England v Egypt finishes all square
The great Egypt-England shoot out for glory at the Ipswich Sports Club 12k PSA Challenger in Suffolk finished all square with the men’s title going the Moustafa Elsirty and Wendover’s Katie Malliff bagging the ladies’ title.
The sell-out crowd at Ipswich were treated to two cracking final matches capping a superb week of squash in the region’s biggest pro event for two decades. Hats off to the organisers and sponsors Security Foiling.
The men’s final had all the makings of a big-hitting, no-nonsense, battle, and that’s exactly what we got.
Game one was a veritable thump-fest as both players came out swinging and banging. Elsirty is built like a light-heavyweight and his game was clear from the off. Hit it hard, hit it straight and take no prisoners. And it pretty much worked to perfection with James slow to live with the pace surrendering 11-7.
The second was a complete reversal with the Englishman taking it to the man from Cairo from the get go. He upped the pace, a brave tactic indeed, and found reward for his guts and guile. 11-8 to James. Game on.
The third was niggly and heated. Disputed points, traffic congestion and a busy ref all made for great theatre if not classic squash. Whether by design or accident, that suited Elsirty who walked off happy with an 11-5 in the bag.
More of the same in Game Four. James out of the traps early, Elsirty finding tin like a Cornwall miner. But the big fella is game and ballsy. He levelled at 6-6, again at 7-7 and looked set to stride for home. But James knows how to scrap too. He held his nerve, and his line, to grab it 11-7. Cue more heated verbals from Elsirty. He left the court chuntering and scowling. A case of Saturday night Rant and Dec.
The stage was set for a white-knuckle ride to the finishing line. Alas, it didn’t pan out that way. Elsirty got off to a 6-0 flyer and never looked back. A brief rally midway looked promising for James but it was Egypt’s and Elsirty’s day. He wrapped it up 11-5 courtesy of a deft, backhand drop out of James’ reach.
Katie Malliff is nicknamed The Flame and it was fiery stuff from the first point. The No.1 seed was up against Nour Heikal and it took her just seven minutes to wrap up the opening game, 11-5. Superior speed and shot-making the key factors.
The second game followed a similar pattern with Heikal competitive but lacking the clinical finishing of Malliff. The girl from Alexandria kept pace early doors but failed to push on when it mattered. 11-8 to Malliff.
The Flame wrapped up game three and the match in clinical fashion. There was no dousing of the heat as Malliff stayed focussed winning 11-5, 11-8, 11-6 bringing down the curtain of the Ipswich tournament with her own drop of Suffolk punch.
Home hopefuls to face Egyptian challengers in Ipswich finals
It’s England against squash powerhouse Egypt in the finals of the Ipswich Sports Club PSA 12k Challenger event. A semi-final night of intense and pulsating squash in Suffolk delivered a final line up that will see Declan James face off against Moustafa Elsirty and Katie Malliff take on Nour Heikel.
The men’s match up witnesses two former top ranked players making their way back to the summit following time off court for differing reasons. James ruptured his Achilles tendon in November 2022 only returning to action late last year. Elsirty is back in action following a six-month hiatus after falling foul of World Anti-doping rules.
Elsirty’s place in the final came at the expense of England’s next big hope, Jonah Bryant, who had claimed three quality scalps on this way to the semis.
Last night was a step up in class for the 18-year-old from Brighton who was slightly overpowered by the 6ft 3inch Egyptian but never dominated. The 3-0 scoreline does not reflect Bryant’s competitiveness and skillset and the Ipswich crowd were given more than a taste of what the future holds for the prodigious young man.
Declan‘s encounter with Owain Taylor was a match up of two players who know each other’s game inside out. They are training partners and have forensic knowledge of one another’s strengths and weaknesses.
Dec took the spoils 3-0 but it was a full-on graft to the finishing line as Wales international Owain kept his foot on the gas all the way.
Katie Malliff’s semi-final victory over Yasshmita Jadish Kumar was more straightforward as the No.1 seed continued her pattern of improving in every round of the 12k Challenger event, sponsored by local company Security Foiling.
Katie is PSA ranked 38 and Jasshmita 79, and that gap illustrated the quality difference in the two players. The Malaysian displayed touches of brilliance and unbridled spirit, but it was the England player’s strength and calmness under pressure that delivered the 3-0 win.
Unquestionably, Nour Heikel’s shootout with French wonderkid Lauren Baltayan was the battle of the evening. The 16-year-old Baltayan, born in Cairo but representing France, is a pocket-rocket of considerable energy and talent. She may only be 5 feet tall but boy, does she pack a punch.
The two players went toe to toe all night. Nour led 2-0 but could never shake off her opponent who dug deep to win the next two games, surviving two match balls in the process. The decider didn’t disappoint either as they threw everything but the kitchen sink at one another. Nour edged it 11-8 but the crowd’s standing ovation at the end told its own story. Quality squash from two quality players.
Saturday’s finals start at 15.30 and can be watched on the PSA Challenger channel on Youtube.
Day THREE : Bryant advances as semi-finalists decided in Ipswich
Jonah Bryant, England’s top junior player now mixing it with the pros on the PSA Challenger tour, is into the semi-finals of the Ipswich Sports Club PSA 12k Challenger second round after a comprehensive win over fourth seed Jakub Solicky.
The 18-year-old prospect produced a solid, mature display never really looking troubled by his more experienced opponent. The 3-0 win far from flattered Jonah who now goes up against Egypt’s Moustafa Elsirty.
Elsirty’s path to the last four came courtesy of a lively and heated match-up with Malaysia’s Darren Pragasam. A series and dives and outrageous retrievals were some compensation for far too many on-court ‘conversations’.
Women’s top seed Katie Malliff upped her game from the night before with a classy, comprehensive performance against Egypt’s Nour Khafagy. Her 11-8, 11-8, 11-5 win in 30 minutes booked a semi spot against Yasshmita Jadish Kumar from Malaysia who finally ended the excellent run of Wales player Lowri Roberts.
The performance of the night came from 16-year-old Lauren Baltayan from France, already occupying the world # 81 ranking. Her aggressive and creative shot-making combined with impressive court speed was too much for the fourth seed Rana Ismail. The 3-1 victory gives her a shot at another Egyptian, Nour Heikal who beat New Zealand’s Kaitlyn Watts in three.
England’s Declan James and Owain Taylor, flying the flag for Wales, will meet tonight. Declan downed Spain’s Ivan Perez in three close games while Owain came through an 81-minute humdinger with Ameeshenraj Chandaran, conqueror of top seed Victor Byrtus in round two.
Day Two : Seeds skittled in Round Two
Seeded players were scattered like skittles at the Ipswich Sports Club PSA 12k Challenger second round last night.
CRASH: Down went the men’s #1 and #2 seeds Viktor Byrtus and Mohamed Zakaria, victims of Ameeshshenraj Chandaran and Darren Pragasam.
BANG: Out went the women’s second and third seeds Millie Tomlinson and Asia Harris, despatched by Egypt’s Nour Heikal and Wales star Lowri Roberts in front of another full house.
WALLOP: Men’s fourth seed Noor Zaman from Pakistan became the latest victim of England wonder kid Jonah Bryant. It took the teenager from Shorham on Sea just 27 minutes to send Zaman on his way.
And just for good measure, highly fancied seventh seeds, Alison Thomson and Aqeel Rehman from Austria were both packing their bags early.
Women’s top seed Katie Malliff looked strong despite dropping a game to French player Lea Barbeau. Her path to the ultimate PSA title was made slightly easier by the shock defeat by Tomlinson. Heikal looked sharp and determined as she laid out her stall to match anything Tomlinson could throw at her.
Pragasam’s victory over Egyptian teenage sensation Zakaria was equally unexpected but well deserved on the night. Ditto, Chandaran’s win over top dog Byrtus. Few people saw that coming. Bryant look composed and confident as he followed up his first round win over a seeded player by doing the same on night two removing Zaman 11-6, 11-7, 11-2 in 27 minutes.
Declan James had a 50-minute tester against Brice Nicholas as he returns from an ACL injury last year. Dec came through 3-0 and is getting stronger. An eye injury didn’t help Brice’s cause although he was always up against it against the more experienced Englishman.
Local player Owain Taylor delivered for the home crowed who were in good voice all evening. The atmosphere was cranked up a few notches as Owain took on New Zealand hope Elijah Thomas. Owain’s 3-0 win was deserved albeit never easy.
Round One : Bryant advances to Round Two
Rising England star Jonah Bryant pulled off the first shock of the Ipswich Sports Club PSA 12k Challenger Cup when he took out seeded Joeri Hapers from Belgium inside 28 minutes.
Bryant, 18, from Shorham on Sea already has three PSA Challenge Tour titles to his name as he winds down his junior career and heads into the professional world. His win over Hapers continued the form he showed last week landing the English Junior U-19 title giving the sell-out Ipswich crowd a taster of what the future might hold for English squash.
The Ipswich audience enjoyed a feast of quality matches with the match-up with Egypt’s Moustafa Elsirty and Sam Buckley from Ireland being the most feisty. Elsirty came through in three high-octane games that left the ref as worn out as the players having to deal with a stream of contested and heated points.
Three local wild-card players, Aaron Allpress, Stan Sykes and Mikey Tallentire, gave their opponents plenty to think about but were all ultimately edged out. Mikey’s eccentric shot on match-ball would have brought the house down, sadly it narrowly failed to hit the spot.
The women’s event witnessed wildcard Sofia Pita giving 9/16 seed Lea Barbeau a run for her money while Lowri Roberts came through another 3-2 marathon match to book a second-round match-up with third seed Asia Harris.
Egyptians knocked out two English Amelies (Brooke and Haworth). Haworth, who landed the U19 English title at the weekend fell to Nour Haikal while Brooke was denied by Ingy Hammouda.
The women’s draw is packed with international talent with England’s Katie Malliff and Millie Tomlinson installed as the one and two seeds. They begin their challenge this evening.
Preview : Zakariah and Bryant set for Ipswich Challenger
Squash wonderkid Mohamed Zakaria, the 16-year-old Egyptian currently being tipped as the sport’s next superstar player, is targeting this month’s 12k Ipswich Sports Club Challenger Cup as his next chance to down experienced professional opponents.
Zakaria, from Alexandria, dominated the British Junior Open U-19’s in Birmingham in January cementing his position as the best junior player in the world. He toppled England’s big hope Jonah Bryant in the final and both players are in the mix at Ipswich for the Challenger Cup sponsored by Security Foiling.
Zakaria has been installed as second seed in the men’s event which sits alongside a 12k women’s event, the first time in over a decade that the Ipswich Sports Club has staged two of the highest level PSA World Tour Events the East Region has seen. Both competitions will take place on 13th-17th February and tickets are available now.
Former world top 20 player Declan James continues his comeback from his Achilles injury as does former world no.22 Moustafa Elsirty who has a potential blockbuster quarter final encounter with Zakaria. Local favourite and former top 10 star Daryl Selby is also guaranteed to draw in the crowds.
Fast-rising Asia Harris, who has just moved out of the juniors, will be a threat as no.3 seed. And watch out for Europe’s no.1 junior Lauren Baltayan from France, South American Champion Catalina Pelaez from Colombia and Egypt’s Nour Khafagy. England’s junior No.1 Amelie Haworth takes one of the three wildcard spots.
Notable round one matches include Lowri Roberts v Ambre Allinckx, Nour Heikal v Amelie Haworth & Katerina Tycova v Hana Ismail, Daryl Selby v Darren Pragasm, Moustafa Elsirty v Sam Buckley and Temwa Chileshe v Miles Jenkins
For more information about the event, which has three key sponsors: Security Foiling, Insight Energy and Christchurch Veterinary Surgery, please contact Emily Ison at the Ipswich Club.