Monday, June 24, 2024

British Open Squash 2024: ‘Jonah Bryant one of brightest talents in English squash’

A player wearing goggles on a glass court in a major tournament is both a rarity and a sightly indication of rising star status. Jonah Bryant, buoyed on by a home crowd on stage at Birmingham Rep, came close to a major upset on Sunday before his winning opponent duly gave him praise afterwards in a match which belied his years.

The stage played first round matches for the first time and it was a chance for early home hopes to state their claim. Jasmine Hutton, fresh from a career best win in Florida this week, came through in three, as did a chest-thumping George Parker, who beat Nic Mueller in five.

Egypt’s World No.14 Youssef Ibrahim battled through the pain barrier to record a 3-2 victory over the 18-year-old English wildcard and European junior champion, who was mighty close to opening a two-game lead.

Ibrahim – who missed seven months of action between June 2022 and January 2023 due to a knee injury – has been struggling with injury problems in recent events and his movement wasn’t at its best today.

Bryant, who trains in Solihull less than 20 miles away from The Rep, was great value for building his lead and holding game balls in the second before inexperience let the Egyptian off the hook.

A big push from Ibrahim saw him fight back to take a 2-1 lead but World No.69 Bryant wasn’t to be dispatched that easily, drawing level to send the match into a decider. A quick fire start from the Egyptian saw him pull away though to record a 10-12, 13-11, 11-6, 6-11, 11-2 victory as he booked his spot in the last 32.

“I came here expecting a tough match,” said Ibrahim, who will play France’s Gregoire Marche next.

“Jonah is one of the brightest talents in English squash and he has a good future ahead of him. It was going to be no different playing him compared to any other top 30 players and he’s one to watch for the future. I was a little bit worried about my movement and the glass court, but I think in the end I started to move a bit better.

“I expected nothing less than a tough match and I’m happy to get the win in the end.

“I’ve spent so many hours with the physio and I’m trying to get my body as fit as possible to play this event. I wanted to push one last time and I didn’t want to pull out of this tournament. Hopefully I have a long time to recover and get prepared for the rest of the season.

“Credit to Jonah, he moved me around a lot and I hope he enjoys the PSA. I don’t want him to have too much pressure on him, he’s a bright talent and should enjoy it. He’s going to reach the highest level of the game and I wish him all the best.”

He will be joined in the next round by USA’s Andrew Douglas, who marked his British Open debut with a 3-1 upset win against Argentina’s World No.31 Leandro Romiglio in bizarre circumstances.

Douglas broke two rackets during January’s Tournament of Champions match with World Champion Diego Elias, and he went one better today, putting three to the sword, leaving him without a back up.

He was offered one of Romiglio’s by the Argentinian but was eventually handed a brand new Dunlop racket. After the plastic covering was eventually disposed of, he returned to court and had closed the match out within two rallies.

“I got into the tournament at the last minute and I was debating whether I was going to come or not, it’s a long flight, it’s expensive, so I only brought three rackets because I didn’t want to check a bag and wanted to save money,” Douglas explained.

“I couldn’t get four in my racket bag, so I brought three and saved £30. I might play with it [his Dunlop racket] tomorrow, it worked pretty well in the last few points. I’ll pay whatever fee it is, less than £30, hopefully!”

There was a home winner in the women’s event this afternoon as England’s World No.42 Katie Malliff defeated Wales’ Emily Whitlock. 

Malliff dominated the first two games and Whitlock shook hands after the second as she retired from the match, handing Malliff a place in the last 32 where she will play newly crowned World Champion Nouran Gohar.

Explaining what happened, Malliff said: “She just said that she felt the court was slippy. I felt okay, maybe it was her shoes.

“It’s good to play here, I was at Edgbaston Priory Club last year and thought I’d quite like to play on this court in front of this crowd, it’s really cool.

“The bigger the crowd, the more inspiration you have to win. It’s quite warm on here as well, so I feel like I’ve worked up quite a sweat.

“She [Gohar] will be the highest ranked player I’ve ever played, so it will be a great opportunity and let’s see what I can do.”

Malliff’s fellow Englishwoman – wildcard Torrie Malik – saw her tournament come to an end at the hands of Malaysia’s World No.37 Aifa Azman, who scored an 11-8, 8-11, 11-7, 11-6 victory.

There was a chance Azman could have played younger sister Aira in the next round, but a win for World No.16 Fayrouz Aboelkheir over at Edgbaston Priory Club – which will host 24 of today’s matches – put paid to those prospects.

“I didn’t play the British Open last year and just got to see all my friends play on the glass court,” said Azman.

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