After an incredible 11 days of squash in Nancy, World Squash Federation (WSF) President Zena Wooldridge, OBE, and French Squash Federation (FFSquash) President Julien Muller reflected on the successful return of the WSF World Junior Squash Championships following a three-year COVID-enforced hiatus.
Beginning with the men’s and women’s individual events and concluding with the men’s team championship, the 2022 WSF World Junior Squash Championships saw young squash players from 37 countries descend on the northeastern French city, with the Netherlands’ Rowan Damming and Egypt’s Amina Orfi winning the individuals titles and England winning the team title.
Reacting immediately after the conclusion of the men’s team final, in which England secured their first title in 22 years by defeating top seeds Egypt 2-1, Wooldridge said: “It was a tremendous final. It kept tipping one way and then the other and we kept seeing the momentum change. It was just a really exciting match.
“Every one of those six players gave their absolute all physically and mentally; they didn’t leave anything behind and each one was tremendous.”
Wooldridge added praise for the final pair to enter the court, England’s Sam Osborne-Wylde and Egypt’s Mohamed Zakaria.
While Osborne-Wylde got the better of Zakaria 3-1 on the day, the 14-year-old Egyptian’s performance in the individual tournament – where as a 9/16 seed he reached the semi-finals – and the team competition captured a number of headlines, with Wooldridge highlighting Zakaria’s impressive tactical acumen and passion.
Reflecting on his picks for the strongest individual performances, Muller said: “Rowan Damming’s performance in the individual final, he showed a great maturity, Amina Orfi’s two incredible comebacks as well as Finnlay Whittington in the team’s final. I think overall the most successful players were the most creative ones, that’s the tendency in modern squash. It’s also interesting to see European squash shine, after such a period of dominance from Egypt.”
Muller added that he was pleased with the efforts of the French players, with France’s Brice Nicolas reaching the men’s quarter-finals and the men’s team reaching the same stage in their event, and that he hoped it could serve as a catalyst to continue the growth of squash in France.
“I am convinced it will pave the way for some great things in the future. Our aim in to create a package which clubs around France could use to organise such events, because we need them to promote squash to a wider audience.”
“The quality of the broadcasting was very high which means many people from around the world were able to watch over the last 11 days. The local authorities were also impressed with the quality of the organisation. Many came to watch, and I received a lot of messages from those who couldn’t make it to the final.”
Despite the competitive nature of the matches, one of the things Wooldridge points to as particularly pleasing was the strong friendships formed by players from all nations.
“I think that’s part of the appeal of the World Juniors in particular, and I think that’s something that they’ve really missed out on over the last two years: the camaraderie and friendships that they make whilst they’re juniors. I think that’s really important in our multi-cultural sport. It was really fantastic, for example, when Pakistan played India, and they were friends, the camaraderie was just fantastic. It’s a really important part [of the World Juniors] and it’s really important that it’s encouraged and supported.”
Concluding, Wooldridge paid tribute to the work FFSquash did in organising a tournament at short notice, following the relocation from the original host city of St Petersburg following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“It’s incredible what they’ve done in a short space of time. They only had three or four months but we trusted them. Because we had such a short period of time, we needed to find a host that we could trust, that would deliver it successfully. And they’ve certainly done that. It takes an awful lot of hard work to deliver a championship of this of this calibre and I do think that every one of the players, the coaches, and the team managers really appreciated that effort that’s been put in because the players so wanted this event to happen. So it’s been a big team effort, and I have to congratulate them, they’ve done a fabulous job.”