By Howard Harding
Egyptian teenager Nour El-Sherbini produced a stunning upset in Saturday’s semifinals of the Penang CIMB Women’s World Squash Championship in Malaysia by beating home heroine Nicol David, the world number one and seven-time champion, to become the first unseeded player to reach the premier Women’s Squash Association (WSA) event final in more than 20 years.
El-Sherbini, the 18-year-old world No27 from Alexandria who dispatched Australian Kasey Brown, England’s Alison Waters and New Zealander Joelle King – the 12th, 4th and 5th seeds, respectively – to make the semis, silenced the home crowd at the SPICE Arena in Penang with the 4-11, 11-9, 11-6, 2-11, 11-9 win in 61 minutes.
No one would have predicted such a scoreline as David was in typical sublime fashion, taking the first game in style.
But El-Sherbini took the second, and alarm bells rang as the 30-year-old Penang superstar – bidding to extend her record to eight titles – lost the third.
The Penangite, egged on by a 2,000 strong crowd, rallied to take the fourth and force a decider.
But the Egyptian underdog, already the youngest ever semi-finalist, held her nerve from 9-6 and 10-9 up to seal a historic win.
El-Sherbini will be only the second ever Egyptian, since Omneya Abdel Kawy in 2010, to make the world championship final.
“I’m just so happy – I never thought I could have won this match,” said the jubilant Egyptian teenager. “I always lose to Nicol 3-0 and it was never easy getting points off her. But I thought since I had nothing to lose, I just went out to enjoy my game.”
El-Sherbini, a three-time world junior champion, said she felt bad for “beating Nicol in front of her home crowd. But I think the pressure was on her.” El Sherbini is now in her sixth WSA World Tour final, but her first for more than a year.
Defending champion and top seed David admitted that El-Sherbini deserved the win.
“It’s never easy losing in front of the fans here, but it was a bit of an up and down game for me and I just lacked the focus,” David said. “I just wasn’t as sharp in the end but I did my best and gave it everything I could but it just wasn’t my day. Fair play to Sherbini, she really deserved to win so all the best to her in the final.”
There will be no all-Egyptian final, however, as England’s world No2 Laura Massaro had earlier worn out Raneem El Welily, the world No3 from Cairo, 11-9, 11-7, 6-11, 11-7 in the other semi-final.
Massaro, the No2 seed from Preston in Lancashire, is marking her second successive appearance in the world fina – and the 29th Tour final of her career.
“Against Raneem it was more tough mentally because I didn’t know whether she was going to hit a nick or the tin,” said Massaro, the reigning British Open champion. “But I felt that I was better physically and it definitely feels great to be in the final once more.”
The final will represent only the second ever meeting between Massaro and El-Sherbini – the Englishwoman having triumphed in their only earlier clash, in the Malaysian Open quarter-finals in September 2012.