What a fantastic season of squash it has been. I have never seen such active competition for the world number one spot. With players earning the one spot for the first time in their careers, players having to relinquish their throne, and old giants rising right back to the top.
It’s exciting. But not only does it keep the squash world intrigued, it reflects the quality and level of competition at the top of our sport.
So as the season draws to a close and all World Series tournaments over, the best of the best are Dubai-bound for their final battles at the Dubai World Series Finals.
The tournament is to be held on the iconic all-glass court in the majestic Dubai Opera House. This brand-new venue has a maximum capacity of 2,000 spectators and is located in the heart of downtown Dubai.
The perfect finale you could say, the largest players of the sport fighting it out at one of the most spectacular venues of the year? But the real question is, who are going to be crowned World Series Finals champions? Who will hit the highest notes at the Opera House?
England has plenty of chances going into the WSF with Nick Matthew and James Willstrop for the men and with Laura Massaro, Alison Waters and Sarah Jane Perry for the ladies.
The format played in WSF is similar to how the ATP finals are played. The event consists of two groups and everyone plays each other in their group best of three games. The top two prevail to the semi-finals and the winners make the final, both semi and final are best of five games.
This format proves the best option as it encourages fast-paced, exciting matches and draws the game slightly away from the usual attritional battles. This also reduces the chance of injury after the long season, as players could possibly have to play five matches against top eight, world-class level players.
Also the best of three games brings a whole other dimension to the game with explosive rallies and short, sharp, exciting contests which is great to watch. This could also favor a couple of the more experienced England players such as Matthew and Willstrop.
Nick goes into the event with huge claims after making two World Series finals (British Open and US Open) this year and winning both the Canary Wharf Classic and the AJ Bell British Grand Prix.
Matthew has also played at least three fewer tournaments than the other competitors this year. The fewer matches and the best of three formats in the group stages could really play into Matthew’s hands I believe and I am sure The Wolf will be as hungry as ever to win this event. After all, it must be the only trophy he doesn’t have in his cabinet.
Willstrop also holds serious claims after a superb season. He has blessed all squash lovers by getting himself right back to the top of the game where he rightfully belongs, by playing the attractive squash for which he is renowned.
Willstrop, as a wildcard, made the Final of the Netsuite Open in San Francisco to start his season off with a bang. He then went on to make the Finals of the AJ Bell British Grand Prix after a phenomenal 3-2 win over current world number 1 Gregory Gaultier. So I am sure James will be going to Dubai with every intention of picking up the trophy, like Matthew, for the first time!
Leading the ladies charge is defending WSF Champion Laura Massaro, who has had yet another fantastic season. Massaro started the season winning both the China Open and Netsuite Open consecutively and recently winning the British Open title for the second time in her career beating surprise fellow compatriot Sarah Jane Perry in the final.
Massaro has a tough group containing compatriot Sarah Jane Perry, Nicol David (former world number one for eight years) and current world number 1 Nour el Sherbini. But knowing Laura well she always seems to thrive under pressure and tough draws!
The other two English ladies, Alison and SJ, go to Dubai also with chances of going for the title. Both ladies had some great results through out the season. Notably SJ rose to her highest world ranking of 7 and made her first World Series final in Hull at the British Open taking down Nicol David in the semi finals!
So with Dubai just around the corner I feel English hopes should be high with five of our best competing for a slice of the 160,000 dollars on offer in both the men’s and women’s competitions. I certainly have my fingers crossed for two English WSF champions. However, I have been called the grand optimist before!
The competition from around the globe that will be present in Dubai cannot be underestimated. After all everyone involved with the WSF has had a great season and going into the weekend you would have to say Gregory Gaultier of France goes into the event the bookies odds on favorite. Gaultier will be boarding the plane to Dubai on a 27 match unbeaten run after wining his last six events on the PSA World Tour. Not to mention he won this event last year aswell!
Other big threats in the men’s event are Karim Abdel Gawad, the current world champion who picked up the world number 1 spot for the first time this year and has been playing some extraordinary squash.
Also, former world No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy is a huge danger if firing on all cylinders after dominating the PSA for the past couple years and is certainly due a big win. However, if I was a betting man, which I am not, I think it would be very hard to go against the French General for this year’s title.
In the ladies event, however, I think it is almost impossible to call an outright winner. All the women have beaten each other through out what has been a great season. With all the top players fluctuating in ranking positions.
The Egyptian girls are very classy and talented customers with brilliant speed and endless outright winners. Then the European girls are strong, methodical and really bring the guts to the party and then there is Nicol David who has been world class for as long as I can remember!
However, this is all speculation and only time will reveal the winners out in Dubai. But the one thing I can be certain on is that there will be some unbelievable squash on show and it is not to be missed.
I’m going to predict a Gaultier-Massaro double with Matthew and Gohar finalists! But, like I said, I am no betting man…