GRANT SENDS HIS FANS HOME HAPPY
|Grant was on and off against Lavigne. (photo:© 2007 Fritz Borchert)|
Adrian Grant comes from London, a city that has too few major squash tournaments these days — a far cry from when it was the home of the British Open — and so he wants to do well at Canary Wharf, a place that is just a quick bus or train ride for his friends and fans.
He was playing Renan Lavigne of France, who is ranked five places lower than Grant's 14th placing and the result bore that difference out. Lavigne, at 32, is also a lot older — six years is a lot older in squash terms — which means he has been around for long time and there is a lot of skill in that racket arm. From the very beginning, Lavigne decided not to take on the Englishman in terms of fitness — Grant knows how stay strong for 90 minutes — and took the ball short at every opportunity. Grant moves fast and well and today showed a new confidence at the front of the court, especially on his forehand drops and counter-drops. As a left- hander he has the usual advantage in the front left corner and he was more than a match for Lavigne in that area.
Lavigne was very fast out of the blocks while Grant admitted later that he was nervous and took time to get his act together. "I was just hitting the ball and not constructing my rallies," he explained.
Lavigne led from the start and while Grant worked his way back into the game with a mixture of good length and fine drops to tie the game at 6-6, the fates intervened, giving Lavigne not one but three lucky nicks at the back and side, each one bringing a hand gesture of apology from the Frenchman. Nice gesture but that still put Grant behind the eight ball. He never gave up and twice fought back to tie the game at 9 only to see another Lavigne cross court hit the nick by the service box to put the Frenchman at game ball at which point a bad bounce from the front wall put Grant in the way of his own shot and Lavigne got the stroke and the game 11-9.
EASY IN EIGHT MINUTES DEAD
|Beachill was uncharitable in stopping Razik. (photo:© 2007 Fritz Borchert)|
Grant was now warmed up, he'd got the nerves out of the way and now he was playing from the brain. He was 8-1 up in no time, simply outplaying, out-shooting and out-thinking Lavigne. Grant made it look easy and Lavigne was perplexed at the change in fortune. In eight short minutes Grant had won the game 11-4 and tied the match.
AN EXPENSIVE WALKABOUT
Grant still has not got the trick of starting in overdrive and can also go on mental walkabouts when his concentration just evaporates like WMD's in Iraq. In the third game he lost everything he had in the second game and at 3-7 hit two careless errors that gave the impression he had given up on the game. It was a wrong impression and suddenly he found it all again and fought back. Point by point, moving beautifully, hitting the right shot at the right time and getting to everything that Lavigne threw at him, he pulled all the way back to 9-all but broke his own run with a forehand drop into the tin. Ironic, really, as this was the shot that had given Lavigne so much trouble. Grant saved the game ball to force a tie break and then came a long rally that went through three lets, finally ending in a stroke to Lavigne. Grant saved that game ball too but could not save the third game ball, ending the game with an error, 11-13.
TIME FOR ANOTHER COMEBACK
Once again Grant had his mind refocused by the perilous situation (2/1 down) and he came storming out for the fourth, volleying wherever he could, attacking the corners and keeping Lavigne constantly on the move. Once again it was an unequal contest, as Grant ran away to win the game 11-5 in just 11 minutes. It was obvious when he came out for the fifth that he was in the zone and there would be no more walkabouts. He kept the pressure on Lavigne, committed few errors and benefited from the Frenchman's fatigue which produced some outright airshots. Grant won the game 11-4 and demonstrated in winning the match that he knows he has to attack the ball and volley more if he is to enter the top echelon.
"I wanted to do well here and Lavigne knew that so he attacked me from the start to unsettle me. If I can keep mentally alert I can give 110% but if I go walkabout I just hit the ball," he said later.
I wonder if this is the year that this highly likeable player will push past his present ranking into the top ten.
|Darryl Selby qualified for plaudits in battling James Willstrop. (photo:© 2007 Fritz Borchert)|
SELBY QUALIFIES FOR PLAUDITS
Darryl Selby is ranked well below James Willstrop and had to qualify for this first round. He made the most of it by taking an off-colour Willstrop to four games with a real possibility of winning that that fourth game and pushing to a fifth.
For some reason, I never found this match as exciting as the Grant/Lavigne encounter. Probably I was expecting too much from Willstrop and he was not producing the usual magic. Yes, he won the first game 11-2 fairly easily and we have to put that down to Selby being unused to the glass court and big crowds. But he soon got used to it, and with a mixture of very good length and some well-timed drops he led the second game from the start and we saw the unusual sight of Willstrop floundering around and unable to mount his usual attack.
|Willstrop found the court difficult. (photo:© 2007 Fritz Borchert)|
Selby won the game 11-7 and looked Willstrop's equal, not a situation that could have been forecast. He led in the third game to, 6-4, but tried a couple of unwise forehand boasts to give Willstrop some badly needed confidence. Willstrop was unable — or did not have the confidence — to get his short game going and spent a lot of time hacking the ball rather than placing it. Nevertheless he won, the game 11-7.
The fourth game was a 21 minute battle that had the drama that the previous game lacked. Selby stayed strong and was able to do everything that Willstrop could do. Trailing 6-9, Selby mounted a strong comeback surge, with the help of two scintillating jumping overhead kills, one backhand and one forehand, which took him to game ball 10-9 — and well deserved, too. A loose shot from Selby gave Wilstrop a stroke to force the tie- break. Willstrop ended the next rally when he attempted a long backhand drop which hit the tin. This about summed up his form for the evening and the frustration was clearly evident on his face.
Willstrop saved that game ball with a well-disguised backhand cross court that had Selby going the wrong way. The fought on to reach 12-12 with Selby still giving as good as he got. He then took a flying leap to hit yet another overhead kill to put him at game ball again 13-12. But then he finally started to show that the pace had taken its toll and three errors gave Willstrop the three points needed for victory. The final shot was not really an error as Willstrop's serve skidded off the wall and Selby missed it completely. A sad end to a very fine challenge from Selby and a match that Willstrop would rather forget.
"The court wasn't giving me anything, it was slow and rather pedestrian. I couldn't seem to change pace. I got involved in the slow pace and was not able to attack as I usually do," Willstrop said glumly. "I tend to have poor first round matches. I was slow in New York, so I did what I had to do and got through it. It was a very average performance," he concluded.
BEACHILL LIKES IT STRAIGHT
When the day's squash had finished at Canary Wharf, Lee Beachill, the sixth seed, was the only victor to win in straight games. The tall Yorkshireman was in no mood for charity and while Shahier Razik of Canada kept him on court for 42 minutes there was never a moment when it seemed he would get out from under the domination that Beachill constructed from the outset.
Razik is gradually getting the reputation of the Jonah Barrington de nos jours and in view of some of the truly marathon matches which he has participated in over the last year, the reputation is not unwarranted. But it is unfair to a degree. It's not that he keeps whacking the ball into the back of the court — he doesn't; tonight he had more than his fair share of drops and boasts ensuring that Beachill worked hard for his victory. The matches are long because Razik just keeps getting the ball back. Certainly there are patches when he likes to hear the sound of the ball on the back wall, but remember, Razik grew up playing with Shabana et al in Cairo, so he knows a thing or two about shotmaking.
However tonight was not so much about Razik's game but how focused Beachill was. There was almost no show of emotion; if he hit the tin, he would give the tin a look and then get on with the game. No histrionics, no wails of angst, no chucking of rackets. He barely acknowledged the officials (the three ref system was in use) and just concentrated on beating his opponent. There were some good rallies and the pace varied but it was almost always Beachill who was in control. He did look very purposeful and I wonder whether he has rediscovered his hunger and doesn't yet want to go quietly into the night.
He will face James Willstrop on Wednesday in the quarters and although I thought this might be Willstrop's time to break the hex that Beachill has over him, I'm having second thoughts. Beachill seemed to get everything he wanted out of the court, while Willstrop said he found it slow and dead; Beachill was playing his game to the fullest while Willstrop said he was unable to get into his attacking mode. Unless Willstrop can find the answer in practice tomorrow, he may have to wait for another day for his first defeat over Beachill.
LINCOU SUBDUES ANOTHER QUALIFIER
|Aaron Frankcomb came out full of beans and confidence against Thierry Lincou . (photo:© 2007 Fritz Borchert)|
You have to be careful of these qualifiers; they have had a couple of matches to sharpen them up over the weekend, while the guys who start in the main draw, start cold. Certainly that was one of the factors in Selby's very bright performance against Willstrop. Aaron Frankcomb of Australia was also sharpened by two matches over the weekend and came out full of beans and confidence against Thierry Lincou, the number one seed. He was confident enough to try his shots and they were coming off. Thierry was slow to warm up and probably didn't expect this sort of attack from a player ranked 57 in the world.
So nice start Mr Frankcomb. Now all you have to learn is to keep that up for five games and you go to the top.
Well, that was as good as it got for Frankcomb; Lincou was now warmed (and wised) up. He demonstrated the value of consistency in taking the next two games for the loss of four points. Frankcomb went for his shots and found the tin while Lincou waited for the right time to win with a passing shot or a tight length. In the fourth game Frankcomb found the patience needed to challenge someone of Lincou's experience and there developed some nice battles, but eventually Frankcomb's errors decided the outcome as Lincou went on to win 11-8 and take the match 3/1. Frankcomb is another young Australian who you know will see in the top ten within a couple of years, showing the consistency that he now lacks.
(1) Thierry Lincou (FRA) bt Aaron Frankcomb (AUS) 9-11,11-3, 11-1, 11-8 (48 mins)
(8) Adrian Grant (ENG) bt Renan Lavigne (FRA) 9-11, 11-8, 11-13, 11-5, 11-4 (74 mins)
(3) James Willstrop (ENG) bt (Q) Daryl Selby (ENG) 11-2, 7-11, 11-7, 15-13 (62 mins)
(6) Lee Beachill (ENG) bt Shahier Razik (CAN) 11-6, 11-4, 11-6 (42 mins)
Tuesday First Round Matches:
(5) John White (Sco) v (Q) Davide Bianchetti (Italy) Tues 8.00
Alex Gough (Wales) v (Q) Stacey Ross (Eng) Tues 9.00
(7) Wael El Hindi (Egypt) v (LL) Chris Simpson (Eng) Tues 5.30
(2) Nick Matthew (Eng) v Bradley Ball (Eng) Tues 6.30
|Beachill and Razik . (photo:© 2007 Fritz Borchert)|