Squash: Serme seeks another landmark for French squash

Camille Serme caused a shock when she became the first Frenchwoman to win the British Open here two years ago.

Now that Serme has this year reached world number two and been playing better still, fewer people will be surprised if she takes a step towards an even greater achievement during the British Open, which starts on Tuesday.

Having turned many small steps into a potentially giant leap, Serme, who turns 28 in a fortnight, is within sight of becoming the first French woman to become world number one.

"I'm closer to my ultimate dream," she said.

"But the road is still long and the last step is always the hardest."

Serme's ranking average has improved to within 400 points of the number one spot, which is occupied by Nour El Sherbini, the British Open titleholder and a formidably hard-hitting attacker, but who has endured five months without a title.

El Sherbini also lost to Serme in big finals in Philadelphia and New York.

- 'I don't want to be mean' -

If Serme is to climb closer to the summit, she will need to break an Egyptian oligopoly which includes not only El Sherbini but two other outstanding players, Raneem El Welily and Nouran Gohar.

Welily, a former world number one, and Gohar, last year's British Open runner up, ensured that there were three Egyptian semi-finalists last time -- and it is the same trio which occupies three of the top four seeding places this week.

Serme feels the challenge is even more difficult than this, believing there are now eight women capable of winning the title.

To deal with it she is learning to become a more willing volleyer and a more varied attacker, while working at improving her levels of accuracy, and has also taken on board criticisms about being too nice.

"Some players try to take more space to play the ball if it's in the middle, and I have lost a few matches because of that," she says.

"I don't want to be mean as I have tried already, and I can't do this! But I'm working with my mental coach on trying to be tougher."

It is possible though that the sixth-seeded Nicol David, the 33-year-old who occupied the world number one spot for a record nine years, will this time provide the last surviving challenge to the brilliantly dominant Egyptians.

The sixth-seeded Malaysian has a probable quarter-final with Serme, to whom she has never yet lost.

David has an instant rematch with Olivia Blatchford, the American whom she beat ten days ago in the final of the Ciudad de Floridablanca Open in Colombia, earning her first title in 18 months.

This rapid second meeting has happened because Blatchford was promoted to the main draw after the withdrawal of Amanda Sobhy, the world number six from the United States who snapped an Achilles tendon and may be out for the rest of the year.