01-May, DAY FOUR:

England Women win #27      France is Third !!!
Framboise Gommendy
reports from Rennes


 event roundup

  Men's Final: 

James Willstrop bt  Jean-Michel Arcucci  9/1, 9/0, 9/5
Nick Matthew bt Renan Lavigne 9/0, 9/4, 9/5
Peter Nicol bt Thierry Lincou  9/3, 9/1, 9/3
Lee Beachill lost to  Gregory Gaultier  6/9, 6/9


The English Team  today gave a great squash lesson to the French Team in front of 2,000 sold seats plus at least 500 volunteers, VIP, organisation, etc.

It took England only 7 games and 99 minutes to win their 29th European Team Title.

James Willstrop disposed of Jean Michel Arcucci (ranked 50) with very little trouble in 3 games,  9/1, 9/0, 9/5 in 34 minutes. And although the young Englishman didn’t really have any trouble, he did relax slightly in the 3rd and made a few mistakes, much to the appreciation of the French crowd. But James Willstrop was just in another league.

"I just couldn’t relax and let go" said a very disappointed Arcucci. "I twisted my ankle a few days ago, and I was over conscious of it. In the 3rd, I started playing better, but I felt also that he was making more mistakes than he should have done."

It started very badly for the French. How was the rest of the day going to go?

NICK MATTHEW: "I had goose-pimples"
Not well, dear, not well. Nick Matthew was in top condition, physically and mentally.

"When I came in the arena, I actually had goosepimples," he said. "It’s the first time in my life it's happened before a competition. The atmosphere is great. I was aware of the crowd of course, but I prefer having a whole crowd cheering for the other guy and just the English team supporting me, than playing in front of 2 people. And if you don’t enjoy an event of this quality, you’ll never enjoy anything."

First game to Nick, 9/0 in 6 minutes.

In the second, Renan started to take the measure of his opponent and to find some rhythm. The rallies became longer, more flamboyant with long drives and short drops, retrieving and good runs around the court. But Nick still kept the Frenchman at bay and won in 17 minutes, 9/4.

In the 3rd, Renan held to 5/5. Then they offered us a beautiful lesson in backhand drives that could have been an exhibition of Mr Malcolm Willstrop's training exercise: 42 drives in a row on the backhand, broken by Nick and won by Renan on a forehand drop shot.

Nick soared his wings and took off, leaving Lavigne on the ground, taking the third game 9/5.

"There was no pressure," said a calm Lavigne. "They were the favourites by far. They’ve got 5 players in the top 20, and have the best team in the world. We were here to enjoy the occasion. From now on, it’s Mission Impossible."

As the English had won 6 games to zero, the French had to win every game of the next two matches.

But Peter Nicol didn’t like the idea of losing even one game, even to please a whole French nation!

What a lack of manners. Really!

Thierry did feel the pressure, and although he played some amazing points, running to the 4 corners of the arena, in and out, up and down, he made too many tins, too many mistakes. And the “Boss” Peter Nicol, back at last to the World Number one spot, won the game 9/3, destroying all French hope that was left, and went on to win the next games 9/1, 9/3.

I know, I know, it was a dead rubber, no pressure, and this and that, but I know a lot of people who dreaded the next meeting between Lee Beachill and Grégory Gaultier.

For those of you who have been living on the moon for the last 6 months, at the last World Team Championships in Vienna back in November, France finished second in the event, beating England thanks to an extremely controversial match between the calm Beachill and the fiery Gaultier.

But today, none of that!

The two players couldn’t do enough to please the other one. I’m sure they both had been coached, and control and good manners was the name of the game.

To the point where, in the second game (Gaultier won the first one 9/6), Beachill saw a ball not up, the ref didn’t, Gaultier had a word with Lee, then turned to the ref and said "Let’s play a let", which Lee declined.

And at 7/6, the ref saw Beachill’s shot up, and the fair English player actually gave the ball back to his opponent, saluted by a storm of applause from the crowd.

A bit "please have this point", "no really I couldn’t", "please I insist" … kind of atmosphere.

But better than "I’m going to strip your skin bit by bit with the strings of my racquet, then strangle you with my shoe laces", don’t you think?

2 points later, Grégory Gaultier "sauvait l’honneur", saved the French honnor by winning a symbolic point.

The English Team was just in a different world all together today. But tomorrow is another day…












  Women's Final

Cassie Jackman bt Vanessa Atkinson  9/6, 9/4, 10/9
Linda Charman bt  Annelize Naude 9/4, 9/2
Vicky Botwright bt Karen Kronemeyer  9/3, 9/4, 9/1


Vicky Botwright, ranked 11, was facing Karen Kronemeyer, ranked 40. But the difference between the 2 players was visible to the point where there was no match really, and 29 minutes later, Vicky scored England 1st point 9/3, 9/4, 9/1.

Now, I was expecting a lot from the meeting between Cassie Jackman, world number 1, and Vanessa Atkinson, world number 3, especially as in the same event last year, Vanessa beat the English player, making history as it was the first time England dropped a match in the competition ... ever.

I was disappointed. Yes, Atkinson did fight hard, but the spark wasn’t there. And even when she came back into the match after losing the first 2 games 9/6, 9/4, and stuck to Cassie 8/8, her compatriots were not over supportive. Most of them had their arms crossed, and were very quiet. The French crowd was at least extremely loud and happy to see a bit of a challenge.

Shame really, as Vanessa is a fantastic player. The 2 ladies gave us some beautiful rallies, around 6/6 in the first in particular, where the serve kept on changing, with cross courts, drop shots and retrieving as much as you wanted.

But Cassie had it all, delicate attacking boasts, perfect length cross courts, lobbing for England, moving well on the court. One of those matches where you know why the Lady is Numero Uno.

“I didn’t want a repeat of last year’s final obviously. Vanessa was playing well and I must admit that I had to scrap it out in the 3rd, and I was happy to win it!”

That left Linda Charman to play Annelize Naude in the dead rubber. 9/4, 9/2.

Like I said, a normal day at the office really…




  Women's 3rd/4th

France 2-1 Belgium
Corinne Castets bt Charlie de Rycke  10/8, 9/7, 7/9, 9/2
Isabelle Stoehr bt Kim Hannes 9/6, 10/8, 1/9, 9/4
Laurence Bois lost Katline Cauwels  5/9, 7/9


France created a certain upset today by winning their 2 first matches in the 3rd place final against Belgium.

Corinne Castets, 39 year old (ranked 65), played the match of her life by retrieving shots that shouldn’t be retrieved to beat Belgium's 17 year old Charlie De Rycke (ranked 59).

As she is about to retire, what a beautiful way to go out!

Surprisingly (not), Castets was very nervous when she stepped into the court in front of a fully packed venue, under loud music, flashing lights and deafening cheering from the crowd. Her opponent used it to her advantage and went up 4/0. But the French lady was breathing adrenaline, and came back 4/4, to win the 1st game 10/8.

“C’est qui, nous?” “Who is “us””? Asked a 5 year old little boy to his father just behind me, wanting to know who to support!

When the Belgian started to get her game together, Castets slowed down the pace, lengthened the shots, and waited for the right moment to kill her off. And the tactic worked wonders. 9/7 for the French.

But even if Corinne is extremely fit (her spellchecker doesn’t recognise the word “fat”), she is still 39, and as her game is based on her athletic qualities and her retrieving, she started to suffer in the 3rd. De Rycke was playing very well, delaying her shots, going for some flamboyant shots that only teenagers and John White go for, and took the 3rd 9/7.

At that point, I did worry. Would Corinne have enough juice left?

Had she ever! She exploded with vitality, and just ran Charlie de Rycke deep into the ground point after point, 4/0, 7/1 and then to a final explosion of pure joy she gave France a vital first point 9/2 after 40 minutes of highly entertaining squash.

"Yesterday, I didn’t have a real match, as I played the dead rubber (against Linda Charman). All night, I kept focusing on trying to forget the colour of the flooring that was a problem during my previous match," said an over the moon French number 3.

"In the 3rd, I tried to play short shots too quickly, and as Charlie hits the ball very well, she put me under pressure. So I played long, patiently, and waited for the right moment to play a drop shot. And it worked fine."

Isabelle Stoehr, French number 1, had to win her match against Kim Hannes. You could see in her body language she felt the pressure very heavily. You can’t imagine more different players than Isabelle and Corinne. Corinne wins because she plays tactically and runs after shots that are a lost cause and still gets it, and Isabelle is a shot player, Flamboyance incarnated.

We saw a pattern standing out. Hannes would go up quite comfortably, 4/0 in the 1st, 7/1 in the 2nd, and again 4/0 in the 4th. And the French would claw back, point after point after point.

The crowd was beyond loud!

Stoehr dug in very deep to overcome her nerves and offer France their second victory 9/6 10/8, 1/9, 9/4.

“I was extremely tense” admitted a tearful Isa, as the French chanted. “I was unable to express what I had deep inside me. After losing 9/1 in the 3rd, I just let it go. Kim felt it, and started to doubt.”

“It was a complete psychological match, and victory is beautiful” said the very tearful Nathalie Cornet, French Coach.

The French flags were flying high, to the point where Vicky Botwright joked with her coach David Pearson and said "But I thought that WE were playing in the Final. Are we playing for 3rd and 4th?"

The day started well for France…



















And now, the end is near

Framboise goes to the party, and rounds up
one of the best squash events ever ...