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Latasha Khan shows staying power in Brooklyn
Nov 7, 2008, by Rob Dinerman for SquashTalk.com , Independent News; © 2008 SquashTalk LLC       

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Trailing early in the fifth game against a rampaging, higher-seeded opponent who had all the momentum as well as a seven-match winning streak in their head-to-head rivalry, Latasha Khan demonstrated the resolve and execution of the seven-time U. S. National champion she is by running off a scintillating seven-point burst that gave her the cushion she needed to out-last Samantha Teran, the sixth-seeded Mexican star, in a spectacular 75-minute match by a score of 11-7 11-9 6-11 4-11 11-7 in Thursday night’s round of 16 in the $42,000 Carol Weymuller Open, hosted at the Heights Casino Annex in Brooklyn. Khan will now face No. 3 seed and former World Open champion Vanessa Atkinson, who prevailed in four close games (12-10 in the fourth) over qualifier Lauren Siddall of England.

Khan started her match strongly, snapping her vaunted backhand rails with enough pace and precision to force defensive returns that she could exploit. She has a few more offensive weapons up front than her plucky rival, especially on the forehand flank, where she can hold the ball and then go to a variety of options. Teran climbed to 7-9 after trailing by three or four points through most of that game, but she tinned backhand working-boast (on what would have been a winner with Khan stuck at the back wall) made it 10-7 instead of 8-9, following which Khan laced a wall-hugging forehand length to finish off that game.

The second was closer, featuring ties at 6-all, 7-all and 8-all after Teran’s early 6-3 advantage. By this time both players were moving much better and the points were becoming more extended and physical. Khan’s tight and well-disguised forehand roll-corner at 8-9 completely fooled Teran, who was then denied a let request when Khan buried a shallow backhand rail. Teran then wrong-footed Khan with a widely-angled, tin-defying forehand working boast for 9-10, at which point she hit a bad tin on a backhand drive, the only time during the entire first two games that either player had erred on an open swing off the back wall.

Galvanized rather than being deflated by the two games to love hole she found herself in, not to mention the dispiriting end to the second game, Teran entered the third game with renewed determination, sailing into every ball, relentlessly running down all of Khan’s front-court salvos and swiftly opening up a 10-4 lead from 2-all that accounted for that game. Her onslaught continued through the fourth, fueled by a five-point early-game run from 0-1 to 5-1 and a game-ending 4-0 spurt from 7-4 to 11-4. By this time, a fatigued-looking Khan was no longer running down Teran’s balls, and when she proceeded to drop the first two points of the fifth game as well (on a knifed Teran backhand rail and a tinned Khan backhand drop attempt, the same shot she had been hitting so well in the first few games), it appeared that Teran was well on her way to recording her eighth straight win over Khan, six of the previous seven of which had been via the five-game route.

That Khan was able to face down both those bad memories of the recent past and her opponent’s very real momentum of the immediate present is a tribute to both her competitive ardor and her strategic acumen. Good fortune played a role as well, with (1) the ball, which had gone a little dead in mid-match, seeming to somehow regain its sharpness, which redounded to Khan’s advantage by aiding her short game, and (2) a pair of “gift” points that landed in her column, the first when at 3-7, Teran top-of-the-tinned an open forehand straight drop with Khan completely out of the play (8-3 instead of 4-7, a big swing at that stage), and the second occurring after Teran had closed to 6-8, when a Khan backhand lob that looked like it would be a sitter for Teran to tee off at off the back wall, instead landed right in the back-wall crack and rolled out, a near-impossibility for a lob which nevertheless gave a dismayed Teran nothing to swing at.

Both of those points were enormously important, both statistically and psychologically, but the bottom-line reason for Khan’s rally ultimately lay in a series of subtle tactical adjustments she made (coming in to serve from the left box instead of the right, just to give Teran a different look; getting both her ground strokes and her lobs higher, resulting in better depth; and not trying to do too much when forced into a defensive swing, enabling her to control the ball enough to frustrate Teran by depriving her of the open-ball swing she had been expecting), the return of her retrieving, which had declined a bit in those lost middle games, and perhaps, a little panic of Teran’s part as the game moved treacherously along and the score began to mount against her.

The latter’s well-known tenacity enabled her to win a hard-fought exchange to draw to 7-9, but Khan then successfully went for broke on a shallow backhand rail volley winner that barely cleared the tin to get to match-ball, whereupon a nearly identical foray just eluded Teran’s diving attempt to scrape it back into play, so close to being a clean get that the referee momentarily stayed silent until Teran, in a highly sportsmanlike gesture, called the ball down on herself before Khan could swing at it.

Though this was to be the only five-game match in the first round, the play throughout the draw was much more evenly contested than is usually the case at so early a stage of a WISPA tournament; there were only three straight-set matches (fourth seed Shelley Kitchen over qualifier Suzie Pierrepont, second-seeded defending and two-time champion Natalie Grainger over Aisling Blake and eighth seed Annelize Naude over her former frequent Amsterdam training partner Louise Crome), and even they contained at least one game with an 11-8 score or closer.

Top seed Rachael Grinham, the fleet Australian and several-times British Open champion who won this tourney two years ago, defeating Grainger in that ’06 final, encountered significant resistance in her 12-10 11-5 11-13 11-6 clash with Raneem El Weleily, and Jaclyn Hawkes dropped the third game of her match with Manuela Maleeta, who had qualified into the main draw by virtue of her five-game win Wednesday night against Alana Miller.

In the evening’s only match won by a non-seed other than Khan-Teran, fifth seed Kasey Brown and Dominique Lloyd-Walter battled fiercely through three games, but by the latter stages of the third game (which she lost 14-12 to go down two games to one), Brown was experiencing such severe breathing difficulties (she has recently been diagnosed with asthma), that she was unable to continue and had to default before the fourth game could begin, after which she received careful medical attention by a physician before she was allowed to leave the premises.

This evening’s quarterfinal matches will be Grinham vs. Naude, Kitchen vs. Lloyd-Walter, Khan vs. Atkinson and Grainger vs. Hawkes. The semifinals and final are scheduled to begin at 5:00 on Saturday and Sunday respectively.

RESULTS:      Women's Carol Weymuller Open, Heights Casino, New York, USA

1st round:
[1] Rachael Grinham (AUS) bt Raneem El Weleily (EGY) 12-10, 11-5, 11-13, 11-6
[8] Annelize Naude (NED) bt Louise Crome (NZL) 11-8, 11-4, 11-7
[4] Shelley Kitchen (NZL) bt [Q] Suzie Pierrepont (ENG) 11-5, 11-3, 11-9
Dominique Lloyd-Walter (ENG) bt [5] Kasey Brown (AUS) 5-11, 11-9, 14-12 ret.
Latasha Khan (USA) bt [6] Samantha Teran (MEX) 11-7, 11-9, 6-11, 4-11, 11-7
[3] Vanessa Atkinson (NED) bt [Q] Lauren Siddall (ENG) 6-11, 11-9, 11-7, 12-10
[7] Jaclyn Hawkes (NZL) bt [Q] Manuela Manetta (ITA) 11-7, 11-7, 9-11, 11-3
[2] Natalie Grainger (USA) bt [Q] Aisling Blake (IRL) 11-4, 11-5, 11-9






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