case that’s the main thing.”
Massaro is the first woman to reach two World Series Finals showpieces and her 11-8, 12-10, 11-5 win last night puts her level with Malaysia’s Nicol David with two wins – she lost the 2012/13 final to David.
The first two sets were close last night, with Massaro getting the edge in both, keeping calm and digging in when required, while El Sherbini seemed audibly frustrated with herself.
After going down 2-0 she knew she would have to win three sets on the bounce to stand any chance, but Massaro opened up a massive 8-3 lead, and El Sherbini had no riposte.
“I’m really happy with my performance overall. To get off in three is unbelievable,” added Massaro.
“To get back to back titles is unbelievable. I was thinking if I could get out of the group it would be really good.
“The match I was most nervous for was the first as you never know how you’re feeling. It’s been a long break since the last tournament and I was off colour a bit so that added to the nerves. I had a dream start with a 2-0 win against Nicol and I’ve just got better and better.
Massaro had complained of a cold after her semi-final triumph against Nouran Gohar on Friday, but said a good night’s sleep and some hotel room service had perked her up.
“I got to bed at 04:00 and I’ve been trying to get up to make breakfast at 10:00. Last night I just said I’d sleep until I wake up.
“I got up about 11.45 and ordered room service and felt so much better all day. I think I’ve been missing that extra hour or two so today I felt completely different.”
As for world number one El Sherbini, she had no complaints the better player one, while she also played down suggestions a wrist injury she suffered in her semi-final defeat of Camille Serme had any part to play in her defeat.
“No it was fine, I didn’t have any problem,” she said of the injury to her right wrist, which was again strapped up.
“Laura played amazing and was consistent the whole match. She was the better player today and deserved to win. It was a bad day. I played her two days ago and you need to change your plan so she won’t know the same things you do, that’s the challenging thing.”
An emotional Mohamed El Shorbagy saved his best for last as he won his first event of 2017 and his maiden PSA World Series Final with a fine 3-0 whitewash of England’s James Willstrop.
The 26-year-old Egyptian has endured a mixed year in 2017 during which he suffered a drastic slump in form – including defeats in the British Open final to Nick Matthew in March as well as exiting the Tournament of Champions to Gregory Gaultier in January at the semi-final stage.
That poor form had left him lacking the desire to compete, but he revealed he rediscovered his motivation just a few weeks ago, and he has since returned to something approaching his best form.
“To win this tournament is a dream. The way I was playing, I didn’t expect to play the whole way,” said El Shorbagy, who overcame 33-year-old Willstrop 12-10, 11-9, 11-8.
“It’s been quite an interesting season for me. I felt at one stage like I wanted to quit but then a few weeks ago I got my motivation back.
“Something clicked, I wanted to play. I felt like I wanted to win and be who I was again.
“I have let a lot of people down this season, my team, my mother, and this win is for her. We’ve been through a lot and she means a lot to me. This is the title that means the most to me in my career.”
There was a lot of support for the Alexandria native throughout the week at Dubai Opera, and there was plenty of noise and a few Egyptian flags flying in the audience as El Shorbagy lifted his trophy.
“I want to thank everyone who’s supported me here throughout the whole tournament, I’ve had some great support,” said the world number three, who also heaped praise on his opponent, who he said had inspired him since childhood.
“James, the way he came back from his injury, back into the top 10, and the final of this tournament. He’s been an inspiration for me from when I was growing up.
“And now, my first World Series Finals win is against him, and it’s such an honour. He’s one of the greats of the sport.”
Runner-up Willstrop, who felt he was returning to top form having beaten Karim Gawad in Friday’s semi-final, said: “To be in the final in this company is a great pleasure. I thought I could win and I gave it everything I could. If you’d have said I’d be in a final a week ago, I’d have been very happy with that. I loved every minute, apart from losing.”