By Howard Harding
World number two Laura Massaro fought off a courageous attack by teenage Egyptian giant-killer Nour El Sherbini in Sunday’s final of the Penang CIMB Women’s World Squash Championship in Malaysia to become the first Englishwoman to win the world title for 15 years.
The 30-year-old from Preston’s place in squash history is also assured as the first Englishwoman to hold both the British Open and World Championship titles simultaneously. Furthermore, following compatriot Nick Matthew’s triumph in the men’s championship in November, England can now boast both men’s and women’s world squash champions for the first time.
Massaro came into the climax of the Women’s Squash Association (WSA) event at the SPICE Arena in Penang as the strong favourite after unseeded El Sherbini stunned Malaysian superstar Nicol David, the world No1 from Penang, in the semi-finals.
But the Lancashire lass had to work extra hard before overcoming a resilient El Sherbini 11-7, 9-11, 11-6, 5-11, 11-9, with the final point coming from a stroke.
Both players started on a nervous note, testing the court — but it was Massaro who managed to steal ahead to put herself in a comfortable position.
El Sherbini, the three-time world junior champion from Alexandria and the youngest player ever to reach the world final, bounced back to take the second game in style.
Massaro then went on to take the third, only for Sherbini to come back firing in the fourth, including taking seven straight points as the match went to a fifth game once again.
The young Egyptian had the early advantage in the decider, holding 4-0 and 6-2 leads – but the experienced Massaro demonstrated her fighting spirit and determination to pull level at eight-all.
She then had the advantage at 10-9, before finally earning the championship point as El Sherbini conceded a stroke.
The triumph makes Massaro only the third Englishwoman to lift the world title – since Martine le Moignan in 1989 and Cassie Jackman in 1999.
“To be honest I was really nervous,” admitted the jubilant champion after the match. “I’ve never really felt this nervous even though I made the final of the 2012 worlds. It was probably because I didn’t want the opportunity to slip away.
“I think knowing that I had to play Sherbini instead of Nicol in the final threw me off my game and it made me a lot more nervous because it was a really good opportunity for me.
“But it’s been a really amazing win — and it’s massive to have both the World and British Open titles.
“As for celebrations, unfortunately I have an early flight out so it’ll just be dinner with the team and probably a few days off when I get back home,” added Massaro.
Meanwhile El Sherbini, who was thrilled just to be in the final, admitted that she was just as nervous and had too many things running through her mind before the match.
“It’s just so close isn’t it? But I was just too nervous. I was thinking a lot before the match and I just didn’t have that focus,” said the teenager who missed out on the opportunity to become the only player in history to hold both the junior and senior world titles simultaneously.
WSA President Kasey Brown was delighted with the first staging of the Association’s premier championship in Penang: “The final was a fitting climax to the event,” said the world No14 from Australia. “High-quality and entertaining squash in front of a packed and vocal crowd, which entirely reflects the work of the organising committee.
“With only a couple of months to prepare, Thomas Chan and his team have done an amazing job. Not only did they do Penang and Malaysia proud, they also left an impression on all the players that will not be forgotten anytime soon.”