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WEDNESDAY: Power and Nicol live to meet again.
QUARTER FINALS [obtain the Power-Price complete match video]
POWER DOES HIS MAGIC
SOMETIMES SQUASH IS NOT PRETTY
To misquote Rodney Dangerfield, tonight I went to a squash match and a shoving game broke out. Jonathon Power, the reigning YMG Classic champion, played the Australian number two Paul Price and it was not pretty. The niceties of squash, once considered a game for gentleman, were all but forgotten and I'm quite sure the referees' vocal chords got as much as a workout as the players' arms. Yes there were some great moments and a lot of drama as the score swung back and forth like a pendulum looking for zero gravity, but in the end, this was not a great advertisement for the game, given the superb setting of the atrium of BCE Place in Toronto.
IS THERE A HARPOON IN THE HOUSE?
Jansher Khan was often criticized for his constant fishing for strokes, his racquet
held wide or round his opponents neck, but he could have learned a thing or two last night. Price was the principle fisherman, which is unusual - Aussies tend to be too proud to do that sort of thing. Strangely, he was playing the better length but he produced a lot of loose shots that got him stroked. His usual array of winners was reduced to three or four - his mind, I think was on other things, like delaying tactics and as much bodily contact as he could get away with without being charged with assault. Power started off smiling - a dangerous sign for his opponent - but by the second game was screaming and hair-tearing.
SO WHAT HAPPENED?
Both players were producing streaks of winners followed by steaks of errors which accounted for the see-sawing. Power led 6-2 and then found himself 9-13 down. A forehand drive got him a point and then a stroke put him to 11-13. Price then hit three silly errors in a row to put Power at game point 14-13. Power produced a sizzling straight kill -a Price specialty to win a game that Price should have won. In the second game Power led 5-1, it was tied at 9-all and then pulled away to win 15-11. The stage was reached where almost every rally brought forth at least one decision from the referee, which was immediately appealed. I was rapidly reaching the point where I didn't care who was right.
A TIE BREAKER BECOMES A HEARTBREAKER FOR PRICE
In the third, Power again took an early lead, 7-4 and then 9-6 - which is when the referee shouted 'Stop, Stop, stop, finish with the elbows', the first time I have heard that in 22 years of covering squash. Price was 6-11 down and made yet another incredible comeback to tie the game at 11-all and then move on to game ball at 14-12,. Power saved the day with a sizzling rally and then a stroke to make it 14-14. Price called set three, made two bad errors and was given a No Let on the final ball. Power was to 2-1 up and lucky to be so.
AND NOW IT'S POWER'S TURN
Power led again in the fourth game and once more Price turned it round going from 1-5 down to 10-6. Power stayed focussed and overhauled Price at 13-13 and then got a lucky nick at the back left corner (there is a half inch gap between floor and wall) to get to match ball. Price saved it and Power called No set. And then got stroked to give the game to Price.
Price led the fifth all the way and stood at match point 14-10. The Canadian audience were mentally on their way home having seen their champion beaten. One Canadian mentally stayed, Jonathon Power. A typical Power disguised backhand reverse started his comeback bringing hoots from the crowd. Price made a stupid error to make it 12-14 and then Power slammed a forehand cross court into the nick, bringing more roars from the crowd, who by now were mentally very much glued to the game. Price must have wanted very much to end it quickly and another attempted backhand winner hit the tin to make it 14-all.
Price put up one finger to the ref - No set. - a move that brought a huge grin to Power's face. Three shots into the final rally of the game Price anticipated a forehand cross court from Power and when Power went the other way Price could not recover and saw the ball pass him for the winner. What a way to win. Worse still, what a way to lose.
A lot of stroke hunting ? I asked Power.
"For sure. They were giving them away like candy. So you keep trying. We're making a living out there."
What about all the
body contact ?
When the referee shouted "Language" was it you who swore?
"Oh, no. I never swear. You know that don't you Martin?" And then a twinkly smile. You can't helping liking the guy.
ONG CAUGHT SHORT
By contrast Peter Nicol and Ong Beng Hee were a couple of perfect gentlemen. They see more of each other than most married couples, having the same manager and training five days a week in Chingford, east of London. So they know each other's game pretty well. They both play a fine basic game with everything based on pace and length, but in their quarter-final match Nicol proved that he was better at the front of the court than Ong. Whenever an opportunity arose, Nicol would go short and tight and Ong was always just a little short on the counter drop. In fact at one point it seemed that if Nicol wanted to win a point, he either dropped the ball or stuck in one of his beautiful boasts which often left Ong standing.
WIDER, TIGHTER, FASTER
In fact that was the whole story of the first two games, Nicol winning 15-9 both times.
Ong learned his lesson, came out with his own version of the Olympic slogan and started playing wider, tighter and faster. Dividends came immediately and he ran to a 9-2 lead. Nicol is one of the few player who has show that you can come back from a large deficit and suddenly Ong's winners stopped and the errors started again. At 10-6 he stopped Nicol's comeback charge, hit a tight forehand, a well disguised backhand drive and the another tight high backhand to lead 13-6. Nicol stopped that run with a marvellous overhead slam into the corner, but, looking tired, he also hit the ball out of court and followed that with a drop to the tin and Ong had the third game 15-9.
HANG ON. I'M THE WORLD CHAMPION
Nicol realised what was going on and from the start of the fourth game forced two errors from Ong to start his run to 6-1 lead, Ong hit four winners in a row to get back to 6-5 but Nicol took charge again, keeping the pace high and forcing Ong into some hectic retrieving. There was no doubt that the world champion would prevail and he took the game 15-10 on a final stroke.
"My length was not so good and I was not tight enough," Ong told Squashtalk. "I was in trouble each time my length was short and I could not get to the drops maybe I should have lobbed him rather than counter-dropped." Nicol explained Ong's errors by saying he didn't give Ong time to play a shot.
When asked if he learned anything from Ong Nicol replied:
"I learned in the third game that when he steps up the pace, he'll win," he quipped. "Ong has come on very well but now he has to take his game up a level by stepping up the pace for the whole match."
Nicol also revealed a bad tooth kept him out of the game for two weeks after an extraction that entailed general anaesthetic.
"I wasn't allowed to fly or play for two weeks after Qatar, so the cancellation of tournaments did not really affect me. I would have to pull out anyway."
Last year in Toronto Nicol was just coming back from injury and far from fit. This year he says he raring to go. Tomorrow's semi-final against a tired Power will prove or disprove that.
Results: Quarterfinals [draw]
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