DAY ONE at the British Open
It’s been a long wait for the return of the British Open, but at noon today Men’s Qualifying kicked off at St George’s Hill with 32 players hoping to earn their way into the main draw of the PSA $155k Allam British Open.
Many of the players were already familiar with the sumptuous Surrey club, which has in recent years been the venue for the qualifying competitions of the Saudi International, and in 2009 of the World Open.
There were sixteen matches to play, two by two, to whittle the field down to 16 qualifying finalists.
Meanwhile the ladies were practising ready for the start of their qualifying event on Sunday, over at the O2 the court build continued, and in North London the Masters began at the Coolhurst Club.
Fram and Steve report from St George’s[note] Men’s Qualifying Round One:
Alan Clyne (Sco) bt Mark Krajcsak (Hun) 7/11, 11/2, 11/2 rtd (30m)
Siddarth Suchde (Ind) bt James Earles (Eng) 11/5, 11/6, 11/1 (43m)
Chris Simpson (Eng) bt Olivier Pett (Eng) 11/7, 11/3, 11/1 (31m)
Zac Alexander (Aus) bt Kamran Khan (Mas) 11/8, 11/7, 11/8 (57m)
Robbie Temple (Eng) bt Chris Ryder (Eng) 12/10, 11/4, 11/4 (43m)
Jonathan Kemp (Eng) bt Charles Sharpes (Eng) 11/7, 11/7, 11/6 (28m)
Mohamed Abouelghar (Egy) bt Matthew Karwalski (Aus) 11/13, 8/11, 11/8, 11/4, 11/4 (51m)
Marwan El Shorbagy (Egy) bt Kristian Frost (Den) 11/9, 6/11, 11/9, 11/4 (53m)
Nafiizwan Adnan (Mas) bt Ivan Yuen (Mas) 10/12, 11/6, 11/2, 11/8 (52m)
Mathieu Castagnet (Fra) bt Alex Phillips (Eng) 11/4, 11/2, 11/9 (28m)
Amr Khaled Khalifa (Egy) bt Leo Au (Hkg) 11/6, 11/6, 9/11, 12/10 (67m)
Max Lee (Hkg) bt Joey Barrington (Eng) 11/3, 11/9, 11/3 (28m)
Ryan Cuskelly (Aus) bt Muhd Asyraf Azan (Mas) 11/7, 9/11, 11/6, 11/4 (69m)
Abdullah Al Mezayen (Kuw) bt Joe Lee (Eng) 11/2, 6/11, 10/12, 11/9, 11/8 (80m)
Gregoire Marche (Fra) bt Eddie Charlton (Eng) 11/3, 11/8, 11/1 (39m)
Karim Abdel Gawad (Egy) bt Ben Ford (Eng) 11/9, 11/8, 9/11, 11/0 (37m)
Clyne and Simpson ease through
Qualifying top seed Alan Clyne wouldn’t have been looking forward to a tough draw against Mark Krajcsak, and indeed the Hungarian took a tough first game, but the Scot eased through the next two for the loss of four points before a struggling Krajcsak retired.
“One tournament too many I fear,” said Krajcsak. “It’s the end of the season for me, I went home for a couple of weeks, and just didn’t have many matches. I still won the first game, but after that, there was nothing left in the tank really…”
In tomorrow’s finals Clyne faces India’s Siddarth Suchde who beat young English prospect James Earles in straight games. Lefthander Earles, just turned 19, is recovering from a hamstring tear and although he is physically fine, maybe his fitness was not at his best against an opponent who made him work extremely hard in the first few rallies.
Although the young Englishman kept attacking and playing clever squash, the Indian’s squash was just too good today.
“I just had a bad tournament in KW, so you normally get a bit over cautious, keeping it safe and simple. Plus, it was the first time I saw him play, and he is very talented, he’ll do well hopefully,” said Suchde.
“I’m happy, I played really well today,” said Simpson. “I saw Olli play in the Intercounties a couple of weeks back, and I knew he was a bit ill then. I know that I’ve been training very hard since for this tournament, and I had to assume that he probably didn’t have a chance to do that.
“So I made it as hard as I could for me to start with, showed him the four corners and playing as fast as I could, and it worked pretty well I think.”
His next opponent will be Australian Zac Alexander, who took justr under the hour to subdue Kamran Khan in straight games.
“I had a terrible start, 6/0 down, and I ended up wining the game something like 11/7,” said a relieved Alexander. “I just needed to get on the board, I was a bit nervous, I didn’t have any match since the North American Open.
“Really happy to win 3/0, saving my energy for Chris tomorrow. I played him in the North American Open, final of the qualifying, I won 3/2, it was tough. But that’s an omen surely???”
Charles gets ‘Kempied’
Kempy was being himself, shooting from every angle, and if it was up it a winner, otherwise it was down, an error. No real rhythm, no rallies. No time wasting. No nonsense. And as ever, he frustrated the heck out of his young opponent, who started to make a few unforced errors himself. But hey, it’s a bit like a baptism of fire. You’ve done it, Charles, you’ve been Kempied.
“It was the worst combination for me really, Kemp and on the glass court,” admitted Sharpes. “He is so hard to play, you can’t get any kind of rhythm, but that’s what makes him who he is, and got him up the rankings.
“Disappointed not to get a better result against him today, but hopefully I’ll improve on the glass court….”
“After winning the first game, I thought “let’s get it over quickly, and after a few tins, I realised that I would have to work hard,” said Kemp.
“Happy with the win, a win is all what I can hope for these days,” he added “I just started a new job as a coach in Ipswich, so it’s a bit of a turning point. It allows me to enjoy my squash, enjoy my matches without any pressure about ranking or points, nd this is the first time for years I had to qualify for a tournament, but I don’t care who I play, I just enjoy my squash and the opportunity to play.”
He’ll play another Englishman, Robbie Temple, who came from 9/4 and 10/8 down to win a long first game against Chris Ryder before taking the next two with some comfort.
It’s Marwan and Abouelghar again
Kristian Frost is always a bit of an intense boy on court. He is very expressive, shows his emotions openly, whether his disappointment or happiness. One thing is sure, he gives it all on there.
Marwan played a very intense first game, with a few looks between the players, as in, “you are in my way, get out of there mate”, and a lot of work was being done, work that Marwan – who won that opening game – paid for in the second.
And it looked like the match was going to Kristian as he was 7/4 in the third, when the Egyptian got his second wind, taking the next seven points to regain the lead 11/7.
In the fourth Marwan kept on with his momentum, while Kristian probably lost a bit of concentration “I could have been up 2/1 and I’m 2/1 down” kind of fwel. At 8/0, Kristian’s pride pushed him to get a few winners, but the writing was on the wall as Marwan took it 11/4 for a 3/1 win.
“My exams are killing me, every morning, I’m going to bed at 4, 5am, so, I knew my fitness level wasn’t going to be at its best on this tournament,” said a somewhat relieved world junior champion.
“In the first game, I was a bit stupid, I played at a very fast pace, which I knew I just couldn’t stand for four or five games. So in the third and fourth, I played a much better game, a clever game, and it worked really well.
“Kristian is a very good mate, and I thought he played really well today. But I’m happy with this win, my first match since I played Tom Richards in the ToC.
“Tomorrow, I’m playing Abouelgar, who I played in the finals of both the British and World Junior Opens. Both went my way, but we know each other’s game very well, and it’s going to be very hard, I know how dangerous he can be, especially if he is having a good day.”
Abouelghar had to come from two games down to set up that meeting though, after Australian Matthew Karwalski made a fine start.
“In the first game I had a bad start, and went down 7/3, to come back at 7/7, then game ball 10/7. At 11/10, we had a very long rally, and I tinned the next three points!” said the young Egyptian.
“In the second, he changed his tactic, and played at a much faster pace, but I guess it tired him a bit, and he looked a bit out of energy in the third. So I made him work as hard as I could, and made the rallies longer. took a solid start in the fourth, which allowed to relax and attack more freely, and made sure I was not giving him any cheap points.
“I’m happy, I didn’t want to lose that first match. Tomorrow, I’m playing Marwan, again! But it will be the first time in PSA, so no goggles…!!!!”
Adnan wins Malaysian matchup
It was the younger Yuen who made the better start, taking a tough first game on extra points, but Adnan’s experience and strength told in the end as he ran out the 3/1 winner.
“I guess my game has improved, I would say on the awareness, I now know what I’m doing on the court, whereas before, I was thinking, what do I have to do,” said the winner.
“Today my shots were not as good as I would have liked, I think it’s the pressure, he is lower ranked than I am, for example I was up 9/5 in the first, and I lost the game. Plus, it’s very hard to play against Ivan, we just played the Asian Team championships together, we spent a lot of time together, and it’s not easy to switch into competition mode.”
“The first two games were solid, I was wary of him, although I didn’t know him, as I know that the British Players’ level is always very high, even those who don’t play many PSA events,” admitted Mathieu.
“And I was right to be careful, as he is very accurate with his length, and doesn’t hesitate to come to the front and attack. And when I dropped my level slightly in the third, he was on me like a rush, and not only came back, but overtook me! I was a bit afraid to be honest, this could have been a bit of a tricky match, I could have started doubting, and you never know.
“So really happy to get away with it in three, I guess I used my physical qualities to close it down in the end.”
End of the road for Joey
Having come through one of the pre-qualifying tournaments, Joey Barrington – son of – found himself up against stiff opposition in the form of Max Lee, and the Hong Kong youngster duly put an end to Joey’s progress with a straight games win.
He won’t face an all-Hong Kong qualifying final though, after Amr Khalid Khalifa made his considerable size advantage tell against Leo Au, who made it really tough after the former World Junior champion had gone two games up but then found himself 7/2 and 10/8 down in the fourth before taking the game to avoid a decider.
“Playing all six matches in Kuwait for the Asian teams gave me confidence that I could back up the matches, that I could move around the court and pick up shots,” said Max. “Especially when I played Farhan, such good training that was! He plays such a original game, so different from anybody else.
“Against Joey today, I knew I had to concentrate on each and every rally, as he is such an experienced player. I had to avoid any unforced errors, and stay focused at all times, he was so good at controlling me. The only way I was able to win today was to keep the pace up. I’m lucky because since the beginning of the season, I’ve been playing very fast players like Tom Richards, Farhan, and with those players, if I get on the ball a bit too late, then the window of opportunity to play my shot is closed.
“Got to take the ball very early, and today it was very useful training. Nice to see that my game is improving, my movement is a bit smoother, my focus is getting better and so is my mental toughness.”
Khalifa was relieved and pleased: “No, it’s not that I lost focused, I just changed my game, went too short too early. I just went for so many shots and he is so good there, and he really put me under a lot of pressure.”
“Last time we played he beat me 3/0 in Hong Kong. It was tough game, but he was just too good. Since then I’ve been working really hard, and I would like to thank my coaches, Dr Talha, Hisham Attar and of course Amr Wagih, our National coach.”
One of those matches where one camp is rejoicing, while the other one is so disappointed. I mean, Joe Lee, fit, playing a very solid and adult game, leading 2/1, and match in hand really in the 4th, 6/2. But as he used to do a few years back, too much pressure, starting thinking, and zoom, unforced error upon unforced error, he lets Abdullah Al Mezayen come back in the match, 7/7, 8/8, 9/9, and finishes with another tin (7 unforced errors in that game only, 11/9 with the Kuwaiti forcing a decider.
But Joe reassessed quickly in the 5th, very positive set of mind. 7/3 up, looking really good for the English camp, with an Abdullah very tired after the enormous retrieving he’s been doing. My money is on Joe to be honest. But I was wrong. Abdullah just finds his second wind, and despite a spotless performance from the young Englishman who plays out of his skin, the Kuwaiti just flies to victory, 11/8 in the 5th.
“I was so close to losing, 2/1 down, and 6/2 down,” admitted Abdullah. “Then in the last game, again, 7/3. My fitness is better, I’ve lost some weight, but my fitness is still not 100%. At the end, I was so tired, and I let my hands do the point. I was a bit lucky on the last points.
“So happy to win, it gives me confidence for tomorrow…”
Day one was rounded off by wins for a young Frenchman, Greg Marche, and a young Egyptian, Karim Abdel Gawad, both beating Englishmen as they set up a match tomorrow with the winner booking a place at the O2.
But that’s tomorrow’s story …