Mendez Seizes the Moment and Pulls the USA past India
July 29, 2011, by Ron Beck, Editor © 2011 SquashTalk.com , Independent News; SquashTalk LLC
(updated 2-aug-11 0:22
India Falls Just Short in Stirring Performance Versus Favored USA Team in Boston Friday [DRAW]
Momentum is a funny thing in squash, especially in a team event, and momentum was everything tonight as the USA team rode on the back of an inspired and heady performance by their #3 player, Haley Mendez, to prevail in a tense see-saw contest against a surprisingly talented and collected Indian squad.
This entire match swung on a few crucial rallies in the third game. India's Aparajitha Balamurukan had the lead and the momentum and the confidence. The score stood at 9-7, India's favor, one game apiece.
On the Harvard glass exhibition court, there's no margin for error and both players knew this at this crucial juncture of the contest.
It was at this point that Mendez reached back into some deep reserves of determination and cool play. Using her head and her squash instincts, she put together a string of points in which she exerted constant pressure but at the same time patience in her tactics. When the openings came, she took them, using her mastery of the angles to keep Balamurukan on the run. Using the front court space when it mattered, and defending the backhand with her long reach, Mendez took back the initiative that she had relinquished midway through the third game, and also was a bit fortunate on some near misses by her Indian opponent, to take the third game and place her and her team within sight of the finals.
Mendez had come out calm and firing in the first game, taking an immediate 4-1 lead, but Balamurukan had settled her nerves and worked her way back to 4-4 in the first. This set the tone for the match, rapid shifts in momentum and confident play from both competitors. The first game stayed even and could have gone either way, but Mendez worked an 8-8 knot to an 11-8 finish in the first game.
Both players were showing great quickness around the court, controlled length and accuracy and dangerous front court work. Mendez was showing us some very heady play, with good variety of pace and tactics and command of her pace and her length. Both players were showing their ability to finish when given the opening.
The second game started as had the first, moving quickly to a 4-4 tie, at which point Balamurukan got herself into a zone which Mendez couldn't penetrate. Balamurukan looked super confident and played error free, while Mendez suddenly was responding instead of initiating and looked uncertain. With a shocking shift in momentum, Balamurukan closed out game two 11-4, and putting the USA team, their coaches and their fans on edge. The only person who looked calm at this point was Haley Mendez.
She came out for game three, just as she should, as if game two had never happened, which brings us to the point where this article began.
With a 2-1 lead, the Americans relaxed, but Balamurukan was not done fighting and attacking. Game four was a furious, hard fought, terrifically played game. At this point both players were fighting for their lives and for their teams. Every shot and rally was contested. Lets came more frequently, testing the referee. Mendez was looking for the winning length shots while Balamurukan was looking to win points on attacking boasts and angles. A few unconventional shots were tried, with both players probing for a weak point from the other.
Balamurukan again built a two point lead, and it looked like a fifth game was inevitable. At 9-8 in Balamurukan's favor, the intensity of play was extreme. Both players were tiring, but still able to produce 100% effort. Each rally was an battle of wills.
Haley Mendez, who was thinking her way shot by shot and not looking ahead, even under this pressure, was the winner of this tense battle of wills. She took the final three points of the match, earning an 11-8 3-1 win.
But Balamurukan had won the crowd's respect, as had her teammates.
the USA-India match had begun, at 4:30 PM, with the number one players. The strong favorite at the first position, Amanda Sobhy of the USA played a controlled match, and just well enough to win, eventually wearing down Anaka Alankamony in three straight games. While the first two games were both close in score, the outcome was not really in doubt and it was looking like possibly an early conclusion to the match.
But playing at the number two position, India's Saumya Karki had some other ideas. Karki, taking on individual's semi finalist Olivia Blatchford, made the experienced Blatchford look bad. Karki's game was fast and accurate, while Blatchford's was a little bit frantic. Blatchford was making some bad shot selections throughout and never really gave herself a chance to win. Blatchford gave the crowd and her teammmates a glimmer of hope, when down two games to zero she pulled even at 9-9 in the third. But Karki had the confidence and momentum at that point, winning the game and evening the contest.
It was a great performance by the Indians who beat their seedings. It was a great performance by the Americans, whose finals berth is the best ever performance by a US National Team in squash.
In the other semi finals, it was a completely expected whitewash. Egypt, who were in no mood to extend things longer than necessary, overwhelmed a completely outmatched Hong Kong squad, 2-0 in a total elapsed time of 50 minutes.
Egypt, who will be favored, will now face an inspired and fired up USA team on Saturday afternoon for the world title.
USA 2-1 INDIA
Amanda Sobhy (USA) bt Anaka Alankamony (India) 11-8, 11-8, 11-5 (21m)
Saumya Karki (India) bt Olivia Blatchford (USA) 11-7, 11-9, 11-9 (28m)
Haley Mendez (USA) bt Aparajitha Balamurukan (India) 11-8, 4-11, 11-9, 11-9 (42m)
EGYPT 2-0 HONG KONG
Nour El Tayeb (EGY) bt Ho Ka Po (HK) 11-3, 11-2, 11-4 (19m)
Nour El Sherbini (EGY) bt Ka Yi Lee (HK) 11-5, 10-12, 12-10, 11-2 (30m)
third match not played