Chennai: India who was on the verge of creating history found Egypt too strong to win the first world title in the inaugural World Squash Federation. In a match that went down to the wire it was Egypt who came out as winner as they defeated the host 2/1 in the final of the SDAT WSF Under-21 World Cup.
The largest shopping complex in southern India attracted a near record crowd of over 75,000 on the day that India were playing in the first world squash final in the country's history. Throughout the long final, a significant percentage of the crowd were either surrounding the unique ASB GlassCourt court or hanging over balconies of the three floors overlooking the spectacular all-glass showcourt which features a pioneering new glass floor with under-floor LED lighting.
It was a tall order for the hosts in the opening match where team number one Ravi Dixit, ranked 183 in the world, faced Egypt's world No33 Marwan El Shorbagy, the highest-ranked man in the tournament.
The Delhi-born 20-year-old threw everything he had at the in-form world junior champion - and recovered from 2/0 down to win the third game, despite having to warm up a new ball at game-ball at 10-4.
But El Shorbagy, still only 18, stamped his authority on the next game to win 11-4, 11-7, 7-11, 11-7 in 58 minutes - and put the favourites into the lead.
But the match of the championship then followed - in which the star of Indian squash Dipika Pallikal, the highest-ranked woman in the event, faced Egyptian rival Nour El Sherbini.
The head-to-head record between the pair was one-all - but 20-year-old Pallikal is currently ranked 14 in the world, nine places above the 16-year-old former world junior champion from Alexandria.
Chennai born-and-bred Pallikal took the opening game, but to the dismay of the crowd, Sherbini won the next two to move ahead.
The Egyptian maintained her control of the match to march on to match-ball at 10-6. But Pallikal was not about to concede and, urged on by the exuberant crowd, clawed her way back into the game - saving four match-balls to draw level.
The crowd erupted - shouting and screaming more than ever before - and it as some time before the local heroine was able to resume play. Twice more Sherbini moved to within a single point of the title - and twice Pallikal fought back before finally converting her own first game ball - having saved six match-balls - to win the game 14-12.
With crowd scenes and screams rarely witnessed before at a squash event, Pallikal returned to the court inspired. After losing two points from 8-3 up, she returned the next serve into the nick, delivered a delicate back hand drop shot again into the nick before winning the third on a no let to claim a sensational 11-7, 4-11, 8-11, 14-12, 11-5 victory after 74 long minutes.
Pallikal was besieged by delirious fans and TV crews before speaking briefly to the crowd via the tournament MC.
Later, the Indian champion who is now coached by Australian legend Sarah Fitz-Gerald, admitted that the match had been her toughest of all-time. "I spoke to Sarah this morning and I knew she'd be watching - and all I could think about, when I was match-ball down, was what would I tell her when we next spoke.
"She had told me to keep going until the very end - the game's not over until somebody wins - and that's where I got my strength and confidence," explained Pallikal.
"And I didn't want to lose in front of my family and friends."
With the crowd now sensing a shock victory, the semi-final hero Ramit Tandon took to the court to face Egypt's Karim Abdel Gawad in the decider.
Gawad, a 20-year-old ranked 42 in the world, took the first game after a tie-break and then moved 2/0 ahead. But spurred on by the increasingly noisy crowd, Kolkata-born Tandon - ranked almost 300 places below his opponent - battled hard and took the third game to reduce the deficit.
But as the Egyptian reclaimed the advantage in the fourth, the crowd became more muted until Gawad eventually clinched his third match-ball to win 12-10, 11-4, 6-11, 11-8 after 67 minutes to earn the title for Egypt.
"It was a quality match for both sides - but I'm happy we did it for the second time," said Egyptian coach Amir Wagih, making reference to his country's victory almost 12 months earlier in the senior World Cup in Chennai.
"But congratulations to India - we expected it to be tough, but we really enjoyed it."
Indian national coach Cyrus Poncha was not wholly unhappy with the outcome: "If someone had said to me a week ago that we would be in the final, I would have taken it. What we achieved to get this far was brilliant - and today's performances by our players were outstanding.
"Dipika and Ramit rose to the occasion and played brilliant squash."
Earlier, second seeds England avenged their earlier shock pool defeat to France by beating the third seeds 2/1 in the Bronze medal play-off.
By Indian Sports News