The men’s and women’s finals of the U.S. Open Squash Championships both represent youth v. experience – each with a 12-year age difference between the pairs.
However, there is a special twist to the men’s final between 35-year-old legend Amr Shabana, who is the tournament’s No. 5 seed, and 23-year-old Mohamed Elshorbagy because the younger Elshorbagy became the world No.1 player for the first time in his career when he defeated Greg Gaultier in the Friday semifinals. Shabana currently holds an 8-2 head-to-head record against Elshorbagy, but he notes emphatically that some of the wins came early in his fellow Egyptian’s career.
Shabana is seeking his third U.S. Open title after winning in 2006 and 2011. The 2011 win was played the inaugural year that the tournament was held at Drexel University and was the precursor of Shabana’s semifinal matchup on Friday against world No. 2 Nick Matthew. On both occasions Shabana emerged victorious over his British counterpart.
On the distaff side, 31-year-old world No. 1 Nicol David will play 18-year-old Nour El Sherbini, who will celebrate her 19th birthday on November 1. David and El Sherbini have battled twice in 2014 splitting the wins. El Sherbini is eager for her first major championship while David is seeking top honors for the third time at the U.S. Open, which would be her 76th WSA title overall.
Currently the world No. 5 Shabana is the senior statesman of the PSA tour. Having turned pro at age 15, he has been travelling the globe nonstop for 20 years and intends to play as long as he is healthy with no retirement date on his horizon.
Shabana recently moved from Egypt to Canada because he decided that Toronto would be a great city for his wife, Najla, and three children, ages 7,6, and 2, to live while he continues his peripatetic lifestyle of travel 20-25 weeks annually.
Squash is second only to soccer in popularity in Egypt, and 12 Egyptians qualified in the main draws of the U.S. Open with three successfully reaching the finals in what Shabana referred to as the “Egyptian stronghold” on both the men’s and women’s tours today. He said the preceding generations of players have been dominated by Pakistanis, English, and Australians before the Egyptians came of age.
The youthful El Sherbini is surrounded by her fellow Egyptian players who support each other on tour. She is the most recent Egyptian addition to the world top 10 rankings. Graduating from high school in 2014, she will soon enter a four-year university program in Egypt studying business and media management – just as Shabana studied advertising and public relations, and Elshorbagy majored in business. It is not an option in Egypt for anyone to bypass college, making the rapid ascent of the three finalists to the top of the squash rankings even more remarkable.
El Sherbini is currently the third of three Egyptian women in the world top 10 rankings with her ranking set to soar by having reached the US. Open finals. She has previously been ranked as high as world No. 4. Her childhood friend and fellow junior competitor, Nour El Tayeb, is three years her senior and ranked one spot ahead of El Sherbini. The pair are roommates on tour and inseparable as friends.
“When I was playing Laura Massaro and had lost the second and third games badly, Raneem and Omar shouted advice to me, which helped me,” said El Sherbini, referring to world No. 3 Raneem El Welily and Omar El Borolossy. the Egyptian national coach, who were watching her five-game match which lasted 71 minutes.
Based on the results through the first four rounds of the U.S. Open, the jury is still out as to whether youth or experience will emerge victorious on Saturday. El Shorbagy has not lost a game as he has marched through the draw; David has lost only two games; Shabana has lost three games; and El Sherbini has lost four games.
There is only one result that is certain: at least one Egyptian player will hoist a trophy whether it is a newly crowned men’s champion or a three-time winner.