With the 2018 Dunlop British Junior Open (BJO) due to begin in Birmingham just three days into the new year, it is timely to remind ourselves of what a springboard to greatness the event may turn out to be for those young players who win titles next month.
The BJO is widely considered as the second most prestigious junior open squash competition after the World Junior Squash Championships. But don’t just take our word for it – history bears it out too!
A glance through the event’s list of previous champions reveals a number of familiar names that feature in the highest reaches of today’s world rankings, and a strong pattern of progression by teenage BJO title-winners to international success in the men’s and women’s games.
In the current men’s rankings, all of the top eight have won BJO titles, while seven of the top 10 have been crowned as Under-19 champion.
There are some multiple winners among them – headed by World No. 2 Mohamed Elshorbagy, who claimed five BJO titles. England’s own James Willstrop has three from five finals – including a triumph at the U14 level, two years before it and the U16 titles were replaced by the current age-categories in 1999 – while Gregory Gaultier, Karim Abdel Gawad and Nick Matthew all followed up BJO wins by becoming World Champions at senior level.
The second half of the world’s top 20 includes another dual British Junior and World Champion in Ramy Ashour, who won four BJO titles in all. And three more top-20 men – Diego Elias, Fares Dessouky and Omar Mosaad – also lifted silverware at the Open.
Of the women currently on the world stage, six of the top eight have won the BJO U19 title and beyond that collective statistic lie some very impressive individual ones.
World No. 1 Nour El Sherbini never lost a BJO match, collecting five titles at three different levels, but compatriot Raneem El Welily can beat that haul with half a dozen at all four. Nicol David was also unbeaten in her five BJO appearances, while two more Egyptians – Nouran Gohar and Nour El Tayeb – and Camille Serme are also top-ranked multiple winners.
Within the wider top 20, Annie Au, Olivia Blatchford, Emily Whitlock, Joshna Chinappa and Salma Hany are all former BJO champions.
So, be sure to look out during early January for the winners in Birmingham. The odds are that the world of squash will be hearing a lot more of them in years to come!
Words by Gareth Evans