Gohar and El Sherbini set up heavyweight clash in CIB Black Ball Open final
The world’s top two players, Nour El Sherbini and Nouran Gohar, put in stellar performances to set up a mouthwatering CIB Black Ball Open final in Cairo.
World No.2 Gohar, who will replace El Sherbini as World No.1 in next month’s rankings, reached her first ever Black Ball Open final after coming from behind to beat New Zealand’s Joelle King 3-1.
King deservedly took the first game 11-5, which was the first Gohar had dropped in 2022, on the back of intelligent tactical play. The Kiwi mitigated Gohar’s brutal power by outhitting the Egyptian, forcing the World No.2 to play an unfamiliar game of lobs as she attempted to slow King down.
Gohar, though, roared back furiously in the second, going back on the attack and pulverising any loose King shots on the volley to level the match 1-1 with an 11-8 win.
In a frenetic third game, both players had an opportunity to take a crucial 2-1 lead.
After Gohar was unable to convert a game ball at 10-9, King then squandered a golden opportunity when, despite being well placed on court and 11-10 up, she erroneously called a double bounce on Gohar and ended the rally prematurely.
The No.6 seed was made to pay for this error, as although she was able to reach another game ball at 12-11, she couldn’t convert, and Gohar took the game 14-12 to take a crucial lead.
After the battle of the third game, Gohar looked the more confident player in the fourth, and she secured passage to her sixth consecutive Platinum final with an 11-5 win.
Afterwards, Gohar paid tribute to the vocal fans who have cheered her on throughout the tournament: “It’s one of those matches where you’re tested and you need to prove that you deserve to be at the top. Without this crowd, I wouldn’t be able to do it.
“I’m not saying cliches or anything, but if I was playing this tournament anywhere else, not in Egypt and without my family and friends, I wouldn’t have been able to win this one, for sure.
“I live three minutes away from here, but I wouldn’t say I performed my best here. But I love the club [and] I love training here. I can’t really complain about this year, it’s started really well and I hope it is the same for the rest of the year.”
Gohar also spoke of her respect for her King: “Joelle was playing really well during the event and I wasn’t really surprised. I knew she was going to fight for everything and she was really up for it.”
Standing between Gohar and a first Black Ball title will be current World No.1 Nour El Sherbini, after the top seed and defending champion put in a top-quality performance to knock out No.8 seed Rowan Elaraby, who was playing in her first semi final on the PSA World Tour.
El Sherbini made a strong start to her semi final, using her rapid attacks to unsettle Elaraby’s early rhythm on the way to an 11-6 lead.
It appeared that El Sherbini was heading for a comfortable win in the second game as she raced into a 10-5 lead, with the Warrior Princess showing her less-often seen urgency of movement to cover the entire court.
Elaraby, though, who has been so impressive throughout this tournament, stunned the World No.1 by saving each game ball to force a tie break. The 21-year-old then went on the attack and came tantalisingly close to levelling the match when she had two game opportunities of her own, but was shutdown each time by El Sherbini, who took a commanding two-game lead after an epic 16-14 win.
Having thrown all she could muster at the reigning World Champion in the second game, Elaraby’s confidence appeared severely dented as she entered the third, and El Sherbini was able to see out the match in relative comfort with an 11-4 win.
Afterwards, El Sherbini said: “Rowan is a very tough opponent and very skilful.
“It’s her first semi final at a Platinum event, so I know it’s huge for her and she deserves more than that. Maybe she just needs a little bit more experience, she’s very good and I’ve watched her growing up at the same club.
“She’s been good since she was five or six years old, we’re definitely going to have more battles together.”
Looking ahead to her clash in tomorrow’s final with Gohar, which will be El Sherbini’s third straight final at the Black Ball Sporting Club, El Sherbini said: “It’s been a long time since we have played each other. We’ve never played on this court, so it’s going to be a new one.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s always tough against Nouran. She’s really on top of her game and she’s the most in-form player now.”