Vanessa Atkinson and Stephanie Brind Stage 55 Minute All-out Battle
STEPHANIE STARTS SLOWLY
Stephanie Brind arrived at the Bay Club hours early for her match with Vanessa Atkinson. She wanted a practice court -- the players were still struggling to get fully comfortable on the 20' courts being used for this event. But there wasn't a court to be had.
Vanessa Atkinson stayed away from the club instead, wanting to avoid the distractions of fans adding tension to an already pressure-packed semi final. Vanessa's strategy worked better, as she came out sharp: attacking with accuracy and retrieving flawlessly; and Stephanie Brind came out slightly flat, falling behind pretty quickly under Atkinson's pressure attacking game. Before Brind knew what was happening she was already down one game to love and 6-1 in the second.
Brind settled down, backing off of her own attacking forays to work her way back into the match. She brought the score back to 3-6 after a series of 20, 30, and 40 shot rallies each ended with a failed attacking shot by Atkinson. A marathon point at 3-6, with a few breathtaking gets by Atkinson, ended with an error by Brind, and two more errors in the next three points gave Atkinson game two at 9-6.
A SHOWCASE FOR THE BEST IN WOMEN'S SQUASH
Game three demonstrated the skill, determination, desire and drama of attacking squash. Brind was determined not to let this match get away from her. She came out attacking in game three. With both Brind and Atkinson comfortable in a counter-punch attacking style game, each point of this game featured a tactical battle with the two protagonists searching for their opponent's weak point. Attacking drops from all over the court, volley drops, volley boasts, and attacking drives were the weapons.
Brind was moving Atkinson up front again and again. Vanessa answered each call and made some stirring recoveries, from up front to the back wall, keeping the points alive. Twice, Atkinson re-dropped on great drops from Brind. But Brind took a 3-2 lead. Then Atkinson played a drop that Brind failed to cover. Was Brind tiring? Atkinson worked her way to a 4-3 lead. Atkinson sensed that she needed to press the advantage and a phenomenal rally ensued with Atkinson moving to all four corners of the court, playing strong shots off of great attacks by Brind. After 35 shots, Atkinson maneuvered Brind out of position and got the stroke. Atkinson won the point but lost the game. She moved to 5-3 but Vanessa had pushed too hard on one point. Atkinson was winded and Brind evened the score at 5-5.
Both players continued to attack but Atkinson, still suffering from her marathon run at 4-3, made a service return error, missed an easy volley, and was caught be several passing shots as Brind regained some momentum, taking game three 9-7.
In the intermission, Macfie, in Atkinson's corner and Bailey, in Brind's, mainly could only stand by while the players contended with the hot, humid conditions.
Atkinson came out ready in game four but Bailey had momentum on her side and some sense of desperation. Going out to a quick 4-0 lead, Bailey was forcing Atkinson short with an accurate short game, coupled with offensive drives. Bailey took the initiative and didn't give it back, evening the match at 2-2 with a quick 9-1 game.
The fifth game started cautiously, with both players trading errors. At 0-1, Vanessa again engineered a long rally, signalling to herself and her opponent that she was ready to fight for this last game. Long rallies, punctuated by duelling boasts and drops, brought Vanessa to 2-1 and then with an irretrievable backhand drop Vanessa had found her rhythm again. At this point, Stephanie wasn't going to give up anything and she relentlessly attacked, moving Vanessa up front and back. She had to be wondering if anything could be done that would stop Vanessa from getting to any spot in the court. At 4-3 Vanessa executed a backhand drop nick to finish a long rally and then a drive-nick, 6-3 and an attacking boast on the forehand, 7-3 and Vanessa had broken Stephanie's confidence. After fifty-five minutes, a great backhand drop and then a final boast and Vanessa had the game 9-5, and the match 3-2.
"What a relief" said Atkinson after the match. She had been feeling the self-imposed pressure of the draw "opening up." Atkinson is showing her maturing as a top-ten player, where in past tournaments she often collapsed at this juncture, Vanessa played her best.
Both Brind and Atkinson had put on an exhibition of strong tactics and exciting, attacking squash.
ANTICLIMATIC FOR NATALIE
Several factors seemed to coincide, working against Natalie Grinham this afternoon. Half way through the first game of this afternoon's semi final matchup with Tania Bailey, a mental more than physical fatigue seemed to set in and affect her play.
After such a strong performance yesterday, Grinham couldn't sustain the same level of excellence today. Too, Bailey was well rested, having gotten the day of on Friday with Tranfield's withdrawal. Bailey came out strong and really, she just maintained a fast pace and driving game, enticing Grinham to go, too soon, for her front game.
After an initial element of hope, at 5-5 in the first game, Grinham fell behind and lost 9-5, 9-0, 9-1.