The British Junior Open: A tournament like no other
Categories : Squash news around the world
Squash followers will have their eyes turned towards Birmingham this week (Photo credit: British Junior Open)
Main story: Youngsters head to England
The finest juniors from around the world are in Birmingham this week, for the 93rd edition of the Dunlop British Junior Open. Egyptian players are expected to dominate but other nations - such as Malaysia and England - can cause some trouble to the squash main powerhouse.
More than 750 girls and boys representing 50 nations will compete across ten age categories from the Under 11s to Under 19s from 2nd to 6th January in what has become the most iconic and prestigious tournament on the squash junior circuit. Among them, Mostafa Asal is expected to be the star of the show. His triumph in the U17 category in January 2018 was only the beginning of an incredible year: not only he became World Junior Champion last summer, but he also made a meteoric rise on the PSA World Tour, winning 3 titles and reaching the last 16 in the Black Ball Open in December. Thanks to this result, he broke into the top 50 in yesterday's new rankings, and there are very few players who reached such highs before their 18th birthday - last one being Mohamed ElShorbagy. His main challengers in the Boys Under 19s will be compatriots Mostafa El Serty and Omar El Torkey, both semi-finalists at the last World Junior Championship in India. Looking to upset the proceedings is home hero Nick Wall from Sheffield, who claimed the British National Under 19 title in October, and had some good results in PSA after that. Other underdogs are Czech Republic Viktor Byrtus and Mexico's Leonel Cardenas - semi-finalist in 2018. Girls’ Under 19 top seed Hania El Hammamy - who is ranked 20 in the world - was not featuring last year, and it would be a big upset if she didn't claim her fifth championship title. Fellow Egyptians Jana Shiha (semi-finalist in the last World Junior Championship) and 16-year-old Farida Mohamed will be looking to mount a challenge alongside 2018 semi-finalist Elise Lazarus of England.
Mostafa Asal (on the right) is huge favourite to claim the Boys Under 19s title (Photo credit: PSA World Tour)
Five of the ten top seeds are from Egypt, but other countries will have high hopes across all categories this week. Last year saw England produce eight quarter-finalists, three semi-finalists and two winners, making it the nation’s most successful championships in recent squash history. And with 11 of those players competing at the 2019 event, National Junior Coach Lee Drew is optimistic: “Our performance last year put England firmly back on the map at world-level. We’re looking to build and capitalise on this success and have high hopes for our home heroes. Across the age categories, we’ve got a good spread of strong contenders who have a track record of performing well on home soil against the world’s best.” If all goes to seeding in the Boys U17, Sam Todd could face another former U15 champion in the form of Egypt’s Yehia Elnawasany. “Sam is world-class and performed very well at the World Juniors in the summer reaching the third round at the age of just 15, so there are high hopes for him to perform well at the BJO despite competing another year at that age group.” The Boys U15 sees two English contenders inside the top four: last year’s BJO U13 champion Jonah Bryant and Sam Osborne-Wylde. The top seeds in this age group are former champion Denis Gilevskiy of Ireland and Egyptian Ismail Mansour. Can Malaysian girls repeat their incredible performance of 2018, where they had won four of the five titles? Defending champion Aira Azman is favourite to keep her crown in the U15, but will have to see off a trio of Egyptians in Salma El Tayeb, the 2017 U13 champion, Menna Hedia and Malak Khafagy. In the U11, top seed Whitney Wilson will be striving to claim her maiden title after reaching the last four in 2018. Hot on her heels are also a couple of Egyptian players Sohayla Hazem Farouk and Shahad Hani as well as India’s Anahat Singh. Hot favourite to claim the U17 title is last year’s runner-up Marina Stefanoni of America, who is likely to face a challenge from Egyptian no.1 Sana Ibrahim who finished second in the U15 last year. Behind her best chance, a record 57 Americans will represent their country at the 2019 BJO. Team USA is targeting its first BJO title since Olivia Blatchford won the GU15 division in 2007. While the Girls’ Under 13 tournament looks set to be an Egyptian affair - with 2018 U11 champion Amina Orfi and 2018 U13 runner-up Fayrouz Abouelkheir - the Boys' draw features Egyptian Taha Ibrahim, England's Abd-Allah Eissa and Yuvraj Wadhwani of India. Finally, Malaysia also have hopes in the Boy's U11, in the form of Nickhileswar Moganasundharam - who reached the last four in 2018. He will have to overcome Egyptians Chris Baddour and Seif El Deen Dahshan.
Source : britishjunioropen.com
Round One of the Dunlop British Junior Open starts on Wednesday 2nd January at the University of Birmingham, Edgbaston Priory, West Warwickshire Sports Club and Solihull Arden Club. Select matches will be live streamed from the glass court at Birmingham University and courts 1-4 at Edgbastion Priory Club. Streaming, match times, locations and draws are available on the British Junior Open website.
Other squash news in December
--- Gawad back to his best form
Egyptian players dominated the first Black Ball Squash Open - which was the last Platinum event of 2018. But while we were expecting Mohamed ElShorbagy or Ali Farag to make the headlines, it was Karim Abdel Gawad who grabbed the title. Two years ago, the Alexandria born took the world of squash by surprise. His successive wins at the World Championship,, the Qatar Classic and the Tournament of Champions had taken him to the No.1 spot, but he was not able to maintain this momentum. Less hungry and hit by injuries, Gawad went through a difficult time in 2017-2018 and suffered a few early exits in major tournaments. There had been some positive signs since the beginning of the new season, but there three times he was beaten by an in-form Ali Farag. All the hard work done during the off season paid off in the last few weeks, starting with a very comprehensive victory in the final in Pakistan - his first PSA title since April 2017 - against Diego Elias. He beat the Peruvian again in the round of 16 in the Black Ball Sporting Club, before compiling an incredible streak during which he downed three of the 4 best players in the world. He started in the quarters with World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy, whom he beat in 3 hard-fought game after an almost perfect match. The following day, he ousted Tarek Momen after a 90 minute fierce battle. One could have thought that Gawad - who was about to play his 9th match in 12 days and had spent about 100 minutes more on court than his opponent since the beginning of the week - was going to struggle physically against Ali Farag in the final, but he proved everybody wrong. After Gawad opened up a two-game lead the start of the third saw Farag come out fighting to take four points without reply to build up a strong lead, with the World No.2 also being able to hold off a late surge from Gawad as Farag took the third to get a foothold back into the match. However, Gawad held his nerve to ensure that he claimed his second successive title.
After a difficult period, Karim Abdel Gawad made a stunning comeback to form in Cairo a few weeks ago (Photo credit: PSA World Tour)
“I had so many times where I was down,” said Gawad following his huge win. “All those months, all those days, I pushed and pushed. There were bad times, really bad times, but my team handled those bad moments. It finally paid off this week, and I’m back to my form. It's been a very tough tournament, especially for me as I’ve not been playing at this level for so long now and to be back and winning this major tournament means a lot to me. I’ve been working so hard to try and get back to my form that I used to play and I’m really happy to be back and end the year with a major tournament. “Ali is my brother, we’ve grown up together and we’ve played so many times at juniors. He has been handling so much pressure this week and I’ve been there before, so I know how he feels." Gawad refers to the fact that his compatriot would have become World No.1 if he had won the match, but Farag wasn't holding a grudge. “Karim was by far the best player all week. He thoroughly deserved that win. Karim was a World No.1 deservedly and he had a bit of a dip in his form last season because of some injuries but he very much deserves to be where he is today. “I’m really happy for him and his team.” Besides Gawad, another Egyptian left his mark in Cairo: 17-year old Mostafa Asal reached the round of 16 after two huge wins over Youssef Soliman and World No.19 Declan James, before being stopped by Farag. With a style that somehow resembles to Mohamed ElShorbagy, the current World Junior Champion is following the footsteps of this fellow countryman in terms of his achievements at such a young age.
Source: PSA World Tour
--- January World Rankings
Egypt’s Karim Abdel Gawad will start the new year inside the top five on the PSA Men’s World Rankings thanks to his win at the inaugural CIB Black Ball Squash Open in Cairo last month. The former World No.1 captured his first Platinum tournament since January 2017 and is rewarded with a four-place rise to World No.5. Fellow Egyptian Mohamed ElShorbagy stays at No.1 for a 10th successive month after Farag squandered the chance to take top spot at the Black Ball Open. The battle for World No.1 will reignite at the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions: if Farag wins the tournament and ElShorbagy bows out at the semi-final stage or earlier, then the former will claim top spot. They are followed by Simon Rösner, Tarek Momen, Gawad, Miguel Angel Rodriguez and Paul Coll. Marwan ElShorbagy drops three places to No.8. Frenchman Gregory Gaultier – who is currently out of action due to a knee injury – drops to No.9, with Mohamed Abouelghar completing the top 10. Germany’s Raphael Kandra has moved up two places to a career-high No.15 ranking, while Tom Richards returns to the top 20 for the first time since August 2013. England’s Laura Massaro and America’s Amanda Sobhy have moved up to World No.7 and World No.11, respectively. Massaro defeated Wales’ Tesni Evans to win the Monte-Carlo Squash Classic, PSA Challenger Tour event last month to lift her first PSA title since the British Open in May 2017. Meanwhile, Sobhy has risen two places to No.11 – her highest ranking since October 2017 – and the Boston-based Harvard-graduate will look to break back into the top 10 when she competes on home soil later this month at the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions in New York. Egypt’s Raneem El Welily will begin the new year at World No.1 ahead of previous incumbent Nour El Sherbini, while Nour El Tayeb stays at No.3. New Zealand’s Joelle King and Camille Serme take the other two spots in the top five. Hania El Hammamy moves up three places to a career-high No.17 ranking, while her fellow Egyptian Yathreb Adel moves up two places to a career-high ranking of World No.20.
Source: PSA World Tour
January PSA World rankings (Photo credits: PSA World Tour)
January squash hotspots
--- New York’s iconic Grand Central Terminal will host the prestigious J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions for a 22nd successive year in January when reigning World Champions Mohamed ElShorbagy and Raneem El Welily return to battle for the coveted PSA World Tour Platinum title. Held under the chandeliers of Grand Central Terminal’s spectacular Vanderbilt Hall, the Tournament of Champions is one of the most highly-anticipated tournaments on the PSA Tour and the 2019 edition of the tournament features a record prize purse of $360,000, which will be split equally across the men’s and women’s draws. Egypt’s ElShorbagy headlines the men’s event – which takes place between January 16-24 – and will be bidding to win his third Tournament of Champions trophy, while he will also be aiming to keep his grip intact on the World No.1 spot amidst a serious challenge from World No.2 Ali Farag. If ElShorbagy exits the tournament at the semi-final stage or earlier and Farag wins the tournament then the latter will claim top spot for the first time. 27-year-old ElShorbagy is featured on the same side of the draw as younger brother Marwan ElShorbagy and defending champion Simon Rösner (who had made squash history last year, read blog of the 26th of January 2018), and receives a bye into round two where he will play either Switzerland’s Nicolas Mueller or compatriot Mazen Hesham. Meanwhile, Farag gets his tournament under way against 2010 winner James Willstrop, while the likes of New Zealand’s Paul Coll, Colombia’s Miguel Rodriguez and 2018 runner-up Tarek Momen are all involved on the Harvard-graduate’s side of the draw. El Welily tops the women’s draw – which begins two days after the men’s – and will make her first appearances on the PSA Tour since reclaiming the World No.1 spot from compatriot Nour El Sherbini on December 1. The 29-year-old from Alexandria won this tournament in 2015 and will look to continue a stunning start to the season which has seen her reach four successive finals and claim two titles, including October’s U.S. Open in Philadelphia. El Welily is seeded to play Hong Kong Open winner Joelle King in the semi-finals, while defending champion El Sherbini is predicted to play World No.3 Nour El Tayeb in the other last four fixture. United States No.1 Amanda Sobhy will have home hopes on her shoulders and the 2016 runner-up receives a bye into round two where she will play one of Canadian duo Samantha Cornett or Danielle Letourneau. If she can win her second round fixture, a mouthwatering third round match with El Tayeb will await her and she will aim to avenge her second round defeat to the Egyptian in the 2018 Tournament of Champions. 16-year-old Marina Stefanoni takes the wildcard spot in the women’s event for a second year running after she became the youngest player ever to compete at the tournament.
The Tournament of Champions is one of the most prestigious events on the PSA World Tour (Photo credit: PSA World Tour)
The opening tournament of the PSA World Tour for 2019 will have been held a few days before in India. Top seed and World No.4 Tarek Momen is on the same side of the draw as defending champion Saurav Ghosal, Switzerland’s World No.20 and last year’s runner-up Nicolas Mueller, and England’s World No.22 Tom Richards. Meanwhile, Marwan ElShorbagy, is seeded to meet compatriot Fares Dessouky in the semi-finals – with both players making their first appearance of the 2018/19 season – but will first have to navigate his way through a draw that also contains the likes of England’s former World No.1 James Willstrop and World No.3 Omar Mosaad. Marwan ElShorbagy plays with the Tecnifibre Carboflex 130 X-Speed squash racket. Discover the whole range of Tecnifibre squash rackets, available at My Squash.
Source: PSA World Tour
Winner: Karim Abdel Gawad (Egypt)