By Colin McQuillan
Photos by Steve Line/SquashPics.com
Egypt was again the standout squad at the 2007 Powerplaysports British Junior Open at Abbeydale Park, Sheffield, with six titles from the eight age groups for the second year running. But, while the host country could manage only a single semifinalist from the field of nearly 500 players, the US celebrated its second champion in the history of the event.
Olivia Blatchford, a 13-year-old from New York seeded in the 5/8 group, fought back from 1-2 down in games and 0-7 in the fourth, to beat Malaysia’s Wee Nee Low, 5, (6), (2), 7, 2 in the 39-minute U15 final. Yale graduate Michelle Quibell registered a first US interest in the event when she took the U17 title back in 2001.
Wee Nee Low and her elder sister, Wee Wern Low, who lost in the U17 semifinals, are in the tradition of Malaysia’s Nicol David. Penang based, fast, elegant in the stroke and the tactical construction of their game. They are coached these days by the Canadian born former England international Jamie Hickox, but still seem a touch overwhelmed when power is ranged against them. The sturdy little American also accounted for Malaysia’s second seed, Yan Xin Tan, in the quarterfinals while Wee Nee Low was beating top seeded Nouran El Torky of Egypt.
Blatchford looks as though she could grow to be a serious hope for a homebred US No. 1 on the international circuit. A nuggety little player with strong legs and a good clean strike on the ball, she lost the U13 final at Abbeydale last year and was in danger of reaching the same conclusion this time until she stiffened her resolve, raised the tempo of her game and powered her way past Wee after seeing defeat just two points away.
She spent a few weeks with Malcolm Willstrop in Pontefract in Yorkshire leading into the British Junior Open and has now decided, in concert with her squash-mad parents, Peter and Elizabeth, to switch into the same Pontefract school attended by James Willstrop during his junior days so that she can train under the elder Willstrop at Pontefract on a fulltime basis.
Elizabeth Blatchford says Olivia has been happy enough working with the likes of Julian Wellings and Fiona Geaves at Heights Casino near their family home in Brooklyn, but she just loves the competitive atmosphere and friendly rivalry at Pontefract.
“We have good players and coaches in America, but their orientation is all towards college squash,” Elizabeth Blatchford said. “We think some time on the English and European scene, training with Malcolm and working with the other kids at Pontefract, will give her a completely different slant on the game.
“If it doesn’t work out she can always come home. College education is still there waiting. But we think the school that did so well for James can work for Olivia and she might come back to American squash with a game and an attitude that could work really well for her. We would love to see her grow to become the US No. 1 on the WISPA circuit.”
Around Blatchford, Egypt controlled the girl’s championship with Raneem El Weleily beating Camille Serme of France in a five-game 48-minute U19 final, Heba Alaa El Torky winning a 22-minute all-Egyptian U17 final in three games from Alia Balbaa and Nour El Sherbeny swiftly defeating Salma Esmat in the 21-minute all-Egyptian U13 final.
Pakistan deprived Egypt of their other anticipated title when they took the Boy’s U13 title away in the possession of Nasil Iqbal, a fast and inventive 12-year-old from Peshawar who defeated Egypt’s Fadi Tharwat after removing the last standing British player, Oliver Holland of Nottingham, from the semifinals.
Egypt collected the U15 title from Amr Khalid Khalifa’s 38-minute 3, 5, 2 victory over Pakistan’s Nousherwan, and finished by retaining the Drysdale Cup when Omar Mossad, twice previously the U17 BJO winner, stepped up to take over ownership of the U19 trophy by defeating the top seeded Aamir Atlas Khan of Pakistan in the 62- minute concluding encounter that gave his country six of the eight titles after providing 10 of the 16 finalists.
Mossad is just 18 and from Cairo. While his style is less flamboyant than Ramy Ashour’s, a bit more in the heavy stroking and measured mode of former Egyptian Champion Magdi Saad perhaps, there seems every reason to think he could carry the junior Egyptian flame being so carefully nurtured these days under the care of Amir Wagih.
Mohamed El Shorbagy collected the U17 title by winning an all-Egyptian final from Andrew Wagih. Moving up from U15 last year, El Shorbagy is from Alexandria but is at Millfield School in England these days, working with the legendary Jonah Barrington.