Tecnifibre British Junior Open 02-06 January, Sheffield    

Where are they now ?
Bob Hanscom looks at the progress of some
former, and future, junior stars  ...

In thinking back to one of my most memorable world-class refereeing assignments, the 1998 Men's World Junior Championships hosted at Princeton University, I wondered just how many World Junior and British Junior Open champions are still active in the game or related professions.

We all know that making it BIG in the world of professional squash is not only difficult, but because those at the top are SO good, one must be patient while accumulating ranking points, hopefully resulting in climbing that long ladder to the top echelon of professional squash.

Greats from the past

Going back to 1980 and 1981, when the World Junior Championship was first held, (every two years only) it was Chris Dittmar of Australia placing second both years, but winning the British in 1981 and 1982. Since retiring as a professional player, Dittmar has worked as a sports commentator for Australia's Channel Seven and as an Australian Football League commentator for Adelaide AM Radio station FIVEaa. He also regularly hosts the FIVEaa soccer show on Sunday evenings. Dittmar suffered a small brain haemorrhage requiring hospitalization in July of 2009, but is fine now.

Among others still active in the squash community is Chris Robertson of Australia, who won the world juniors in 1984, retired from the professional circuit in 1992 (hip problems, eventually requiring hip replacement) and was appointed as the national coach of Wales in 1994. He has just recently taken over the reigns as national coach of England.

In 1986, (at age 17) the great Jansher Khan came onto the scene, winning the world juniors, followed by eight World and six British Open titles before officially retiring (bad knees) from squash in 2001. He won a total of 99 professional titles and was ranked as the #1 player in the world for over six years. Jansher has (just this past week), been appointed as Pakistan's national coach.

Other World and British Junior Champions reaching the world's top ten include England's Del Harris (World 1988, British 1985-1988, Simon Parke (World 1990, British 1989 and 1981), now retired from active duty, and Egypt's Ahmed Barada (both in 1994) who is still pursuing a successful acting and singing career in his homeland.
Still playing ...

World junior champions still active as tour players are Ong Beng Hee of Malaysia, who took the World and British Junior titles in 1998, overcoming Wael El Hindi of Egypt in a tough four game match - 12 years ago! Both Beng Hee and El Hindi are still active on the PSA tour, world-ranked at #18 and #12 respectively. In 1999 Beng Hee reached the British Junior final again, but was ill on finals day giving the title to England's Nick Matthew.

That brings us to the year 2000, where the current crop of former World and British junior champions are now pretty-much dominating the professional senior circuit. In 2000, Karim Darwish of Egypt won both World and British  titles, (Greg Gaultier of France was runner-up in the Worlds then won the British in 2001) followed by James Willstrop of England winning both in 2002 (Peter Barker was runner-up in both finals), Ramy Ashour of Egypt winning the Worlds in 2004 and the Worlds and British in 2006.

The Egyptian dominance really started to take hold here, as Ashour was succeeded as world champion by Mohamad El Shorbagy in 2008 and (the event now held every year) 2009, Amr Khaled Khalifa of Egypt winning in 2010. In the British, Omar Mosaad took the title in 2007 before Shorbagy took three in a row from 2008 to 2010.

The players mentioned in the last three paragraphs currently occupy the #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #8, #10, #12, #17, #18 places in the world rankings, so although it's not a guaranteed route to the top, and it may take a few years, winning the World and/or British Junior titles is a good sign for your future prospects.
To the Ladies ...

We must also give mention to the former and current women world junior champions still active as well.

Beginning with Sarah Fitz-Gerald of Australia, she won the world juniors in 1987, and came out of retirement to help Australia regain the World Team title last month.

Nicol David
of Malaysia won the world juniors in 1999 and 2001 and the British in 2000 and has dominated the women's game for the last five years. Egyptians Omneya Abdel Kawy and Raneem El Weleily both won both titles and are spearheading Egypt's women's challenge.

Then there's the seemingly ever-present Rachael Grinham of Australia (trains in Egypt) who was the World Junior Champion in 1993, (17 years ago) won the World Open in 2007, and the British Open in 2003, 2004 and 2007. She reached the World #1 ranking in 2004 and is still ranked as the world's #5 female player.

Egypt's Nour El Sherbini won the world title in 2009 at the age of 13 and won the British this year at just 14. Amanda Sobhy, of the United States (first time ever for an American) followed her as world champion and is top seed for next year's British, while Nour El Tayeb was runner up to both in their World finals and has several younger-age British titles to her name. All are shooting rapidly up the world rankings.
The future ...

So ... what does the year 2011 and beyond hold for these (and future) World and British Junior Champions? To be sure, competing in world level junior competitions provides the training-ground for becoming our next world senior open champions.

And for most, if not all - there are many junior champions who never made it in the senior ranks - it will take patience, time, hard work ... and perhaps a little luck along the way in achieving the goal of becoming one of the best!



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