Mohammed Elshorbagy was in the middle of a regular training session in Alexandria, Egypt when a six-year-old girl spotted him going through the motions in a squash court. That was in 2006, when the current men’s World No. 1 turned pro. But that was enough to pique the interest of Rowan Reda Araby, and she was hooked to squash for life.
On Monday, at the Express Avenue Hall in Chennai, the World No. 1 junior defeated second seed Hania El Hammamy 1-4, 11-9, 10-12, 11-9 to emulate her role model’s 2009 feat in the same city and clinch her second successive World Junior Squash Championship title.
The junior women’s final was high on quality. The match was exciting because of the classy shots played rather than the pushing and shoving that had become a factor in labelling a match dramatic in the women’s championship. There were occasional blocks and stroke points awarded, but long attacking rallies and aggressive returns were the dominant feature of the final.
The start, though, lacked sheen. Rowan Araby, who had cruised into the final with straight-game wins in all her matches, looked set for a similar finish in the final. She raced to a 7-0 lead in the first game before El Hammamy showed the stomach for a fight. Slowly, the shots started flowing from the racquet of the Cairo-based player, but Araby managed to stay ahead and win the first two games.
Araby was leading 10-6 in the third game and was a point away from clinching her second successive world junior title. Staring at defeat, it was at this point of the tournament that Hammamy decided to bring her best. She came up with a series of scintillating shots dominated by drops in the corners to win six consecutive points.
The brilliant display of squash and the cheerful applause for every point won indicated the quality of play in the third game. But it was two games too late in coming and Araby managed to just about hold on and add another title to her kitty.
“It was the toughest match in the tournament. She is World No. 20 and playing her is always tough. It was a really close game and I'm really happy I won,” the world junior champion said, exalting a sigh of relief.
Recollecting the third-game, she said: “I freaked out, actually. I started thinking about winning the title. After I lost that game, I started thinking about my only game plan and found my way.”
In 2009, another fellow Alexandrian, Nour El Sherbini, won the World Junior Championship in Chennai when she was just 13. Both the Egyptian winners have gone on to become World No. 1 and Araby is aware of that record. "I really hope I can emulate Nour el Sherbini. But first I have to work really hard to be like her. It's one of my goals,” she said.
“It was a very good tournament and the setting was lovely. I am happy because our players got all the top positions. I have the dream team,” Egypt coach Ahmed Matany said.
In a one-sided junior men’s final, No. 2 seed Mostafa Asal upstaged 2017 champion Marwan Tarek 11-7, 13-11, 11-4 to win his maiden World Junior Championship.
“Tarek put up a fight but he was probably exhausted after yesterday’s game. I want to be in the top-40 in PSA rankings by the end of this season. I am happy that I am a world champion right now,” Asal, who had also defeated Tarek in the national championship in Egypt recently, said.
Tarek had defeated Omar El Torkey in a 92-minute battle to reach the final.