A Graphical History of the PSA Number 1 (1975 – 2020)

In recent months there has been a lack of new squash tournaments due to the world wide restrictions created by the COVID-19 pandemic. This has caused many people to revisit older squash matches both from this generation and previous generations of squash players. Each generation has had its own rivalries between players and countries, each gaining prominence at different times. In this article we explore the previous number one players, how long they maintained their number one ranking, which countries produced the most number 1 players and over which time periods. 

The PSA rankings is a merit-based method for determining the world rankings in men’s and women’s squash. At any given time the number one player of each gender is the player who, over the previous 12 months, has garnered the most PSA ranking points. These points are awarded based on how far a player advances in tournaments and the category of those tournaments. For more information on how points are accumulated please read our previous article on this topic: Prize Money & Ranking Points in the PSA World Tour Tournaments

A Few Notes on the Data

Before we get into looking at the data, a few points should be made clear about the data used in this article. 

Data Source: As with most of our blogs, that data has been taken from Squash Info – the definitive squash resource, a website that provides a wealth of information on match results, ranking, fixtures etc

Time Limited Data: Throughout this article all men’s data is taken from January 1975 until May 2020,  and all women’s data is taken from April 1983 until May 2020. These dates are essential when electronic data started to be taken for each gender and is thus the starting point of this article. Unfortunately due to this time limitation on the data, great players like Heather McKay, Jonah Barrington, Hashim Khan etc are not considered. 

Nationality Changes: During the time period considered, there have been several players that have changed nationality. For example Peter Nicol switched from Scotland to England, and Natalie Pohrer has represented South Africa, England and the USA. The nationality of the player considered in this article is that nationality of the player for the periods of time that player was in the number one position. Peter Nicol is the only player that has been at number one representing more that one country.

Name Changes: There have also been several name changes that have occurred for the number one player during the aforementioned time period. This is mainly due to switching from maiden names to married surnames. The following tables provide the players name used in this article as well as the other names that this player has been known as.

This ArticleAlso Knowns As
Leilani JoyceLeilani Rorani,  Leilani Marsh
Cassie Thomas Cassie Campion, Cassie Jackman
Natalie PohrerNatalie Grainger

The following table provides a short summary of the data that is used throughout this article.It provides the names, nationality, number of months as number one, largest consecutive number of months at number one and the number of titles won by each player. This data is better understood when various aspects are graphically plotted and compared. If you wish to have a more detailed look at the dates at which players were number one please click here for the male players and here for female players.

Timeline of the Number One Players

Let us first look  at the time periods at which the players obtained and maintained the number one position.The following two graphs illustrate different aspects of the male number ones. In the first graph the number of months per year a player is at the number one rank is illustrated. Each bar represents one full year (in number of months) and each colour represents an individual player, which is indicated in the legend. Each player for a given gender has a unique colour code which is maintained throughout this article (excluding video animations which have an independent colour code). This colour code allows for quick visual comparison of different graphs from the same gender. In the below figure, if we look at the year 2000, we can see that Peter Nicol (brown) was number one for eleven months, and Jonathan Power (pink) was number one for one month. This graph has the benefit of visualising the dominance of individual players over long periods of time which is indicated by groups of the same colours. For example, the bars from 1982 to 1988 inclusive are predominantly green indicating Jahangir Khan dominated this time period. Other long periods of domination can be seen for Geoff Hunt (orange, 1976 – 1980), and Jansher Khan (red, 1989 – 1997). To a lesser extent there are also shorter periods of dominance, or a less of a complete dominance, by Peter Nicol (brown, 1998 – 2004), Amr Shabana (purple, 2006 – 2008) and Mohamed El Shorbagy (grey, 2015 – 2020). It can also be seen that pre-2005 there was often a single player that dominated the number one position over a long period of time (>4 years of almost complete domination). However, after 2005, the players maintained the number one position for much shorter times and thus there is an increase in the number of number one players.

The graph below plots the same data in a timeline chart format. One can easily see for which period of time each player was at the number one position, as well as their closest rivals fighting for the number one spot. The length of the lines indicate the number of consecutive months a player has defended the number one position. This graph again highlights that the pre-2005 number ones held the number one spot for longer periods of time indicated by the horizontally longer coloured bars. Post-2005 it can be seen that the length of the bars become shorter and more broken up indicating the player remained at number one for shorter periods of time.

The following is a short summary of the timeline of male number ones:

  • The graph starts with Qamar Zaman as number one for several months and in February of 1976 Geoff Hunt took over and retained the number one position for 59 months (4.9 years). 
  • This number one streak ended in January 1981 when Qamar Zama retook the number one spot and maintained that position for the following year. 
  • January of 1982, saw Jahangir Khan become number one for the first time and remain there for 72 consecutive months (5 years). During this time period he had 555 successive match wins, the longest winning streak by any athlete in top-level professional sports in the Guinness World Records
  • The following  51 months ( 4.25 years) saw Jansher Khan and Janghir Khan battling for the number one spot until April 1992, which was Janghir Khan’s final month as number one.
  • At this time (May 1992) Jansher Khan took over as number one once again until July 1993 when Chris Dittmar ascended to number one for 2 successive months. 
  • In September of 1993 saw the start of Jansher Khan’s longest consecutive time period as number one which was ended by Peter Nicol in January 1998. 
  • The next 79 months (6.6 years from February 1998 to September 2004) was dominated by Peter Nicol as number one with sporadic interruptions by Jonathan Power (totalling 14 months), David Palmer (5 months), Thierry Lincou (2 months), John White (2 months) and Lee Beachill (3 months). 
  • January 2005 saw Thierry Lincou regain his position in the number one position which he maintained for 12 months only to be replaced by Amr Shabana who completely dominated for the next 33 months (2.75 years) until December 2008.
  • The next 12 year saw players sporadically gain and lose the number one sport in which no one player created a long term dominance over all others. These players included Karim Darwish, Gregory Gaultier, Ramy Ashour, Nick Matthew, and James Willstrop.
  • From January 2015 to the present day (May 2020) the number one position is mainly dominated by Mohamed El Shorbagy but with Karim Abdel Gawad (1 month), Gregory Gaultier and Ali Farag (11 months) all obtaining the number one spot one time or another during this time period.

The same plots can be rendered for female players. Once again it can be seen that there is very often a complete dominance of a single player over long periods of time. This is illustrated by the bunches of the same coloured bars. These players are Susan Devoy (orange, 1984 – 1992), Sarah Michelle Martin (red, 1993 – 1996), Nicol David (purple, 2006 – 215) and Nour El Sherbini (green, 2016 – 2018). The other players dominated over a much shorter period of time.

In the following timeline chart one can again see the periods of time for which each female number one player maintained the number one position. The aforementioned dominance of Susan Devoy and Nicol David is clearly evident by the long bars connected with their names. It can also be seen that Lisa Opie very briefly broke up a long dominance by Susan Devoy.  

The following is a short summary of the timeline of male number ones:

  • The timeline chart starts with Vicky Cardwell being number one for 12 months
  • Susan Devoy became number one in April 1984 which she maintained for 47 months (3.9 years) before Lisa Opie momentarily took over the number one spot for 2 months.
  • Susan Devoy then goes on an even longer run at number one lasting 58 (4.8 years) from May 1988 to February 1993
  • The next number one is Michelle Martin who remained number one for 44 months (3.6 years) from March 1993 to October 1996.
  • Over the next  9.75 years (117 months) from November 1996 to July 2006 several female player obtained the number one spot, namely Michelle Martin (14 months), Sarah Fitzgerald (40 months), Cassie Thomas (16 months), Leilani Joyce (11 months), Carol Owens (11 months), Natalie Pohrer (2 months), Rachael Grinham (16 months), Vanessa Atkinson (5 months) and Nicol David (3 months) with no particular player dominating over all other for an extended period of time. 
  • That brings us to August 2006 at the start of Nicol David’s reign as number 1 which concluded in August 2015 lasting an amazing 109 months (9.1 years).
  • After Nicol’s reign had come to an end both Raneem El Welily and Laura Massaro both had short stints (4 months each) at number one.
  • In May 2016 Nour El Sherbini became number one for the first time and remained there for a consecutive 31 months (2.6 years) until November 2018 
  • December 2018 saw Raneem El Welily regain her number one status and this time hold on to it until the present day (May 2020)

Total Months at the Number One Position

The  above charts have displayed the timeline of the number one spot. It can be seen visually that some players spend a longer time at number one than others. Let’s now take a closer look at the number one player and how long they maintained the number on spot. The horizontal bar charts below illustrate the total number of months that players have been in the number one spot throughout his/her career. 

In the first plot, which is for male players only, the two Pakistani legends Jansher Khan and Jahangir Khan clearly top the charts with bewildering cumulative totals of 97 months (8 years) and 94 months (7.8 years) respectively. After these two players there is a large drop and the next players are Peter Nicol and Geoff Hunt with totals of 60 months (5 years) and 59 months (4.9 years) respectively. Of all the number one players, there are still 6 players which are currently participating in the PSA World Tour, namely Mohamed El Shorbagy, Gregory Gaultier, James Willstrop, Ali Farag and Karim Abdel Gawad who are at various stages of their respective careers. If we consider all factors (current form, player age, current standing, injuries etc), Mohammed El Shorbagy (aged 29) and Ali Farag (age 28) are arguably the only players that have a chance of increasing their standings in this chart. Potentially one of them could even top the chart. However, considering the remaining time left in their respective careers only one of them could possibly achieve this, and only if that player has a close to complete dominance over the other. To do this Mohamed El Shorbagy needs to be at number one for a further 53 months (4.4 years) and Ali Farag needs to maintain 87 months (7.25 years) at number one. However, given their current rivalry, it is unlikely that one will completely dominate over the other. A more realistic scenario is that if Mohamad El Shorbagy retained the number one spot for more than 16 more months (3 years) he will be third on this chart. The current status of the PSA tour during the COVID-19 pandemic will give him a further 4 months at number one for free.

The above static chart can also be animated as a progression in time which can be viewed from the following video. YouTube does not allow full screen viewing from third party websites, so to view this video on a full screen please click here to be directed to the video on YouTube.

For the female number ones, there are also two players head and shoulders above the rest, in terms of number of months at number one, namely Nicol David and Susan Devoy with 112 months (9.3 years) and 105 months (8.75 years) respectively. After these two players there is a large drop in total number of months to Michelle Martin who had 58 months at number one. Of the female number one players only Raneen El Welily (aged 31), Nour El Sherbini (aged 24), and Rachael Grinham (aged 43) are actively playing in the PSA World Tour. Again, considering all player factors, Nour El SherbiniIn has the largest probability of topping this chart. However, to do so needs to accumulate a further 81 months (6.75 years) at the number one position. A further 16 months at number on will see her in third position in the below chart.

The above static chart can also be animated as a progression in time which can be viewed from the following video. YouTube does not allow full screen viewing from third party websites, so to view this video on a full screen please click here to be directed to the video on YouTube.

The barchart below combines the male and female data showing the top 15 number one players among both genders where the blue bars indicate a male player and the red bars indicates a female player. Clearly Nicol David and Susan Devoy top this chart followed by Jansher Khan and Jahangir Khan. After these four players there is a considerable gap to the next most month at number one.

Players with the Most Consecutive Months at Number 1

In the first plots of this article, we looked at the number ones through the timeline and saw that there was often a dominance of players at certain periods of time. This thus leads to a large number of months at the number one position for those players. Here we look at the players which have had the most consecutive months at number one. Each plot illustrates the top 15 runs of consecutive months at number one. For the males number ones Janangir Khan has 72 consecutive months (6 years), Geoff Hunt has 59 consecutive months (4.9 years) and Jansher Khan’s has consecutive 53 months (4.4 years) in the number one position. A number of players are on the table several times meaning that they had more than one long run of consecutive months at number one. Although Jahangir khan and Geoff hunt both had a lower number of total months at number one than Jansher Khan, they had a much longer term of complete dominance. 

Nicol David had an amazing 109 (9.1 years) consecutive months at number one which far exceeds any other player’s record of consecutive months at number one. Susan Devoy has two long runs of consecutive months (58 months and 47 months) at the number one spot. These consecutive runs were disrupted solely by Lisa Opie who was at the number one position for 2 consecutive months.

This plot below combines both the male and female individual plots to illustrate the 15 longest consecutive runs regardless of gender.

Number 1 Players with the Most Title Wins

The number one player does not necessarily win all the tournaments. The number one is determined by the player who has accumulated the most number of points in a 12 month period. Of course the points are awarded by how far a player proceeds in a tournament, and so the further a player gets, the more points they receive. It is thus natural that the number one player will win a large number of tournaments. Here we look at the number of titles won by the number one player throughout their career. The numbers plotted below includes all titles won by each player, not just PSA titles. This includes, for example, national titles, European titles, World Games etc. The top male title winners are Jansher Khan (102 titles, 97 months at number 1), Gregory Gaultier (63 titles, 20 months at number 1), Jahangir Khan (63 titles, 94 months at number one), Peter Nicol (63 titles, 60 months at number one) and Nick Matthew (56 titles, 19 months at number 1). Many of these players are from different generations and it is interesting to note that the new generation players such Nick Matthew and Gregory Gaultier have a higher ratio of titles won per month at number one.

A similar situation is observed for the female number ones where the top five tournaments winners are Nicol David (112 titles, years at number one), Sarah Fitz-Gerald (79 titles, 24 months at number one), Michelle Martin (59 titles, 58 months at number one), Susan Devoy (53 titles, 105 months at number one), and Cassie Thomas (43 titles, 16 months at number one).

This plot below combines both the male and female individual plots to illustrate the top 15 number one player with the most titles.

Number of Number One Players per Country

The above analysis compared individual number one players, in terms of their dominance, number of consecutive wins, number of titles won etc. We can also look at the number ones with respect to their nationalities. Let’s first take a look at the countries which have produced the most number of ones combined for both genders. It should be noted that the time frames for the male and female time frame are different. The graph below illustrates how many number one players for both male (blue) and female (red) each country has produced. For example, Egypt has produced the most number ones, 6 males and 2 females, adding up to a total of 8 number one players. It can also be seen that certain counties have only produced one gender of number one. Note that Peter Nicol is counted twice, once for Scotland and once for England. Please refer to the first table in this article to find out the players nationality.

Timeline of Player’s Nationality at the Number One

We can also look at the domination of the number of positions by nationality. The domination of the country of the number one spot can also be analysed. The below graph plots the number of months per year the player’s nationality has been at the number one position. The colours bunched together indicated the domination of a certain country. There have been several nationalities dominating the number one position, such as Australia (1976 – 1-980), Pakistan (1981 – 1997), Egypt (2006 – 2020 with brief interruptions from France and England).

Perhaps the country’s domination is more clearly visible from the following timeline. The period of time for which a player’s nationality is number one is clearly indicated in this plot.

The same plots can be made for the female number ones. There are again certain countries which dominate the number one position for a long period of time, namely New Zealand (1986 – 1992), Australia (1993 – 1999), Malaysia (2006 – 2015), and Egypt (2016 – 2020). 

Number of Accumulated Months at Number One per Country

The following set of graphs illustrate the number of months at the number 1 position each country has accumulated via male players. Clearly Pakistan has the most months at number one due to the dominance of Jansher Khan and Janghir Khan (with a little help also from Qamar Zaman). Egypt’s more modern dominance has allowed them to accumulate enough months at number one to put them in second place. In order for Egypt to surpass Pakistan in this regards, it requires a further 95 months (7.9 years) as number one.

The above plot can also be animated which is show below. YouTube does not allow full screen viewing from third party websites, so to view this video on a full screen please click here to be directed to the video on YouTube.

Similar plots are made for the nationality of the female number ones. New Zealand, Australia and Malaysia top the chart with a relatively close number of months at number one. New Zealand gained these months from 3 players, Australia had 4 players, whereas Malaysia had only a single player. It can also be seen from previous analysis that these nationalities dominated over different periods of time.

The above plot can also be animated which is show below. YouTube does not allow full screen viewing from third party websites, so to view this video on a full screen please click here to be directed to the video on YouTube.

So far we have looked at the number of months at number one for the various nationalities as a function of the gender of the players. Let’s now combine those two plots into a single plot which is shown below whereby the red colour refers to months accumulated by female player and blue refers to months accumulated by male players.

Outlook

This article has only focused on the number one players. This however does not reflect the success of a player’s full career. For example, Chris Dittmar was only number one for a period of 2 months and yet he is justly considered to be one of the all time greats of the sport. In a future article more aspects of a player’s career such as career length, number of finals, number of months in the top 10 etc. will be used to compare players.

As mentioned in this blog, this data is time limited to 1975 for males and 1983 for females. It would be nice to extend this data to before this time. However, as far as we are aware, electronic data does not exist. Perhaps this data can be manually generated with some research. This is something we will look into in the future but if anybody can help with this please let us know.

Looking at the current top 10’s of each gender there is plenty of opportunity for new number one’s. Tarek Momen, Camille Serme, and Nour El Tayeb have been knocking on the door for quite some time waiting to take advantage of any lapse in form by the number ones. Can Paul Coll or Deigo Elias continue their rise to be New Zealand’s or Peru’s first number one male? There are also a few newcomers to the top 10 that have created some excitement Joel Makin and Hania El Hammamy. There is also lots of potential for new Nationalities to make it to number one, such as Wales, New Zealand, Peru, Germany, and Colombia

3 comments

  1. Phenomenal statistics. Really thorough and interesting for any squash fan. Presented in clear statIstical form that secures the achievements of the past players amongst today’s generation. Well done to all at the Squash Stats team in securing this data and also making it available for future fans to access.

    Liked by 1 person

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