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Martin Bronstein, Toronto, 18 Nov 2001
YMG CAPITAL CLASSIC FIRST ROUND TOP HALF OF DRAW
MY SANTA, HOW YOU'VE CHANGED
Before David Palmer could command the spotlight in the first match of the main draw proper, he had to give way to Santa Claus. Toronto's annual parade went down Yonge Street (world's longest road - from Lake Ontario to the North Pole) past the BCE Place where the tournament is being played. Santa looked slimmer this year from my vantage point in the Irish Academy (a bar restaurant) and for all I know, he was a she, perhaps to satisfy the political correctness that has made Canada such a joy for satirists. I think God smiled on the parade; she certainly supplied some fine un-Canadian sunny weather. When I lived in Canada 20 years ago, my long-johns wore long-johns from mid-October. By November mink ear-muffs were obligatory.
LENGTH, LENGTH ALL IS LENGTH
David Palmer is on a roll. Like a runaway steamroller down a 1 in 4 gradient, he is becoming hard to stop. Paul Johnson, who had slid down to 15 in the world (last year he was number 4) tried very hard to contain the Australian and world number one, but he had neither the weapons nor the fitness. The long first game was an indication of what was to come and the boring, age old squash truth is still as true as ever: length is all.
Palmer was impeccable almost from the word go, specially is backhand crosscourt drives. They hit within an inch of the nick about a yard (or as they say in Europe, a metre) from the back wall, forcing Johnson to play them - on his backhand - after they had visited the back wall forcing a weak replay. Now Johnson was not playing at all badly, attacking far more than he usually does and on some rallies, having Palmer jumping to the four corners. But these were rare patches in between Palmer's dominance. The lanky Australian seemed comfortable from the word go and was playing squash of a very high order and he won that first 17 minute game 15-9.
Such was Palmer's distribution, Johnson, known for his fitness, was being worked hard but persisted in attacking Palmer's occasion loose shot. Johnson even led in the second 6-4 but Palmer's natural feel for kills was always there to put Johnson in his place. Palmer tied 6-6 and then it was 9-9 on yet another Palmer backhand cross court slam, that died before Johnson could reach it. Then Palmer went up a notch and the kills increased as he took the second game 15-11 in 12 and ½ minutes. The law of diminishing returns came into effect as Johnson's gas tank started to run low.
CONFIDENCE BREEDS WINNERS
Palmer started in overdrive in the third game and then pushed the turbo-drive button and inside a couple of minutes was 8-0 ahead, Johnson was simply outclassed but at 2-10 played a magnificent rally in which he had Palmer all over the place, stretching, scuttling and hustling like mad to save the rally but to no avail. But that was virtually Johnson's last hurrah as Palmer took control again to win 15-5 in under seven minutes.
"He has a big physical presence on court," Johnson told me later. "I was happy with the way I played and I was trying to take him off the T and take away his volleying, but he kept upping the pace and I was not strong enough to maintain the pace. The tour has been so spasmodic it is hard to get any focus in your training."
Palmer said he was fairly satisfied with the way he played and he was working on his length to set up for the winners. "I'm glad to do it in three and save myself for the later rounds but I have felt my motivation has dropped off over the last month because of the lack of tournaments," he told me as he signed autographs for the many juniors in the stands. When I asked him if he felt lucky with the soft opposition in the top half of the draw he responded by pointing out that Stewart Boswell and Mark Chaloner were the form player of the moment and thought it looked soft it wasn't.
IS HEATH MACBETH?
He was right about the young Australian Stewart Boswell, who prevailed in three over the Scot Martin Heath, whose black hair and blacker eyes carry an ominous cloud and always puts me in mind of a tragic Macbeth. I would call him MacHeath but Bertolt Brecht got there first. They had a long first game of nearly 19 minutes with the lead changing several times but from 9-7 Boswell gradually took control and won 15-12. The second was a disaster for Heath as the errors streamed from his racket. Boswell took control from 4-0 up and simply waited for Heath to do the wrong thing. Trailing 2-8 Heath had obviously given this game up and went for chancy winners but lost it 5-15 in eight minutes.
I hoped Heath would put his effort into the third game but Boswell had the measure of him and even though they were sort of even at 9-8, it was in effect all over with Boswell always coming out the winner, as Heath ended even rallies he was controlling with a tinned shot. Boswell took the third 15-10 to emerge a comfortable winner. "It was a bit scrappy and Heath played some strange shots," Boswell said, adding that he too, had been affected by the cancellations in the PSA tour. "Even in the world teams I really didn't get much action or many complete matches. As Australian number three, most of my matches were dead rubbers."
MARK LISTING TO LEEWARD
Palmer was wrong about Mark Chaloner, ranked eight to Lee Beachill's 16. Strange seeding all over the place: in the world teams, Chaloner was England number one to Beachill's number four, yet Beachill is the reigning British champion and ranked two in England. He beat Chaloner 3/0 in the nationals and knocked Peter Nicol of the British Open in one of the most comprehensively superior performances I have ever seen against Nicol. While Chaloner's front court game continues to improve, old habits die hard, and he simply cannot match Beachill's all court game.
Beachill can put away winners with assurance, something Chaloner can do only occasionally and although Chaloner won that first 18 minute game 15-12 from 9-11 down, it was more to do with Beachill's let up and errors than his own dominance. Beachill came out spitting fire in the second and whomp, bang, crash, he had it won in eight minutes 15-4. Same thing happened in the third and fourth , 15-9 and 15-3 and there wasn't a damn thing Chaloner could do about it. Beachill is a well-crafted complete player with a solid defensive game allied with a deadly attacking game. If he is not in the world top five by this time next year, I'll eat my overboiled cabbage.
"It was a bit patchy to start with but I know that I've got the game to contain Mark. I beat him in the nationals and even though he had patches of control, I was never worried. He started to look ragged half way through the second and that gave me encouragement," Beachill said afterwards. He has a day of rest before meeting Palmer in the quarters. And that will be a good match.
EVANS BACK ON FORM
David Evans has gotten over his ankle problems and is playing his unhurried brand of squash. Stephen Meads, a qualifyer, is another player without the required firepower in his attacking game and after the first game was over, Evans found good length on both sides of the court to keep the press on Meads to secure a 3/0 victory and a place in the semis against Boswell.
GETTING TO THE BOTTOM
Tomorrow will see the bottom half of the draw in action and with the irrepressible Jonathon Power playing his first game, the fireworks missing from today's play will surely be on display. He is allegedly carrying an ankle injury, and his opponent, Shahier Razik has an open blister on one foot. They say that in the land of the one-legged men, a scooter is quite useless. We shall see.
Results: Round One,
Day One (Top half of draw)