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Nicol Shuts Down Kneipp
Aug 19, 2005, Martin Bronstein at Sheffield, The Crucible.
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[Complete English Open Draw]     and [Women's Results]

HISTORIC WIN FOR NICK MATTHEW

MARTIN BRONSTEIN REPORT ON THE QUARTERFINALS

Quarterfinal upset action: Nick Matthew defeats Yorkshire rival Lee Beachill (photo © 2005 Fritz Borchert)

MATTHEW TAKES HISTORIC WIN OVER BEACHILL

Nick Matthew tonight played surely the most memorable – if not the best – match of his life in beating world number two Lee Beachill in a 92 minute battle that left Beachill looking tired and wan from the exertions of trying to overcome his fellow Yorkshireman. It was a classic come-from-behind victory for a player who had never beaten Beachill before and started as though he would not beat him tonight.

Beachill likes to dictate the pace and rhythm and for two games he did that using his superb length and meticulous shotmaking to keep Matthew behind the eight-ball.

Quarterfinals - White survives marathon with Tuominen (photo © 2005 Fritz Borchert)

There was much use of the left wall as both players kept the ball tight and long with Beachill usually the first to cut the ball short. His domination worked and he took the first two games 11-6 and 11-7, looking to take the third game in the same fashion. They weren’t easy games: both players anticipate and read the game well and use the four corners to great effect – the effect is to keep the opponent running and stretching – or in some cases lunging.

In the third game it was Matthew who went short first. In fact he changed his entire game plan and was volley dropping and cutting the ball short at every opportunity. He had realized that he had to be positive against his accomplished opponent. Beachill no longer had the luxury of relaxing in his own comfort zone and was now being constantly stretched and twisted at the front of the court. Matthew’s strategy worked perfectly and he took the game 11-6. What was apparent through some careless shots was that Beachill was beginning to feel the pace.

It was even more obvious in the fourth game and Matthew, seeming as fresh as ever, but obviously finding energy from success, ran to a 10-3 lead. It looked as though Beachill would let this game go and save himself for the fifth, but he suddenly hit a streak of sizzling winners to move to 9-10. It was the best series of shots I have ever witnessed from Beachill. Matthew could see the game slipping away but could do nothing as one outright winner followed another. Finally Matthews saw his chance and slammed a backhand cross court into the nick to win the game and draw a huge sigh of relief from his massed supporters - Matthew is a Sheffield native.

Nobody moved from their seat in the two minute break. Could Beachill last the course? Could Matthew continue his attacking strategy? The final game was worth the price of admission. At 26 minutes duration, it was longer than some of the women’s matches earlier in the day.

Beachill started as though he was determined to put this upstart puppy in his place and domineered played to lead 7-4…which in a fifth game is an important psychological advantage. But Matthew pulled back and at 7-6 they played a rally of titanic proportions and incredible speed - incredible for two athletes who had already played for seventy minutes. Beachill won that rally and then worked his way to match ball at 10-8. He was hurting so much that after winning one point he winced in pain and unhappiness – you would have thought he’d lost it.

He went for glory with a backhand drop at the front of the court and the tin pinged clearly. It was a very costly error as Matthew tied the score and saved two more match balls as the score crept into the teens. Mathew had match ball himself at 11-10 but Beachill saved that with another beautiful cross court nick.

This was the breathtaking aspect: despite the drama and suspense, both players still went for winners when they were on – they would not be cowed by the occasion.

A tired Beachill gave up two penalty strokes to trail 13-14 and Matthew finally hit the shot he should remember all his life, a forehand drop which Beachill simply could not pick up. The 25 minute game had finally come to a close. The paying customers had seen 92 glorious minutes of squash and they responded with a standing ovations as well as whistles and cheers, the first heard so far in this tournament.

It would be hard to imagine a better match this week, although Matthew faces Willstrop tomorrow in the semis and that could another Yorkshire struggle.

STRAPPED THIGH FAILS TO STOP WILLSTROP’S PROGRESS

Quarterfinals - Kneipp goes down to Nicol (photo © 2005 Fritz Borchert)

James Willstrop took to the court with a strapped thigh but it did not make one bit of difference to his performance in taking a straight games victory over another young Englishman Peter Barker. There may have been times during the match when he was just a little sloppy and times when he ceded the T to Barker. There was even a point where he faced game ball, but each time Willstrop seemed to move up a gear to save the situation and move with sureness to the winner’s circle.

Barker played well for two games – in fact, he played well enough in the second game to lead 9-6 and put Willstrop under the gun. Having lost the first game 11-5, Barker needed the second game to give him the impetus to fight in the third but he was unable to handle Willstrop’s overdrive and soon Willstrop was level at 10-10, having saved game ball with a clinical forehand drop that was simply to tight for left-hander Barker to scrape off the wall.

Barker went ahead again with a forehand drop of his own, but Willstrop leveled with another forehand drop and finished the game with hard backhand low drive and a perfectly timed forehand boast that caught Barker napping. The engrossing game had taken 17 minutes and had taken the heart out of Barker.

Willstrop played near perfect squash in the third game, almost as though he had decided playtime was over and it was time to get down to man’s business. He won the game 11-3 in six minutes. A match that had seemed so full of promise in the second game had suddenly come to an end with Willstrop once more the winner. We learned later that the strapping was more of a precautionary measure than treatment for a pull or strain.

NICOL LOOKING GOOD
Joe Kneipp had a Barker-type experience against Peter Nicol in a cracking first game that saw Kneip display his skill to such an extent that he led Nicol 9-5 to threaten a real upset. When Kneip’s confidence is at its zenith he can be breathtakingly audacious and hit ridiculously difficult shots with ease. Furthermore there was nothing that Nicol could throw at him that he couldn’t handle. The prospect for a five game battle loomed: if they could keep this level of squash up for five games it would be a real feast. This was an exhibition of how the game should be played – a finely balanced mix of percentage length and attacking guile.

But then Nicol seemed to hit a streak of perfect shotmaking: backhand drops, a forehand cross court that never rose off the floor, and a couple of very tight drives moved him to 10-9. Kneipp refused to buckle and hit a backhand drop to force a tie break. Nicol responded with a deeply cut forehand cross court to get to game ball again and played a clever backhand which eluded Kneipp to get the game 12-10 after 19 minutes of superb squash.

Which was about as much as Kneipp could handle; he was tired, damned tired and six errors and seven minutes later Kneipp had lost the second game 11-2. He changed to another Australian team shirt for the third game which seemed to provide him with some energy to compete again but despite leading 5-4 we all knew that his tank would run dry. Nicol, playing error-free squash, took five points in a row to reach 9-5 at which point they played the best rally of the match with both players going for the winners and retrieving everything. Kneipp went for the nick on four consecutive shots but missed by a hair allowing Nicol to keep the ball in play. Finally Nicol hit a cross court and Kneipp never ran. Nicol had run him dry. Kneipp did get one more point but it was academic. Nicol won the ten minute game 11-6 to keep his hope of winning one of his own tournaments alive.

Peter Nicol's opponent will be Scotland's sixth seed John White, the 2003 champion, who survived a late five-game match against unseeded Finn Olli Tuominen - saving two match balls in the decider to win 11-10 7-11 11-7 8-11 11-10 in 87 minutes.

BOTWRIGHT SHOWS HER CLASS
The Eventis English Women’s Open is being held in conjunction with the Mamut Men’s event, but did not attract the same sort of stellar field. It was played in the afternoon – a very sunny afternoon in front of about 30 people.

Alison Waters beat Rebecca Botwright fairly easily, with neither player showing the determination to retrieve from the corners that they will have to acquire if they are to advance up the rankings. Waters has a nice feel for the volley drop and used it to gain valuable points.

We then had another meeting between Scot Pamela Nimmo and Madelein Perry of Ireland and once more Ireland won. Nimmo has not recovered from her bout with DVT to the point where she was four years ago which is a pity because she was a very promising player. Perry is too consistent and makes few errors while Nimmo is guilty of rash shots, leaving the court open to her opponent. She upbraids herself all the time when she has played a particularly bad shot, but the message has yet to sink in and she lost in straight games. Jenny Duncalf then ran roughshod over Lauren Biggs winning for the loss of seven points in a match notable for the error rate from Biggs.

The final match of the afternoon gave us the best squash as Vicki Botwright took on Pakistan’s Carla Khan. Botwright was playing well from the start to win the first game 9-0 and the second 9-1. Khan got her act and shots going in the third and smoothly took the game 9-5 to pose the question as to how she had lost the first two games so easily. But theen Botwright restored order in the fourth game to win it 9-1, using her good court sense and knowing when to go short. She has certainly improved enormously from the player who was once known purely on the basis of having posed in a thong. With just a little more fire in her belly she could be very good.

RESULTS: Mamut English Open Squash Championship, Sheffield, Yorkshire

Quarterfinals:
[4] James Willstrop (ENG) bt [Q] Peter Barker (ENG) 11-5 11-10(3-1) 11-3 (41 min)
[3] Peter Nicol (ENG bt Joe Kneipp (AUS) 11-10(2-0) 11-2 11-6 (41 min)
[5] Nick Matthew (ENG) bt [1] Lee Beachill (ENG) 6-11 7-11 11-6 11-9 11-10(5-3) (92 min)
[6] John White (SCO) bt Olli Tuominen (FIN) 11-10 7-11 11-7 8-11 11-10 (87 min)

Women's Quarterfinals:
WOMEN's PRO INVITATIONAL FIRST ROUND/QUARTERFINAL:

[1] Jenny Duncalf (ENG) def Lauren Briggs (ENG) 9-1 9-3 9-2
[4] Alison Water (ENG) def Becky Botwright (ENG) 9-4 9-2 9-2
[3] Madeline Perry (IRL) def Pam Nimmo (SCO) 9-1 9-7 9-4
[2] Vicky Botwright (ENG) def Carla Khan (PAK) 9-0 9-1 5-9 9-1






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