Battling Baltayan proud of Birmingham bronze

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Battling Baltayan proud of Birmingham bronze

Lauren Baltayan admitted winning bronze at the British Junior Open couldn't make up for the agony of her semi-final defeat, but the Frenchwoman was justifiably proud of her gutsy performances in Birmingham.

Surging with energy and determination in every point, Baltayan was magnificent to watch as she finished third in the girls' Under-17s at the BJO, beating Egypt's Barb Sameh 5-11, 8-11, 11-9, 11-5, 11-9 in a thrilling encounter in the bronze medal play-off. 

But for the Cairo-born player, even in victory there was a twinge of regret at not making the final. On Saturday, she had been 2/0 and 7-2 up in the semi against eventual champion Nadien Elhammamy before eventually succumbing 11-5, 11-8, 9-11, 5-11, 9-11.

"Winning this match doesn't make up for yesterday," she said after the third-place play-off. "In the semi, I was already thinking about the victory and how happy I'm going to be afterwards. I regret that - if I could take it back, I would.

"I feel like I lost a very big opportunity - but a part of me is still happy with the way I fought until the end. I am very proud of that."

Of her third-place play-off victory against Sameh, the 16-year-old said: "When it came down to the end of the fifth game, in my mind, it was the last 10 minutes of the tournament so I told myself to give my best so I don't regret not being on the podium of the British Open.

"This is one of my best achievements. It means I'm in the top three for my age so it's something I can really be proud of."

With her fist-pumping, high energy and determined retrieval, Baltayan is a real crowd-pleaser and clearly thrived off the full galleries behind the back wall.

She said: "I love it when there are many people watching, it motivates me more. The whole French team was here cheering for me so I was very hyper. It gave me confidence.

"I always think my body language is very important. My opponent has to see that I am focused on every ball. Even in the points I lose, I am always determined to be proud of the squash I'm producing. I want my opponent to know it's very difficult to beat me. They are going to have to work very hard."

Baltayan, who lives in Cairo but chose to play for France because of her French mother, will now focus on preparing for a $15k PSA Tour event in the US in two weeks' time.

She started playing on the PSA Tour in March last year - and within two months made herself a record-breaker! By beating Egypt's Ingy Hammouda at the Open de Bretzels in May, she became the youngest ever title-winning European player, male or female, on the pro tour. "It was a big honour because European squash have some great players," she reflects. "I feel like it was a big step to start my life on the Tour."

The teenager trains with renowned coach Ahmed Ehfat in Cairo. She is on court and in the gym six days a week, combining squash with home schooling.

She is currently ranked girls' U17 No.1 on the European junior circuit, having lifted the trophies at the Dutch and French Junior Opens last year, as well as finishing third at the European U19 Individual Championships. She said: "The European circuit is very nice because you get to travel to lots of European countries and meet new people - it's like a family."

Looking forward, Baltayan wants to emulate her hero and compatriot, Camille Serme, the former world No.2 and Tournament of Champions winner. She also has an ambition that Serme never had the opportunity to realise - playing at les Jeux Olympiques. 

"It would be a big honour to represent France," she states. "In 2028, will be 21, which is going to be a perfect age to play in the Olympics. It's something I have obviously thought about a lot since the announcement. Squash deserves its place and it is so exciting."

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