'The ESF circuit has taught me so much' (plus a few lessons with Mostafa Asal!)
Under-19 player Oliver Jones says the ESF junior circuit has added a new dimension to his squash - building on an unforgettable summer in Egypt training with Mostafa Asal!
The Welsh teenager only started playing squash two years ago in his home town of Cardiff. He quickly became "obsessed" and entered his first European junior tournament at the French Junior Open in February.
While there, he became friends with Egyptian player (and silver medallist) Omar Elkeiy. Four months later, Omar's father, Mohamed Elkeiy, got a new job as coach of the game’s most outrageous player, Mostafa Asal.
Oliver, who plays and trains at least five times a week at Rhiwbana Squash & Racketball Club, texted his new friend Omar to ask his father whether he could come over and train in Egypt. Elkeiy snr replied immediately and said he could stay at his base, the new Alex West complex in Alexandria, which has apartments, restaurants and sports facilities including six squash courts.
When he arrived, Oliver was amazed to discover that his training partners included former world No.1 Asal, No.16 Mohamed ElSherbini, No.19 Aly Abou Eleinen, No.39 Karim El Hammamy and France’s 33rd-ranked Sebastien Bonmalais!
"It was an absolutely incredible experience," reflects Oliver. "I dont think I realised until about three or four weeks after I got back when I played at the Welsh Junior Open how much I've improved. That pushed my level really, really high."
Last weekend, Oliver finished fifth in the Spanish Junior Open in Madrid and squeezed a visit to the Bernabeu during his trip, which he made by himself. He says he has learned so much from his experiences so far on the ESF junior circuit - both on and off court.
"The first tournament I travelled to was the Scottish Junior Open last year and I was very nervous," he says. "But that gave me the confidence to go to the French. Each trip is an adventure - I enjoy the time on my own as I can just focus on my squash.
"I have always come back from the ESF tournaments a better player and I've always learned something new. You get to play against different styles and that really helps me improve. When you play against the same people from your club it gets a bit repetitive, so when you travel abroad it's a totally different experience."
Oliver is currently studying A Levels in PE, drama and politics and has ambitions to go to unviersity in America and play college squash. First of all, he wants to make the most of his remaining 18 months in the Under-19s: "My aim for next year is to compete in quite a lot of the ESF tournaments and to win most of them!"
Next up for him is the JC Lindsay Scottish Junior Open from 28-30 December in Edinburgh. Like his other solo trips, he will fund his travel and accommodation through his part-time work as an actor. He has played several parts in TV drama shows and was an extra in Paris Has Fallen, a TV spin-off of the Gerard Butler film franchise. Squash, however, is his first love. “I am definitely obsessed!” he admits.
At the Spanish Junior Open, unseeded South African John Anderson blitzed through the boys' U19 draw, dropping just one game in his five matches. Spaniard Pablo Antolin Gallego was runner-up with Mario Pedrosa winning bronze.
In the girls' U19 competition, France's top seed Lilou Brevard won all her matches in the round-robin format in straight games. Spain's Angela Gracia Garcia won silver (losing only to Brevard) with Croatia's Dora Rezic finishing third.
There were 26 entries in the boys' U17 draw which was won by home top seed Oriol Salvia Ripoll, who beat Alz Ezzat from the Dominican Republic 11-7, 11-5, 11-9. Javier Fraser Munoz won the 3/4 play-off in straight games.
In the boys' U15 draw, Spain's Lucas Castillo overcame Egyptian Omar Elhosary 11-8, 8-11, 11-7, 13-11 in a high quality final. Manuel Gonzalez won an all-Spanish battle for bronze with Arnau Puiggros Requena. Siena Hall Rogers of Spain was victor in the girls' U15s courtesy of a straight-games win over Malta's Mattea Saliba.
There was success for Egypt in the boys' U13 with Adam Ragheb defeating Spain's Rafael Rodriguez Segovia in four games and Miguel Ripolles Medina taking bronze. Meanwhile, Aditi Rao of England took home the girls' U13 trophy, with Spaniards Andrea Gonzalez and Nerea Sastre finishing second and third.