Posts Tagged ‘Squash’

Squash World Championships – Round Two

In Sport on October 30, 2013 at 12:31 AM

Ramy Ashour will be glad of a rather more comfortable second round game here in Manchester, after nearly finding himself one game away from exiting the competition at the first hurdle yesterday.

He eased to a 11-6, 11-6, 11-4 victory against compatriot Fares Dessouki in just 23 minutes, never looking rushed and the game often looking like an exhibition for the Egyptian.

Especially in the third, where Ashour pulled off a couple of volleys that it seemed the laws of physics would not permit.

He has this unique ability to make volleys few, if any, others could, and return with interest – deep the back court, as here, or very tight to the front wall – those that his peers could only hope to scramble back.

He will face Cameron Pilley in the next round, who beat Nafiizwan Adnan 11-9, 11-3, 9-11, 11-6

Peter Barker suffered some horrid luck, as a calf injury forced him to bow out from a winning position.

The Essex player, seeded 7th, would have had high hopes for the tournament given his form this year, which has seen him beat Nick Matthew to reach the final of the Canary Wharf Squash Classic and win his fourth Colombian Open, beating Omar Mosaad in the final.

And he had won the first two games comfortably here – his opponent, Henrik Mustonen, moving fairly well but having little to really hurt Barker with.

So the frustation etched on his face, when he pulled up sharply running for a front-court ball at 9-6 down in the third, was understandable.

After letting out a big shout, he stood still and silent for around 20 seconds before hobbling off for the designated three-minute injury break.

On returning he hit an ambitious smash nick attempt – the only really viable option in his state – into the tin, and had to retire.

The Finn, obviously pleased to go through even if in “not the nicest way” to do so, will face Indian Saurav Ghosal, who beat the higher-ranked Alister Walker in four, with Mustonen expecting a fast-paced game between two players with impressive retrieval.

Amr Shabana, four-time World Champion, who is returning from a long spell on the sidelines, showed signs of his best in beating Mathieu Castagnet 11-8, 11-7, 12-14 11-6.

The Egyptian displayed his vast array of flicks and tricks to outfox the Frenchman, but looked far from his past glories at times so it will be interesting to see how he fares against more slightly stronger opposition.

And his next match against Miguel Rodriguez, who beat Leo Au in three, promises fireworks – Shabana’s tricks against the Colombian’s legendary movement of super-quick, almost crab-like steps and outrageous full-length dives.

The opposition after that will be Nick Matthew or Omar Mosaad, both of whom won fairly comfortably in straight sets.

There were no major shocks in the lower half of the draw, which will please James Willstrop who has got other things on his mind at the moment, with his partner one week overdue with their first child.

Thankfully for the pair, she is former former World No.1 Vanessa Atkinson, so understands the demands on his time and his desire to win.

He said: “It’s a decision I made with Vanessa that I would play; she is not on her own which makes it easier. I’m not sure exactly how we will react when the baby comes.

“If it’s in the middle of the night, what should I do? We’ll play it by ear, really.

“At the moment I try and stay focused for the hour or two during the match and around it – and the rest of the day it’s all about Vanessa.

“I guess it puts everything in perspective and in the big scale of things, squash is not that important.”

Willstrop will play Spaniard Borja Golan, who beat Cesar Salazar in a straightforward 11-4, 11-6, 11-3.

Big-hitters Simon Rosner and Mohamed Elshorbagy will also meet in the last 16 after recording straight-games victories.

Elshorbagy wasn’t posed much difficulty by Omar Abdel Aziz, but the story was nearly very different for Rosner, who took just under an hour – very long for three games – to see off his tenacious opponent, Abdullah Al Mezayen.

First the German was forced to win the game deep into the tie-break, then Al Mezayen went through the wars to salvage the second set.

First he took Rosner’s not inconsiderable shoulder to his eye then diving full out and unsupported for what was, frankly, a lost cause. His efforts told slightly in the third, which he lost 11-5.

Karim Darwish also won in three, 11-7, 11-5, 11-3 against Finn Olli Tuominen.

He will play Darly Selby, who won a tense 75-minute match against tall South African Steve Coppinger, who got very frustated with the officials.

It probably had a fair bit to do with Selby too, who must have seemed like a fly Coppinger couldn’t swat – regularly retrieving balls he had no real right to get, and coming back from 9-7 down to take the crucial 2nd game 12-10.

Coppinger played some impressive squash to take the third 11-9, but seemed spent by his efforts, as he lost the fourth 11-3.

Number two seed Gregory Gaultier was once again in fine form, beating Australian qualifier Matthew Karwalski 1-9, 11-3, 11-5, and will face Tarek Momen, who beat Nicolas Mueller 5-11, 11-5, 11-4, 11-3.

Canary Wharf Squash Classic: final

In Sport on March 23, 2013 at 12:33 PM

James Willstrop won his fourth Canary Wharf title under the lights at East Wintergarden, beating Peter Barker 11-8, 5-11, 11-3, 11-4.

Before a packed crowd, Willstrop – who has played in each of the tournament’s ten years – put in a faultless display to overcome no.4 seed Barker, playing some of the best squash of his career at the tournament having beaten no.1 seed Nick Matthew 3-1 in last night’s semi-final.

Willstrop said: “I am very happy. Winning titles at this level is just getting harder all the time.

“The work all of us put in as we try to win is immense – especially here in London, one of the great venues and such a wonderful event.”

Willstrop should know, having been at the top of the game for over a decade, and faced many a battle with Peter Barker, with the head-to-head in PSA tournaments now standing at 18-1 in the tall Yorkshireman’s favour.

But facing Barker on such a run would seem a tougher challenge than usual, the Essex player having dispatched world no.27 Alan Clyne fairly comfortably in three in the first round, world no.12 Tom Richards in four in the next, then Matthew last night.

And so it proved, right from the off – Barker taking the first four points of the match, with two being awarded as strokes as Barker forced Willstrop out of position.

But Willstrop forced his way back to 6-6 – the pair fighting out several long rallies with neither giving an inch for their opponent to jump in on the attack and volley.

Of the next five rallies, one long rally went to Willstrop, three were called as lets and one as a stroke to Barker (in general, the match was much cleaner than Barker’s semi-final against Matthew, though).

Yet Willstrop kept his nerve after these tense exchanges, at 7-7, to go on to take the game 11-8 on the back of a cleverly improvised smash down the line, a great cross-court length and a couple of tight drop shots.

Barker fought back in the second, racing to a 6-2, then 10-3 lead, while showcasing his much-improved front-court play on display this tournament, which he remarked on afterwards – as a watching coach said, “if you can out-drop Willstrop, you deserve to win”.

Here, Willstrop got two back with some smart drives – but, after what must be said was a soft let in favour, Barker took the game thanks to Willstrop hitting the ball back on himself

Barker also took the first point of the third, with a great delayed boast which wrong-footed Willstrop, but lost the second due to some stern refereeing in, first, calling the no let when Barker was a little wrong-footed and running awkwardly, and then not allowing Barker to review after he had waited to see the replay on the big screen.

From here, Willstrop started to build a commanding lead, starting to pull the strings with smart drop shots after Barker, despite some great retrieval, could only loop or boast (side wall to front wall) some of Willstrop’s perfectly-executed lobs.

Willstrop’s control continued in the fourth, winning the first six in the game, meaning he had won ten straight points.

Barker mounted a small comeback, increasingly trying to beat Willstrop at the front court, but the Pontefract player – moving, as noted by many fans, as well as he has ever done – handled nearly everything Barker threw at him, and usually replied with even more – winning the match with a drive after Barker was the first to leave the ball even an inch loose in a drop/counter-drop exchange.

“Willstrop’s four in the world and I don’t think he’s happy with that – he wants to be back at the top of the game again,” Barker said. “He’s played well all week and he deserves it.”

“Last night, I was really trying to puff it up and put in another performance today. Not quite there, but a pretty good week for me.”

…A bit of an understatement, in truth, from Barker – if a typically humble one – considering he came in to the tournament a major injury doubt after the Kuwait Cup. And that now the 575 ranking points he will receive may well take him above Amr Shabana, up to no.7 in the world rankings.

Indeed, it was a great week for nearly everyone involved in the tournament – thoughts echoed by John Garwood, the Group Company Secretary of tournament sponsors Canary Wharf Group plc.

He said: “Every night this week, we have seen about a dozen reasons why squash should be an Olympic sport and golf shouldn’t.”

Amen to that.

Squash’s Olympic hurdle

In Sport on February 6, 2013 at 1:22 PM

UK Sport caused uproar in many quarters recently with its unforgiving approach to Olympic funding, which saw four sports have all their Rio 2016 funding cut, leading many to claim the organisation completely threw away the much-trumpeted ‘Olympic legacy’.

I don’t want to discuss the merits or deficiencies of this policy – that’s another debate – nor to diminish the efforts of the sportsmen involved, but at least they had some goal to have funding for.

Squash has no Olympic funding from UK Sport, because, despite great efforts, it is still not an Olympic sport – something most in the sport consider a travesty.

As such, squash receives no UK sport funding. It is true Sport England recently announced it – together with sister sport racketball – will receive up to a sizable £13.5m over the next four years.

When interviewed on this, Joe Magor, Kent County Men’s Captain and Kent SRA Tournament Officer, said: “England Squash & Racketball have done a great job securing funding and helping out county associations with information on several funding schemes to build squash or grassroots levels and to build communities around squash, and this boost in funding will no doubt help.”

However, all Olympic sports receive such finance in addition to any Olympic funding (a reason why the four aforementioned Olympic sports were given no UK Sport funding).

The money is certainly welcome, but what squash would really benefit from is the exposure and glamour afforded by the Olympics, just as UK cycling has grown not only through funding, great training and individual brilliance, but through being promoted to mainstream TV channels and sports supplement front pages.

For all the plaudits Andy Murray has been (rightly) getting for reaching finals recently, Brits Nick Matthew and fierce rival James Willstrop – after Sunday no. 2 and 3 respectively (Willstrop dropping from no. 1) – have been reaching, and winning, international finals for around a decade.

On the Olympics and getting “no recognition”, Willstrop said: “We’re English, we’re sitting there in July with the world number one and two, the numbers two and three women, and there’s a home Olympics – you just could not get any more depressing.”

“Had we been at the Olympics and won medals you can’t even imagine what that would have done for the profile of the sport.”

Also, squash is great way to keep fit – with Forbes Magazine rating squash the toughest cardiovascular sport – and very well suited to modern lifestyle, being short and not weather-dependent.

The 850-plus-strong UK squash club network has a great atmosphere around it too; competitive but fun at all levels, with a culture of team squash where busy people give up time to organise, cook, transport and coach teams, and a nice culture of home teams entertaining opponents, when they congratulate and commiserate with each other. Not dissimilar from Dave Cameron’s much-derided ‘big society’, in fact.

This is not to say squash is particularly British – being popular all over the Commonwealth and also in Europe and North America – a point made by Mr Magor in favour of Olympic inclusion.

He said: “Squash has a well-established pair of men’s and women’s professional tours with events over 50 countries over all the continents (except Antarctica!)”

And in some spectacular and unusual locations too, such as the forthcoming 16th Tournament of Champions.

Such points and more were raised in the Squash 2016 bid, which, despite much IOC praise, was ultimately unsuccessful – with golf and rugby sevens the chosen winners.

Yet many people’s suspicion is that golf and rugby sevens were chosen largely for their commercial interests – a point argued by George Mieras, WSF Olympic Bid Co-ordinator, in a letter to Olympic officials.

He referred to President Rogge’s statement that golf and rugby sevens would “bring extra value to the games” (his emphasis), and claims none of the other bidding sports could match these two sports’ “potential for bringing in spectators, sponsorship and TV”.

However, he added: “What this therefore represents is a significant shift on the part of the IOC, adding the need for such commercial value to the long established Olympiad criteria and ideals, which we certainly fulfilled so well.”

The squash community can only hope Olympic officials change their mind for the 2020 Olympics, so this sport – brutal, exhilarating and (small ‘o’) olympic – gets the recognition it deserves, here and elsewhere.

Joel Durston