PIPS POWER AT THE POST
If I hadnt sat through every second of the 88 minutes, I wouldnt have believed it: Jonathon Power, the masterful finisher, is at match ball 10-6. And loses. Thats right, David Palmer took six points in a row, saving four match balls on the way.
As finals go this was very good. Nobody wanted to predict the outcome because of Palmers supreme performance in the semis and Powers recent run. The match lived up to its unpredictability as first Palmer and then Power took control. Each game seemed to be a chapter out of a different book because there seemed to be no relationship between the chapters.
Palmer started with the sort of authority that he had against Willstrop in the semis, standing astride the T and jerking Power around. He was able to to this because Power was playing fast and loose and making errors - six unforced errors in all. Palmer made not one unforced error, nor did he hit many winners -he simply controlled the game to win 11-5. The final point was gifted as Power, standing at the front ready to hit a loose reply from Palmer, mis-hit the ball, giving up a penalty stroke. He slammed the ball out of the court in anger, which did not bode well for the Canadian.
HE WON'T LET ME PLAY THE BALL!
But no matter how much he hollers and screams, Power gets over it in seconds, all emotion wiped from his memory bank as he concentrates on the next point. So it was with the second game. Power was playing tighter, shrewder squash which took Palmer by surprise. He no longer had the time to give him options on his shots. Power took control, made no errors and won the game 11-5.
The really engrossing part of this battle was that both players just love the front left corner. Powers entire attack is based on a tight backhand drop. Even if his opponents pick it up, they usually are forced into a weak reply. Palmer loves to put his opponents there and when they counter-drop hell either sky-lob it down the wall or use his killer backhand cross court slam. So they spent a lot of time in that part of the court.
In the third game Power started to complain that Palmer was blocking. After the third occasion, when he was given two No Lets in a row, he screamed at the referee: He wont let me play the ball. This was happening not only at front left but in other parts of the court. Palmer remained calm: he told me after the match that this was part of his game plan - let Power do all the talking and shouting while he kept his cool. It has taken Palmer many years to get to this point of self-control. Not too many years ago, he would erupt like Mount Etna. His cool plan paid off and he won the third game 11-8 in 15 minutes. Palmer contintued his dominance in the fourth to lead 5-0 and Power was almost nonchalent as the points drifted asway from him. Then he hit a forehand tight length which eluded Palmers racket to stop the rot. A forehand cross court hit the nick by the service box and he had his second point. A rattled Palmer hit a drive into the tin to make it 5-3. Then one of those Power specials: a backhand reverse angle from the back of the court that left Palmer helpless: 5-4. Palmer then went forward to play a volley drop and hit the tin again to make the score 5-5. The tension in the panelled, stained glass windowed hall was palpable.
SEVEN POINT PURPLE
ANOTHER BAD DREAM FOR POWER
Power will have nightmares about this game. He played it perfectly, took the lead from the word go, played all the right shots at the right time, was still amazingly quick at getting to Palmers well distributed shots and led 6-2. Palmer fought back to 5-6 and then Power hit a purple streak. Balls so tight to the wall Palmer could not scrape them off; deft backhand drops and disguised flicks that sent the ball into the back corners. Despite Palmers determination power got to match ball 10-6 and it was Good night, Irene to the Australian. But the Aussie didnt feeling like going to sleep. He told me later that he resolved to keep the ball in play and let Power make the errors. Two no lets against Power started Palmer on his run towards the title. Power then tried to end the match by smacking Palmers serve into the nick but hit the tin instead to make the score 10-9. Power looked nervous, he couldnt believe what was happening to him either. The next point ended in a mid-court collision and the referee judged that Palmer had the point won anyway and so it was 10-10 and a tie-brek. Palmer will remember the next point: Power put the ball midway up the right wall and Palmer crashed it across court into the nick to put him at match ball - a situation that seemed impossible five minutes before.
This turnabout unhinged Power who ended the match with an unforced error hitting the ball into the bottom of the tin. An unbelievable outcome but a match that every spectator will remember for a long time.
Palmer was more than willing to talk immediately after the game. I went through patches today - good and bad. The first game felt good and not so good in the second. But I thought I had it in the fourth - I should never have let him back in. It shows what a great fighter he is. Hes hard to play; his length is so good and he picks up a lot of balls. Nobody talks about how fast he is,but hes very fast. Hes always looking for strokes, so you have to work twice as hard against him as other players.
I went through patches tonight when I felt tired and out of it and other times when I felt prettygood and hung in there. There was a bit of luck in the end, but I was determined to be strong tonight and not to let him get to me. That was my game plan, to let him rant and rave at the ref and for me to keept quiet, keep my head down and work hard, Palmer told SquashTalk.
I asked him whether he would get the number one spot with this win. I havent thought too much about it this time. I put too much pressure on myself in Saudi Arabia. I did not play this tournament last year so there are no points coming off. So this win wont do my ranking any harm. This wasnt about becoming number one, this was about winning a title. Ive been in four of the last five finals and missed them all. At 10-6 I thought I had missed out again, but I decided to keep the ball going let him make mistakes. Power got a bit nervous I think. Im just happy to get a win.
Palmer deserves the number one spot if he does get it come February the first. He has been the most consistent player in the last 12 months, having reached more finals than anybody. Hes been there before and so, like Power, will enjoy getting back to the top of the pile.
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