Many of the young squash stars of the future eager to make their mark in this week’s WSF Under-21 World Cup in India will arrive in Chennai fresh from notable success on the senior international circuit.
Mixed teams from eight nations will compete in the inaugural biennial event launched by the World Squash Federationwhich gets underway on Wednesday.
After early rounds at the Indian Squash Academy in Chennai, the final stages of the U21 World Cup will be held on an all-glass show court erected at the Express Avenue Mall, the largest shopping complex in southern India.
Egypt, led by the two reigning world junior champions Marwan El Shorbagy and Nour El Tayeb, are the top seeds, ahead of second seeds England, No3 seeds France - and hosts India as fourth seeds.
El Shorbagy, the 18-year-old world No41 from Alexandria, reached last week’s quarter-finals of the Tournament of Champions in New York, becoming the first qualifier to appear in the last eight of the elite PSA World Series event for ten years.
Furthermore, team-mate Nour El Sherbini, a 16-year-old former world junior (U19) champion, made the semi-finals of the women’s Tournament of Champions unseeded.
But a surprise finalist in the event was 20-year-old Dipika Pallikal, the Indian senior champion from Chennai. The world No15 – the highest-ranked player in the World Cup – recorded her best ever success on the women’s World Tour in New York after overturning two higher-seeded opponents to reach the final as the seventh seed.
Australia team member Sarah Cardwell, the 20-year-old daughter of legendary former world No1 Vicki Cardwell, has also just shown her best form to date – winning her maiden Tour title this month at the Australia Day Challenge.
Charles Sharpes, a London-born 19-year-old who leads the England attack, took out the top two seeds in the first PSA World Tour ranking event of the year in France to notch up the fourth Tour title of his brief career to date.
The former British U17 and U19 national champion enjoyed an illustrious junior career, having represented his country at U15, U17 and U19 levels.
“If it wasn’t for an event like the WSF U21 World Cup, a player like Charles would be unlikely to play again for England for five years,” said England Squash & Racketball’s Head of Coaching & Performance Keir Worth. “And representative squash is so different.”
Sharpes, ranked 96 in the world, will be joined in the England squad in Chennai by 20-year-old Ben Coleman, 18-year-oldDeclan James, 20-year-old Carrie Ramsey, and 17-year-old European Junior Champion Emily Whitlock, the current No1 in the WSF World Junior Circuit Rankings.
“But the new event is also a good way to measure our success internationally – our players tend to come on later than others,” added Worth. “Charles is hitting form just at the right time and Emily, who is only 17, is also showing great promise – as is Declan, who is still at school.
“What makes this event unusual is that if you look at the draw, you will see that there are no easy matches – right from the early pool stages.
“But the real key is that the U21 World Cup establishes itself as a permanent fixture on the squash calendar – one that more countries can build into their future planning to give their players the chance to play representative squash earlier than might otherwise be possible,” concluded Worth.
Early action will take place in two pools of four teams each, followed by semi-finals on Saturday (4 February) and the final on Sunday.
Pool line-ups (with seedings in brackets):
Pool A: (1) Egypt, (4) India, (5) Australia, (8) Germany
Pool B: (2) England, (3) France, (6) Hong Kong, (7) Malaysia