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Shelley Kitchen Upsets Rachael Grinham in Brooklyn
Nov 9, 2008, by Rob Dinerman for SquashTalk.com , Independent News; © 2008 SquashTalk LLC       

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      [MAIN DRAW]

Staring down the gun barrel of a quadruple-game-ball-against predicament in the fourth game of her pulsating Carol Weymuller Open semifinal against her former WISPA No. 1 opponent Saturday evening, Natalie Grainger, the second-seeded defending champion authored an out-of-the-blue six-point  match-ending blitz to seal her 11-13 11-8 11-3 12-10 victory over third seed Vanessa Atkinson. Grainger was then spared a rematch against top seed Rachael Grinham, who had defeated her in the final of this event two years ago, when Grinham fell to fourth seed Shelley Kitchen in three close games, 11-9, 9 and 8.

It was the second straight day in which Atkinson had her match end with a 6-0 run: in her Friday quarterfinal against Latasha Khan (who had initially jumped out to a 2-0, 3-0 lead through the first two-plus games), Atkinson had at 5-all in the fifth won the last half-dozen points, scoring five straight winners, all of them coming at the end of long points, before accepting a Khan forehand-rail tin, whereas against Grainger, Atkinson led 10-6 in the fourth, seemingly on the verge of forcing a fifth game she appeared abundantly capable of winning before fading badly in the face of Grainger’s determined rally.

That sequence, the last two points of which surprisingly both consisted of unreturned Grainger serves (an almost unheard-of occurrence at such a crucial stage of a match involving a pair of such elite players), was actually the second match-defining extended Grainger skein of the night. Late in the second game, after dropping a tiebreaker first when on Atkinson’s fifth game-ball Grainger tinned a forehand cross-court, Atkinson, leading 8-7 (after a stroke call in her favor, disputed by Grainger, when a mid-court collision had sent Atkinson sprawling) and hit a forehand drive that was so tightly glued to the right wall that Grainger could barely get the frame of her racquet on the ball — just enough for it to trickle just over the front wall and die for a fluke winner that made it 8-all instead of 9-7 for Atkinson, a significant swing that became even more significant when Grainger, buoyed by this turn of the pendulum in her favor, not only ran out that game (on a Grainger drop shot, an Atkinson tinned working-boast and a shallow Grainger cross-court with Atkinson leaning the wrong way) but dashed off the first four points of the third, an 8-0 spurt overall that became part of a 15-3 burst when Atkinson fell behind 8-3 and decided to save her energy for the fourth game.

This she sailed into with renewed energy and determination, to which Grainger responded strongly as well, making that game probably the best-played in terms of strenuous all-court points of the match. Atkinson plays her best when she is really staying low, crouching while at the tee awaiting an opponent’s shot and getting leverage for her classic backhand delivery. Grainger is so strong in the shoulders and right arm that she can generate intimidating length and pace even when she doesn’t have her feet firmly under her, and she her creativity level exceeds that of virtually anyone on the tour, occasionally to her detriment, in fact, since she occasionally appears to confuse herself with the surfeit of shot options at her disposal, as seemed to happen on a couple of front-court backhand cross-court drop-shot tins that enabled Atkinson to attain that 10-6 advantage.

But by the time the score had tightened to 8-10, it was already clear that Atkinson was in trouble and that Grainger had seized the initiative. She appeared the more confident player, even though she was still the one facing game-balls against her. She evened the game by drilling a forehand rail down an open right wall (Atkinson was stuck in the front-left after making a tough get of a Grainger forehand working-boast) and clipping off a shallow forehand drop shot, then from the left box hit a chip serve that stayed very low off the side wall, forcing Atkinson to hit a desperation forehand drive that was still ascending and angling to the right when it hit the front wall, causing it to sail into the netting above the sloping boundary line. She then tinned a backhand drive on the ensuing serve-return, completing a collapse that occurred so swiftly (the six points consumed fewer than three minutes, less than 30 seconds of which elapsed during those consecutive serve-return errors) and suddenly that the some of the spectators momentarily didn’t fully grasp that the match had ended.

The Kitchen-Grinham clash that followed was less dramatic than its predecessor, though Kitchen, who played probably her best squash match ever in her numerous trips to the New York metropolitan area during the 2000’s and notched one of the best wins of her career, played exceptionally well in the last few points of each of this trio of tightly-contested games. She was lacing into the ball, getting wonderful angles on her working-boast, and, most importantly of all, retrieving beautifully even in the face of Grinham’s maddeningly effective change-of-direction shots – the latter, a three-time British Open champion, works an opponent over not only wit the shot she actually DOES hit, but with the three or four shots she poses a THREAT to hit, almost anywhere on the court, and her both mobility and maneuverability (able to change directions on a dime and to scramble back into the point no matter where she is and on almost anything that is hit) are extraordinary.

But she didn’t seem quite as hungry this time as she usually is, or as her opponent was, and Kitchen rose to the occasion every time she needed to and emerged with a berth in the final and an opportunity to avenge her 11-8 fifth-game loss to Grainger when the two last met in New York, in the final of the Tournament Of Champions at Grand Central Station just this past winter.

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

[4] Shelley Kitchen (NZL) bt [1] Rachael Grinham (AUS) 11-9, 11-9, 11-8
[2] Natalie Grainger (USA) bt [3] Vanessa Atkinson (NED) 11-13, 11-8, 11-3, 12-10  




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