PRINCETON, N.J. -- Bates College junior Ahmed Abdel Khalek fought back from a 2-0 deficit to defeat Columbia University freshman Osama Khalifa 3-2 (12-14, 9-11, 11-9, 11-2, 11-8) on Sunday, to capture the College Squash Association men's individual championship, the first in school history.
Abdel Khalek (Cairo, Egypt), the top seed in the tournament, extended his personal winning streak to 42 matches, dating back to his loss in the 2013 CSA individual semifinals, his freshman season. Abdel Khalek finishes the 2015 season with a 25-0 record.
Abdel Khalek broke away from an 8-8 tie in the fifth and deciding game, clinching the crown with a backhand volley drop into the nick on the right side of Court 1 at Princeton's Jadwin Gymnasium. Abdel Khalek raised his arms in triumph, embraced the third-seeded Khalifa and walked off the court and into the outstretched arms of his supporters in Princeton, with head coach Pat Cosquer first in line.
"I really can't explain how I feel, but I know I'm very happy that I made Bates proud, and my teammates proud, and my coach proud," said Abdel Khalek, before launching into a litany of his supporters, from the many Bates parents who attended to his roommate, Jack Edmiston '16, who made the trip from Maine down to New Jersey early this morning. "If I keep thanking them, I won't be able to finish."
Abdel Khalek called his father in Egypt directly after the victory. He didn't tell him the match could be viewed live online "because he was going to go nuts if I told him."
It was not the first or second meeting between the two Egyptians, though Abdel Khalek can't recall exactly how many times they have played. "Everyone in Egypt knows who he is," Abdel Khalek said of Khalifa, adding that they have played at the same club in Cairo for the past three years. "He's very tough and he knows how to end a point very well," Abdel Khalek said. "I really respect him as a player. He's only a freshman and he has a bright future ahead of him."
The taller Khalifa played exceptionally well in the first two games, coming back from early deficits of four or more points in both frames. Abdel Khalek was visibly frustrated when he stalked off the court after dropping Game 2 11-9.
"I took a break and forgot the fact I was down two," he said. "I tried to calm myself down and think of the match as being tied 0-0. If I had allowed myself to believe I was behind, I couldn't have kept going."
Abdel Khalek again seized the early lead in the third game, going up 6-1 and 8-5. Khalifa closed within a point at 10-9, but his short shot hit the tin, and Abdel Khalek had his first game, closing the score to 2-1.
Abdel Khalek rampaged through the fourth game, by far the quickest of the five, winning at least the final six points to tie the match at 2-2.
"I think at that point, it had nothing to do with energy or stamina or even squash," said Abdel Khalek. "It was about who wanted it more. I wouldn't accept the fact that I was going to lose."
He continued to move about the court with noticeably more bounce in his step than Khalifa, but the Columbia player regrouped in the fifth game, keeping within three points for the entire frame. After Khalifa tied the game at 8-8, three straight let calls -- replayed points following a player interference call -- all went in Abdel Khalek's favor, and Abdel Khalek went up 9-8 after Khalifa was warned by an official about playing the ball. Abdel Khalek scored the last two points to claim the game, match and championship.
Back on Bates' campus, in a Dining Commons room reserved for a live screening of the match, about 40 students, many of them fellow squash players, erupted with the winning point. Junior men's squash captain Caran Arora held up his phone to record the winning point on the screen, then panned around the room for the elated reaction. The video went straight to Abdel Khalek's inbox. "That's an all-timer, right there," said Arora.
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