For the fifth year time in seven years, Egypt and England will contest the final of the CGG WSF Women’s World Team Squash Championship in China after the top two seeds survived semi-finals in the biennial World Squash Federation championship which went the full distance.
Defending champions Egypt, boasting a powerful squad featuring four players in the world top six, were the first to make the final after overcoming surprise opponents Hong Kong China, the fifth seeds who defeated No.3 seeds USA in the quarter-finals at the Xigang Gymnasium in the city of Dalian.
Second string Raneem El Welily, currently the world’s second best player, eased Egypt ahead following a straight games win over Hong Kong left-hander Joey Chan. But the favourites suffered an uncharacteristic setback – for the second time in 24 hours – when top string Nour El Sherbini, the world No.1, went down in five games to the top-ranked Hong Kong player Annie Au (both pictured above).
Au led 1/0 and 2/1 – then squandered a match ball in the fourth before finally closing out the match 11-7, 8-11, 11-9, 10-12, 11-3 to level the tie. Despite a brave fight in the decider, HK event debutant Lee Ka Yi, the fourth string ranked 57 in the world, was no match for Nour El Tayeb, going down to the world No.3 from Egypt 11-6, 11-5, 11-6 (both pictured below).
“Our number one player is always going to have a tricky match,” said Egypt coach Amr Shabana later. “But you have to give it to the Hong Kong federation – their system is amazing. I remember maybe 15 years ago, it was a surprise when a Hong Kong player did well – now it’s not a surprise! The Hong Kong federation and the national team should be very proud of themselves.
“Even their number four player today was playing against our number three player – and she was very promising. As the Egyptian national team, we have to be very proud to have got through this match.
“But we’re in the final now, so as far as I’m concerned, it’s job done for me. It was up to me not to lose before the final, and if we do win this tournament none of the credit is to me. We’re playing with the best players in the world and all I am trying to do is manage them and get the best out of them. Once they step out on court tomorrow it’s up to them. So far so good!”
The later semi-final bore a striking similarity to the first – when England took the lead, then saw surprise opponents France, the sixth seeds, strike back before the second seeds restored order with a straightforward win in the decider.
In only the fourth championship meeting between the two nations in 31 years, England moved ahead through Sarah-Jane Perry, who beat French opponent Coline Aumard 11-7, 7-11, 11-7, 11-6.
France then registered their first ever match win over England in the competition when world No.5 Camille Serme extended her 11-8 head-to-head record over Laura Massaro by beating the former world No.1 9-11, 11-8, 9-11, 11-8, 11-7 to level the tie.
With some 200 world ranking positions between them, it was perhaps no surprise that England’s experienced world No.10 Alison Waters needed only three games to overcome French opponent Melissa Alves (both pictured above) 11-6, 11-3, 12-10 to put England into the final.
The semi-final success extends England’s remarkable record of having been in every final, bar one, since 1981 – 37 years ago!
“It’s never straightforward,” explained England coach David Campion. “Especially when you’ve got players shooting at you like you saw at the end there with Melissa.
“Our team is vastly experienced – but there are a lot of top players here, so you’ve got to prepare for every match. You can’t expect to just walk into a final. We’ll push Egypt as hard as we can!”
There was drama in both the ties in the play-offs for the 5-8 places. Third seeds USA beat No.7 seeds New Zealand – third string Reeham Sedky being taken the full distance by the Kiwi No.2 Amanda Landers-Murphy before winning 11-6, 10-12, 8-11, 11-4, 11-8 in 57 minutes, then US No.1 Amanda Sobhy pulling through against Joelle King (both pictured in action below) when the NZ world No.4 was forced to retire hurt with a toe injury to her left foot.
“We had to regroup after yesterday’s loss – of course, we were disappointed,” admitted US coach Thierry Lincou. “We rested Reeham and today she was fresh and ready to go. We hoped she would inject some positivity into the group and she had good start – it was close but she did a good job
“We knew that the second match would be tough especially after Amanda’s match yesterday and Joelle’s win yesterday. So we knew that the first one would be important.
“So winning the first one enabled us to relax. We knew had the advantage in the first string.
“Then Amanda went out there very relaxed and played super squash.”
USA move progress to meet Malaysia in the playoff for fifth place for the second time in a row after the No.4 seeds triumphed over eighth seeds Canada. Playing in the event for the first time since 2014 after a two-year layoff following knee surgery, Low Wee Wern gave Malaysia the perfect start by fighting back from 2/0 and match-ball down to beat Danielle Letourneau (both pictured below) 6-11, 8-11, 13-11, 11-2, 11-5.
Team number one Nicol David clinched the win by beating Samantha Cornett 11-8, 11-2, 11-8 before 16-year-old Aifa Azman showed enormous promise by beating Canadian Hollie Naughton 11-6, 11-4 in the best-of-three dead rubber.
“It was good today – Wee Wern was great,” said Malaysian coach Peter Genever. “She played first and was two games and match-ball down and came back and won. Then Nicol was dominant and played at a really good tempo and played beautifully in the end.
“Then Aifa in the dead rubber was good – I told her, we still want to win 3/0 – and she played positively. She’s going to be really good for us in the future. Overall, it was a good result for us.
“Now we’ll play the US who beat us in the same match in the last edition – they came fifth and we came sixth – so maybe we can get a little revenge, but it’s going to be tough!”
 EGYPT bt  HONG KONG CHINA 2/1
Raneem El Welily bt Joey Chan 11-8, 11-8, 11-9 (24m)
Nour El Sherbini lost to Annie Au 7-11, 11-8, 9-11, 12-10, 3-11 (51m)
Nour El Tayeb bt Lee Ka Yi 11-6, 11-5, 11-6 (21m)
 ENGLAND bt  FRANCE 2/1
Sarah-Jane Perry bt Coline Aumard 11-7, 7-11, 11-7, 11-6 (41m)
Laura Massaro lost to Camille Serme 11-9, 8-11, 11-9, 8-11, 7-11 (52m)
Alison Waters bt Melissa Alves 11-6, 11-3, 12-10 (25m)