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Hong Kong Squash Open prepares to crown new champions on final day

For the first time in a decade there will be a new women’s champion crowned today at the Cathay Pacific Sun Hung Kai Financial Hong Kong Squash Open.

The previously unthinkable happened Saturday when Malaysian star Nicol David, champion here from 2005 to 2015, was bundled out by the 18-year-old whirlwind Nouran Gohar, and the rising Egyptian star could hardly believe what she had just accomplished.

“It’s amazing,” Gohar said after her victory. “I will try to recover well and be fresh for the final. I am going to give it 100 per cent and we’ll see how I go.”

The plan over night was to grab a massage, eat well and sleep.

“I love to sleep,” said Gohar.

Just a few weeks ago, Gohar – ranked fifth in the world – was in Poland winning her second world junior title. At 3.30pm she’s in the first World Series Final of a career that seems destined to keep her at the top of the game for a very long time indeed.

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The great David herself looked shell-shocked after her 11-9,11-7,11-13,11-9 loss as she had just witnessed close up the power and sheer precision Gohar brings to the court.

Standing in way of history (some might say destiny) for Gohar is the 23-year-old American Amanda Sobhy, another player who on Saturday could hardly believe how far she had come in a tournament that at its start boasted every player ranked in the tip 10 of the women’s game.

What brought the eighth-ranked Sobhy down to earth – quickly – were the facts of real life. She’d never dreamed of making it past the quarter-finals and so was booked to fly out Saturday night. She needed to change her flight – and find a place to stay.

“I was only thinking of this event in terms of baby steps,” said Sobhy. “Now I just want to continue the momentum in the final.”

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At the start of last year Sobhy was still mixing her game with her studies at Harvard. She has since graduated with a degree in social anthropology but her immediate future surely is on the squash court, and she made light work of world number one Nour El Sherbini in their semi-final, winning 12-10,11-5,11-6.

“I think that academic pressure that Harvard exerts, mentally it has made me tougher and made me play a bit more intellectually on court. At least I like to think so,” laughed Sobhy.

On the men’s side of the draw, a familiar face has got his game back together. The 28-year-old Ramy Ashour, winner here in 2010 and 2012 and a former world number one, has battled injury over the past few seasons and all week has worried out loud about how his body will stand up to the rigours of the modern game.

Well, the current world number 12 looked in fine fettle while ending the dream run of local hope Max Lee Ho-yin 11-8, 11-9, 11-6 in their semi and he now faces fellow Egyptian Karim Abdel Gawad, ranked eighth in the world, in the final at 4.30pm.

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“My body is feeling good – everything is in place,” said Ashour. “I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

The 25-year-old Gawad, yet another Egyptian rising through the ranks, is also making his first World Series Final appearance. And another who seemed to scarcely be able to believe what was taking place.

“It just feels great,” said Gawad. “It’s a new feeling, my first final. I’m trying not to think too much about it and then I will just get out there and play.”