Two new champions were crowned at the season-ending PSA Dubai World Series Finals in Burj Park, Downtown Dubai on Saturday.
England’s Laura Massaro capped a superb week by defeating World No.3 Raneem El Welily in a dramatic five-game thriller 9-11, 11-6, 5-11, 12-10, 11-5, while Frenchman Gregory Gaultier downed Cameron Pilley 3-0.
World No. 2 Massaro continued to play some of her best squash in what was a back-and-forth encounter to come through and collect one of the biggest titles of her career.
“I’m so pleased with my form all week. It was really tough coming off the back of a loss at the World Championship, and it was a big effort to keep training after that. I’m just so pleased that it’s paid off – you go through so much pain and hard work as a squash player. Moments like this make it all worth it.”
The first game saw the pair trade points with El Welily edging it 11-9, before Massaro altered her tactics and played with greater purpose and depth in the second, taking El Welily’s prodigious shot-making skills out of contention.
With the scoreboard tied it was El Welily who upped her game to take the third 5-11, before Massaro hit back to level the match in a tense fourth game tie-break.
The decisive fifth saw Massaro get out to a string 4-1 lead before she played a sweetly struck backhand winner that set her up for the sprint finish and with the line in sight she hammered home to take the fifth 11-5 and claim the title.
“I told myself it was the final match of the season, and coming on for that fifth game I just told myself it was one game to go,” she said.
Victory sees Massaro collect over $40,000 in prize money, the single largest prize ever awarded to a female squash player, as part of a tournament that became just the fourth major event to the calendar to offer prize money parity.
“It’s been a privilege to play here all week,” said the 32-year-old.
“We feel a little bit like superstars, we’ve been spoilt, the court is amazing, the venue is amazing, Dubai is amazing. To have equal prize money for the women and to be on a level par with the men in these big events now, the women feel like we deserve it, and I hope that today showed that we do.”
Just four months after suffering an horrific ankle injury, world champion Gregory Gaultier, was competing without an ankle brace for the first time since his comeback in March and was in superb form all week, sweeping aside all opposition to claim the 33rd title of his illustrious career.
“I started the season in a great dynamic, winning events such as the U.S. Open and World Championship and was the maybe best player on Tour before the nightmare hit with injury in January,” said Gaultier.
“I had a few months where I didn’t even hit a squash ball until the British Open, when I didn’t even expect I would be back, but my team did a great job.”
In the opening two games Gaultier was in commanding form, keeping Pilley at bay despite the Australian playing solid and secure squash.
The third saw Pilley enjoy his best spell of the match as he began to assert himself on the match and take Gaultier’s pace and power away from him, and he managed to keep the match alive by closing it out 11-8.
The huge efforts took their toll though as he fell away in the early stages of the fourth to allow Gaultier back in, and the ‘French General’ wasted no time in sealing the title.
He said: “I may be 33 but I still feel young. I’m so much more experienced and I’m professional and disciplined than ever before and I think that makes the difference.
“Now I’m looking to start up again in August in Hong Kong and do what I can now to keep winning major titles. There is no pressure on me anymore, I’m just enjoying it, and I think when there is no stress I play ever better.”
After the match Pilley said: “Right now I’m still disappointed about losing, but there’s a lot of positives to take out of this, I’ve beaten three top ten guys this week. So for me there’s far more positives than negatives. It was so exciting playing in front of this crowd in Dubai, the crowd was great and it’s a cool court, I wanted to play best of seven!”
The PSA Dubai World Series Finals will be held in Dubai Opera in 2017 and 2018.