Friday, July 12, 2024

World Junior Squash 2023: Pakistan and Malaysia players make history

First it was the shocks, now history-making antics were made at the WSF World Junior Squash Championships on Saturday.

Malaysia’s Aira Azman became the first Malaysian women’s finalist since Nicol David, Pakistan’s Hamza Khan became his nation’s first finalist for 15 years, Egypt’s Mohamed Zakaria became youngest ever men’s finalist and Egypt’s Amina Orfi attempts to defend her title.

In the opening match of the day at the Melbourne Sports Centres, [3/4] seed Azman became the first Malaysian woman to reach the final since David in 2001 and the first non-Egyptian since 2010 thanks to a dominant upset win over Egyptian No.2 seed Fayrouz Aboelkheir.

With both players enjoying going on the attack, rallies were short and sharp.

The key moments in the match, which resembled a shoot-out at times, were decided by who dealt better with the pressure of the occasion.

Throughout the match, this was Azman, with the 18-year-old finding her targets more consistently than Aboelkheir as she wrapped up the victory over her higher-seeded opponent in straight games and just 28 minutes.

That win for Azman meant that there will be a women’s final contested by a player from outside of Egypt for the first time since in Cologne in 2010, when USA’s Amanda Sobhy beat Egypt’s Nour El Tayeb.

Aira Azman

“I played really well today and I’m so proud of myself. It means so much [to reach the final] because this is my last year playing [as a junior]. This is my fourth World Juniors and to make it to my first final at the last one is something I’m very grateful for,” Azman said afterwards.

Azman will take on women’s defending champion and top seed Amina Orfi in the final tomorrow after the 16-year-old saw off compatriot Malak Khafagy in a physical encounter.

In the men’s draw, there was more history made as Hamza Khan became the first man from Pakistan to reach the final since Aamir Atlas Khan 15 years ago, after he survived a match ball in a gripping encounter with French [9/16] seed Melvil Scianimanico.

Khan looked to be cantering into the final when he took a 2-0 lead thanks to neat footwork and a swashbuckling style.

Mohamed Zakaria

Scianimanico, however, has proven his metal during a number of tough matches this tournament, and dug in fantastically as he saved match ball in game three before eventually levelling the tie with a 12-10 win in game three and a 11-9 win in game four.

In a pulsating fifth game, Khan looked to have done enough when he earned three match balls at 10-7, but could not convert as he rushed his attacks.

Things went from bad to worse for Khan as he was brought to the brink of a shock defeat when Scianimanico earned a match ball of his own at 11-10.

Khan, however, clung on and, this time, was more patient with his attacks, timing them perfectly to finally get over the line with a 13-11 victory.

Khan will take on Egyptian [3/4] seed Mohamed Zakaria in the men’s final, with the Cairo native becoming the men’s competition’s youngest ever finalist after a 3-0 win against compatriot and [5/8] seed Salman Khalil.

Zakaria, aged just 15, put in a dominant display as he sent out Khalil, who the day before had shocked top seed Jonah Bryant.

While Zakaria lacked the pace and power of the 18-year-old, he possesses a deft touch and great tactical understanding, which proved the difference as he took down Khalil in straight games.

Results: 2023 WSF World Junior Squash Championships – Men’s Semi-Final
[3/4] Mohamed Zakaria (EGY) bt [5/8] Salman Khalil (EGY) 3-0: 11-7, 11-6, 11-6 (44m)
[3/4] Hamza Khan (PAK) bt [9/16] Melvil Scianimanico (FRA) 3-2: 11-8, 11-4, 10-12, 9-11, 13-11 (81m)

Results: 2023 WSF World Junior Squash Championships – Women’s Semi-Final
[1] Amina Orfi (EGY) bt [3/4] Malak Khafagy (EGY) 3-1: 11-5, 9-11, 11-7, 11-3 (55m)
[3/4] Aira Azman (MAS) bt [2] Fayrouz Aboelkheir (EGY) 3-0: 12-10, 11-7, 11-8 (28 minutes)

Draw: 2023 WSF World Junior Squash Championships – Men’s Final

[3/4] Mohamed Zakaria (EGY) v [3/4] Hamza Khan (PAK)

Draw: 2023 WSF World Junior Squash Championships – Women’s Final

[1] Amina Orfi (EGY) v [3/4] Aira Azman (MAS)

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