A look through the start of 2017-2018

The World Team Championship – which will take place from November 27th to December 3rd in Marseille – is quickly approaching. On the eve of the Qatar Classic, we look back into what's been happening on the men's tour since the beginning of the season, as well as the current form of the top players, country by country.

By Jérôme Elhaïk

EGYPTE FIRING ON ALL CYLINDERS

Grégory Gaultier is still world number 1, thanks to his terrific run in the first semester of 2017. But with the “French General” missing the last few weeks of action because of a foot injury, Egyptian players have more than stolen the spotlight since the beginning of the season: the final of the four major tournaments (World Series and $100,000) were all-Egyptian affairs! The two most dominant figures have been Ali Farag and Mohamed El Shorbagy. The former clinched his first World Series title at the US Open at the expense of his compatriot, who later got his revenge at St George's Hill. Hungrier than ever after a disappointing 2016-2017 season, El Shorbagy won 12 of the 13 matches he played, including 8 in straight games. Victorious in China at the beginning of September, Ramy Ashour did not feature since then and there is obvious doubt over his presence in Marseille.

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Mohamed El Shorbagy (in blue) and Ali Farag have shared the headlines since the start of the season (Photo credit: Channel VAS)

Odds that Omar Mosaad could get picked up would have been high a few weeks ago. The 'Hammer of Thor' dropped from 3rd to 30th in the world rankings in less than a year - mainly because of personal issues – but he made a stunning comeback at the US Open, crashing into the semi-finals. Mosaad also has experience in the event, having featured in the 2013 WTC. So did Tarek Momen, who hasn't had a great start of 2017-2018 though (3 wins/3 losses). Results have also been mixed for other Egyptian top 10 players, such as Karim Abdel Gawad (runner-up in San Francisco but ousted in the first round at the US Open), Fares Dessouky and Marwan El Shorbagy, who has been struggling to find the form which pushed him to the world top 5 last season. Among the possible surprises, there are Mohamed Abouelghar (winner of the Macau Open) and Mazen Hesham, on his way to his best after an injury. The “Black Falcon” is one of the players who's played the most matches on the tour since the start of the season.

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Can fast improving Mohamed Abouelghar clinch a spot in the Egyptian squad? (Photo credit: US Open Squash) 

THE OLD GUARD STILL STANDS

No team has more experience than England: Nick Matthew, James Willstrop and Daryl Selby won a total of 7 WTCs collectively. They may be well into their thirties but their results this season show they are still very competitive at the top. Beaten by Diego Elias in San Francisco, Matthew showed convincing form at the US Open, even during his loss in the semis against Mohamed El Shorbagy. Willstrop exited in the first round in Philadelphia, but before that he'd been crowned European champion beating Grégory Gaultier, and had match balls against El Shorbagy in San Francisco. Beaten by quality opponents in all the tournaments he played (Ashour, El Shorbagy and Matthew), Selby clinched a major win at the US Open over Tarek Momen, the same player he beat in the 2013 WTC final in Mulhouse. The fourth spot will be fiercely contested between four players, very close in the world rankings: Tom Richards, Adrian Waller, Chris Simpson and Declan James. Waller may have a small edge after beating James and Simpson en route to his title in Amsterdam, but the man from Guernsey is progressively getting back to his best after his hip surgery.

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Nick Matthew (at the front) and Daryl Selby met in the quarters at the US Open (Photo credit: US Open Squash)

FRANCE'S STARS WANT TO PUT TROUBLE BEHIND THEM

A few months ago, France came out victorious at the European Championship, after a very convincing final against England. With Grégory Gaultier in the middle of an extraordinary unbeaten streak and Mathieu Castagnet putting his injury problems behind him, Les Bleus very much looked like a main contender for the World Team title. But things have looked a little less bright since then. Gaultier is yet to play on the PSA World Tour in 2017-2018 due to a foot injury, while Castagnet has relapsed a couple of times. However, the most recent news are encouraging. The “French General” was back last weekend in French League, and Castagnet's calf seemed to hold at the US Open. France's number 3 also played a few league matches in the last few days (in France, Germany and England). We'll have a close eye on their performance in the Qatar Classic – which starts this weekend – as well as in Hong Kong later. Despite a setback in San Francisco (loss in qualies against Al Tamimi), Grégoire Marche has had a positive start of 2017-2018, with a third consecutive title in Nantes, which took him to a highest world ranking of 21, and a significant win over Cuskelly at the US Open.

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If Mathieu Castagnet (on the left) and Grégory Gaultier are 100% fit then anything is possible for France (Photo credit: Fédération Française de Squash)

THE OTHERS

--- The next World Series tournaments will be a good indicator of Australia's number 1 and 2's form: Cameron Pilley has been busy with the birth of his first child, while Ryan Cuskelly hasn't won many matches this season. Meanwhile, other players (Alexander, Hedrick, Larkin) had good results in smaller tournaments. --- Even if he was beaten twice by Farag and by Mosaad at the US Open, NZ number 1 Paul Coll confirmed his rise in the last few weeks, with wins over two other Egyptians - Fares Dessouky and Karim Abdel Gawad. --- All the Scottish players - Alan Clyne, Greg Lobban, Douglas Kempsell – had good results lately. If they carry this momentum through to WTC, their team can achieve their top 8 goal. --- In the light of Saurav Ghosal's resurgence (semi-finalist at St George's Hill after beating Marwan El Shorbagy and Abouelghar), India can also aim high, his teammates (Sandhu, Malhotra) also having been in good form recently. --- The trend is opposite for Hong Kong. Their number 1 Max Lee hasn't won many matches so far, and Tsz Fung Yip is yet to confirm a promising 2016-2017 season. Although he didn't shine in major tournaments, Leo Au won two $25,000 titles.

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After a complicated season, India's Saurav Ghosal came back on the spotlight last week at St George's Hill (Photo credit: PSA World Tour)

It's difficult to judge Simon Roesner's start of the season. The German number 1 has played very few matches and was defeated by Mohamed El Shorbagy at the US Open. But Raphael Kandra displayed some nice form, with several wins over higher ranked players (Ali Fathi, Richards, Adnan). --- Spanish number 1 Borja Golan has only played two matches this season (lost against Matthew and Shorbagy), unlike his younger teammates (Pajares, Lopez, Jaume), who have had good results in smaller tournaments these past few weeks.

 


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