More than a quarter-century ago, U.S. squash little resembled the game played almost everywhere else. The courts here were narrower, the balls springier, the styles and strategies uniquely American.

Then in the 1990s, the sport, whose U.S. roots run deep in Philadelphia, adopted international standards and America was forced to play catch-up.

The subsequent transition, slow and costly, helps explain why at this week's 2014 U.S. Open, being contested at Drexel University's Daskalakis Athletic Center, no U.S. men or women reached the round of 16.

While Egyptians, British and Malaysian players continue to dominate, a broadening of the once-clubby game's appeal here and a push by its U.S. leaders to identify and support young talent might soon lead to a new world order.

"We're finally emerging from a very disruptive event," said Kevin Klipstein, U.S. Squash's president and CEO, said this week. "The U.S. is beginning to make a play."

At the vanguard of this movement is Amanda Sobhy, 21, a Harvard senior about to embark on a career as a squash professional.

At 17, Sobhy became the first and only U.S. player to win the world junior championship and, despite her status as a full-time student, is the only one to achieve a top 10 international ranking.

"But with so many more squash players in the U.S. now, we're starting to see some young players who are going to make a difference," said Sobhy. "There is some real talent on our national team."

The injured Sobhy was unable to compete this week at Drexel. The overwhelming favorite to win the Open's women's title is Nicol David, the Malaysian who has been the world's top-ranked player for 102 straight months.

There's more drama on the men's side where Britain's Nick Matthew, France's Grag Gaultier, and the formidable Egyptian duo of Mohamed Elshorbagy and Amr Shabana will battle in the event whose finals will take place on Saturday.

"The top four players," said Matthew, "are all very competitive."

Sobhy, the daughter of an Egyptian immigrant who also starred at squash, picked up the sport as a young girl.

"I played tennis but my older brother played squash and my parents took me to his tournaments," she said. "I'd wander into empty courts and start hitting the ball and people began to tell my parents, 'Hey, she's really good.' "

She dropped tennis and began her ascent in a sport that, at least in America, where its base traditionally had been in private men's clubs, was historically inaccessible to women.

This spring when Sobhy graduates with a degree in social anthropology, she'll become one of the first Americans to play full time on the pro squash tour.

Thanks to U.S. Squash's Elite Athlete Program, she'll get a base salary, health benefits and help with expenses, support that coupled with her potential earnings on the circuit should, according to Klipstein, "guarantee her a six-figure income".

With success and a higher ranking will come bonuses, all part of the incentives meant to grow the old, enclosed-court racket game.

"We're casting a wide net," said Klipstein. "We're working with the best players at a very young age, 11-12. We work with them through college and encourage them to compete professionally. Because Amanda is young and high-ranked her bonuses are going to be very high."

According to Klipstein, U.S. Squash is spending between $300,000 and $400,000 annually on the developmental program, money that comes from membership and accreditation fees, tournaments like the one at Drexel, sponsorships and contributions.

It's reaping benefits. Once the sport of East Coast aristocrats, it's now reaching out to youngsters in suburbs and cities all across the nation.

There now are squash courts in college gyms and public health clubs. The Life Time Fitness chain, for example, operates 90.

According to the Sport & Fitness Association, 1.2 million Americans play squash, an 82 percent increase since 2007.

Klipstein said at least 130 men's and women's college teams compete at either the varsity or club level, though it's not an NCAA-sanctioned sport. Drexel recently added men's and women's teams, as did Columbia.

In the meantime, Sobhy is preparing for a journey that until very recently few American women could have envisioned. She hopes to compete internationally.

If, as its administrators hope, squash eventually gets into the Olympics, Sobhy will shoot for a medal. And when it's all over, she'll return to graduate school, possibly in public health.

"Until then, my goal is to be ranked No. 1 in the world," she said. "Winning the British Open and the U.S. Open would be a dream come true. But I just want to see how far I can go."