AN – NILE – ATION

My round up of the British Junior Open 2008 published in Squash Player (the official magazine of World Squash Federation) in its Issue 2 of 2008

The British Junior Open is widely, and rightly, regarded as the most prestigious international squash tournament for juniors. All the current top five ranked men players have been past winners of a title here, as has Nicol David. It was also the year opener, staged from 2-6 January, as always, at Sheffield’s famous Abbbeydale and Hallamshire courts.

More than 450 players from 34 countries in all parts of the globe participated in the 2008 Tecnifibre British Junior Open which as in recent years was again dominated by Egyptian players. In fact, it was a case of deja-vu, as they won six titles for the third consecutive year. In the boys’ events, the Egyptians made a clean sweep, winning all the four titles (with such a conveyer belt, their current domination of men’s ranking seems unstoppable for the foreseeable future), while their girls won two. There were as many as 11 of them in the finals – a tournament record. The Mediterranean wave meant that four of the eight finals were all Egyptian affairs and there was only one final with no Egyptian contender. Five Egyptians entered the draws in each section, a total of 40 (though one was unable to come due to injury) and most of the parents also accompanied their kids. Little wonder that the ambience was that of Cairo or Alexandria rather than Sheffield.

The star of the show was Mohammad El Shorbagy, the 16 year old winner of the Boys’ Under 19. Presently based in England under the tutelage of the legendary Jonah Barrington, and favourite for the title, Shorbagy achieved a hat trick, winning his third title here in as many years. What makes the feat unique is that he won a different age group each time. But the man who was seeded to face him in the final, Switzerland’s European champion Nicolas Mueller was ousted in straight sets in the second round by Shorbagy’s compatriot Wael Farag – a major early round upset.

The only ‘non-Egyptian final’, the Girls’ U 19 turned out to be the most dramatic. Last year’s runner up and this year’s favourite, Camille Serme of France, the European champion rallied from two games down to overpower the 2nd seeded Annie Au of Hong Kong, the Asian champion.

Already a WISPA top 30 player, Serme carries the French squash federation’s hopes of producing a women’s champion to follow the footsteps of Theiry Lincou and Gregory Gaultier – some progress for a nation which did not even have a national squash federation until 1981.

The Girls’ U 17 final was another thrilling spectacle – and another five game duel, India’s charming Deepika Pallikar seeded 5/8 upset top-seeded Egyptian Heba Torky who was just one match away from her fifth consecutive title here.

Incidentally, Palliker tasted her first title success also on her fifth appearance. Living and training in Egypt for last few years, she promises to become the Sania Mirza of Indian women squash.

The Boys’ U 17 final followed the same script as that of Girls, 5/8 seeded Karim Abdel Gamad, surprising his top seeded compatriot Amr Khalid Khalifa. And as in the Boys’ U 19, the 2nd seed at U 17, Pakistan’s Farhan Zaman made an early (third round) exit. However Khalifa’s younger brother atoned for the family disappointment and produced the most shocking result of all the finals. Seeded only 9/16 in the Boys’

U 13, he thrashed the top seeded fellow Egyptian, Shehab Essam in straight games.

The Boys’ U 15 final featured former squash super power, Pakistan’s lone finalist, Nasir Iqbal. Winner of the U13 title last year, he proved no match to Al Fathi, himself a former winner of the U13 title in 2006.

The finals of the Girls’ U15 and U13 were all Egyptian affairs. El Sherbany retained her U 13 crown. El Tayeb, also a previous winner of the U13 title, back in 2004, successfully moved up to U15.

After Egypt, the distant second was France, the only other country to provide two finalists, each in the senior most events i.e. the Boys’ U19 and the Girls’ U19 (which Serme won).

It was astonishing not to find a single finalist from the host country, despite its having a huge presence. More surprising since only a few weeks previously, England had won the Men’s world team championships. Perhaps, English boys mature a bit late. But there was some consolation as four English lads made it into the semis including two at U 19. Even English presence had an Egyptian flavour as England’s participant in the Girls’ U 17, Nayera Sharif is of Egyptian decent.

Though they had no representation in the last four, South Africa had the highest participation after England and Egypt with 20. Most of them had borne their own expenses, which speaks loudly for their youngsters’ enthusiasm.

Malaysia and Hong Kong also had strong representation but they were more fortunate to have the financial support of their governments and squash federations. Malaysia had a Pakistani coach and a more interesting Pakistani connection. Kamran Khan, son of legendary Jansher Khan and his former Malaysian wife reached the third round at U19. Kamran has been regularly coming to this event for last few years. According to him, he has had no contact with his father for last many years.

For Pakistan itself, as on the senior circuit, fortunes continue to plummet. In fact, it was their worst show here in years with just one runner up position to take home. On the other hand, its big neighbour, India is continuing its gradual progress. India had a reasonably big contingent, most of them sponsored and the winner of the Girls’ U17 event, Dipika Pillai is an exciting prospect who should do well at senior level in the near future.

It was shock to find a ‘token’ appearance for the mega squash nation, Australia: two males and just one girl. However, on deeper analysis the reasons were simple. There is no patronage for junior Aussies from any quarters and their geographical location means big travel expenses to any European event. These factors mean almost no participation in international junior circuit. The same was the case with New Zealand, and for exactly the same reasons.

Most gratifyingly, the world’s premier junior squash tournament had a truly global look, with players even from countries with little squash pedigree such as Columbia, Trinidad and Tobago and Israel

.My round up of the British Junior Open 2008 published in Squash Player (the official magazine of World Squash Federation) in its Issue 2 of 2008

The 2008 Tecnifibre British Junior Open was very well organised with initial rounds at Hallamshire and Abbeydale courts with finals only staged at latter. It was very well covered by the official website www.bjosquash.com which also provided excellent photos and slideshows as well as history of the event.

It was the first year of England Squash’s three- year event sponsorship agreement with Tecnifibre. The tournament director, Chris Nutley, Competition and Events Manager, England Squash, was also grateful to the Event Unit of Sheffield City Council, especially for running a regular and frequent transport shuttle service between the hotels where players were staying and the two squash clubs.

In a few years, all those fortunate to be present at the magnificent Abbeydale courts on the final day will be proudly relating that they watched the current world squash champion lifting a British Junior Open title – most probably an Egyptian.

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