Pakistan pin hopes of ’squash revival’ on Peshawar teenager

July 11th, 2008 - 5:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Karachi, July 11 (IANS) Pakistan are hoping that a 17-year-old youngster from Peshawar will help them revive the halcyon days of squash glory by winning the world junior title in Switzerland this summer. After dominating the world squash scene for the best part of the last five decades, Pakistan have been experiencing a slump since the exit of their last world champion, Jansher Khan, in the late nineties.

Their players slumped in the rankings over the years and after being wiped out of the top-20 club at the international level, Pakistan have also suffered humiliating blows at the hands of Malaysia and even lowly Kuwait at the Asian level in recent times.

Public interest in the sport is at its lowest because of the national players’ pathetic performance and the increasing difficulties for the Pakistan Squash Federation (PSF) to generate sponsorship for the game.

But PSF officials are hoping that things will change if Aamir Atlas win the world junior title in Zurich. If he wins, he will be the first Pakistani to annex the world junior trophy after his illustrious uncle Jansher Khan won it in 1986 in Brisbane, Australia.

Aamir has been nominated as top seed in the 2008 World Junior Men’s Squash Championship, in which a record 163 players from 37 countries will compete in Zurich from 28 July to 1 August.

However, squash legends like Jansher and Jahangir Khan are of the view that winning at the junior level will do little for the sport which they believe is going through its darkest era in Pakistan.

“Aamir is currently the Pakistan number one at the senior level,” Jansher pointed out. “I don’t think his participation in a junior event will serve any purpose considering the fact that he has already appeared in the World Junior Championships twice before,” he added.

Jansher said that Aamir should focus on the professional circuit. “By putting Aamir in a junior event, the PSF is only looking for a shortcut to glory,” he said. “I left junior squash after appearing in just one world junior event because I knew that the professional circuit is the real thing,” he pointed out.

Jahangir, a record ten-time British Open champion, said the PSF should encourage younger and less experienced players than Aamir to feature at the junior level.

But PSF officials are convinced that Aamir will help them revive Pakistan squash by winning the title in Zurich.

A semi-finalist in the individual championship in 2004 and 2006, Aamir will be hoping that it will be third time lucky in Zurich. He faces New Zealander Lui Syder in the 128-man third round draw.

If successful, Aamir would become only the third Pakistani to win the title - but the first since his legendary uncle Jansher Khan lifted the trophy in Australia in 1986, before going on to win the senior World Open crown for a record eight times.

Egyptian Mohamed El Shorbagy, also 17, is the No.2 seed, while Switzerland’s Nicolas Mueller and Frenchman Gregoire Marche - who contested the 2008 European Junior Championship final - are third and fourth seeds, respectively.

Nicolas Mueller will lead the home interest in the event. The 18-year-old from Hirzel, near Zurich, became the first Swiss player to win the European Junior title in 2007.

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