14-year-old Zakaria Gatecrashes World Junior Championship Semis
15 Aug 2022
Egypt's Mohamed Zakaria, aged 14, became the second youngest ever player to reach the men's World Junior Championships semi-finals, and the youngest since 2004, when he broke home hearts by coming from a game down to beat France's Brice Nicolas 3/2 in Nancy.
In the women's draw, his compatriots enjoyed a perfect day as Egypt took all four semi-final places for the fourth time in the last ten years.
Home favourite Nicolas had made a confident start to his match against Zakaria, with the 18-year-old's pace and accurate winners too much for the Egyptian to handle as the Frenchman edged the first game 12-10.
Zakaria's response, though, shocked the home crowd. The Alexandrian played with previously unseen intensity to snatch the momentum with a brace of dominant 11-3 wins.
Now it was time for Nicolas to hit back and, roared on by the vocal French crowd, he took the match into a fifth game with a hard-fought 11-6.
Zakaria did not appear flustered, though, and flew into a 5-1 lead in the decisive game. As the rallies became stretched and increasingly desperate, it was the 14-year-old who better held his nerve and length to seal an 11-6 win of his own and become the youngest man since Aamir Atlas Khan to reach the final four.
Zakaria will play fellow history maker Rowan Damming for a place in the final after the 17-year-old 5/8 seed became the first Dutch player to reach the semis with a 3/1 win over unseeded Colombian Juan Jose Torres.
Afterwards, Zakaria said: "I feel amazing, I've always dreamed of playing on an amazing court like this, with an amazing crowd! It's all thanks to my coaches. I've trained for a long time for this day and I've been waiting for it for a long time. I'm thankful that my hard work paid off.
"Egypt is the most supportive team ever. To be part of such a prestigious team is a dream. I was so thankful to have them in my corner, cheering every point."
In the other half of the men's draw, top seed Hamza Khan of Pakistan fought back from 2/1 down to setup a semi-final against 3/4 seed Finnlay Withington, who beat fellow Englishman Sam Osborne-Wylde 3/1.
Khan had looked strong as he took the opening game 11-3, before the physicality of 5/8 seed Mohamed Nasser upset the 16-year-old's rhythm and he went 2/1 down after 11-5, 11-9 wins for the Egyptian.
The world No.163 was able to reset for the fourth, though, and became the first Pakistani since Israr Ahmed in 2016 to reach the semi-finals with deserved 11-5 and 11-7 wins.
"First, my thanks to Allah for the win and I am so happy for the support of my parents, the Pakistan Squash Federation, and Pakistan. Today is Independence Day for Pakistan, so it's a gift for Pakistan that I won! I hope to do my best," Khan said.
"Even after the second game, I never lost my confidence. I just had to focus on my squash. Today I am so happy, Inshallah I will do my best! I want to thank my coaches, they work very hard for me here and at my squash club, my thanks to all!"
El Tayeb and Azman went into the match having met as recently as last month, where Azman recorded a 3/1 victory in the in the final of the Tuanku Muhriz Trophy.
Today, though, El Tayeb had her revenge. The world No.69 was in dominant form throughout, with her immaculate squash wearing down the Malaysian, who was hassled into too many errors.
After taking the first game 11-7, El Tayeb pushed on, winning the second 11-8 to move into a commanding position.
Although Azman pushed hard early in the third, she was unable to get the better of the 18-year-old, who wrapped up the match with an 11-6 win in the third game.
El Tayeb will play top seed and compatriot Kenzy Ayman in the semi-final, after the competition's highest ranked player narrowly avoided a shock defeat to England's 5/8 seed Saran Nghiem by coming back from 1/0 down to win 3/2.
Afterwards, El Tayeb said: "It's fun playing with Aira, we've been playing since we were 11 years old and it's always 50/50 and I'm so happy I got the win today. She's a very good player and I'm so happy with my performance.
"I'm so excited to be playing Kenzy tomorrow, we've played a lot of times in Egypt, so I'm excited to see what it's going to be like playing outside of Egypt."
Ayman added: "I'm seeded one, and in the first game of my first match, I felt really nervous because I'm top seed and you feel you have to win the whole championship. But I told myself to play with all I have and if I win, plan from there and keep going, and if I lose then I'll learn why and learn about what I can do."
The other women's semi-final will be contested by 3/4 seed Fayrouz Abouelkheir and No.2 seed Amina Orfi. With Orfi's fiery victory over 5/8 seed Malak Khafagy in the last match of the day an all-Egyptian encounter, Abouelkheir's measured performance to beat India'a 9/16 seed Anahat Singh guaranteed an entirely Egyptian semi-finals for the fourth time.