Rising Stars: Zakaria Eying World Junior Championship Revenge 

By Jonty Banks

“It’s one of the reasons I get up to train every day.” 

Those are the words of 2023 World Junior Championship runner-up Mohamed Zakaria as the rising star of Egyptian men’s squash reflects on his defeat at the hands of Pakistan’s Hamza Khan in the junior championship decider in Australia last year.

Zakaria, who became the youngest ever player to compete in a World Junior Championship final that day – at the age of 15 years and 10 months – was left to feel the weight of disappointment in Melbourne, but he has seemingly only used that defeat to propel himself to greater heights so far during in the 2023/24 season. 

“I learned a lot in that tournament, one of the big things that came out of it was that it changed my game so much – I realised I have to add so much more to my game to go to that next level,” said Zakaria.

Mohamed Zakaria en route to winning the British Junior Open 2024

“I guess the last game against Hamza could have gone my way, but I still have more to go and I’m very hungry for the rest of this season.”

Fuelled by his experience in the final, Zakaria embarked on a laser-focused training period, a period that ultimately resulted in him winning 22 of 25 outings on the PSA Challenger Tour – earning title victories at the LA Open, Northern Joe Cup, Sutton Coldfield International and the British Junior Open.

The first of those title wins, which came in Los Angeles, also saw Zakaria make history, with his 3-2 victory over home favourite Andrew Douglas in the final seeing him become the youngest male player ever to win a title on the PSA World Tour.

Not only that, but the victory catapulted Zakaria – then aged 16 years and one month – into the world’s top 100, making him the second youngest player ever (Amir Atlas Khan was 14 years 8 months) to reach that milestone. 

Such standout form has subsequently seen Zakaria billed as one of the brightest talents to emerge from the production line of Egyptian squash stars, but despite those successes the Alexandrian isn’t content with resting on his laurels and has already identified two main targets for the remainder of the 2023/24 season.  

“Winning the event in LA was definitely a memorable week for me and I still can’t get over it,” said Zakaria when recalling the crowning moment. 

“I went into that tournament and I had expectations and that fuelled me a lot during the weeks prior to the tournament in training and helped me to train better.

“When I looked into my draw, I found out I had the top seed Faraz [Khan] and then I would play Andrew [Douglas] and they’re great players. They’re very tough to break down, but I had expectations on myself, because I knew I needed to be beating those tough guys to get to the next level.

“So I was proud that I was able to achieve that.

“But I have more goals to achieve. Obviously, winning the World Juniors is one of my main goals, but before that, i want to reach the top 50 by the end of the season.

When quizzed on his goals moving further forward in his career, he added: “I have goals for sure in my career, as what would be my purpose otherwise? 

“My goal is to win as many world titles as I can, but for sure to stay on top – in the top seat as number one in the world for as long as I can. 

“It’s easier to get to the top than it is to stay at the top, so I would like to stay at the top for as long as I can.”

The speed of the 16-year-old’s rise up the World Rankings over the last calendar year has been impressive to say the least, with Zakaria climbing from outside the top 300 in January 2023 to a ranking of 79th in the world 12 months later. 

Since making his PSA Tour debut at the HSC Open in December 2022, Zakaria has boasted a 76% match win success rate on tour and a 100% strike rate from his three finals to date. 

However, the rise hasn’t come without setbacks, with Zakaria identifying his first-round defeat to Auguste Dussourd at last year’s El Gouna Open as a pivotal turning point in his fledgling career.

“I was a wildcard for last year’s El Gouna Open and after I finished the tournament, I sat with myself and thought about what I would need to do to get back there again,” he said. 

“It made me realise that I needed to work harder than ever just to break into the top 100 – and then even more to take it on from there. 

“This was something that never left the back of my mind. It was always there. When I finally broke that 100 mark I was happy, and my parents were very happy, but I know there is more work to do.”

The transition from talented junior to successful senior is one that has alluded many of the game’s brightest young talents, with the likes of Marwan Tarek, Karim El Hammamy and Eain Yow NG – all past World Junior Champions – some of the top juniors who haven’t managed to enjoy the same dominance in the senior game. 

But Zakaria has been unfazed by the transition and admits that he has done his due diligence in studying his predecessors.

“This conversion from juniors to PSA, I found it difficult at the beginning because the guys you play are so much fitter, they’re so much stronger, so much harder to break down.” he said.

“You can break someone easily in the juniors, but to break someone in the seniors, it’s pretty tough. You need to work very hard, you need to have a lot to your game and I had to adjust a lot, it took me a couple of months but I think I’ve handled it well.

“In order to change my game to be better suited to the PSA Tour, I watch a lot of matches on tour. I watch lots of Ali Farag, Diego Elias and Mostafa Asal, all of those top players. 

“One day, I’m going to play with these guys so I watch them to see how they deal with the game, see how they find solutions in the match, how they get back when they’re losing.”

Having now established himself as a major player on the PSA Challenger Tour, Zakaria admits to feeling much more at home on court – no matter his opponent’s age or experience. 

“I don’t feel a lot of pressure,” he admitted. “I need to use these years because I’m always going in as the younger player. 

“I have no pressure on me, but the opponent, he has all the pressure because he’s losing to a younger guy.

“But sometimes I actually have more threats to my game, and I’m the better player although I might not have as much experience so I use this a lot in my mentality at the moment.”

One tournament where Zakaria may move from the hunter to the hunted is at this year’s WSF World Junior Squash Championships, which are due to take place in Houston in July. 

However, with another season of squash on the PSA Tour under his belt, Zakaria will be hoping that he can exact revenge on the field and lift that sought-after trophy.