Hong Kong Afterthoughts
Back in Pontefract, Malcolm reflects on Hong Kong ...
Unable to re-arrange my flight home, I was unable to be with Lee in the semi-final and unable to complete my coverage of the championship. I was unhappy to have missed the match, and if anyone missed my account of events - probably doubtful [oh, I don't think so, Ed.] - I apologise.
The dignity of losers: Peter Nicol, John White, Anthony Ricketts, Azlan Iskandar, two of whom led 2-0, is a credit to them. James Willstrop struggled a bit after leading 2-0 and losing to Amr Shabana. He disappeared into the Hong Kong night!
The world no 1 spot is looking likely to change again, though the US Open will clearly affect matters. Thierry Lincou and Lee Beachill are principal contenders and Peter Nicol will need to score in Boston, since he goes there as champion.
Perhaps the dark spot of what was a quite exceptional event, was the refereeing. How you solve the problem I have no idea, but the quality of the play and the players deserved better. Several matches were very badly handled and when points are worth 15/11ths more than before, and when the finishing line is 4/15ths closer, points become more and more crucial.
With the Hong Kong Open behind them, the players will arrive in Boston next week better armed. What they produced last week was great to watch, so those at the US Open are guaranteed excitement and attack of a high order.
I can honestly say I have never been so well entertained at a squash tournament. There were many excellent matches, few disappointing ones, and there can only be one reason - the 11 points a game scoring. For those who think the game may be devalued by the reduction from 15 to 11, have no fear. It's the best thing to have happened for ages.
Clearly coaches and players will need to adapt, but apart from Nicol, the seeded players all made the last eight. Lincou's persistent precision, White's power, Power's racket skill, Palmer's all-round game and Beachill's control and delay will all reap rewards and there are plenty of others with enough to their game to be a threat. Nick Matthew is proof of that.
 Nick Matthew (ENG) bt  Adrian Grant (ENG)
7/11, 11/5, 11.8, 11/10 (3-1) (56m)
 David Palmer (AUS) bt  Jonathon Power (CAN)
11/9, 8/11, 11/5, 11/10 (5-3) (55m)
 Thierry Lincou (Fra) bt  Amr Shabana (Egy)
11/5, 6/11, 11/1, 11/6 (33m)
 Lee Beachill (Eng) bt  John White (Sco)
9/11, 8/11, 11/10 (2-0), 11/10 (3-1), 11-5 (67m)
11 SCORING A SUCCESS
I doubt if anyone at the Cathay Pacific this week is not convinced about the 11 points scoring. Make no mistake, it is an unqualified success, producing attacking squash of the highest quality.
COLOSSAL RECOVERY FOR LEE
The first match of the night between two established stars, Lee Beachill and John White, produced a wonderful match with all the right ingredients. White was more or less unplayable for two games, as he thundered winners into the straight nick. But Beachill has not reached two in the world by accident and he strove manfully to hold back the tide, doing enough to keep him in the match.
In the third he found extra width and depth and won the tie-break 2-0. White was no longer dominant, but still dangerous and Beachill won another tie-break, this time 3-1, and the scores were level.
The flow though, was now with Beachill and when he led 9-2 White looked desperate. A brief flourish to five, bur then Beachill was home, a recovery of colossal proportions. This was a resolute performance and, on this evidence, Beachill is coming into his own.
MATTHEW WINS THROUGH
To the credit of Nick Matthew and Adrian Grant, two close friends, they produced a splendid match, much to the delight of the very large crowd, played at a frightening pace.
Neither gave an inch in precision or willingness to attack and the result was a match of which they can both be proud.
Grant won the first, but Matthew recovered to lead 2-1. Grant fought back, put together some quality rallies, but it was the Yorkshireman who took the tie-break in the fourth to clinch his well-earned place in the semi-finals.
The third match between Jonathon
Power and David Palmer promised a great deal and delivered no
Too close to call ...
Round 2, the Last 16:
NICOL CRASHES OUT
As predicted, Nick Matthew and Gregory Gaultier produced a purposeful game, with Matthew emerging a deserved winner in the fifth. The Englishman played well in the first, winning it convincingly, but Gaultier led 2-1 before Matthew got his game together again to level matters. The Frenchman, as is his wont, argued regularly with the referee in the fifth, until a conduct warning shut him up. Justice was done when Matthew won it 11/7.
Meanwhile the shock of all shocks, as world no 1 Peter Nicol found himself 2-1 down to fellow countryman Adrian Grant, who only just survived the first round against Azlan Iskandar. Although Nicol got to two-all, Grant, not overawed at the prospect of beating him, played decisively to record the win of his career.
Whatever problems Jonathon Power appeared to have beforehand he dismissed against Joe Kneipp when he beat the Australian 3/0. Having taken the first easily, the second less so, he won the third after a protracted tie break. He faces heavier artillery when David Palmer is his quarter-final opponent. Palmer got rid of qualifier Hisham Ashour 3/1. Ashour took the first in a tiebreak, but the Australian asserted himself and is no doubt profiting from the match play.
Lee Beachill advanced to the quarter-finals in a match he generally controlled, although losing the second to Karim Darwish. With his win at the English Open under his belt, he is going to be hard to beat, though Thierry Lincou soon despatched Paul Price, who could not reproduce his heroics of the previous night.
Lincou’s next opponent is Amr Shabana, who was totally outplayed by James Willstrop in the first two games. The World Champion led clear in the third, then hung on to win it 11/9, and then drew level at two-all. Willstrop led 5-2 in the fifth, but Shabana recovered to win a tense last game and the match, much to his relief. Willstrop will see it as a chance lost.
It has to be said that the refereeing in this match failed the players badly – both of them – and at times reduced a quality, attacking match to a farce.
And so to the last match of the evening. John White, with his dad in support, was in no mood to let Ong Beng Hee spoil the family celebration and although the Malaysian managed to force a tie-break in the third, it was White who won it.
Friday’s quarter-finals line-up reads:
Beachill v White 5.15
Grant v Matthew 6.15
Palmer v Power 7.15
Shabana v Lincou 8.15
Nicol may have gone, but there are plenty of big names left, and all to play for.
First round, Bottom Half:
NO TROUBLE FOR
THE TOP MEN
John White and James Willstrop kicked off the second phase of the first round of the Cathay Pacific and although White lost the third game to qualifier Peter Barker, he was not seriously troubled to win 3/1. Nor was Willstrop, even though he fell well behind in the second to Renan Lavigne. He recovered it stylishly and won the other two games with ease.
Willstrop's opponent tomorrow is world champion Amr Shabana, who brought Simon Parke's recent run of success to an end. Shabana's racket skills are obvious to all, but Parke played without the composure he displayed at Th eCrucible and only tested Shabana's fitness in infrequent patches. Tomorrow's match should be worth watching.
Lee Beachill had no bother disposing of Mark Chaloner, using his trademark delay to good effect. His meeting tomorrow with Karin Darwish should be a classic squash encounter.
Nor did Thierry Lincou waste much time in putting aside Jonathan Kemp, who had done well to qualify. The Frenchman will be more tested by Paul Price, the talented Aussie who beat Anthony Ricketts in the fifth.
Price probably likes the idea of scoring to 11 and the quality of his squash always looked likely to prevail over Ricketts' more indiscriminate squash. He led two-one before Ricketts levelled, but played a quality fifth to win the match 11/4, much to his delight and to the disappointment of his opponent. In evidence throughout the match was Price's backhand drop, a priceless asset which rarely fails him.
Ong Beng Hee has generally got the better of his meetings with Mohammed Abbas, although they are always close and this was no exception. The gifted Egyptian got a bit testy in the third as it ran away from him, but, despite being unwilling to talk to any of his three friends, El Hindi, Ashour or Darwish between games, he came out and played some exquisite squash to level at two all. He now looked the winner, but having led 8-6 in the decider, he lapsed, as he sometimes does, and Ong swept through to a victory that late on looked improbable.
To bring matters to a close Darwish demolished Mansoor Zaman, who folded, as he often does, like the proverbial pack of cards.
Tomorrow is full of imponderables, and eagerly awaited.
MORE QUALITY PROMISED
Kick-off 5.15pm Hong Kong time, with James Willstrop v
Renan Lavigne and John White v Peter Barker first on.
First round, Top Half:
NICOL THE ENTERTAINER
Malcolm Willstrop on the first round action ...
Peter Nicol, the world no one, began his quest for his fourth Cathay Pacific title with a 3-1 win over local wildcard Wong Wai Hang, which was designed to keep the crowd entertained and did so. Nicol was never out of cruise control and with a refreshing Summer behind him, may still be the man to beat.
The first match on the main court promised a great deal and Joe Kneipp and Graham Ryding did not let anybody down. Played at an exacting pace, which I think the game to 11 will be amongst the top players, with plenty of attack, Ryding looked to hold sway at 2-1, but truth to tell he played a moderate fourth and it was the skilful Kneipp who won the fifth convincingly.
Jonathon Power may or may not have a leg problem, but even in a not too convincing 3-1 win over qualifier Philip Barker, he seemed for the most part to be moving well enough. It may be, after setbacks he has had, that he is not too sure about his current form.
In the event I am not convinced he will get past Joe Kneipp and/or David Palmer, especially in view of the fact that Kneipp looked sharp enough tonight and, having trained recently with Palmer, Power will know how fit Palmer is.
Gregory Gaultier, looking physically strong, but playing quite conservatively, brought Bradley Ball's winning run to an end. After a close first game he eased away to win comfortably and awaits the winner of the Nick Matthew/Dan Jenson match.
Hisham Ashour, after his late-night win over Cameron Pilley and a bout of food poisoning, was still strong enough to use his extreme racket skills to beat his benign and civilised senior countryman Omar El Borolossy 3/2. Ashour led 2/1, surprisingly lost the fourth, but romped away 11/3 in the fifth.
He is definitely a player to watch and there may be much more to come from him, though he has yet to meet anyone of the calibre of David Palmer, his next opponent.
Palmer himself did not find life easy. He feels he is going well in practice, but match play is another matter and his capable opponent Wael El Hindi, having been 2/0 down, levelled the score before Palmer asserted 11/6 in the fifth.
Two young Englishmen advanced to the last 16: Nick Matthew beat Dan Jenson 3/0 in a well-contested match, and he will be pleased with that, since Jenson has had the indian sign over him.
The match hinged on who had the front of the court and Matthew came off best, though the classy-looking Aussie had his moments, and had chances in the third.
Adrian Grant faced Azlan Iskandar, likely to be a handful on the glass court with scoring to 11, and, playing a little tensely found himself 2-0 down. He relaxed a little to win the third well but found himself 8-3 down in the fourth. A brilliant sustained spell by Grant saw him level at two-all without Iskander scoring again. The fifth was nip and tuck with the Malaysian continuing to attack at every opportunity, but it was Grant who held his game together to win the match 11/8.
The squash throughout the championship has been of sustained quality with scarcely a moderate match. The players deserve much credit and you can bet there's more to come.
Also: Alex Wan reports
First round Preview:
The top half of the draw, played today at 5.15pm (HK time) involves five of the eight qualifiers. There were five English qualifiers, three of the younger brigade and two old stagers; Simon Parke, currently playing like one of the young brigade, and Bradley Ball.
Azlan Iskandar has looked sharp and will be keen to make an impression on Adrian Grant, in what should be an entertaining match.
Phil Barker, who has done well to qualify, meets the great Jonathon Power, who may have injury problems. The Barker bros will be happy to have qualified. Neither had easy passages, but both came through well.
Ball, who has won both his matches convincingly, faces Gregory
Gaultier; he is not to be underestimated, as the new scoring certainly
Expect Some Upsets
ENGLISH OPEN PREPARATION
Malcolm Willstrop is in Hong Kong with Lee Beachill
and James Willstrop.