RENNES - the Director's Cut ...
This article originally appeared,
in butchered form, in the 2004-3 issue of The Squash Player.
This is the original.
The European Team Championship 2004
is now rated “probably the
best squash event ever”.
The officials from the ESF, the WSF, (even Malcolm Willstrop, that says it all!), the players, everybody praised the French organisation, the venue, the exposure in the town and in the press.
37 teams. 23 men’s teams (average 5 players, plus coach, plus…), 14 women’s teams (average 4 players, plus, plus). 43 Referees. Organisation Members. Lots and lots of them. 100 Volunteers. Press.
In this article:
WARMING UP TO THE FINAL
To start with, Beachill-Matthew-Willstrop-Grant (first cap, losing only one point) squashed Sweden. The second day, they started by walking all over Denmark (Nicol replacing Beachill), and finished it by sweeping Netherlands aside (who chose to keep their two strongest players for the semis).
In the semi final, Wales didn’t give England much to worry about. 26 minutes for Grant against Ricky Davies, Willstrop had the “longest match” 30 minutes, then Nicol gave the Welsh the “coup de grace” by beating Gough 9/6, 9/0, 9/0, leaving Beachill to play a dead rubber against David Evans.
SMOOTHLY DOES IT
First the French played Ireland. Arcucci/ John Hurley 9/5, 9/2, 9/3 –Steve Richardson gave Lavigne a good run for his money (9/4, 9/4, 9/1) – Gaultier the “Magician” vs John Rooney (9/1, 9/3, 3/3 retired because of back trouble). Then Lincou killed off Liam Kelly 9/5, 9/0, 9/3.
Next morning, Spain. Lincou-Gaultier-Lavigne-Elriani encountered no problem.
The afternoon match, Wales, was a great show, and a large and loud crowd made it all complete! Lavigne and Tippings gave us a beautiful game of, “I drop you, and you catch it”, the Lincou and Evans game erupted in drop shots and retrieving that could have made the final of any PSA tournament!
France’s semi-final against the Netherlands was played at “le Liberté”. Elriani, ranked 91, took five match points in front of a wild crowd to beat Dylan Bennett, ranked 78, 3/0. Lucas Buit took the first game 9/0 from Lavigne but was forced to retire injured.
And then Thierry Lincou, our star, stepped in. You have no idea of the admiration, the aura that this young discreet and gentle man carries round. In England, I’m practically the only voice that is behind him. But over here, he is adored. And it feels good.
Against Tommy Berden (ranked 34), Lincou won the first 9/3, lost the second 8/9, took only two minutes to win the 3rd 9/0 and concluded 9/4.
Gaultier won the dead rubber against Laurens Anjema.
As expected, England and France were to meet in the Final.
FRANCE HOW IT’S DONE…
The English Team gave a great squash lesson to the French Team in front of 2,000 sold seats plus at least 500 non paying, volunteers, VIP, organisation, etc.
It took England only seven games and 99 minutes to win their 29th European Team Title.
James Willstrop (ranked 13) disposed of Jean Michel Arcucci (ranked 50) with very little trouble in 3 games and 34 minutes. Then it took Nick Matthew 6 minutes to take the first game 9/0 from Renan Lavigne.
The rallies became longer, with long drives and short drops, retrieving and good runs around the court. Nick won the second 9/4. In the third, at 5/5 the two players 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! But Nick took off, and the third 9/5.
THE BOSS FINISHES IT OFF
As the English had won six 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!
The “Boss” Nicol, won the first game 9/3 against French Number one Lincou, destroying all French hope that was left and went on punishing the Frenchman 9/1, 9/3.
PEACE AT LAST
I know, it was a dead rubber, but we were a few who dreaded a meeting between Lee Beachill and Grégory Gaultier after their last controversial match in the World Teams in Vienna.
But today, the two players couldn’t do enough to please the other one, 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?
Grégory Gaultier "sauva l’honneur", saved the French honour by winning a symbolic point.
The English Team was just in a different world all together today. But tomorrow is another day…
Once again, the English dominated everybody from far, from very far up there. Good performances from the newcomers, Vicky Botwright and Jenny Duncalf, and the “old” guard Cassie Jackman and Linda Charman stood strong as usual.
They successively squashed Denmark, France and Germany in the pools, swept past Belgium in the semis, and in the final against Netherlands only one game was a bit tight, between the world number one Cassie Jackman (England of course), and Vanessa Atkinson, world number 3. But the spark wasn’t there.
“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 third, and I was happy to win it!” declared Cassie Jackman, referring to her match last year where her defeat against Atkinson was the first match ever lost by the English in the European Team Championship.
No, once again, for excitement, we’ve got to turn to France. In 2002, the French ladies finished 7th, in 2003, 5th, and this year?
FRENCH FLY THE FLAG
The French flag was flying high (held by Jean-Louis Lavigne, father of) when the French ladies qualified for the semi-finals for the first time by beating the Germans. But their adversaries, the Netherlands, were just too good, too fit, too precise. The French didn’t score one game…
But all was not lost. In the 3rd/4th place play-off, France was playing the strong Belgium team. The French ladies needed help… which they found: on the final day, the French had a team of four: Isabelle Stoehr, (ranked 13), Isabelle Bois (78), Corinne Castets (82) and … THE CROWD!
Imagine the atmosphere when veteran Corinne Castets, 39 years old, fit as a fiddle, ranked 82, gave France its first point by beating Belgian newcomer Charlie de Rycke (17, ranked 59) in four games.
But nothing was preparing us for the pure explosion of joy that followed injured Isabelle Stoehr’s victory against Kim Hannes.
The pressure on the French number one was immense. And when she lost the third after winning the first two games in great pain, we thought it was all over. But supported by the crowd, Isabelle clenched the fourth 9/4 to give her country a well deserved European 3rd place.
“I was extremely tense” admitted a tearful Isa. “I was unable to express what I had deep inside me. After losing 9/1 in the third, I just let it all go.”
“That last match was completely psychological, and victory is beautiful,” summarised Nathalie Cornet, the French Coach.
Scotland's problems maybe
GOOD AND BAD THINGS ...
During this event, some good things:
Some bad things.
But overall, a fantastic
organisation, for a small club, a small town, a French Federation with
little financial means - especially as the last day was the 1st May, and
that in France, where this date is like a bank holiday, EVERYBODY is
PAID DOUBLE! (that's only people outside the organisation, like
waiters, drivers, security - most people here are volunteers, of course).
THE END IS NEAR…
"I know that the 100 volunteers will remember this event as long as they live. It was beautiful, a lot of preparation, but the result was worth it. And to the people from the squash circuit who came to congratulate me on the quality of the event, I say 'this should be the norm'," said Loic Thébault, one of the major organisers.
Even the end party was perfection, although I doubt a lot of players will remember ANY details of it…(PS. I’ve got all the photos!)
At the end, the presentation was stunning and became very emotional when Corinne Castets announced her retirement from the competition. Not many dry eyes in the French crowd, team and organisation - emotion that the two giant screens from both side of the glass court conveyed to the crowd.
Then Thierry Lincou thanked Peter for the squash lesson, and said simply that the English were just too strong today.
But "the event was magic" Lincou concluded. "I never felt anything thing like the support you gave us today ever in my life, and I thank you for it," he concluded, talking to the crowd.
Yes, it was a beautiful event, and the French Organisation, Federation, Volunteers, everybody, can be proud of their achievement.
It was a big event for a small town, a small club, and a French Federation with very little financial means.
Bravo les Français!