Day SIX - Wed 28th Jan, Finals:

Men's Final: 
[1] Peter Nicol (Eng) bt [Q] James Willstrop (Eng)
      15/13, 9/15, 15/4, 15/8  (63m)

Women's Final:
[2] Rachael Grinham (Aus) v [1] Cassie Jackman (Eng)
      2/9, 9/6, 9/2, 9/5  (53m)

Nicol & Grinham
Conquer in Kuwait


Peter Nicol, the former world number one, gained his first title for three months and a great deal of much relief when he captured the Sheikha Al Saad Open with a 15-13,9-15,15-4,15-8 victory over his fellow Englishman James Willstrop.

"I have had a bad time and it feels really good to win again," Nicol said. "I didn't think I was anywhere near ready after so little training but I was not as unfit as I thought. Give me a few weeks and I'll really be ready to get the top spot again." For most of the second half of the match it was evident that Nicol was going to deny Willstrop in the biggest PSA final of his career so far, because the older man was much the fresher and more mobile.

It meant that Nicol was well able to cope with the unpredictable open rallies - even though they are inimical to his preferred style - with which Willstrop increasingly took risks.

The 20-year-old world junior champion did so because he was contesting his sixth match in as many days, having battled his way through the qualifying competition. But for that he might have run Nicol closer.

"He can become a world number one of the future for sure. He has immense ability and a lot of confidence and was developing match by match here," said Nicol, referring to Willstrop's startling victories over world number two John White and former world champion Jonathon Power.

But winning the first game was all important. Willstrop knew that and came out of the blocks flying. He was soon 8-2 up and, after Nicol had cut the deficit to two points, went to 12-8 with a backhand drop shot winner taken from audaciously deep.

Willstrop used his great height and reach to smother the middle of the court, making some breathtakingly wide interceptions and frequently changing the direction of attack with the slickest of twists of the wrist.

But Nicol timed an increase of pace impeccably. He forced one very long rally which got him to 9-12 and before Willstrop could fully recover from it was hustling forward and moving the ball about, changing containment into attack. There was another gut-wrenching rally at 13-13 and after had Nicol won that too Willstrop put a forehand volley drop down quickly to lose the game.

It was always odds against the tired qualifier after that. The second game was Willstrop's principally because the quality of his short game was so outstanding that he was able to push through from 6-7 with a series of improbable winners.

But the first six points of the third changed everything. Nicol focused his attentions more on Willstrop's backhand wing and marched through to 6-0 unhindered. He then made Willstrop run two diagonals of the court at 7-1 and after that the game was effectively over.

Willstrop's last stand in the fourth was a brilliant one. He set out to dictate the nature of the rallies even if he could not control their outcome. The crowd was rewarded with an astonishing cataract of wrong-footing strokes and masked intentions, and with several of the rallies as flamboyant as if they had been part of an exhibition.

Willstrop led 5-4 and was still just about hanging on at 7-10. But Nicol knew he had his man and now, in the new more creative vein he has been developing recently, had the confidence to use a short game armoury which in his younger days was often locked tightly away.

An exquisite backhand volley drop return opened up the court for a backhand sliced and angled wickedly away, and even although there was one more wonderfully long exchange in the penultimate game, that incisive one-two combination signalled the end.

"He was making me work so hard," said Willstrop. "If I had been fresher I might have got closer. But I wasn't far off today. But Peter was awesome. This has been a massive learning experience for me. I have to make sure I don't get carried away. I doesn't mean I am absolutely there."

There was no English double. Earlier Cassie Jackman had been unable to celebrate her recapture the previous day of the world number one ranking, after four years and two career-threatening back injuries. Nor was there a revenge for her British Open defeat.

Instead the top seed was again beaten by Rachael Grinham, the Cairo-based Australian, who won 2-9,9-6,9-2,9-5, cleverly slowing the pace, applying pressure with her speedy court coverage, and in the second half of the match, dictating more of the rallies with her accurate lobbing and dropping. The cool conditions suited her game.

Jackman gets married again in the summer and before the final it was announced that she was dedicating this week's success to her fiancée. It always sounded like tempting the fates.

Her best moments were in the first 20 minutes. Grinham started indifferently, perhaps nervous after a long wait in which a hundred doves were released, followed by thousands of fireworks. Some of feathered friends flew right back, to huddle on ledges and roofs. One chose a beam above court.

Perhaps that was why it took the Australian some while before she found her accuracy with her lobs and high looping drives. Jackman needed only ten minutes to wrap up the first, clouting the ball well.

But she made mistakes at the start of the second, recovered from 2-8 to 6-8, lost it with an ambitiously disguised backhand flick which caught the tin, and saw contest swing violently away from her in the middle of the third.

Some superb retrieving by Grinham kept her in a crucial rally she won to reach 5-2 with a backhand counter drop. It seemed to shake Jackman's self-belief, and suddenly she was faltering.

It was followed by a backhand volley to a great length and a forehand kill from Grinham which got the crowd behind her, and she concluded the third with a volley lob winner which Jackman could not twist to retrieve. It was a telling moment

Although the top seed led 5-3 in the fourth by now Grinham's volley drops and counter-drops were a continual threat, forcing Jackman's error ratio up. The final ended with a mistimed forehand drive which gave away a penalty stroke.

"I played more consistently and let her make mistakes," claimed Grinham. "I think she was finding it difficult. I don't think I was really doing anything special. After a while her confidence was affected."

So would she now be challenging for Jackman's number one spot? "It's only the second time I've beaten her," answered the Australian, determined not to get ahead of herself. "I just want to win as many matches as I can first."
 

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RACH REPORTS
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Packed house for the finals

 


the Champions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Rachael & Natalie Grinham

 

 

 

 

 

 

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