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Natalie Grinham hunts down David for final win

Women's Seoul Open Squash Championship, Seoul Plaza, Seoul, South Korea

Khan Boosts Country County in Seoul Open

Shelley Shatters Grinham's Seoul Hopes
Unseeded Duncalf into Semis
Natalie Grinham overcomes Bailey for final place
Natalie Grinham Hunts David down

1st round
[1] Nicol David (MAS) bt [Q] Latasha Khan (USA) 9-3, 9-1, 9-2 (30m)
[8] Alison Waters (ENG) bt Rebecca Chiu (HKG) 9-2, 10-8, 9-0 (21m)
Shelley Kitchen (NZL) bt [3] Rachael Grinham (AUS) 9-3, 9-4, 1-9, 9-7 (50m)
Jenny Duncalf (ENG) bt [5] Vicky Botwright (ENG) 4-9, 9-4, 9-3, 7-9, 9-6 (86m)
[7] Laura-Jane Lengthorn (ENG) bt [Q] Elise Ng (HKG) 9-3, 9-7, 9-4 (33m)
[4] Tania Bailey (ENG) bt [Q] Kasey Brown (AUS) 9-1, 9-2, 9-3 (42m)
[6] Madeline Perry (IRL) bt Eun Ok Park (KOR) 9-3, 9-2, 10-8 (30m)
[2] Natalie Grinham (AUS) bt [Q] Sharon Wee (MAS) 9-2, 9-0, 9-0 (21m)

Nicol David (MAS) (1) bt Alison Waters (ENG) (8) 9/4 9/5 9/4 (40m)
Jenny Duncalf (ENG) bt Shelley Kitchen (NZL) 9/2 9/6 6/9 9/5 (48m)
Tania Bailey (ENG) (4) bt Laura Lengthorn (ENG) (7) 9/7 3/9 7/9 9/5 9/1 (79m)
Natalie Grinham (Aus) (2) bt Madeline Perry (IRL) (6) 9/0 9/1 9/1 (21m)

Nicol David (MAS) (1) bt Jenny Duncalf (ENG) 9/2 9/2 9/1 (20m)
Natalie Grinham (Aus) (2) bt Tania Bailey (ENG) (4) 9/4 9/3 5/9 9/5 (53m)

Natalie Grinham (Aus) (2) bt Nicol David (MAS) (1) 9/4 9/4 9/0 (43m)

Qualifying finals:
Kasey Brown (AUS) bt Chinatsu Matsui (JPN) 9-1, 9-2, 9-2 (38m)
Latasha Khan (USA) bt Sachiko Shinta (JPN) 9-1, 9-1, 9-0 (19m)
Elise Ng (HKG) bt Manuela Manetta (ITA) 9-7, 9-7, 9-2 (38m)
Sharon Wee (MAS) bt Mami Nishio (JPN) 9-5, 9-1, 9-2 (24m)

Grinham Hunts David Down
As the crowds arrived to fill every single seat for the Seoul Open final in the Seoul Plaza, the square was winding down from a pop show and a pageant celebrating Korean history. All part of the Hi Seoul Festival for which squash would be the evening fare.

The top two seeds made the last day, as they had in three recent WISPA Golds, with Nicol David winning them all. Indeed, the last Grinham victory over Duracell David had been as far back as 2004 in the World Open semi final. But the Malaysian had been forced to five games in two of the last four meetings, with Grinham managing one in the other two. So no steamrolling expected.

Both players could point to March 2006 as a pivotal point. David suffered her last loss then; Grinham secured three Gold Medals at the Commonwealth Games as well as getting married. Who knows which changed her most, but the upward progress has been clear.

David, as is her custom, had bought a new top on the day of the final, this time a two-tone pinknumber. Grinham sleeveless as usual too, was in white.

David would have decided that she would need to avoid chasing an early game as she is prone to do, and come out of the traps fired up. Hunting at the front as much as she could, Grinham, six years the older at twenty nine, was trying to impose herself with her high and wide, boast and short combo, and the Malaysian didn’t appear to have the sureness of touch which we have come to expect.

There was not a seat to be had, the walkways full, and the grass on the open side around twenty deep; all watching Grinham take the pressure. She scurried around like a wasp in a bottle, and was taking advantage of opportunities as the occurred, firing in a clinging drop, feinting or simply inducing an eventual error with a tight approach.

A David comeback at the end of a losing first game was awaited but it never materialized. A huge rally that drew gasps with the retrieving ended with a Grinham game ball gained at 8/2, and then after a couple of perkier David rallies she closed out.

It had been hard but the Australian had her nose in front.

Still no David push as the second game progressed. Grinham still playing at her effective best, looking even a tad faster than her normal blur. Hitting superb attacking boasts when not keeping it tight. But could she keep up the pace? That said, it was also punishing for her opponent whose own speed and turning ability are second to none too.

Having opened a five point lead, Grinham found David beginning to show signs of a surge. Bolstered by a couple of errors while stretching, David was climbing towards equality. The pace was relentless but the world number two surged on again with some irresistible hustling. Another David mistake led to 8/4 and a final rat-a-tat exchange took Grinham two games up.

The third saw her maintaining her shape, showing no signs of cracking and still dominating the exchanges. David seemed unable to find a spark that could ignite a charge and so keep her winning run intact. Even a groundswell of vocal support for her couldn’t do it.

Grinham simply kept winning rallies and eventually after 43 minutes the match; her unbridled delight clear to see.

An upset maybe, but after so much hunting, on the day Grinham’s performance more than merited the title.

After the trophy was in her hand the winner gave a little insight into the success. ‘Today I was more relaxed than for a while when I went on court, not that I am sure why. When I was ahead I knew that I had to keep focused and did that for a change.

I always knew that I could win, just today everything came together well’.

With a beaming smile she added, ‘Now I am finally going to have a week off and hope that the sun is still shining when I get back home’.

Asked about the loss David suggested ‘I was thinking too much and my focus wasn’t right, but she played really well. I was trying to do things but she got comfortable and I couldn’t find my way in’.

‘I am pleased with what I have done this year but after a short break now I will get back into business. There is more to be done’ she added.

The Seoul Open was a stunning success for Seoul Squash Federation and Korean squash generally. So much so that Mr Lee, Lee Jae, Secretary of the Seoul Sports Council was moved to announce that the championship would definitely be back and bigger next year. ‘I think that Squash is a really great sport for Seoul and our citizens’ he said.

‘Seoul Plaza is a symbol of Seoul and through the matches here we expect to develop more top ranked players and increase the popularity of the sport here.

We look forward to welcoming this event back every year as we prepare our players to try to win medals at he Asian Games in Korea in 2014’.

A great WISPA Tour week, great squash promotion for Seoul and a very happy victor on a plane back to her Netherlands base. All bases covered!

Natalie Grinham overcomes Bailey for final place

There was a treat for the packed gallery awaiting the $50,000 Seoul Open even before the semi finals. As they sat in the Seoul Plaza in the shadow of City Hall flanked by an array of imposing neon festooned blocks, there was a dance show to enjoy.

Then the serious business began as second seed Natalie Grinham and opponent Tania Bailey entered the arena. The last time fourth seed Bailey had played Grinham was the quarter finals of the World Open in Belfast in November. There she had lost in competitive straight games. Here she showed little sign of the ‘niggly abductor’ as she termed it, but had a bigger problem to deal with. Diminutive Grinham had been decidedly parsimonious, dropping only four points in her first two rounds – and showed few initial signs of generosity here.

Going in short regularly, hunting down the riposte, Bailey could only gamely pick up morsels on the few inviting opportunities which occurred for the first two games. Grinham was two ahead and cruising.

Yet as the third unfolded it was all change as the Australian showed fallibility when stretched. Tinned volleys and some immaculate Bailey length propelled her to a 7/0 lead. And although Grinham moved into a more conservative mode and closed the gap, Bailey was back in the match.

The Grinham flicks and floats continued. The strong Bailey volleying too. Grinham scampered, Bailey strode. All the while Grinham was edging home. The mix of lobs, boasts and drops blended with drives had enthralled the crowd who clearly wanted the English player to continue her fightback, but they were to be disappointed as the Australian booked her final spot – for the eighth event in a row.

When asked about how she would prepare for Nicol David she said ‘Everybody is putting the pressure on me to beat her but I am just going to play my game and see how it goes. The pressure is on her.’

Bailey, meanwhile was sanguine about her performance but recognised that Grinham and David are ahead of the pack. ‘ I was a little disappointed as I felt like I played well, especially the way I came back in the third. But I hit what I thought were a lot of winners that Natalie got back. You think you’ve won the point and you have to do it all over again.

I’d love to be one of the top two but they are just a little ahead of of us. I am one of the players challenging but I know I have a bit of work to do’ she commented.

As for the second bout, a lot has happened since Jenny Duncalf was standing two love and 6/1 up against Nicol David at the Qatar Airways Challenge last July. She lost that, David has consolidated at the very peak and Duncalf found her confidence deserting her. That said, while David has motored on, Duncalf has picked up her own momentum. The British Nationals title in February was hers, and her first round win over Vicky Botwright added still more bounce.

The match very much mirrored the first, but without the comeback. David was compelling all around the court, especially at the front, with Duncalf forced to flounder.

All over after 20 minutes, much to the disappointment of the loser. ‘ It was always going to be hard as Nicol is playing very well at the minute. I was looking forward to playing her but I had a bad start to the second which did not help things and it was too little too late in the third.

But as I wasn’t seeded I am really pleased to have made a WISPA Gold semi again’, she added.

It is now 51 wins for David, with the prospect of another epic battle with Grinham tomorrow. As she said, ‘ It’s another final, another country and it will be awesome to play. It depends who is on their game on the day’.

The players then proceeded to sign autographs for a queue that was 100yds long, stretching across the plaza lawn, and demonstrating yet again how the Seoul Open has been embraced by the city.

Seoul can hardly wait for the final showdown.

Unseeded Duncalf into Semis

No chance of an upset in the first quarter final of the $50,000 Seoul Open. Both players had created one in the first round and the two non-seeds, Jenny Duncalf and Shelley Kitchen, were now drawn together.

After a bright day, a clear but milder evening greeted the players. Duncalf was quickly into her stride, poaching winners while Kitchen was getting started. But having quickly lost the first the New Zealander began to dominate more rallies, with her heavy driving and solid volleying. More recently she has upped her percentage of short shots and the variety was forcing Duncalf to work hard to stay in the rallies. But Duncalf was also generating some winners and finding the back corners herself. This enabled the English player to edge the second game too.

The pattern was similar in the third, but this time Kitchen had her nose in front, climbed to 7/5, was pegged back and one sensed that Duncalf was going to complete the job until a badly misjudged drop allowed Kitchen to move to game ball, which she took with a rasping forehand.

Duncalf was still thinking about what might have been as she came out for the fourth and looseness saw her go 5/1 down. But she steadied the ship, Kitchen faltered and didn't pick up another point.

24 year old Duncalf last reached a WISPA Tour semi final as long ago as July 2006, where coincidentally at the Qatar Airways Classic she beat Vicky Botwright as here, before coming up against Nicol David, as here, tomorrow.

“It is good to be in another Gold semi. I like the glass court as it rewards a good length and for taking it in short. I also like playing outside too”. All well then.

Perhaps a case of back where she belongs as her quality is that of the top ten; and now that her confidence tanks are refilled she surely will continue to rise again.

There would definitely be another English player in the last four as two met in the second quarter. Laura Lengthorn has been playing consistently well this year, but Tania Bailey was now at an all time WISPA high of four in the world.

Bailey didn't appear to be moving totally freely, perhaps related to the strapping on her right thigh. It was marginal, but her expression and demeanour were a little downbeat. Not that it stopped her competing fully, nor indeed to win the first. There were more instances where she was only close to being 100% going forward on the forehand wing, and Lengthorn took the second. When she was 8/1 down in the third question marks appeared, but she began to climb, and look ever more solid. While the comeback ran out of steam at 8/7 and Lengthorn went 2/1 ahead, Bailey's upward momentum continued in the fourth and she was always a couple of points ahead based around punchy volleying. The fifth was more straightforward and the window of opportunity passed for Lengthorn.

Afterwards, Bailey confirmed the slight injury. “I had a slight abductor strain before leaving for Kuwait. I felt it slightly again before playing playing Nicol in Qatar and not since until this morning. It is just a little niggly”. But she was quick to add that it was only slight and, “The games I lost were because Laura's length was good, taking it early and hitting the targets”.

Nicol David has long been regarded as the future of women's squash, tonight, in her clothing she was the fuschia! Her opponent Alison Waters made her work for the win, but the world champion was relentless. She moved Waters around, though the world number nine has developed resilience to match her strength and control, and took a lead in the second before another characteristic David late surge. For the large crowd it was much like watching a firework display – ooohs and aaahs peppering the air as the players chased down balls.

After 40 minutes it was all over. David had won her 50th consecutive major match, the last defeat coming over thirteen months ago in the Bronze Medal play-off at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. Since then she has taken nine WISPA Tour titles along with winning the Asian Games. Only another four and a bit years to get to match Jahangir Khan!

Natalie Grinham booked her place in the last four with a comprehensive win over Madeline Perry. The Irish number one couldn't develop a rhythm and left the court bemoaning a poor way to finish her Seoul experience.

Another open-air city centre experience beckons tomorrow when Duncalf and Bailey try to prevent the latest in the David v Grinham final battles.

Shelley Shatters Grinham's Seoul Hopes

Unseeded New Zealander Shelley Kitchen produced an outstanding upset on the opening day of the Women's Seoul Open Squash Championship when she despatched Australia's former world number one Rachael Grinham, the No3 seed, in four games in the first round of the inaugural WISPA Gold event in the South Korean capital Seoul.

The 27-year-old from Auckland had beaten Grinham earlier in the month at the same stage in the Kuwait Open - and was keen to demonstrate that this was no 'one-off' as she secured her 9-3, 9-4, 1-9, 9-7 victory in 50 minutes.

"I had played well against her in Kuwait and I just wanted to do well again," said Kitchen, winner of the bronze medal in the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Australia. "I wasn't thinking about winning or losing, just to show that my win there was not a fluke."

Kitchen was not the only shock winner on the first day - and meets fellow non-seed Jenny Duncalf in the quarter-finals on the all-glass court in Seoul Plaza. Avenging a straight games defeat she received in last week's Qatar Classic in Doha, Duncalf battled for 86 minutes - and fought back from 3-6 down in the decider - to overcome England team-mate Vicky Botwright, the fifth seed, 4-9, 9-4, 9-3, 7-9, 9-6 in an impressive display.

"At 6/3 down in the fifth, it was not looking good," conceded the 24-year-old British National Champion from Harrogate in Yorkshire. "So I thought I'd just keep it in play and wait for her errors. I didn't want to force anything."

There will be an all-English quarter-final when No7 seed Laura-Jane Lengthorn takes on England No1 Tania Bailey, the fourth seed. Lancastrian Lengthorn put in a powerful performance to beat Hong Kong qualifier Elise Ng 9-3, 9-7, 9-4, while Lincolnshire lass Bailey ended Australian qualifier Kasey Brown's hopes in a 9-1, 9-2, 9-3 defeat.

Second seed Natalie Grinham made up for the surprise failure of her older sister Rachael by cruising to a 9-2, 9-0, 9-0 victory over Malaysian qualifier Sharon Wee. The 29-year-old Queenslander is expected to meet another Malaysian in the final.

Favourite Nicol David, the 23-year-old from Penang who has beaten the younger Grinham in the last four WISPA World Tour finals in which she has appeared, brushed aside US qualifier Latasha Khan 9-3, 9-1, 9-2.


Khan Boosts Country Count In Seoul Open

USA's Latasha Khan brings to eight the number of countries represented in the Women's Seoul Open Squash Championship after winning a place in the main draw of the fifth WISPA Gold event of the year in the South Korean capital city by defeating Japan's Sachiko Shinta in today's (Tuesday) qualifying finals in Seoul Plaza.

Shinta was one of three Japanese players who failed to secure a place in the main draw after going down 9-1, 9-1, 9-0 in 19 minutes to Khan, a seven-times US National champion.

Hong Kong's Elise Ng caused a significant upset when she beat Manuela Manetta, ranked 21 places higher. Having only this month broken into the world top thirty, the Italian number one might have been expected to get the better of Ng. But the 26-year-old from Kowloon has been training in Europe, and won her maiden WISPA title in the Netherlands earlier in April - and so was in form.

"I feel comfortable in Asia and I had got used to the court," said Ng after her 9-7, 9-7, 9-2 victory in 38 minutes. "I knew it was a cold evening and I warmed up well and was able to take the first two games, which was very important,” added the surprise qualifier who goes on to face England's No7 seed Laura-Jane Lengthorn.

But the play only started after a superb ceremony and show at the glass court venue on Seoul Plaza. The Mayor of Seoul, Mr Oh Se-Hun, delivered the opening televised address and went on court to hit a ball

"There was also a female traditional drumming ensemble which played, as well as Shani, a female rock band," said WISPA Chief Executive Andrew Shelley. "A laser show drew gasps, as did the pyrotechnics. Real wow factor, for sure!

"The Mayor offered hearty congratulations to organizers Seoul Squash Federation, who, in conjunction with Korean Squash Federation were putting on a great show for squash. Encouragingly, the city government supported event should become an annual staging, he hoped."

Updated 1st round draw:
[1] Nicol David (MAS) v [Q] Latasha Khan (USA)
[8] Alison Waters (ENG) v Rebecca Chiu (HKG)
[3] Rachael Grinham (AUS) v Shelley Kitchen (NZL)
[5] Vicky Botwright (ENG) v Jenny Duncalf (ENG)
[7] Laura-Jane Lengthorn (ENG) v [Q] Elise Ng (HKG)
[4] Tania Bailey (ENG) v [Q] Kasey Brown (AUS)
[6] Madeline Perry (IRL) v Eun Ok Park (KOR)
[2] Natalie Grinham (AUS) v [Q] Sharon Wee (MAS)