In the topsy-turvy world at the top of the men’s game Peter
Nicol re-asserted himself in the 2001 Super Series Finals in London but he
only just held the new British Open Champion David Palmer at bay. Ian
McKenzie reports on a classic event from the Broadgate arena.
The Super Series Finals are a non-ranking tournament and in this lies the
charm of the event and the problem. In the past some players have not
given it their full commitment but taken the prize money. It has though
under the nurturing of Satinder Bajwa and the professionalism of WSM grown
in stature and with the sponsorship of Halifax Equitable and presentation
sponsor British Land, owners of the Broadgate Arena, developed into a
major title. Simon Parke's blitzkrieg on Peter Nicol in last year’s final,
in front of the then Minister of Sport Kate Hoey, was one of the finest
matches in recent years. It involved all-out attack from Parke, deception
and total commitment, and it took all Nicol's retrieving skills to hold
him at bay. The event is not an exhibition event, there is a lot at stake
– this year Nicol took away $20,000 – but it has developed a reputation
for attacking play. Perhaps it is like watching the Barbarians rugby team
playing a test side.
This year it was especially important. The title became significant in the
battle for the psychological ascendancy at the top of the sport. Nicol had
dominated much of the 2000 year from which the top eight points scorers
were invited to these Finals. He won four of the six events in the Hi-Tec
Super Series but was injured on the eve of the British Open and
subsequently lost his No.1 ranking to arch-rival Jonathon Power. At the
time it seemed almost inevitable that he would regain the top spot, for in
2000 he had achieved a sort of dominance in the sport, but it has not
proved so. He won the Tournament of Champions event in February but
subsequently lost to John White in Antwerp, David Palmer in Hurghada and,
in a peak performance by his opponent, Lee Beachill at the British Open.
Nicol was still the man to beat but now he was being beaten. As Nicol's
star waned, Power came to the ascendancy again in a dominating performance
in Hurghada but he was knocked out of the Irish Open as a result of an
administrative blunder and suffered a crushing motivational blow. Power
flew to Ireland for the Open but was excluded for late entry, flew back to
Canada and then to Europe again. He was not happy.
"I didn't want to be in Birmingham for the British Open. I was enjoying it
in Amsterdam. The PSA just messed me around and not playing in the Irish
just messed me up. I wanted to play, the spectators wanted me to play and
the sponsors wanted me to play."
"I'm happy here," he said of Broadgate. (The Great Eastern Hotel is a
luxurious haven in the bustling City of London and even those who lived
within easy daily travelling of the event chose to stay in the hotel.)
Power is not especially thrilled with the new glass court (they all vary
in their playing characteristics), which looks as if it could become the
sport’s standard. "I can't do what I want to do," he said. "I'm not used
to this court. It's slow. My opponents run it down when I flick."
On court, however, Power was quickly in control against Simon Parke. His
dominance of the first was almost embarrassing against his opponent's
stiff opening; he won it 15-4 and was confident and in good humour.
"It was a little crisp, I thought," he said with a pleasant level of
sarcasm as Parke surprisingly won a let on Power’s outright winner. He was
careless, however, to let his opponent away in the second, but by the
third his easy wrist flicks and angles held sway again. There wasn't much
Parke could do about it. He had said before the event: "I'm going to go
out there to enjoy it," but he wasn’t enjoying this too much. He got
involved with the referee and lost the last two games 15-6, 15-5.
Nicol was the titleholder and he was very serious about the event. "I'd
like to finish the season with two wins, here and in Scotland," he said.
"I want to be the player they have to beat."
Nicol's opening was his first competitive outing since crashing in the
British Open and he was up against fellow left hander Paul Johnson, a
player he had often been uncomfortable with. Quickly he raced to a 5-0
lead in the first to put the British Open experience behind him and showed
in the middle of the second that all his spectacular retrieving ability
was intact when Johnson's winners threatened him. He read his opponent so
well and moved to the ball so quickly that it seemed only deceptive shots
had a chance of beating him, and he often got to those too. He won 15-6,
15-11, 8-15, 15-5.
"I was confident and moving well. I' m looking forward to playing David
Palmer. He's the in-form player," said Nicol of the Australian who now
holds the British Open title.
Palmer was in dominant against Welshman David Evans, hitting six outright
winners in a hand from 9-8 to win the first and leading 12-4 in the second
in his 15-8, 15-11, 15-5 win.
Ahmed Barada, not surprisingly, pulled out on the eve of the tournament to
be replaced by the eagerly waiting Mark Chaloner, who faced a rejuvenated
Martin Heath to go down 15-4, 12-15, 15-6, 15-6.
Heath, who has been troubled by a hamstring injury, warmed up in the Dubai
Threes and moved easily into his flowing shot-making style at Broadgate.
Other than the third, which he let slip, he was totally in control,
reading and volleying easily to win 15-10, 15-4, 10-15, 15-3.
He played well and may have had hopes against Power on day two but wasn't
talking them up.
"I'll be taking it point for point. I'm not going to self-destruct. I've
got to concentrate on the play, not the result."
Unfortunately for the Scot, Power moved into top form to outclass him
15-12, 15-8, 15-10. Heath was in touch but seething with frustration after
being denied a let at 6 all in the second, never regaining the composure
to deal with all his opponent's wristy deception and improvised angles.
Power's movement and anticipation were back to their best.
At one stage Power screamed at the referee, "Are you crazy?" but got
through the match with nothing more than a conduct warning. He went to the
top of the Harrow Group and looked assured of a semi-final place.
In the tough Fleet Group – Nicol, Johnson, Palmer and Evans – Paul Johnson
came back from 14-12 down in the fourth game and in a few dramatic rallies
put David Evans out of the Finals.
"14-12 up and I should have closed it out," said Evans, but he did not. A
harsh stroke, a dispute with the referee when he thought he should have
had one himself, a tin and an enterprising angle from Johnson and he was
packing his bags for Wales.
The clash between the new British Open champion David Palmer and the world
champion Peter Nicol was an eagerly awaited contest.
Palmer dominated for much of the match, working his opponent to such an
extent that only Peter Nicol could have survived this onslaught. Then
Palmer got involved with referee William Winter and demanded a change of
referee. When this was not forthcoming, Palmer expressed sentiments to the
effect that Winter's decisions and indeed Winter himself would best be
flushed down the toilet. Still in combative mood after the match, he
suggested that Winter might like to step outside for further discussion,
presumably of a more physical nature.
Nicol took the first but was made to work incredibly hard. Front and back
he worked, hard volleys at unexpected angles were smashed past him but he
kept fetching, stayed ahead to take the game 15-11 and establish an 11-4
lead in the second. Palmer, however, was still working him and then he
eliminated his errors and took control to such an extent that Nicol
managed just two more points in the game.
Palmer was now controlling the middle, hanging in to the side to
intercept, and setting up winner after winner that Nicol ran down. In the
end Palmer slammed in straight kills, intercepted with volley drops and
dominated with all his variation and power so that the match seemed over.
Surely Nicol couldn't survive this onslaught.
Nicol kept working, desperate to get off the treadmill, and was able to
finish the third with four winners to go 2/1 up.
The fourth was a point for point struggle, desperate and contentious.
Nicol, completely beaten, somehow flicks a ball off the back wall and as
it spirals over to the front Palmer is there to volley drop it an inch
above the tin. Palmer hits a winner but a let is given for distraction. He
is stroked harshly, Nicol gets a fortunate let and is then denied one but
Palmer is boiling over. He gets to 14-13 with another winner.
"Watch the physical contact please," says Winter. And Nicol, under extreme
pressure, dives full length into the back corner, flicks at the ball, and
all watch as it spirals to the front. Palmer is stranded but it lands on
the tin for the Australian to level the match 15-13.
Palmer has been glaring at Winter. He has had enough. "That's five points
you’ve cost me that game. I want you changed. Get the tournament referee
out here. I want Baj."
You can't change a referee," explained Winter.
They consulted, they continued, but Palmer was not calm. He spent much of
the fifth game glaring at Winter. At 6-8 he miss-hit a boast and the match
slid away from him as tiredness and a seething frustration hindered his
performance. Two strokes didn’t add to his humour as Nicol went through in
one hand 15-6 in 93 minutes.
The crowd were exhausted. Palmer confronted Winter. Nicol, shoes off,
slumped in a chair. He was spent but pleased.
"It was a tough game physically and mentally. After the British Open I've
proved I'm there. I've proved it to myself. He got frustrated because he
was under pressure," he said of this opponent. "At the end he was a baby."
Nicol had effectively qualified for the semi-finals but Palmer still had
it all to do.
Somewhat jaded from his clash with Peter Nicol and with his humour with
English referees no better, he got away in the first game but Johnson came
back in the second from 4-1 down to rattle off seven outright winners and
stay ahead to level the games. Johnson saved one game ball at 14-13 in the
third but was left alone on court appealing, unsuccessfully, a strange
pick-up which spiralled away just above the tin to give his opponent the
decisive point 15-13, followed by the fourth game 15-8.
"I should have Jonathon Power in the semi-finals. He beat me last time we
played but I'm a better player now," said Palmer.
Nicol topped the Fleet Group, beating Evans comfortably, with Palmer
In the Harrow Group Power came through a bizarre encounter when he beat
England's world No.11 Mark Chaloner 11-15, 15-9, 15-11, 12-15, 15-10 to
progress to the semi-finals.
This match was to be marred by 115 decisions, Chaloner scrappy and coming
off the ball straight and Power playing the man and pushing his opponent
into the shot in an endeavour to receive strokes – which he did. It was a
no win situation for referee Winter.
Chaloner was away at the start, leading before Power woke up to the
challenge and brought his winners to the fore as he bagged the second 15-9
and the third 15-11 to take control of the match. Power was vocal;
Chaloner was tiring and developed a lengthy bouncing routine before his
serve that didn't impress his opponent at all. A tinned drop gave Chaloner
game point and he bounced away as Power leaned on the sidewall taking a
little nap. Referee Winter woke him up with a start. "Conduct stoke," he
said, effectively giving the game to Chaloner and levelling the match.
Power woke up. Now he was very awake. This was a major tantrum followed by
a little reasoning.
"I just had to be woken up," said Power angrily outside the court
confronting the referee. "Show me in the rules were it says I can't do
that. I wasn't time wasting. I was waiting from him to serve."
But now it was 2 all, contentious and 10-6 to Power. Chaloner off the ball
avoided Power, tumbled backwards full length and won a let. Now there is
another major tantrum. Power storms from the court and starts to pack his
"I'm out of here," he screamed at the referee as he marched off and a
pitched battle between him and referee Winter developed.
"If I fall on my ass, I don't get a let," he screamed again at the foot of
the spectators and tumbled down outside the court full length and stayed
there. Finally he is coaxed back on court. Overwrought would be putting it
mildly. His racket flies at the front wall. He tins a service return
disinterestedly, wins service back with a dead service return that didn't
even bounce to go to 12-9. He catches a very loose Chaloner ball looking
for a stroke only to get a no let. We have another minor tantrum. Chaloner
10-13. Can he do it? Power wins match ball with a drop and Chaloner
sprints madly to volley drop a boast but just tins. Power goes into the
semi-finals and Chaloner goes out.
Power was through, topping the Harrow Group, with Heath second after
beating Chaloner on Day 1 and Parke comfortably on Day 3 15-11, 15-12,
As if there had not been enough drama already, Power faced Palmer in a
semi-final that would go to the wire, provide all the physical
confrontation of big time wrestling and end with the most exciting rally
that has ever been televised.
Palmer had a right to be tired. He again started slowly with Power
dominating the first two games 15-9, 15-6. Power was at his deceptive
best. It was physical, Power blocking, Palmer frustrated charging through.
Power playing the man was into Palmer’s back, pushing his opponent into
the loose shots. They wrestled each other to the floor, pushed and blocked
while the excitement and tension built. "What are you doing?" screamed
Power at referee Jill Wood, who was now in the firing line. "He’s pushing
and blocking the whole time," shouted Palmer. Palmer got a 12-5 lead in
the third, played a ball and received a no let, then Power was stroked –
The scores levelled at 14 all. Power dived full length into the front
corner and smashed his racket in front of the TV camera, screamed "no", as
if was accidental, but earned no referee’s penalty. They levelled again.
"Game ball, match ball." Power hit the tin on a kill and Palmer was
Palmer levels with the fourth 15-6. The marquee at Broadgate reverberates
to the grunting, pushing, shoving, cheers, exclamations of disbelief, the
screams of Power, shouts from Palmer and the shrill pleading of Jill Wood
for some sort of order. There was little. A double feint took Palmer
ahead. "Oh my god, you're ruining this," cries Power lying on the floor.
Palmer receives a no let. Power from out of the blue receives a conduct
stroke. The match is slipping away from him. Palmer goes ahead 11-7 only
for Power to level in a hand aided by a stroke.
Palmer glares at Wood then wins match ball on a
questionable stroke himself as the marquee reverberates to Power’s
screams. Too eager Palmer tins a backhand volley drop, tins again, and at
14 all Power, who now has the momentum, challenges Palmer to call a sudden
death tiebreak. One finger goes up. They smash the ball around, dive and
spin. It makes no sense to hold back now. This is mad, frantic squash.
Nothing like this has been televised before. An opening comes for Power.
He plays for the forehand drop winner and it tins after 100 minutes. The
crowd are on their feet, cheering, clapping in one dazed unified release.
Palmer had staged a remarkable comeback to win a final place 9-15, 6-15,
17-16, 15-6, 15-14.
Nicol won his semi-final against Heath 15-7, 15-9, 11-15, 15-11, moving
smoothly through the first two games, keeping his opponent at bay and
slotting in winners to have total control. However, Heath then took the
third 15-11, came back to lead 9-8 in the fourth and it looked as if
another comeback was possible before Nicol re-established his length to
set up the final winners while his opponent made crucial errors.
"I controlled the first two but let my length go in the third. It was a
tough match on Tuesday against David but I’m OK now. I can't wait to play
him again," said Nicol looking forward to the final with Palmer.
This tournament must have taken its toll on Palmer. There was excitement
after so much brilliant squash but also realism. Two of his four matches
had been physically and emotionally draining. Could he keep it up? It was
Palmer lacked zip at the start but imposed long straight rallies and
varied the pace only for his opponent to run everything down and keep the
pace high. Nicol took the first 15-7 and led 9-4 in the second before
Palmer started to dominate on the volley. He moved Nicol, who only just
scraped the ball back, corner to corner, closed the gap to 11-12, but was
stroked in a close call to lose momentum and go down 15-11. That should
have been it.
Palmer in a little flurry went 3-0 up in the third, but in one hand of
winners Nicol grabbed the lead 7-3 and was on the verge of victory 13-8.
Palmer dominated the T superbly but Nicol just kept running the ball down.
What could Palmer do? Suddenly Nicol stumbled and Palmer came back in a
hand. Nicol was penalised with an inexplicable no let. He tinned a nervous
ball. Palmer hangs in to the side, pulling clinging balls off the wall. In
the middle of the third Palmer hadn’t run for a few balls but now he was
back energised and in one hand takes the game 15-13 – seven points in a
row and one was reminded of Beachill's run in the British Open
Could Palmer come back again? They levelled at 10 all in the fourth, at 12
and 13. Nicol desperate speculates with a crosscourt volley nick but it
pops out for Palmer, desperately tired, to kill and win game ball before a
straight drive down the right cruises past him and all he can do is throw
his racket after it and lean on the wall. Nicol goes ahead with a backhand
drop winner which beats his opponent's despairing lunge and then the
heartbreaker for Palmer – a miss-hit which spirals away for a winner and a
friendly apologetic tap from Nicol. The last desperate kill was hit hard,
uncompromisingly hard, by Palmer but it tinned and Nicol had his hat trick
of Super Series Finals titles 15-7, 15-11, 13-15, 17-14.
"I was wondering when David would collapse after all his effort this week.
He was dead tired all the way through but somehow he just kept going,"
It was Nicol’s title and in many ways Palmer’s week. The TV was fantastic.
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