SquashTalk >Cathay Pacific 2001, Hong Kong, China > Semis from Colin McQuillan

2001 Cathay Pacific : Australian Pandora's Box

...Colin McQuillan reports from Hong Kong....

Anticipation of Possibilities
There is the usual rash of ranking predictions in the wake of today's semi-final results in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Open Squash Championships :
Australia could have two world number ones after the finals tomorrow, but only for six days;
by September 1 2001 New Zealand will boast the two highest ranked women players in the world for the first time, and they could play together in the Commonwealth Games doubles next year;
France could have its first major international title winner;
Joe Shaw will have finally retired.

To start at the bottom of that list, Joe Shaw, the veteran Australian squash coach who originally discovered Rodney Eyles, the Major twins and David Palmer, among other tough nuts from obscure locations, has told reporters that he will hang up his controversial coaching credentials if Palmer finishes tomorrow as both British Open Champion and World Number One: "It couldn't get much better than that,"

Shaw insisted today as Palmer continued his steady and determined Australian progress through the tournament with a 45 minute 15-9 15-12 15-12 win over Mark Chaloner, the Englishman who slipped through the gap created by the first day hospitalisation of top seeded Jonathon Power with enteritis.

"I have played Mark before and I know that, while he is a good athlete, I can read his game pretty well and , apart from a short spell in the second game when he led me 7-3 and 9-6, I was able to work him round the court and punish him, especially down the side walls from the front court." Chaloner can hit the nicks if his opponents let him set himself, so Palmer kept him on the move throughout the match to such an extent that the Englishman began to miss the ball completely. By the end he was so much in charge that he was able to clip a forehand straight drive easily past Chaloner's wheeling figure and pickup the match point on a penalty stroke.

Thierry Lincou, the unseeded 25-year-old Franco-Chinese surprise package of the tournament who has been adopted almost as a home favourite by Hong Kong squash fans, today put a decisive end to Australian hopes of a total shut-out of the finals by defeating Stewart Boswell, the 22.year-old, from Canberra, 12-15 15-14 15-7 15-5 in a 55 minute semi-final.

Boswell was like the Canberra Express in the initial stages of his match with Lincou. There was power and precision in his approach. He was cutting off the ball early and it was giving the Frenchman all kinds of problems. Boswell was awarded five strokes in the opener, the last one ending the game. He led 3-0 in the second. The error rate from both players was beginning to grow. He led 14-13 for a two games lead but, when the Frenchman forced him into a tiebreak at 14-14 with a tight little backhand drop, the tall young Australian opted for a single point decider, and lost it to a high forcing forehand return to the nick. Boswell looked beaten from then on. He held his back. He fiddled with his shoes.He gripped his brow in despair. And he lost as the rising curve of Lincou's confidence brought the Frenchman the last seven rallies in a rush.

" I had to control him. It meant keeping him at the back and making him move around . He is lethal in the front court," said Lincou. "I am one match away from taking a major world tour title for France. I have been to world number eight and I have won half-a-dozen smaller tournaments, but this is the moment for me. "I am playing a more thoughtful game after a four month lay-off with a broken hand. With my two coaches in France I have been re-examing the basic approach to the game.I have played here with continuous confidence and I have to keep it running to the end. I like the court. The people like me because of my Chinese background. The only time I have played David in recent times , the French League, I beat him 3-2. "I deserve to win really. I am the man who put out the defending champion."

Earlier world champion Carol Owens, who is Australian only as long as the Hong Kong event lasts and then converts to New Zealand registration from Sep[tember 1 2001, defeated Fiona Geaves, a walkover semi-finalist from England, 9-5 9-0 9-1 in just 20 minutes of total aggression.

"It is getting better every round, " Owens said. "I have come out of the Auckland winter so this cool court which takes a shot and lets the ball die when it is manner from heaven for me. It was real hard work up in the club pig pens in thee early round. The ball just wouldn't die."

Her record against Leilani Joyce in the year's world tour events is one against five defeats. But the win was in the World Open final in Scotland. She also claims a couple of victories in the winter club leagues in New Zealand. A win in Hong Kong would put Owens on top of the ranking list for the first time. Even defeat is likely to move her up to second place above Fitz-Gerald. Joyce an hour or so later ended the ten win run of Sarah Fitz-Gerald with a 53 minute 9-5 3-9 1-9 9-3 9-6 victory, her first over the Australian this year, that converted the women's Hong Kong Open final to a virtual all-Kiwi affair instead of the anticipated Aussie wipe-out.

"I almost feel relieved. It will take the pressure off," Fitz-Gerald said. "Everyone was starting to say I was unbeatable. I don't know how Jansher and Jahangir Khan lived with it for so long. Today I just couldn't get my aggression running early on, then when I got ahead too easily from the third game I could not respond well enough to her counter-attack. There was one killer rally in the fifth game when I thought I might take back the initiative, but Leilani came back from it with a couple of forehand winners. "I couldn't have lost to a nicer person." The Australian said, having proved it by planting a big kiss on the cheek of the victor after putting the ball into the tin at matchball.

Joyce agreed that she was great friends with Fitz-Gerald, but added that she was pretty pleased to have broken the sequence of defeats at the Australian's hands this year. "I started the game well but then I lost my gameplan and by the end of the second game I was actually feeling a bit desperate about how to get things together again. Then one of my friends, Rebecca Macree, came into my corner and said a few encouraging things. It made a great difference to be reminded that I was not in this thing all on my own and when I got back on court for the fourth I started to vary the pace and the play again."

With Carol Owens among the Kiwis cheering her on from the bleachers as she cleaned up the fourth game in five hands and finished the fifth with crisp volley winners on both hands.. "I am not too surprised Carol was shouting for me to get into the final," Joyce said with a smile. "She just hates playing Sarah." The world champion acknowledged : "We certainly wouldn't want to share a room." According to Andrew Shelley, the WISPA organiser, that is exactly what would happen if Owens wins tomorrow's final. "Leilani will stay on top if she wins, of course," Shelley said today. "But an Owens win would leave Sarah as number three just a few points adrift of Leilani, with Carol as world number one and world champion. Makes it quite an important match really." Whatever happens tomorrow, New Zealand will start September with the world number one and two on the strength. "And look for us in Manchester next year," adds Joyce. "We will be the doubles team playing in the All-Black shirts."

Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Open Squash Championships Semi-final results:

David Palmer (Aus) bt Mark Chaloner (Eng) 15-9 15-12 15-12
Thierry Lincou (Fra) bt Stewart Boswell (Aus) 12-15 15-14 15-7 15-5

Leilani Joyce (NZ) bt Sarah Fitz-Gerald (Aus) 9-5 3-9 1-9 9-3 9-6
Carol Owens (Aus) bt Fiona Geaves (Eng) 9-5 9-0 9-1

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