Princeton, NJ — Ahmed Abdel Khalek of Bates came back from 0-2 down to defeat Osama Khalifa of Columbia, winning the Pool Trophy and the Men’s National Individual Championship.
Abdel Khalek and Khalifa were the top two seeds in the men’s A Division draw, and they looked it: both won all of their matches leading up to the final in three games.
Top-seeded Abdel Khalek, a junior who was a First Team All-American in 2013-2014, opened the tournament by defeating Hayes Murphy of Penn. He then defeated Juan Vargas of Trinity, Edgar Zayas of St. Lawrence, and Ryosei Kobayashi of Rochester. He held Kobayashi, a First Team All-American last season, to just nine points overall, winning 11-2, 11-4, 11-3.
Abdel Khalek also reached the Pool Trophy semifinals in 2014 but did not compete last year due to injury. He was recently named the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) Player of the Year, a distinction he has earned for the past three seasons. He has been undefeated the past two seasons and posted a 20-0 record this year playing #1 for the Bobcats.
Khalifa, a first-year player, went 15-1 in team play in his debut campaign with Columbia. He primarily played #2 for the Lions behind senior Ramit Tandon, the 2015 Skillman Award winner; Tandon was injured last week during the Men’s National Team Championships and did not compete this weekend. Khalifa’s presence has made a substantial impact on the Lions, who reached the semifinals of the Men’s National Team Championships, the best performance in program history.
Not surprisingly, Khalifa also made an impact in his Pool Trophy debut, defeating Ibrahim Khan of St. Lawrence 3-0. Khalifa then defeated Rick Penders of Trinity in the quarterfinals, which he followed with wins over Samuel Kang (Princeton) and David Ryan (Harvard) in the next two rounds. Ryan in particular had been on a tear at the tournament, pulling off a series of upsets to reach the semifinals. He was no match for Khalifa, however, who won 11-7, 11-8, 11-8.
In the final, Abdel Khalek got off to a fast start, putting pressure on Khalifa early. After a series of let balls, Abdel Khalek ran up the score while Khalifa played more tentatively. When Abdel Khalek reached eight points, Khalifa woke up. He tied Abdel Khalek at 9-all, and then the two played point-for-point until Khalifa won at 14-12.
The next game stayed close throughout, with Khalifa edging Abdel Khalek 11-9.
Abdel Khalek put Khalifa on the defensive in the third game, and errors from the Columbia freshman helped Abdel Khalek to a 9-5 lead. Once again Khalifa started to come back, but Abdel Khalek managed to hold him off, winning the game 11-9.
Abdel Khalek ran up a small lead at the beginning of the fourth game, and when Khalifa tinned a shot at the end of a long rally, the momentum shifted decisively in the Bates junior’s favor. Abdel Khalek seized the opportunity, rolling to an 11-2 victory to tie the match 2-all.
After a let ball, the fifth game began with a long point, the two players moving each other around the court. A crisp, low backhand drive put Khalifa on the board first. Abdel Khalek answered by winning the next three points. Point after point ended in a let, but Abdel Khalek kept a slight lead until Khalifa tied it at 5-all. Abdel Khalek again pulled out to a small lead, but Khalifa kept it close. At 8-7 to Abdel Khalek, the two played let after let until Khalifa tied it at 8-all. It was the last point he would win in the match. Abdel Khalek won 11-8 in the fifth to win the match and the Pool Trophy
This is Abdel Khalek’s first intercollegiate individual championship and the first men’s national individual title for Bates.