A Budding Rivalry Rejoined
January's World #1, Nicol David of Malaysia met Vanessa Atkinson, world #2, for the first time since Nicol had emerged victorious in a four game no-holds barred encounter in the World Open Semi Finals, in December, in Hong Kong.
When the dust cleared, tonight in Rye, NY, Atkinson had come away with a masterfully crafted four game win, upping her lifetime tally over David to 7-4. They will meet again (Rachael Grinham permitting) in a week's time, in Kuala Lumpur.
This meeting was at the Rye, New York, Apawamis Club. One hundred-plus spectators packed themselves into the gallery in anticipation of the battle between the world #'s one and two. It was a transition year for the Apawamis sponsorship. Apawamis has hosted professional tournaments for more than two decades. The club, tucked away in the upscale suburb of Rye, went from hosting mid-range men's and women's events, to converting their sponsorship to a gold-level top-flight women's WISPA event. They were richly rewarded with a wonderful tournament and terrific final.
Vanessa came out flying tonight. From the opening serve, she kept up the pace and stayed on the attack. Atkinson's touch was working with pinpoint accuracy and didn't fail her at all until partway through the third game. Her attacking boasts, used in contrast with an accelerating pace kept Nicol David in the reactive mode.
But the smoothly-mobile Nicol David was also in excellent form tonight. She moved well and matched Atkinson pace-for-pace, shot for shot.
If there was a weak-point in Nicol David's game tonight, it was on the backhand side. In the first two games, more than a half-dozen backhand errors from her gave Vanessa Atkinson the confidence and advantage she needed over Nicol David. But it was really the startling confidence with which Atkinson was able to mix perfectly measured attacking boasts and elegantly laid-down counter-drops which brought her the first two games. Both players were moving and anticipating well, so every point was long.
"Vanessa was really great tonight." Nicol David said. "I don't think it was anything I didn't do, no excuses at all, it was Vanessa who was really on top of her game tonight. Her short game was so good. "
IN THE THIRD
Nicol David had found her rhythm and was now moving Vanessa to all corners of the court. Atkinson has been in this position before - far ahead in a big match and suddenly losing confidence. For a moment it seemed to be happening again.
But we are seeing a new far more confident and seasoned Atkinson in the past two seasons. Vanessa worked rally by rally, volleying, volleying, waiting for the chance to move Nicol David to the front.
Both players are so mobile and quick that it made for a dizzying series of points, as Vanessa moved her way back to 5-5 in the third, 6-6, and 7-7.
This part of the third game was an object lesson in tactical squash, with both players in control of the angles, using the height and width of the court to work themselves out of trouble and move their opponent into trouble. The play went back and forth, most points not ending until one of the two was able to place in a perfectly executed short ball.
Nicol David took the third game 10-9, and she appeared newly confident, while Vanessa was looking at the sky.
Again, both players were using the court well, attacking each other in front, testing each other in back.
Vanessa had the slightest of advantages. She was just anticipating Nicol David's moves so well that she kept the pressure on. At 7-6 a long and crucial point ended with an attacking boast from Vanessa's backhand, that Nicol countered with an error that grazed the tin. It was 8-6. Nicol David fought back to 7-8 but then one final perfectly placed counter drop from Vanessa gave her the match - and the anticipation of more fine battles to come.
"I felt that I was playing better as the weekend went on." Vanessa said. "My thigh was bothering me at the beginning of the tournament and it forced me to think more, rather than just run around. That was good for me for the whole weekend."
SHOWDOWNS TO COME
The schedule is even more hectic for Nicol David. "Right after KL we have the Asian Championships, then to Australia for the Commonwealth games." As Netherlands isn't involved in the Commonwealth Games, New Yorkers will see Vanessa back at the end of February for the TOC.
For the Apawamis Club supporters it was a whirlwind weekend of squash - with a member-guest tournament (Apawamis Cup) and handicap event also ongoing. Apawamis prides itself on its large and successful junior program, two dozen of whom attended the finals, and, "The WISPA women were terrific, spending so much time on the court with the juniors," Peter Briggs said, wrapping up the evening.
In addition to her prize money, Vanessa collected a sparking Breitling watch, donated by tournament sponsors, Bettridge Jewelers of Greenwich.
Apawamis Squash Open, Rye, NY, USA
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