The world’s leading female players are in Riyadh for the first World Series event of 2018 — the Saudi PSA Women’s Squash Masters — which got underway today and runs until Friday.
The tournament, held at Princess Nora bint Abdul Rahman University in Riyadh, features 32 international players, including Nada Abo Al-Naja, Saudi’s wildcard player. She plays world No. 3 and No. 2 seed Camille Serme tomorrow.
Following recent initiatives from the General Authority of Sports in Saudi Arabia to increase sporting participation and awareness across the country, the $165,000 tournament will play a crucial role in inspiring a new generation of Saudis to become active within sport.
“Things are changing in Saudi, and they are changing fast,” said Ziad Al-Turk, who is also the Chairman of the PSA, at the official tournament dinner. “Win or lose, you [the players] are making history.”
Eight-time world champion Nicol David tweeted: “Truly honored to be part of this historical moment in Saudi Arabia.”
The tournament was scheduled to take place in November but was postponed due to “logistical challenges.”
“Bringing professional squash back to Saudi Arabia for the first time since 2010 has been an ambition of mine and I am grateful for the support of the Women’s Department of the Saudi General Authority for Sport to see this come to fruition,” said Al-Turk. “Not only is squash one of the healthiest sports it is the perfect sport for the Saudi climate. I’m hoping that this tournament will increase local participation in Saudi Arabia, and I look forward to working with all parties involved throughout the next six months, ensuring continued success for years to come.”
The staging of the tournament comes hot on the heels of the Saudi General Sports Authority approving three football stadiums to allow women to attend Saudi Professional League matches for the first time
“We look forward to growing the female participation of the sport of squash,” said Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan, President of the Saudi Federation for Community Sports. “It is a dynamic game that involves fast thinking and fast reaction times, skills that are well reflected in the women of Saudi Arabia.”
With no qualifying rounds featured at the tournament, 32 of the world’s top players — comprised of 12 nationalities — go straight into the main draw, with stars such as world champion Raneem El-Welily, world No. 3 Camille Serme, world No. 5 Nouran Gohar and Nicol David joining the battle for the prize purse.
Egypt’s World No.1 and tournament top seed Nour El-Sherbini will get her tournament under way against France’s world No. 30 Coline Aumard and is seeded to meet compatriot and world No. 5 Nouran Gohar — who starts her tournament against Australia’s former world champion Rachael Grinham — in the last four.
The Egyptian two-time world champion is also predicted to face off against world No. 3 Camille Serme in the final should they both play to their seeding. Serme is scheduled to meet eight-time world champion Nicol David in the quarter-finals.
The pair have met 17 times on the PSA World Tour — with the Frenchwoman only winning one of those encounters against the Malaysian icon in the quarter-finals of the recent Hong Kong Open this season. David will start her tournament in Riyadh against Egypt’s World No.31 Mayar Hany.
Meanwhile, newly crowned world champion El Welily — who triumphed over El Sherbini in December to win squash’s biggest tournament — will start her tournament against Belgium’s world No. 27 and Open International de Squash de Nantes runner-up Nele Gilis as she seeks to keep her strong run of form going in her first tournament since lifting the PSA World Championship crown in Manchester.
Other big names in the draw include US Open winner Nour El-Tayeb, who comes up against Hong Kong’s world No. 36 Liu Tsz-Ling in round one of the World Series tournament, and English pair Alison Waters and Sarah-Jane Perry, who take on Egypt’s Heba El-Torky and Hong Kong’s Joey Chan, respectively, in the opening round of the historic event.
In addition to the lucrative $165,000 prize fund up for grabs, the players will also be battling it out for points on the PSA World Series Standings — which are currently headed up by Egypt’s El-Welily — as players aim for a top eight finish, which will guarantee their participation at June’s PSA World Series Finals.