From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.34 :: Aug. 22, 2009

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SQUASH / WORLD JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP

Egyptians rule the roost

The African nation lit up an otherwise mundane junior championship, writes Kunal Diwan.

Pics: V. GANESAN

Good things were expected of Mohamed el Shorbagy (right), and the 18-year-old Alexandrian proved up to the test.

If the world junior squash championship escaped devolving into a spectacle of the second order, it was largely due to the magnificent Egyptians. Exclusivity and elitism, intuitive arrangements and gracious hosting, do not make a tournament, and what saved this grand congregation of global youth from mediocrity was what the Africans brought with them by way of skill. That daddy dearest was loaded enough to buy his bonnie lass a fancy squash kit and an air ticket to India di dn’t necessarily mean she could swing it like Shabana inside the glass chamber. Or could she?

Of the twenty-eight countries and a gaggle of players that landed at the Indian Squash Academy for the event, the ability of only a handful would have justified the cost of hauling them down to Chennai. But then such events are more about exposure and experience than about scaling the heights of sporting achievement.

Deviance and distraction were also out in full measure, elevated to a higher plane of performance by pretty faces that could also, as a cursory activity, hold a racquet without letting it slip. So, aside from the top four seeds, both the boys and girls fields were diluted like a happy-hour snifter — ordered with pride, swirled around the goblet of the Academy, but providing little, very little, in terms of the expected effect.

Seeded for a clean sweep, the Egyptians smacked everything in their way, two of them creating their own miniaturised version of ‘history’ — as hacks are duty-bound to describe every other occurrence in space and time. Good things were expected of Mohamed el Shorbagy, and the 18-year-old Alexandrian proved up to the test, joining compatriot Ramy Ashour (2004, 06) in becoming only the second person to have defended the boys crown. Already number 17 on the senior tour, Shorbagy has been tipped for greatness.

The two occasions on which the Egyptian smelled trouble were both against left-handers. England’s Nathan Lake and Germany’s Raphael Kandra — second round and quarterfinal, respectively — who took a game each off the champ. That apart, it was a casual stroll to the final where he extended his winning run over Asian juniors winner Ivan Yuen to 4-0, defending the title in straight games. Shorbagy was watchful during the initial stages, but cut loose in the final game.

“I knew Ivan was a fast player, so I tried to slow down the pace in the first game. The pressure was off me after going two up, and I went for my shots after that,” he said later, dedicating the win to his mother.

Another source of great entertainment was Pakistan’s enfant terrible Aurangzeb Mehmud. Warned several times for ‘unsportsmanlike’ conduct by the umpire, the surprise semifinalist had a simple explanation for not allowing the calls to get to him.



Egyptian Nour El Sherbini showed that age doesn't matter.

“I don’t understand English, so I had no idea what the umpire was saying.”

The girls draw was where home hopes were supposed to flare up into a victorious blaze. The only entity, however, that threatened to erupt into flames was the tangle of wires behind the balustrade on the viewing gallery. Like a mickle of mating earthworms, these snaky strings of electrical sustenance wound their way into microphones and boom boxes and wi-fi routers and other such unmistakable specimens of our age, sparking in protest each time a careless hack stumbled on a plug point.

The spark, regrettably, was missing where it would have been welcome. Dipika Pallikal — casual, languid, effective but lacking the obsessive frenzy of the Egyptian or the Hong Kong girls — was good enough for a semifinal berth, from which she was dumped by Nour el Tayeb. An American coach, overheard in passing, was of the opinion that Dipika “lacked the desire and enthusiasm” to translate natural ability into equivalent results.

But there was certainly no want of enthusiasm in Nour el Sherbini. Tall and childlike, bearing an amazing likeness to her father — who hung like a constant cloud cover over his daughter — Sherbini played well beyond her thirteen years to beat, first, second seed Heba el Torky in the quarterfinal, and then rallied to supplant Tayeb in the final.

The precocious champion became the youngest to win a girl’s junior world championship, displacing Malaysia’s Nicol David, who had won at 15. The reactionary overdrive that her win sent the Press into was also something of a novelty for the girl.

“I haven’t ever seen such a crowd at any of my matches in Egypt…there are never more than two photographers around,” she said, beaming into the cameras.

The girls’ team championship that followed the individual event went forth on expected lines: Egypt brooked little resistance in emerging a winner, plastering Hong Kong China in the final. Second seed India gave in to a resilient Hong Kong China in the semis, but beat the United States 2-1 in a thrilling third place playoff to come up with its best ever showing in the event; it had finished fourth in Cairo in 2003.

India’s third place was achieved chiefly through Dipika Pallikal, who won all her matches in the team event, and Surbhi Misra, who cast herself into the role of a doughty fighter. Anaka Alankamony did a Houdini in her matches, most of which went the full distance. Anwesha Reddy had all the shots, but not the consistency.

The U.S., though, was the surprise package of the draw. It spanked fourth seed Canada in the league phase and then scared Egypt in the semifinal.

Olivia Blatchford, one of the busier, more memorable of its players, was described by this writer as an ‘irritable, waddling duck’, compelling her father to launch a witchhunt at the venue for the blameworthy scribe. Thankfully, Mr. Blatchford’s return journey came in the way of what would have been a bloody shootout.

THE RESULTS

Finals: Boys: Mohamed el Shorbagy (Egy) bt Ivan Yuen (Mas) 11-9, 12-10, 11-2; Girls: Nour el Sherbini (Egy) bt Nour el Tayeb (Egy) 5-11, 11-7, 11-6, 11-5.

Semifinals: Boys: Mohamed El Shorbagy (Egy) bt Andrew Wagih Shoukry (Egy) 11-7, 11-9, 11-6; Ivan Yuen (Mas) bt Aurangzeb Mehmud (Pak) 11-6, 11-9, 11-3; Girls: Nour El Tayeb (Egy) bt Dipika Pallikal (Ind) 11-6, 8-11,11-8, 11-7; Nour El Sherbini (Egy) bt Maria Toor Pakay (Pak) 11-8, 11-6, 11-6.

Team Results: Final: Egypt bt Hong Kong 2-0 (Heba El Torky bt Tsz Ling Liu

11-6, 2-11, 11-5, 11-6; Nour El Sherbini bt Tsz Wing Tong 11-8, 11-6,

11-6); Third place playoff: India bt USA 2-1 (Dipika Pallikal bt Oliva

Blatchford 11-6, 11-7, 11-5; Surbhi Misra lost to Amanda Sobhy 3-11,

6-11, 12-10, 4-11; Anaka Alankamony bt Julie Cerullo 3-11, 11-5, 11-8,

10-12, 11-8).

Semifinals: Egypt bt USA 2-1 (Heba El Torky bt Olivia Blatchford

11-5, 11-6, 13-15, 11-7; Nour El Sherbini lost to Amanda Sobhy 6-11,

6-11, 8-11; Nour El Tayeb bt Julie Cemmullo 11-6, 11-5, 11-4)

Hong Kong China bt India 2-1 (Tsz Ling Lu lost to Dipika Pallikal 4-11, 12-10,

8-11, 6-11; Tsz Wing Tong bt Anwesha Reddy 12-10, 11-6, 11-8; Ka Man

Lee bt Surbhi Misra 11-9, 8-11, 11-9, 11-9).

Final team standings: 1. Egypt; 2. Hong Kong; 3. India; 4. USA; 5. Canada; 6.

England; 7. Malaysia; 8. New Zealand.



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