Watanabe and Elkabbani secure World Champs spots in Birmingham
Japan’s Satomi Watanabe and Egypt’s Ibrahim Elkabbani took the titles at the University of Birmingham Open, winning on the spectacular glass court housed inside Birmingham’s New Street Station, to guarantee themselves a spot of the 2021-2022 PSA World Championships in Cairo.
Having already taken out two higher-ranked players, in No.2 seed Marina Stefanoni and No.4 seed Alicia Mead, Watanabe came into the final against Egypt’s Nour Aboulmakarim in great form, and she showed that from the off. The Japanese No.1 had reached as high as World No.44 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and she played to that level once again in the final.
The first game was tight, with neither player able to break away, but Watanabe managed to at the end to take it 11-9, and she held the momentum throughout the rest of the contest. She won the second 11-6, and had a big lead in the third game before a collision between the pair saw the Egyptian take some time out of court for an injury. When she returned though, it was Watanabe who took the next two points to secure the victory, and her place in Cairo in five weeks time.
“I tried the previous one [World Champs qualifier] at Val de Reuil but I didn’t make it there. So, to make it to the World Championships means a lot for me!” Watanabe admitted.
“It’s a great opportunity which I am really happy, and I’m happy that I was able to grab it with my own hands. Now I know, and I understand that I am on the right track, the right path so I am really looking forward at the World Championships and seeing how far I can go against all those really good players.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity to understand how good they are and feel it physically, not by watching it on SQUASHTV. So that will be a really good experience and that will definitely motivate me to go further up the rankings.”
Ibrahim Elkabbani took the men’s title at the University of Birmingham Open on Saturday evening, after a comprehensive performance to get the better of England’s Miles Jenkins, as he won in straight games on the glass at New Street Station.
The Egyptian had overcome Hungary’s Balazs Farkas, a man already qualified for the PSA World Championships thanks to his victory in Odense last month, in. The semi-finals, and he brought that form into the final.
Jenkins started the stronger of the two in the opening exchanges, but Elkabbani was able to punish loose balls from the Englishman to take both of the first two games by an 11-7 scoreline. He then ran riot at the start of the third game, taking a massive lead early on, one he never looked like relinquishing as he won in straight games.
“I am over the moon. Words cannot describe how I feel right now,” the Egyptian said.
“This tournament was really tough for me because I have been in France two weeks ago. I couldn’t get to the finals there. I finished there and went to Liverpool and lost in three games, so I am really happy that I managed here, pushed myself throughout the tournament, and to get here, it’s incredible.
“I really want to do this! I am looking forward to having great battles with these legends. All I can say from these matches, it is gaining experience against the top players. I am really happy that I have made it there!”
The last of the four qualifying events for the 2021-2022 PSA World Championships in Cairo will be the Challenger 10 level Bermuda Open, which will take place from May 3-7 at the Bermuda Squash Rackets Association.
Top seeds taken out In semis in Birmingham
The semi-finals of the University of Birmingham Open, held on a spectacular glass court at Birmingham’s New Street Station, saw both of the tournament’s top seeds knocked out, as England’s Miles Jenkins and Egypt’s Nour Aboulmakarim caused upsets to reach the finals.
The Challenger 5 level tournament, which began at the university’s Sports & Fitness Centre on Tuesday, is the third of four qualifying events for the 2021-2022 PSA World Championships in Cairo next month, following on from the Odense Open and the Val de Reuil Normandie.
The first men’s semi-final at New Street Station saw an all-English affair between top seed Robert Downer and fourth seed Jenkins go head-to-head for a place in Saturday’s final, and it went the distance. Jenkins twice took the lead, only for his compatriot to fight back to level the match, the second game going to a tie-break.
27-year-old Jenkins, who sits just outside the world’s top 100, was able to find the back corners once again in the deciding game, getting back to the gameplan that had worked for him earlier in the match. That gave him a lead early on, and he was able to ride the momentum through to the finish, claiming the fifth game 11-4 to book his place in the final.
“I am delighted with that. The last time played, which was a couple of months ago, I lost 3-0, so to be able to turn that around and to get a win, especially with it being a World Championships qualifier is great!” Jenkins said.
“The ball went quite soft at the end of the fourth and I just had to adapt. My length went a bit short as the ball went dead. [At the] start of the fifth, I managed to get a bit of life into it and got my length through a bit more. That gave me opportunities to take the straight drop and force some errors out of him. I was disciplined towards the end, and that’s what you have to be!
“Really looking forward to the final, the glass court is playing lovely, the station is brilliant as well. There is a great atmosphere, a good crowd, so I am looking forward to it.”
Jenkins will now face Egypt’s Ibrahim Elkabbani on Saturday evening at Birmingham New Street Station, after the Egyptian overcame Hungarian No.1 Balazs Farkas in the last match of the day. Like the first men’s match, the pair went the distance, with Elkabbani getting over the line after 65 minutes of action, coming back from 2-1 down to win 3-2. Jenkins and Elkabbani will now battle it out for a guaranteed spot at the 2021-2022 PSA World Championships.
Elkabbani will be joined on finals day by another Egyptian, in No.3 seed Nour Aboulmakarim, after she overcame the challenge of facing the top seed in the women’s event, in England’s Lily Taylor.
After winning the first game on the glass court, Aboulmakarim found herself 2-1 down, with Taylor able to get in front of the young Egyptian and force her to play from the back corners. However, the 19-year-old fought back, and won the last two games, both by an 11-6 scoreline, to take the victory, and move into the final.
“It was a really tough match. It was not my day but I was trying to figure it out. The first game, I was playing well and then the second and the third, I was leading 8-5 in both games, and both times I lost,” she explained.
“The fourth and the fifth, I was trying to enjoy the moment, enjoy the court, the place, everything. I wasn’t thinking about anything other than just playing, and I managed to get there!
“I love the fact that it is in the middle of the station, it’s incredible! I love playing on the glass courts anyway. I loved the crowd, with everyone watching, and it was the best experience for me!”
Aboulmakarim will face Japan’s Satomi Watanabe on Saturday evening, after the World No.123 got the better of England’s Alicia Mead in straight games. The Englishwoman, who was suffering from illness, was unable to perform at a level near her best, and with Watanabe on form, there was only going to be one winner.
The finals of the University of Birmingham Open will take place on Saturday, April 9, with the action being shown live on the PSA Challenger Tour YouTube channel. The winners of tomorrow’s matches will earn their spots in Cairo for the sport’s premiere event.