Thierry Lincou (Fra) bt
 Nick Matthew (ENG)
Lincou, the fine 28 year old Frenchman today captured what he
described “the best win of my career”, after disposing of a rather nervous
Nick Matthew, not to take any credit away from Lincou.
New Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Open Champion tomorrow
Alex Wan reports from Hong Kong
 Nick Matthew (ENG) bt  David Palmer (AUS)
11/6, 11/10 (3-1), 9/11, 11/9 (59m)
 Thierry Lincou (Fra) bt  Lee Beachill (Eng)
11/10 (3-1), 11/6, 3/11, 11/6 (48m)
Tomorrow, there will be a new champion in the
tournament as David Palmer was taken out by Nick Matthew in
4 thrilling games and Thierry Lincou beat second seed Lee
Beachill comes Back to Win
and Grant’s Run is Halted
After having the world number 1 player ejected yesterday, the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Open nearly lost the world number 2 today.
Beachill comes back ...
Lee Beachill came back from 2 games down and saved a match ball to down John White 3-2 in a thrilling encounter that lasted 67 minutes in what he described as “the greatest comeback match for me mentally”.
The world number 2 took an early lead in the first when he broke away to 5-2 but White came back to lead 9-6, before winning in 11-9. In the second, it was very close again as Beachill seemed to have had some troubles with White’s thunderous slams, which were working very well today. The third and fourth both went to tie breakers, with White actually reaching match ball in the fourth. Beachill saved it and went on to take the next 2 points to force the decider.
The final game was a breeze for Beachill compared to the previous 2, as he needed only 4 hands of serve to walk out an extremely deserving winner.
Referee Fayyaz Mohammad was once again the centre of attention as inconsistent decisions were made throughout the entire match.
White was full of praise for his opponent, saying “He started to get the ball tight and right to the back and when that happens, there’s really nothing much you can do about it, full credit to Lee”. Asked to comment on the refereeing of the match, both agreed it was awful and White added that “They should assess referees in a lower ranked tournament and not here where the top 32 guys are fighting for big points and money”.
Matthew wins English contest
Nick Matthew meanwhile, took out Adrian Grant, conqueror of world number 1 Peter Nicol. The room mates both played some traditional English squash and it was Grant who won the first game, just. Matthew came back strongly in the second and raced to a 7-2 lead.
Grant managed just 3 points from thereon before Matthew took the remaining 4 in a row to draw level. The third and fourth were both extremely close, with Matthew taking both.
It’s a shame that there had to be a winner in this game, as both these young English players are playing at the top of their game and nothing much separated them, or even them with the rest of the field.
Jonathan Power and David Palmer stepped onto court next, something that I have been looking forward to. Having only watched these 2 fine craftsman work on the court against each other in the Super Series 2001, it left fond memories still very fresh in my mind. The final point is still, until today, is still the best I have yet seen in squash.
As expected, Power was full of entertainment with his antics and dramatic expressions, right from the first game, where one of his shots was called not up and he went wild. Palmer sportingly agreed to have it replayed and received a thunderous applause for his sportsmanship. Power, meanwhile, still looked bothered by his hip.
He was frustrated and was given a conduct warning once for racket abuse. 3 “not up” calls from the marker that the referee wasn’t sure surely irked Palmer as he didn’t reserve his comments about it, walking out of court to voice out his feelings.
The fourth game was a delight as Power saved 3 match balls to force a tie break, then saved another before holding game ball himself, at which he wasted it by putting an easy volley into the tin. One more match point saved by Power before Palmer wrapped up the match with a 5-3 score in the tie break. “I’m beginning to be able to read his game more and more as I play with him”, said a very satisfied Palmer.
Lincou strolls into Semi
The final match of the night, Thierry Lincou against Amr Shabana in a repeat of last year’s World Open final, was anti-climax. After 2 closely fought games going one a piece to either player, Shabana somehow ran out of steam.
He lost the third 1-11, with Lincou winning 10 points in a row in just 3 minutes. It was slightly better in the fourth, but definitely nothing like the usual Shabana, who yesterday came back from the dead to upstage James Willstrop.
“After yesterday’s tough match, I just ran out of steam. I am not 18 anymore and my body cannot take it”. Shabana also stated that the shift from the centre court to the professional perspex court did nothing to his favour.
Lincou meanwhile was happy to have reached the semi final in the first championship of the season. “I’ve put in a lot of work to get to where I am now, where I was last year playing well. I’ve been to Malaysia to prepare before coming here and I am glad my efforts have paid off”.
|02-Sep, Round Two:
Upsets Continue as Nicol is Ejected and Referees Steal (or maybe kill) the Show
Adrian Grant, the 23 year old left hander, today scored his biggest ever career win when he upstaged world number 1 Peter Nicol in a thrilling match lasting 83 minutes. Having previously survived a tough first round encounter against Malaysian Mohd Azlan Iskandar where he had to come back from 4-8 down in the fourth to force a decider, Grant showed no signs of fatigue today. Nicol had won the first game closely but Grant came back to take the next rather convincingly. Nicol looked to sail through when he took a 10-6 lead in the third, but Grant took 6 points in a row to take a 2-1 lead.
Nicol managed to just about sneak the fourth, but in the fifth, at 6-5 up, Grant just took a streak of 5 points to chalk up the biggest scalp of his career. “I never felt comfortable playing today. I didn’t hit any winners and I just chased the ball and returned them. I never deserved to win at all today”, said a gutted Nicol. Grant meanwhile, was elated with his win over one of his biggest idols, adding, “this is, by far, the biggest win of my career and it’s a shame two English players have to face each other”. Grant plays best friend and room mate Nick Matthew in tomorrow’s quarter final.
Matthew meanwhile, scored a close victory over French number 2 Gregory Gaultier. Playing with Malcolm Willstrop by his side, the world number 8 needed 82 minutes to see off the gutsy Gaultier, who was playing with a rather attractive coloured racket. The match was marred by very inconsistent calls from referee Chris Sinclair against both, but many went against the Frenchman on critical occasions. Both players were irritated and frustrated with the calls, but it was Gaultier who suffered the most, even receiving a conduct warning for arguing. At 2 games to 1 up, Gaultier somehow seemed to lose his concentration as he lost every single rally from 3-5 down onwards. The decider was close as both players drew on every bit of reserves they had in them (even having to put up with bad calls), as a quarter final berth was at stake, with Matthew eventually triumphing.
David Palmer, the Antwerp based Australian put a halt to Hisham Mohd Ashour’s excellent run in the tournament, but not without resistance. Ashour, the magnificent shot maker, in fact took the first game, after Palmer blew away a 10-7 lead. The next 2 games saw Ashour blown away by Palmer’s superiority, as they were both done in 13 minutes. Palmer had employed a good tactic of moving the Egyptian around to tire him out. Things were close again in the fourth and Palmer managed to race to match ball at 10-8. Ashour managed to save just one more point before Palmer booked his quarter final berth against Jonathan Power, who was a 3-0 winner against Joe Kneipp.
The Power-Kneipp match was, as expected, full of antics. Power’s dramatic reactions were a delight for the crowd, many of whom felt very entertained. Kneipp played along but at one point in the second game, things nearly turned ugly. The first game was rather one sided as Power raced to an 8-0 lead before Kneipp even settled down, but 2 points was all he got. The second was neck to neck up till 8-all, but 2 consecutive points gave Power game ball, at which he dropped just one more point before closing it. The third was once again a delight, the 8-6 score of the tie breaker says it all!
Reigning world champion Amr Shabana came back from the brink of defeat against James Willstrop, who was 2 games up after 16 minutes. Shabana held game point at 10-3 in the third but Willstrop won 6 points in a row to come just a point behind. Shabana managed to get his act together to close the game and held on to win (just!) the next 2 games, thus preventing an upset from the very fast rising youngster.
Paul Price, the tall Aussie who took out compatriot Anthony Ricketts, today faced Thierry Lincou, the consistent Frenchman. Price looked very dangerous once again today, as Lincou found out. The referee was once again the centre of controversy, with Fayyaz Mohammad being heavily questioned by both the players, who employed a very physical style of play. I last watched Fayyaz handle the Asian Squash Championships team final, where he told the crowd off.
Today, the Hong Kong based Pakistani went a step forward, as he stopped the match after a member of the crowd made a comment about his refereeing, something I find quite unbelievable! Inconsistent calls followed, but in the end it was the skilful Lincou who managed to hold on to his nerves to win 3-0, a score that doesn’t really reflect the quality of the match.
Lee Beachill also made the quarters after a gruelling and very physical match against 2000 World Junior Champion Karim Darwish. Both players were bumping into each other but referee Faheem Khan never said anything. The first 2 games went one each to both players, but in the third and fourth, Darwish was simply outclassed. The second game saw Beachill receive a conduct warning, no one was sure what it was for. When asked for clarification, the referee mumbled something which even Beachill didn’t understand. Enough about referees…..
The last match of the night saw hard-hitting John White end all Asian challenge in the championship. Asian champion Ong Beng Hee was simply overwhelmed in the first 2 games, as he found no answer to White’s backhand slam. The third was close as Ong found his rhythm and handled White’s thunderous backhand much better. Ong held game ball in the tie break, but didn’t manage to close the game. White then took control and finished Ong off in 34 minutes.
On a personal note, it’s just a shame to see such bad refereeing at such a big prestigious event. I was told assessments were being done here, but why at such a major event? I am not knowledgeable enough to know the ins and outs of the refereeing system, but to me, it’s disappointing it had to happen now. Tomorrow, I would like to hear from the players themselves on this….
|01-Sep, Round One, Day Two:
Ricketts falls to Price
Paul Price, the 28 year old Australian, today created the biggest upset so far at the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Open when he took out compatriot Anthony Ricketts.
In a game lasting 58 minutes of solid action, Price played some brilliant attacking squash to clinch a spot in the second round. In the first, it was close until Price broke away with 6 consecutive points. Ricketts managed just 1 more point then, but leveled the score by sneaking in tie-breaker in the second. The third only had 4 hand outs as both players took turns to score big points, with Price scoring 7-consecutive ones after Ricketts had done a 6-point burst. Ricketts once again pulled back to level the main score, but in the fifth, Price was simply too good. When asked about the new scoring later, Price said, “the new system obviously favoured the attacking players like myself, and today, it worked well for me”.
Price’s opponent tomorrow is Thierry Lincou, the Super Series champion this year, who demolished qualifier Jonathan Kemp in 22 minutes.
At the top of the lower half, James Willstrop had little problems beating France’s Renan Lavigne. The only time Lavigne seem to really pose a challenge was in the second game. After securing a healthy 9-3 then 10-6 lead, Lavigne allowed Willstrop to creep back into the game to force a tie-breaker, which Willstrop then won 2-0. The third was another quick affair as the giant sized Yorkshire lad took just 8 minutes to book a date with the World Champion, Amr Shabana. Some had thought that the Shabana-Simon Parke match would be an interesting close affair. Close it was in the first 2 games, where Shabana managed to just win by 9 and 8. In the third, Parke simply had not much answer to Shabana’s wizardry as he romped home 11-3.
Mohd Abbas, the lanky Egyptian faced top Malaysian player Ong Beng Hee. Ong, who pulled out of the English Open from injury recently, didn’t look a single bit injured today as he upset the higher ranked Egyptian 3-2 in just under an hour. Patience and some smart play to change the tempo won Ong his match, after Abbas seem to look like he would romp home after a series of convincing points in the fourth. Hong Kong turns out to be one of Ong’s favourite tournaments, where he has reached no less than the last 8 in 2 previous visits. A beaming Ong, whose dad flew in today to be with him, later said, “I love the new scoring because it worked well for me today!”
Peter Barker followed his elder brother’s feat yesterday when he took a game off the hard-hitting John White. Barker matched White point for point in the first game that took 12 minutes. The second game was somewhat a quickie as White took 10 points straight from 1-2 down to make it 2-up. Barker pulled a game back in the third and the fourth was a very close contest with White just sneaking in 11-8. The new scoring system seem to allow lower rank players to give a better account against higher ranked players, perhaps maybe win the match or the lower ranked players just seem to have raised their level pf play or vice versa. I can’t tell for sure, for I do not get to watch top level squash often enough in this part of the world!
World number 2 Lee Beachill played a convincing match against PSA president Mark Chaloner, winning 3-0 in just under 30 minutes. Chaloner had given a good account in the first, coming back from 5-9 down to 8-10 before succumbing. The second and third was a different story altogether as Beachill won both in a combined 15 minutes. The final match of the night turned out to be the quickest too, as 2000 World Junior Champion Karim Darwish crushed Mansoor Zaman in 19 minutes. The Pakistani Asian Champs runner-up was simply not up to Egyptian’s level of play.
Match to watch tomorrow would be between Matthew and Gaultier, as both youngsters will look to make an impact here in Hong Kong.
Beng Hee v Abbas
|31-Aug, Round One, Day One:
Top 4 seeds
Malaysia's Alex Wan reports from Hong Kong
The top 4 seeds in the upper half of the main draw made it through the first round of the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Squash Open 2004.
Hong Kong’s top local squash player, Wong Wai Hang gave world number 1 Peter Nicol a good run for his money in their first round game before bowing out 1-3. None of the people in the stands or even Wong himself had given himself a chance to snatch a game. Nicol started off in a fiery mood, keeping the pace very high, something which Wong later said he had problems coping with.
Having won the first 2 games rather convincingly, Nicol was matched point for point by Wong, who was backed by a strong home crowd. Wong seized his opportunity to win the game and force a fourth game. In the fourth, Wong once again kept up well with Nicol until it was 6 a piece. Several errors forced by Nicol’s tight shots wrapped up the match.
A beaming Wong said afterwards he was happy he played well and didn’t disappoint the home crowd. Nicol meanwhile, was full of praise for Wong, adding that he knew it wouldn’t be an easy game. Nicol also stated that the new 11 PAR scoring was a way to move squash ahead but didn’t agree with the 11 points, stating 9 points was the preferred choice.
Hisham Mohd Ashour, who yesterday had a tough match in the qualifying finals and having had to be hospitalized for stomach cramps and dehydration after, today once again produced a heroic display. Playing against fellow countryman Omar El Borolossy, Ashour showed no signs of slowing down as he battled through another 5 games to upset El Borolossy. Ashour next faces David Palmer, who had to slog for his win against another Egyptian qualifier, Wael El Hindi in a “battle of the giants”.
The 1998 World Junior runner-up lost the first 2 games, but came back with a vengeance to win the next 2 and force a decider. In the fifth, Palmer kept his composure to romp home 11-6. Perhaps the charity squash event 2 weeks back did prepare El Hindi very well for this tournament.
At the bottom of the upper half, Jonathan Power will play Joseph Kneipp on Thursday. Playing with a hip injury, Power struggled against Englishman Phillip Barker. The first game was quick as Barker was simply lost in between Power’s flicking all over court. The pace at which Power was playing was just far too much for the English youngster to handle. In the second, Power began to move slower and unusual mistakes began to creep in, allowing Barker to draw level. The next 2 games went Power’s way, but it was just not as easy as it should be, particularly in the third, where Barker led 6-4 before Power won 6 consecutive points to lead 10-6. 2 more points was all Barker got this game. In the fourth, Power did another 6-point run before romping home 11-5. I am pretty sure I did hear someone mention that Power might be pulling out….we’ll see.
Mohd Azlan Iskandar quite nearly put an Asian entry in the second round when he stunned the crowd by winning the first 2 games against Adrian Grant. After a rather unconvincing win over Jan Koukal yesterday, I certainly didn’t expect my fellow countryman to do well today. A quick pep talk from the “guru” Malcolm Willstrop at the end of the second game must’ve done Grant wonders as he went in there and grabbed the third in a little more than 10 minutes. In the fourth, Azlan led 8-4 but somehow the next point was just too far away as he lost the next 7 points for Grant to draw level. The fifth was a close affair as both players went for virtually every ball. After 53 minutes, Grant walked out the deserving winner and faces top seed Peter Nicol on Thursday.
Gregory Gaultier, the French youngster put a halt to the giant killing run of Bradley Ball in 3 games over 39 minutes. Ball gave a good challenge in the first 2 games that lasted a total of 32 minutes, but in the third, he simply had no answer to Gaultier’s versatility on court. In the final match of the night, Sheffield’s Nick Matthew saw off a fighting Dan Jenson in 3 very closely contested games. For a 3-game match, 49 minutes certainly is a long duration at today’s standard. Both players have a similar style of conventional play and was a delight to watch from beginning to end.
First round, top half:
 Peter Nicol (ENG) bt Wai Hang Wong (HKG) 11/4, 11/8, 8/11, 11/5 (38m)
 Adrian Grant (ENG) bt [Q] Mohd Azlan Iskandar (MAS) 8/11, 8/11 11/6, 11/8, 11/8 (53m)
 Nick Matthew (ENG) bt Dan Jenson (AUS) 11/8, 11/9, 11/10 (2-0) (49m)
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt [Q] Bradley Ball (ENG) 11/10 (3-1), 11/8, 11/3 (39m)
 David Palmer (AUS) bt [Q] Wael El Hindi (EGY) 11/8, 11/7, 8/11, 10/11 (0-2), 11/6 (53m)
[Q] Hisham Ashour (EGY) bt  Omar Elborolossy (EGY) 9/11, 11/3, 11/6, 9/11, 11/3 (39m)
 Jonathon Power (CAN) bt [Q] Phillip Barker (ENG) 11/3, 11/10 (0-2), 11/8, 11/5 (34m)
 Joseph Kneipp (AUS) bt Graham Ryding (CAN) 11/8, 5/11, 7/11, 11/8, 11/7 (50m)
Qualifying at the
Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Open
Malaysia's Alex Wan reports from Hong Kong
Qualifying matches took place on 2 courts at the Hong Kong Squash Centre located right smack in the Central Business District. Having not been around on the first qualifying round, I joined the action on the qualifying finals today. The new 11-PAR scoring is something new that I was looking forward to, which didn’t disappoint. There was more attacking from the players and once one reaches 7, the intensity of the match somewhat changes.
Whilst it was hot and humid outside, the courts were ice cold, but I am sure many wouldn’t have complained at all! The 2 courts are situated quite a way apart so it was hard to have a thorough analysis of each game. Running back and forth between courts, there were some more interesting matches I chose to stay the entire length.
In between all that, the main draw players together with the press also had a cocktail party to attend, where James Barrington, Director Sales & Marketing of Cathay Pacific Airways said that they were glad to be back in support of one of the most prestigious squash tournaments in the world. A mini celebration was also held in recognition of Hong Kong Squash’s Heather Deayton was honoured for her 20 years of service. It is Heather, together with Tournament Director Tony Choi’s effort which made my trip to this place all possible.
Back to squash….
The English Invasion
With the exception of Lee Drew who faced compatriot Simon Parke in the first qualifying round yesterday, all made it to the qualifying finals today. It turned out to be a productive evening yet again for the English folks, as Bradley Ball, the Barker brothers Philip and Peter, Simon Parke and Jonathan Kemp all made it to the main draw, which begins tomorrow.
Ball, who yesterday ousted Finn Olli Tuominen, began the ball rolling for the English camp with a straightforward 3-0 victory over Aussie youngster Raj Nanda. In a match played at the centre, Ball’s lengths were often too good for Nanda, who often had to run to all four corners of the court.
On the other side of the squash complex, Peter Barker took out compatriot Alistair Walker in a close match that went the wire in most games. Philip joins his brother in the main draw after a very hard fought 3-2 win over Pakistan’s Arshad Iqbal Bukti. Barker gets no rest as he faces an uphill task against the flamboyant Jonathan Power tomorrow. Jonathan Kemp, meanwhile played a patient game and overcame the talented Italian, Davide Bianchetti in 3.
Simon Parke, the losing finalist of the English Open most recently, overcame a very determined Joey Barrington. Having started well and racing to an 8-3 lead in the first Parke hit the bal far out when attempting a back glass shot. After the knock up of the new ball, things suddenly took a change when Barrington caught up to draw level at 8 a piece. The game went into the tie-breaker, which Parke managed to just hang on to wrap it up. The second was somewhat an anti-climax as Parke went on to win easily from 2-2 onward. The final games must’ve been the best, as both players were point to point until Parke broke away to 9-7. However, things took a turn and Barrington managed to tighten up his games to draw level at 9-9. Parke came out victorious from thereon and this earns him a shot against World Champion Amr Shabana on Wednesday.
Mohd. Azlan Iskandar doubled up Malaysian numbers in the main draw when he overcame Czech Republic’s Jan Koukal in a contest which looked pretty one sided. The Malaysian played a very hard-hitting game, which Koukal very often had problems coping with. Azlan is joined by Egypt’s Wael El-Hindi in the main draw, after he had outclassed Welsh Gavin Jones. The Egyptian, who has been in Malaysia the past few weeks for sparing, was just too hot for Jones to handle.
Match of the night the night certainly had to be the fight for the final qualifier slot, between Australia’s Cameron Pilley and Hisham Ashor. One thing that left the crowd bedazzled was the shot making abilities of this Egyptian. Ashour, just like his fellow countryman Amr Shabana, was hitting nicks from the most difficult and unexpected positions, catching Pilley on many times. On loose half court returns from Pilley, he simply held before gently pushing the ball to the back of the court. Pilley meanwhile, was more of a conservative player, hitting lengths and trying to return everything Ashour threw at him.
The Egyptian number 6 got off to a good start after squeezing through the first game on the tie-breaker. The second game seemed like a gift to Pilley, who raced to a healthy 7-1 lead in no time. The Egyptian, whose brother had most recently won the World Junior title, was no match in this game, looking very tired and drained out.
The third game however, was a very close encounter with some questionable decisions from the referee, something which seem to annoy Ashour a lot. It was point for point in this game before some unforced errors, decisions against Ashour and a very well hit cross court length that died in the back on the final point, gave Pilley the game 11-8 to lead 2-1. Ashour came back to draw level convincingly, after Pilley had slammed a loose ball into the tin.
In the fifth, Ashour nearly blew it for himself a few times, having held match point at 10-7 but allowed Cameron to claw back to 10-10. A backhand flick from Ashour gave him match point number 4, which he slammed a cross-court backhand into the tin. In the next rally, Pilley hit an extraordinary backhand drop that had the crowd gasping to reach his first match ball. Ashour responded quickly with a cross court forehand nick on the service and finally clinched the match with his fifth match ball courtesy of a stroke. He plays fellow Egyptian Omar El Borolossy tomorrow.