Chennai: With two tough-to-call all-Egyptian finals lined up at the Express Avenue mall in Chennai on Monday, Rowan Reda Araby won her second World Junior Championships title in her third and final attempt, while Mostafa Asal lifted the men’s trophy.
Though seeded second, Asal, the player with a higher rank in the PSA senior tour, also held the upper-hand in the Egyptian nationals (both U-17 and U-19) against top seed Marwan Tarek and that showed in the final, with the former cruising to a 11-7, 13-11, 11-4 in 45 minutes in front of a sizeable turnout at the mall.
Though played in front of a marginally smaller crowd, the women’s final turned out to be the better match on the night as top seed Araby justified her billing with a gritty 11-4, 11-9, 10-12, 11-9 win over fellow Egyptian Hania El Hammamy and retained her crown.
Araby holds her nerve
Araby raced to a 5-0 lead and never looked back in the opening game, and it seemed she could do no wrong. She was controlling the rallies from both ends of the court and made hardly an error, as Hania struggled to find her footing.
The second game onwards, the match lived up to the expectations with neither player willing to give the other an inch – sometime literally, with numerous on court collisions and controversial “let” and “obstruct” calls. But that did not take anything away from the quality of shot-making. At one point, the aggressive Hania – who would have made badminton star Carolina Marin proud with her on-court yelling – reeled off successive points to go into a 8-6 lead. But Araby held her nerve to close it out 11-9.
The third game was by far the game of the day. After another tight start, Araby took a 6-4 lead after the best rally of the match with a nonchalant backhand winner and did a quiet fist pump. It seemed, then, it was a matter of time for the No. 1 seed as she ran into an 8-4 lead quickly. But Hania, after a few deliberate attempts to slow the pace of the game down (asking for a court cleanup, tying her shoe-laces multiple times between points), Hania disrupted Araby’s rhythm a tad bit. From 10-6, where Araby had four championship points, Hania roared back to take the game 12-10. Araby, for the first time in the match, was making elementary errors.
The fourth game was another tight affair, with no player gaining clear advantage. By this point the crowd, gathering in numbers at the top floors for a better view of the proceedings, was on the edge, cheering for both players when they played a good shot – of which there were plenty. But from 9-9 Araby finished it off clinically this time around.
“I freaked out actually [at missing out on four championship points]. I started thinking about winning the title. But when I lost that game, I started thinking only about my game plan,” the 17-year-old two-time champion told reporters after the match, relieved at finishing as the winner once again.
Hania, it seemed, knew from the outset that she was in for a tough battle against the favourite and was the more animated of the two players throughout the game. The only time Araby let a loud roar was when she had her fifth championship point, which she duly converted in the fourth game and fell on her back inside the court in celebration.
“Yesterday I was screaming all through the match but today I wanted to be calm, and not be tired against her. I just wanted to be in good frame and stay focused,” said Araby after the match.
Lop-side men’s final
With the crowd building up, there was excitement in the air when the men’s top two seeds took to the court but what followed was a scrappy, collision-filled, one-sided affair. Tarek, the No.1 seed, began well and took an early lead as the two Egyptians were involved in a battle of attrition marked by long rallies. Tarek went ahead 5-3 and was beginning to look comfortable before his countryman hit back.
After a few long rallies, Asal found himself in front and closed out the opening game, conceding just seven points.
Tarek seemed intent to wait for his rival to commit mistakes, but that tactic did not work against Asal, who was not only adept in returns but also mixing them. With the former coming into the final on the back of a gruelling five-set win in the semi-final, Asal looked fitter, fresher and more aggressive and all that seemed to be paying off.
In the second game, Tarek wasn’t at his best and Asal seized the advantage and overcame a minor hiccup to win it on extra points.
In the third, Asal raced to 8-1 lead before Tarek fought back briefly, but the No. 2 seed kept his nerve to shut out the favourite and win the match.
“I am happy I finally won. I thought Marwan was not fully fit after the exhausting match yesterday,” the new world junior champion said after the final.
Men: Mostafa Asal (Egy, 2) bt Marwan Tarek (Egy, 1) 11-7, 13-11, 11-4.
Women: Rowan Elaraby (Egy, 1) Hania El Hammamy (Egy, 2) 11-4, 11-9, 10-12, 11-9.
(With PTI inputs)