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Women's World Juniors Round of 64: A Tale of Two Courts ...
July 21, 2011, by Ron Beck, Editor © 2011 SquashTalk.com , Independent News; SquashTalk LLC


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(updated 22-jul-11 8:30  

USA's Haley Mendez Shocks Australia's Top Junior, Saxby, in Straight Games   [DRAW]

In a striking demonstration of how much the USA's squash program has come of age in the past few seasons, America's fourth player, Haley Mendez not only defeated Australia's top junior, Tamika Saxby, in straight games, she made the seeded Saxby look like the underdog for much of the match.

With Boston in the midst of a heat wave, and the outdoor temperature hovering at 98 degrees farenheit (36.5 degrees celsius), the Harvard courts, though air conditioned, played hot. In spite of that, both Saxby and Mendez decided on a power game, leaving the ball to fly furiously on courts that always are fast.

This development played to Mendez' advantage, as she was able to use her considerable quickness and reach to get to virtually everything that Saxby powered around the court, and at this increasingly frantic and dizzying pace, the less experienced Mendez was however doing more of the thinking, occasionally able to take enough off the ball to put Saxby at a disadvantage and to increasingly frustrate her.

With neither competitor making errors, the contest was quite fascinating and the rallies extended, so despite the 3-0 score, the contest seemed longer and closer than that, and quickly gathered most of the venue's spectators, as the top billed match underway between Nour el Tayeb Egypt) and Celine Yeap (Malaysia) was virtually igored by the crowd.

Early in the contest, Mendez appeared to surprise Saxby with her power, and most importantly the American's ability to control her power. When Saxby responded by counterpunching with power, the compact Aussie found herself overhitting the ball, such that she was able to consistently work Mendez out of position but was unable to deliver the finishing punch, as again and again Mendez was able to reach out and respond at the final hanging moments of the overheated ball.

Both players wanted to work the left backhand wall, and they did, and did so with power. As Mendez again and again was able to respond to Saxby's power on the backhand with her own, Saxby became frustrated, and eventually petulant, and Haley Mendez showed throughout the first two games better response to the need to lay off the shots slightly due to the hot ball.

The second game was played neck and neck, and Saxby pulled ahead at 9-8, but Mendez held firm and used the court well to force errors from Saxby to give her the 2-0 commanding lead.

The beginning of the third game became chippy almost immediately, with Saxby determined to regain the initiative, but frustrated as both players were unable to avoid hitting open balls with the high pace, and both players in each other's way. Saxby started to play for the lets, and was not awarded the strokes she was hoping for, drawing her the loud admonition from her coach Vicky Cardwell to, "just hit the damned ball," advice which Saxby at least temporarily took to heart and she almost immediately pulled ahead in the third game. With Saxby holding a four point lead midway through the third game, it looked like a momentum shift, and at this critical juncture of the match Haley Mendez really impressed me with a demonstration of calm determination and focus that brought her back into the game.

Both players were seriously tired at this point, with the humidity, pace and length of the points. It was not simply the length of the points, but virtually every point played had given both players a full tour of the court several times over. It was a gripping tactical struggle with both players exploring the backhand, the forehand and the attacking boast.

At this point Haley Mendez demonstrated two things of note, first was her ability to take the pace off the rally at just the correct moment to throw her opponent off her rhythm and additionally the desire and effort to get to each and every ball in a position to make an attacking response even though she was clearly beginning to feel the depth of the effort.

Saxby, it must be said, did not back off at this point, and several impressive points brought the players to 9-9 in the crucial third game. Another brutal rally ended with Tamika Saxby trying to do just a little bit too much with an attacking boast from the forehand, probabably not the right decision at this point in the contest with the ball so hot ahd the pace so high. In any event it produced an error giving Mendez match ball. Mendez won the contest, quite appropriately, with a hard low winning drive, giving her the biggest upset of the day and a defining moment for the USA, so far, in this tournament.

A TALE OF TWO COURTS

The featured matches are being played on the four-wall glass exhibition court, which is a permanent fixture at the Harvard squash facility. (For those who are familiar with the Murr Center, the court has been substantially improved for this event, with first of all a new floor, but most importantly changed paint scheme on the walls, and a curtain behind the side bleachers, both of which dramatically improve the ball visibility in the court.)

This glass court plays as slow as the other plaster courts in the facility play fast, which is to say very slow indeed. So moving between the plaster stadium courts and the glass courts is an almost surreal experience, as one is watching two entirely different games.

This was very much in evidence, as the top seeds, who among other things have much more experience on glass courts, made short work of their early round opposition. In this evening's round of 32, top seeded Nour El Tayeb of Egypt gave up a total of six points, while second seeded Amada Sobhy gave up four!

KIWI ADVANCES AT THE EXPENSE OF AMERICA

While America had a great day, with three (Amanda Sobhy, Olivia Blatchford and Mendez) advancing into the round of 16, the feisty and determined American competitor, Maria Elena Ubina, fell to a talented Kiwi, Megan Craig.

To American audiences familiar with former Yale star, Kiwi Cat McLeod, Megan Craig's style and even body type, bears an uncanny resemblance to McLeod.

Ubina, an experienced and talented competitor, was expertly blunted by the control exhibited by Craig. Craig completely controlled the pace and tactics of the match. But more than that, when Ubina was able to break out and begin to move Craig around, Craig showed a level of anticipation, speed and athleticism that impressed.

Beyond those matches, it was a disappointing afternoon for Canada, as Danielle Letourneau fell in a very close four game contest to Wales' Tesni Evans. Letourneau took the second game and just fell short in the third, 10-12, but she was unable to break through against the solid game exhibited by Evans.

ROUND OF 16 PREVIEW
The highlights of Friday's round of 16 looks to be an interesting matchup between The Kiwi, Craig, and England's Emily Whitlock. Craig's fluid athletic style is bound to bother Whitlock's controlled approach.

Also of interest will be the intra-Egyptian contest between team-mates Miriam Metwaly and Kanzy El Defrawy.

And of course, with Haley Mendez' stirring performance today, we will now see what she can do against Egyptian Salma Hany. the slow speed of the glass court, where all the round of 16 matches will be played, naturally plays to the advantage of the shotmaking style of the Egyptians.


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