Squash: Women’s squash is stronger than ever - Willstrop

Nicol David.

Nicol David.

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Pontefract’s world number three James Willstrop gives the inside track on the world of squash.

The first item on the agenda for this column in the new year is to reflect on the Women’s World Open Championships.

It was a late finish for the girls, the final being played on December 21 and the event certainly didn’t disappoint.

The women’s tour, the WSA, has an increasingly-competitive look about it. Standing at the top of the list is one of the game’s all-time great players and possibly its most valuable asset in Nicol David.

She is a celebrity in her home country, Malaysia, and won her seventh world title in the Cayman Islands.

The challenges to David are coming thicker and faster than ever before: Raneem el Weleily is a seriously good squash player who exhibits a typically-fluid Egyptian style and behind her is an exciting team of younger Egyptian compatriots – Nour El Sherbini and Nour El Tayeb are doing damage to the pecking order.

In addition, Omneya Abdel Kawy has thundered back into form just in time to help Egypt to take the World Team title last year.

Laura Massaro, ranked three on the world list, leads the English charge at present and she reached the final in Grand Cayman, beating Weleily in a tie-break in the deciding game of their semi-final.

Harrogate’s Jenny Duncalf has hit form recently and she lost to David in the semis after beating team-mate Alison Waters in the quarters.

Waters has herself enjoyed a positive period of rejuvenation since enduring a year of nasty injury problems.

From the east the threats come from Hong Kong’s Annie Au and David’s Malaysian compatriot Low Wee Wern.

Joelle King, from New Zealand, is winning tournaments and France’s Camille Serme is on an upward curve. More experienced campaigners Rachael and Natalie Grinham, from Australia, and Ireland’s Madeleine Perry are continuing to maintain their level.

All this depth is making for a very interesting women’s tour.

Both the women and men were straight back in action last week for the World Series Finals at the Queen’s club in London. David retained her title beating Massaro 3-0 in the final.

It was the second year in a row that Sky (and this year Eurosport) televised the semis and finals live. Notably Massaro did notch up a win over David in the group stages, though.

I lost in the best-of-three semi-final 2-1 to Amr Shabana, who beat Sheffield’s Nick Matthew 3-1 to win the title.