Sarah Fitz-Gerald : Gohar’s perfect platform

By RJ Mitchell

Sarah-Fitz-Gerald believes that Nouran Gohar’s triumph at the CIB PSA World Tour Finals has given her the perfect platform for a bid to land her first ever World Championship crown.

The 23-year-old overcame compatriot, and defending champion, Hania El Hammamy in four tight games to land her first ever World Tour Finals title on Sunday, at the Mall of Arabia, in front of an enthralled audience, having impressively completed her tournament schedule unbeaten.

Gohar’s destructive drives and vicious kill shots were at their lethal best during a tournament in which, during the pool stages, she also got the better of World No.1 Nour El Sherbini for the first time since 2019, when she also defeated her fellow Egyptian during a group encounter at the 2018-2019 World Tour Finals.

Yet Fitz-Gerald, the legendary winner of five world titles and two British Opens, reckons that there were plenty of positives to take from the Mall of Arabia for runner-up El Hammamy and beaten semi-finalists Camille Serme and Joelle King.

The Aussie squash icon also believes that top-ranked El Sherbini will still be the player to beat in Chicago when the World Championships get under way in just later this month.

“I always thought the final would be a good match as they (Gohar and El Hammamy) had both played well throughout the tournament and if anything, I thought Hania may have shaded it but well done to Nouran for shutting her out and grabbing the prize.

“Perhaps Nouran had something to prove after the whole Covid breach thing (at El Gouna), maybe that put some real fire in her. So, yes it really helps Gohar to have this win and the momentum of having gone the whole tournament without a defeat.

Nouran Gohar with the CIB PSA World Tour Finals 2020-2021 trophy

“That does give her a good platform for the Worlds but again there are a lot of the girls who will have taken away positives from the World Tour Finals in that respect.”

Taking an overview of the World Tour Finals, Fitz-Gerald says that any predictions about how the event may impact going into the World Championships must be qualified by the fact the majority of that matches were best of three games.

“What I will say is that with the pool matches being best of three games it is a different mindset to best of five,” the Aussie explained.

“A lot of these players have so much experience and [Nour] El Sherbini has been there before so she knows what it is about having won World Championships and British Opens multiple times, so overall I would expect the girls to have a bit of a reset for the Worlds.

“You look at the semi and Camille [Serme] lost 14-12 in the third to Hania and over five games these matches can go any way. I would still say El Sherbini is the one to beat for the Worlds, but I think you must give Hania credit for her performances in making the final and it makes it very interesting between these three Egyptian girls plus Camille was so close with Hania that you can never rule her out and Joelle King showed well in making the semis.

“So, every player will have taken something from the World Tour Finals. The way I look at it is that if you are not walking away from a match and taking something away, learning from it and analysing it then how do you expect to improve?

“So, you must take something away whether that is a positive thing or taking a negative and turning it into a positive and a motivator.

“But in every tournament, you also have to take into account that everyone can have a shocker, or a match where you should have won in three, but you end up scratching it out in five and that then takes the edge off you the next day. These things happen.”

With the countdown to Chicago now firmly on, the Aussie great, who won her five World titles between 1996 and 2002, says that the competitive game time enjoyed by the eight leading ladies at the Mall of Arabia means the 2021 World Champion is most likely to emerge from that grouping.

Fitz-Gerald with the World Championship trophy in 2001

“Match play, with all the ups and downs we have had over the last year or so, is hugely important. Finding your rhythm, getting those extra matches under your belt, and allowing you to check out your fitness, assess where your skills are at and how your head is when the pressure is on, is massive,” she said.

“Maybe you are missing a shot during this tournament that you then go away and work on and all that detail you can take from match play is really important as you move on to the next tournament especially if it is a World Championships.

“I know for me that the more I played the better I felt. If I had too long between events, well I became a bit anxious. Each to their own but these girls are so, so fit and they need to play and have energy to burn and its good for them to have had the World Tour Finals under their belt and no doubt about it, it’s an advantage over the girls who didn’t make it to Cairo.”

As she looked forward to the final furlong of the current campaign which includes both of the game’s two major titles, there was no doubting the anticipation building in one of the women’s games all-time greats.

“It’s pretty amazing. I hope that the British Open still means as much as it did to me. There are other events that go above and beyond it in prize money levels and in set up and are played in front of Pyramids or wherever that may be, but the British Open title for me, along with the World Championships, were always the two major tournaments that were above the rest,” said Fitz-Gerald.

“In terms of the World Championships, well it doesn’t matter where it is held and in what sport, if you are World Champion people know what that means and then the British Open has all the history and tradition. So, it’s just great news we have these bringing the curtain down on the season.”