Super Hat Trick for Nicol
Ian McKenzie reports on the 2001 Finals

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."

Day 2
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."

Day 3
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 coming second.

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 bag.

"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, 15-11.

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 – bizarrely.

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 reprieved 1/2.

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.

The Final
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 unlikely.

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 quarter-final.

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," said Nicol.

It was Nicol’s title and in many ways Palmer’s week. The TV was fantastic. Get the videos if you can.