Satomi Watanabe wrote her name into squash history today after beating US opponent Marina Stefanoni in the women’s quarter-finals of the WSF World Junior Squash Championships in New Zealand to become the first ever Japanese player to reach the men’s or women’s semi-finals of the prestigious World Squash Federation championship.
Seeded to reach the last eight at the Queen Elizabeth Youth Centre in Tauranga, the 18-year-old from Yokohama was making her fifth and final appearance in the championship after making her debut in 2012 as a 13-year-old.
Taken the full distance by Stefanoni – the 14-year-old who ousted 3/4 seed Nada Abbas in the biggest upset of the previous day – Watanabe ultimately prevailed 13-15, 12-10, 11-8, 9-11, 11-4 in 48 minutes.
“I’m so happy to make the top four in the world for the first time,” said the jubilant Japanese juvenile. “I didn’t start well, 7-10 down in the first two games, and I didn’t think I could do it, she’s so good and so young.
“But I told myself that this is my last worlds and I had to make it, and I did so I’m really happy!”
Watanabe now faces Hania El Hammamy after the top seed from Egypt also survived a full-distance fight with Sivasangari Subramaniam before finally beating the 5/8 seed from Malaysia 11-9, 9-11, 6-11, 11-6, 11-1.
There was another mighty women’s upset earlier when Egypt’s 5/8 seed Amina Yousry defeated second-seeded compatriot Zeina Mickawy 12-10, 13-11, 11-8 – avenging a five-game loss to her higher-ranked fellow countrywoman in the British Junior Open earlier this year.
“We have the utmost respect for each other, which makes it more special for whoever wins,” explained the delighted Yousry, a 17-year-old from Cairo. “We always have close matches, even today it was three-nil but so close, it depends who needs it more – it was Zeina in the British, today I just had the edge.
“My aim today was to just go out and enjoy it, and I did! It was getting a bit nervy in the third, I was 6-2 and 10-7 up but we both play better when we’re down. I was so glad when the referee called a stroke on the final point!”
But it took the 18-year-old top seed from Cairo – ranked 121 in the world – 53 minutes and five games to overcome Douglas and deny the 18-year-old from New York the chance to be the first ever US player to reach the event’s last four.
Ibrahim took the opening two games – but Douglas, ranked 50 places lower, forced the next two to tie-breaks, saving a match-ball in the fourth, before the Egyptian favourite ultimately prevailed 11-4, 11-3, 10-12, 10-12, 11-9.
“So much pressure, I was winning comfortably then it became so tense,” said Ibrahim after his victory. “I’m looking forward to playing a friend tomorrow!”
There was delight too in the French camp when Victor Crouin won his match in straight games to become the country’s first male semi-finalist since his illustrious compatriot Gregory Gaultier, currently the world number one, reached the final in 2000.
“I’m pleased to make the semis for the first time – as a 3/4 seed, that was my minimum target,” said Crouin (pictured above, right, in quarter-final action). I didn’t feel any pressure, I just wanted to play my game and I was quite happy with how I played. Now I hope the others have a brutal battle!”
Crouin now faces second seed Mohammad Al Sarraj after the Jordanian also recorded a straight games win, beating Egypt’s Mostafa Asal 11-8, 11-6, 11-6.
 Youssef Ibrahim (EGY) bt [5/8] Andrew Douglas (USA) 11-4, 11-3, 10-12, 10-12, 11-9 (53m)
[3/4] Marwan Tarek (EGY) bt [5/8] Abhay Singh (IND) 8-11, 11-4, 11-6, 11-6 (52m)
[3/4] Victor Crouin (FRA) bt Aly Hussein (EGY) 11-8, 11-4, 11-4 (42m)
 Mohammad Al Sarraj (JOR) bt [9/16] Mostafa Asal (EGY) 11-8, 11-6, 11-6 (40m)
 Hania El Hammamy (EGY) bt [5/8] Sivasangari Subramaniam (MAS) 11-9, 9-11, 6-11, 11-6, 11-1 (54m)
[5/8] Satomi Watanabe (JPN) bt [9/16] Marina Stefanoni (USA) 13-15, 12-10, 11-8, 9-11, 11-4 (48m)
[3/4] Rowan Reda Araby (EGY) bt [5/8] Andrea Lee (MAS) 11-8, 11-13, 12-10, 9-11, 11-6 (52m)
[5/8] Amina Yousry (EGY) bt  Zeina Mickawy (EGY) 12-10, 13-11, 11-8 (48m)