PSA Chairman Ziad Al-Turki must have been the happiest man on Saturday night. An avid squash fan, Al-Turki went out of his way to secure Dubai Opera near the Burj Khalifa as the venue for PSA’s year-ending finale for this year. Over the next two years too, the event will continue to remain in Dubai albeit possibly at different venues. The Saudi businessman struck success in the first year itself, with two classic finals, both of which were keenly contested and stretched beyond 60 minutes. More than an hour is a long time in the tiring game of squash, howsoever, air-conditioned the playing arena could be. Constant running for over an hour in an enclosed space, with your opponent also playing on the same side, takes a heavy toll on the players. Playing in front of a packed crowd, England’s Laura Massaro outlasted Egypt’s Raneem El Welily in 5 games played over 62 minutes to lift the women’s championship trophy of the 2016 PSA World Series Finals. Soon afterwards, it was time for the men’s final. After he defeated Mohamed Elshorbagy on Friday, Australian Cameron Pilley played against the second-seeded Frenchman Gregory Gaultier for the coveted trophy. But the Frenchman had an edge in the 67-minute 4-game final, quashed Pilley’s title aspirations and emerged the victor in the end.
When Laura Massaro came out to play against no.4 seeded Egyptian Raneem El Welily, she knew it wasn’t going to be cakewalk. The ding-dong battle began with Massaro losing the first game 9-11. But the world no.2 Englishwoman squared up the score by taking the second game easily. However, El Welily stormed right back into the match by winning the third game and then the match became a cliff-hanger in the fourth game. At 10-8, the match could have gone either way but Massaro’s tenacity allowed her to take the fourth game 12-10 and force the decider. El Welily looked a bit fatigued early in the fifth game and her increasing count of unforced errors made it easier for Massaro. After the hour-mark was crossed, Massaro injected some pace in the match and finished with a 9-11, 11-6, 5-11, 12-10, 11-5 title victory. The Dubai World-Series win was the first tour level title for the 32-year old Laura Massaro, who last won a PSA title in November 2015.
In men’s final that followed, Australia’s Cameron Pilley had aimed to become the first Australian in 10 years to win the title of World-Series Finals after Anthony Ricketts had done so in 2006. But Pilley’s hopes were dashed by World champion Gregory Gaultier in the classic final. The Frenchman started in style with easy wins in the first two games but the wily Australian fought hard to reverse the trend in the third game. In the fourth, both guys battled on long rallies that the score-line fails to indicate. In the end, the brilliant Frenchman dictated terms and finished the match with a 11-4, 11-5, 8-11, 11-6 win over the Australian. The victory also boosted the confidence of the former world no.1, who had been sidelined from the circuit for six months following a serious ankle injury. Gaultier had last won a World-Series final in 2009 and also a year before in 2008. It was, therefore, the Frenchman’s third victory in the year-ending event.