Defending champions Nour El Sherbini and Ali Farag got their 2021-22 PSA World Championships Cairo campaigns off to winning starts with respective victories over Spain’s Cristina Gomez and Mexico’s Leonel Cardenas at the Club S Allegria in Egypt.
The bottom half of the draws took to the court today and El Sherbini, on her first appearance since the 2022 Black Ball Open in March, marked her return in imperious form as she adapted quickly to the difficult outdoor court conditions to win 11-4, 11-5, 11-4.
The World No.2 has been sidelined with injury since retiring during the Black Ball Open final against Nouran Gohar two months ago, but she looked to have put those woes behind her as she targets a sixth PSA World Championship crown.
“It feels good, I am really happy to be back. It was a good first match for me and I am so excited for this week,” said El Sherbini afterwards, who has featured in the last six finals of the sport’s biggest event.
“I am trying to have no nerves this week, putting all the negative thoughts out of my mind. I am feeling good, my body is good, physically way better than three months [ago]. I am just happy with the way I am playing now. No pressure, no stress, just try to relax and play the best squash I can this week.”
She will face wildcard Kenzy Ayman in the second round after she caused one of the upsets of the day against England’s World No.29 Jasmine Hutton on the traditional courts, recording a 3-0 victory, with all three of those games going to a tie-break.
“It’s my first time playing in a big PSA event, my first Worlds,” said World No.79 Ayman afterwards. “I took a lot of experience from my event in Bermuda, I won it. It showed me how I can learn to play like Raneem El Welily and Hania El Hammamy, like a professional squash player. I’m so excited because I get to play Nour El Sherbini, on the glass.”
Elsewhere, World No.3 Hania El Hammamy also continued the good form of the Egyptian players on home turf as she overcame Sana Ibrahim in straight-games to march into the last 32.
The reigning British Open champion was in dominant form to halt Ibrahim’s attacking style of play and get her title challenge off the mark in comfortable fashion.
“It’s good to be back at the World Championships. What an opportunity for any player to be playing in such a huge tournament,” El Hammamy said. “First round, playing against Sana, she is very tricky, very dangerous and she likes to attack a lot. I had to be sharp and to control the nerves to get through the first round.
“I know Sana, we both played a lot of juniors together, so I knew what to expect. She is very flexible and her swing flows a lot. You can wait for a drive and then you find a boast. You have to be sharp and stay alert in the middle of the court.”
El Hammamy will face Japan’s Satomi Watanabe in the next round after she stunned England’s World No.23 Lucy Turmel on the traditional courts to advance.
Watanabe, who secured her place at the sport’s biggest tournament after winning the University of Birmingham Open PSA Challenger event, showed her credentials as she came from one game down to win 12-14, 13-11, 11-6, 14-12 in a mammoth 73 minutes.
“It was a really, really tough match, both physically and mentally,” said Watanabe afterwards. “When so many games go to a tie-break, I was pleased to get through those and win today. I’m really looking forward to the match against Hania. She’s a really good player.”
In the men’s draw, Farag, who defeated Mohamed ElShorbagy in last season’s final, got off to the ideal start with an 11-8, 11-5, 11-8 victory over Mexico’s World No.37 Cardenas on the glass court.
The pair had never met on Tour previously, but the Mexican had moved inside the top 40 thanks to a good run at the Manchester Open in April, and he proved no fool on court in the opening round of the World Championships, as he took an early lead in the opening game.
However, Farag was able to come from 7-3 down to win it 11-8, and he held that momentum throughout the rest of the contest, winning in three to book his place in the second round in Cairo, where he will face another Mexican in Cesar Salazar after he came from two games down on the traditional courts.
“First rounds are always tricky, especially if you are playing at a new venue, and if it is outdoors because you have to adapt to the conditions of the court,” Farag explained.
“Every player now moves really well but they all have holes in their movement somehow, so you try to look at them. I watched him play in Manchester and he played brilliantly well, so I watched with a lot of focus, on how I wanted to play today.
“The danger I always myself. If I feel alright, I have the belief that I can beat anyone on my day. I hope I can put six of those performances in a row.”
Also in the men’s draw today, World No.4 Mostafa Asal also secured his place in the last 32 courtesy of an 11-7, 11-5, 11-6 victory over England’s Adrian Waller in the final glass court match of the night.
Asal, who was forced to withdraw from last week’s J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions in New York due to a positive COVID test, battled through to win in 38 minutes and set up a second-round encounter with former World No.3 Omar Mosaad.
“I love playing here. I love playing in front of this crowd, my friends, my family, so thank you for coming, supporting me on the first day, the first round. I will arrive at my goal, and drive at the trophy,” Asal said to the crowd after the match.
“I love how the kids are reacting to me. Almost seven years to get on his court. I played lots of juniors, lots of PSA tournaments to get here. To be honest, it is hard but if you are committed then you will get here.”
The longest men’s match of the day came from Raphael Kandra against Colombia’s Miguel Rodriguez, as the German held off a comeback from the 2018 British Open winner in 70 minutes.
Kandra will face Switzerland’s Nicolas Mueller in the last 32 after he swept past Japan’s Ryosei Kobayashi in 24 minutes.