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We have seen the future…

And more final thoughts on ToC 2015.

This year’s ToC has to rank among the best ever. What an amazing week of squash! We saw fantastic matches—major upsets and brilliant five-game slugfests—and the full spectrum of world-class squash was on display: young talents on the rise, hungry midcareer players pushing themselves to reach a higher level, and remarkably resilient veterans who seem to have lost nothing to age.

Looking back, what’s really striking is that there were no disappointing matches, no duds that didn’t live up to expectations. With the notable exception of superstar Nicol David, there isn’t a player in the tournament who won’t find reasons to be happy with his or her performance. Look past the extraordinary play of the two champions, and in their wake you find all sorts of brilliance. A few performances that stand out in my mind:

Alison Waters, the losing women’s finalist. She’s been near the top of the women’s game for years. (It’s easy now to forget that in 2011-12 she was out of the game for the better part of a year with a major injury and had to fight back to her world-class form.) But the ToC has to rank as the best week of her career. Any win over Nicol David is a landmark—Waters’s record against her is now 2-24—but she didn’t stop there. Her plucky come-from-behind victory in the next round again Nour El Sherbini was one of the highlights of the tournament, and for the first two games of the final she went toe-to-toe with Raneem El Welily.

Miguel Angel Rodriguez. The Colombian acrobat has always been an exciting player to watch, but the way he raised his game, beating Gregory Gaultier and reaching the semis, was the headline story of the tournament. The question now is, will he be able to maintain his excellent form? If he does, we’ll all be the better for it. He brings a style of play to the game that’s uniquely his own, and he’s got a likeable demeanor on court to go with it.

The two Nours. The great five-game quarterfinal battle between Nour El Sherbini and Nour El Tayeb brought to the ToC one of squash’s best young rivalries, between two Egyptian women with the same first name but distinctly different styles of play. I’m looking forward to a decade’s worth of nail-biters between the two of them.

Three M’s on the men’s side: Tarek Momen, Omar Mosaad, and Nicolas Mueller. These three, all in their mid-twenties and entering the primes of their careers, distinguished themselves in losing efforts versus the giants of the game—Momen against Shabana, Mosaad against Matthew, and Mueller against Elshorbagy. The most striking performance was Mueller’s, because it was the most surprising. He raised his game and put a genuine scare into the #1 player in the world.

The list could go on. Amanda Sobhy, Simon Rosner, Stephen Coppinger … Samantha Teran, Diego Elias, and Victoria Lust in the qualifying rounds—they all distinguished themselves and entertained us in the process.

LOOKING AHEAD TO AN EGYPTIAN FUTURE

The day after the ToC finals I’m always amazed to think that the players will be moving on to other tournaments and doing it all over again in short order. The men start today(!) at the Motor City Open in Detroit, the women in a week at the Cleveland Classic. It’s clear, though, that the ToC is a special moment on the squash calendar, matched only by one or two other tournaments (the British Open, the World Championships). I can’t wait until next year to see how the players have developed and things have changed.

I have a feeling that a year from now one word will be on every squash fan’s lips: Egypt. Egyptian players have been a strong presence at the top of the game for years, and of course we’ve just seen two of them crowned ToC champions. But their coming ascendancy could be something unprecedented.

Young Egyptians dominate the junior ranks, and they’re growing up fast, especially among the women. At 2014’s World Junior Championships all four women’s semifinalists were from Egypt. One of them was El Sherbini, the #4 player in the senior ranks and this week’s ToC semifinalist. Her success against the grownups didn’t faze her compatriots—she lost her World Juniors semi to 15-year-old Habiba Mohamed, who went on the win the final against 17-year-old Nouran Gohar. Expect those players soon, possibly as soon as next year, to be giving fits to the veterans at the ToC. The same goes for Selma Hany Ibrahim (who made it through ToC qualifying this year), Yathreb Adel, Nadine Shahin, and Mariam Metwally—all currently ranked in the adult women’s top 50, none yet 19 years old.

The men usually develop more slowly, and the international competition is stronger. But eventually, inevitably, the older players who currently dominate the top ranks of the tour are going to retire, and they’ll be replaced by the likes of Marwan Elshorbagy (Mohamed’s little brother), Fares Desouki, Mazen Hesham, Mohamed Abouelghar (another ToC qualifier this year), and Karim Ali Fathi, all rising Egyptians under the age of 22.

A few of those names will slip into oblivion, but I promise that at least one among the men and one among the women will join Raneem El Welily and Mohamed Elshorbagy on the ToC champions’ trophies. (Check back in 15 years and we’ll see if I’m right.)

– Matt Lombardi