Fades to Black
Shabana Sharpshoots Way Past Lincou
TOP SEED OUT; WHITE FADES TO BLACK; MATTHEW ROBBED
Amr Shabana again only woke up after the first game but then overwhelmed Thierry Lincou. Meanwhile John White found that his legs would not respond after yesterday's sizzling match with Mo Abbas and although he won the first game against David Palmer, he rapidly ran out of gas, to lose the next three.
Top seed Lincou started off brilliantly against Shabana, played a completely different type of game than we or Shabana expected, and caught the talented Egyptian off guard. It was Lincou playing the shotmaker this time, taking the ball short at every opportunity and volleying from the T to completely outplay Shabana for one game. This was a Lincou we had not seen before and he looked unbeatable.
Shabana, however didn't look particularly worried as he left the court the 5-11 loser after 10 minutes, having committed five unforced errors when going for winners.
In the second game, Shabana was fully awake, had realised what Lincou was up to and took the appropriate steps to get Thierry off the T. And Amr's winners started to hit their mark. This was probably the best game of the match with each player trying to impose his game on the other and Lincou - despite his reputation for not being good at going forward - was doing well at the front.
Shabana played with his new-found confidence and maturity, waiting for the right moment to go for the winners and playing tight length when the occasion called for caution. He got to game ball 10-8 and then the two had a marvellous rally all over the court.. It ended with both at the front of the court and Shabana slamming a ball which came off the front wall towards Lincou's chest. With lighting reaction he guided the ball into the nick to win the point, bring whoops and hollers from the packed hall. The game ended with a slightly questionable penalty stroke in Shabana's favour.
With the match tied, anything could happen, but Shabana was definitely taking the upper hand. At 5-3 there was a clash of legs as Shabana went in to pick up a drop shot and Lincou was left limping, complainingg of a sore knee. After a three minujte injury break he returned but had lost his impetus and Shabana took the game with ease, 11-3.
The match was virtually won and the fourth game was a formality as Shabana retained his domination to win 11-4. What had promised to be a battle between a former world champion and the reigning world champion had fizzled into an anti-climax.
Afterwards Shabana admitted that he had been taken by surprise.
"He didn't play his normal game and went for shots. I couldn't get going when he played like that. I changed my tactics in the second and got him off the T and into the back corners. I'm making no predictions, just taking the confidence from each win into the next match," he said, referring to that fact that if he won this tournament he could take the number one spot in the February rankings.
KEEPS CALM TO DEFEAT WHITE
Although there were the odd occasions when David Palmer's displeasure was apparent, he kept his cool, probably knowing that his friend John White was tired after his win over Mohammed Abbas yesterday.
Not that White showed it in the first game as he smacked and cracked the ball about in his inimitable fashion, taking that first game despite six errors to his four winners. When White is in this mood there is not much any player in the world can do about it. The second game was very different with Palmer covering the court, anticipating most of White's shots and getting the feeling —as we all were— that White was really not interested in long rallies. The game was over in just eight minutes, 11-4 in Palmer's favour. In the third game the fatigue began to show in White's face and he hit five errors when trying to shorten the rallies and go for winners. At 7-1 down it was obvious that he had no thoughts of winning this game, never mind the tournament. Palmer mopped the game up in seven minutes. White did produce more energy in the fourth, diving for balls and on one occasion causing Palmer to dive over him, almost turning the match into a gymnastic display. White pushed from 3-8 to get to 6-9 but Palmer was in control and in the final rally White did a huge dive to return the ball, got up and dived again for Palmer's return and just missed it. The crowd roared their approval and showed their appreciation of 49 minutes of entertaining squash.
NICK MATTHEW WILL NOT BE SENDING PETER LAWRENCE A CHRISTMAS CARD NEXT YEAR.
Those two talented Yorkshiremen James Willstrop and Nick Matthew treated the spectators to a feast of squash heavily laced with drama. The surprise - nay, shock - ending was supplied by referee Peter Lawrence. In the tradition of melodrama, the villain was booed by the audience.
These two players know each other and this makes for rallies full of inventiveness and impossible retrievals. The entire match was played in a competitive but sporting spirit with Matthew still suffering from the necessity to prove the referee wrong. This contest went back and forth like a yo-yo, first game to Willstrop 11-6, second game to Matthew by the same score, third game to Willstrop again by the same score and then Matthew tied it up by winnining the fourth 11-7 to set up the dramatic fifth game.
Engrossing is an understatement and every spectator would have gladly paid double to see this match. Willstrop was still hitting his spectacular winners to lead 5-2 but then Matthew managed to wrest control to get to 4-5. Willstrop then hit one of his purple streaks: a white hot backhand drive, a stroke, a forehand drop and then, sportingly, called his own ball down (which I thought was good) to give Matthew his fifth point.
Willstrop got to match ball, 10-6, at which point the pair of them excelled themselves producing a supersonic rally that had everything. Matthew finally won it and had to wait as the cheering and hollering went on and on. He won the next point on a forehand boast to get to 8-10 and a tie-break was on the books. Then two more fantastic rallies ended in lets.
In the next rally they were exchanging drop shots at the front. Willstrop hit one to the front right and Matthews was behind him, his racket raised. He called the let and we all knew it was a stroke to Matthews. Except Peter Lawrence, the referee, who unbelievably called No Let. His explanation was that Willstrop's shot was too good. We who sit by the front wall saw the ball two feet high and had Matthew had free access to it, he would have pasted it for a winner. It was the worst decision of the many bad decisions that Lawrence has made in different parts of the world. Matthew was fuming and Willstrop was most unhappy with the outcome, not wishing to win on such a dreadful call. But the call stood and Willstrop had the game 11-8 and the match 3/2 after 67 pulsating minutes. Pity about the sour taste in all our mouths.
POWER REPEATS SUCCESS OVER RICKETTS.
A month ago Jonathon Power and Anthony Ricketts stood toe-to-toe in Saudi Arabia knowing that the winner of the final would take over the number one spot in the rankings. Power won and got back the top spot after an absence of five years. Today, he went one better in beating Ricketts 3/0 in 43 minutes. Ricketts led the second game 9-6 but could not stop Power from taking the game 11-9. Ricketts was by no means outclassed, but Power was relaxed and joking - except for the odd scream at the referee - and hitting some beautiful winners. He is now hitting screamers from the back of the court with more frequency and his opponents are left flatfooted. There were some histrionics from Power that brought odd decisions from the referee which had smoke coming out of Ricketts nostrils, but nothing to detail. Somebody suggested that Ricketts was too wound up knowing that, yet again, the winner of this tournament would take the number one ranking. He will have to find ways of beating Power. Maybe he should try keeping it on Power's forehand, so the Canadian cannot use that deadly backhand drop shot which is the cause of most of his opponents' demise.
Power told SquashTalk that this will be his last tournament for a month. He will be off to Mexico with his wife for three weeks to finally get some rest of two months of non-stop squash. His next appearance will be at The Tournament of Champions in New York in February.
CITY OPEN 2006
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