Youngest world squash champion Nour El Sherbini shows maturity beyond her tender years as she gears up for Hong Kong Open
The 20-year-old Egyptian starts her campaign by defeating compatriot Heba El Torky in first-round clash, while local men’s hope Yip Tsz-fung, ranked 50, downs world number five Miguel Angel Rodriguez of Colombia in upset victory
Nour El Sherbini has arrived for the Cathay Pacific Sun Hung Kai Financial Hong Kong Squash Open looking pretty chilled for someone who has the world at her feet.
As the game’s youngest-ever world champion, at 20, and with the number one ranking safely in her keeping, the Egyptian star said, simply, that the plan was to kick-start her 2016-17 season by doing what she does best – hitting that little black ball.
She was all over the court doing just that against compatriot Heba El Torky in their first-round clash on Tuesday evening, showing off the weapons in her arsenal – and even brushing off an ankle scare after a fall in the second set – before winning 11-8, 11-4, 11-8.
“I just can’t wait to get out there and play,” said Sherbini. “That is when I am most comfortable and when I have the most fun. It’s been a great year for me so far. Incredible really.
“It is great to come to Hong Kong for the first time but all I really want to do is win this tournament. I know it will be tough with the field we have here and especially because of Nicol.”
That would be Nicol David, of course, the greatest player the women’s game has seen, winner of eight world titles, and gunning for her 11th straight victory here.
The 32-year-old Malaysian champion – whose own campaign starts on Wednesday – looms large on the horizon if Sherbini is to take the title at the first time of asking.
Sherbini has the form and the talent needed to dethrone the queen and the brutal reality is that she has time on her side as well.
Consider that when David won her first title in Hong Kong back in 2005 – the year the World Cup was played here – Sherbini had only just turned 10 years old.
“That sounds crazy but it’s true,” said Sherbini. “I was still in primary school. But I have grown up fast, I think, and I have always been interested in coming to Hong Kong because this tournament has so much history.
"Nicol is a great champion and will always be tough to beat but I really want to win here.”
Men’s world number one Mohamed El Shorbagy was also in action on Tuesday, opening his own title defence with a gritty 11-8, 12-10, 7-11, 11-8 win over England’s Chris Simpson.
After a stunning season that saw the 25-year-old capture six out of the game’s seven World Series titles, Shorbagy took a complete break from playing – and from the world, apparently – at his home in the English coastal city of Bristol. A great place to do exactly that.
He says he has arrived raring to go.
— Hong Kong Squash (@HKsquash) August 22, 2016
“It was a great season but it was a tough one,” he said. “I’ve recharged, had a month off training and didn’t do much, but I feel like I’ve had a good preparation.
"There’s a great field here and we will all push each other as the season begins.”
Shorbagy and Sherbini are part of a generation of Egyptians who are dominating the sport – there are six from the country in the top-10 men’s ranks, and four in the women’s.
“Every country seems to have had its time dominating the sport,” said Shorbagy.
“The Australians had their time, then it was the Pakistanis and now it looks like it is Egypt’s turn with me and Nour.
"One day it will end and another country will take over but we will try to hold on to that for as long as we can.
“It’s been great for the game back home and we know everyone will be watching us here. We are here to do them proud.”
The upset of the opening day came from local hope Yip Tsz-fung, ranked 50 in the world, as he slugged it out against world number five, Miguel Angel Rodriguez of Colombia, before winning 13-11,10-12, 2-11,11-3, 11-6.
“I’ve been working hard on my fitness and it looks like it is working,” said the 22-year-old. “This win gives me a boost. I take it as a start and just hope things continue to get better and better.”
Hong Kong’s Annie Au Wing-chi joined Yip in the second round after knocking out local qualifier Liu Tsz-ling, 9-11, 11-6, 11-5, 11-6.
For her troubles, the 27-year-old world number 10 won herself a second-round match-up with none other than Sherbini.
“I’ve played her a few times,” said the 27-year-old. “A few years ago when she was really young I beat her but not so much more recently.
"She just has a great all-round game. But I’ll prepare and focus on what I can do not what she can do – and I will just do my best.”