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Zwolle Grabs Third Title


By Dan Kneipp
(Kah-nipe)
© 2002 SquashTalk



June
17, 2002. Amsterdam © 2002      < more
from Team Kneipp
>    

Media Circus
Surrounds Exciting Event

League
Final Staged in Open-Air

In recent years the Dutch League professional league has gained stature and
importance in the squash world with the arrival of a number of top pros to
train full time in Holland and the engagement of others for league fixtures
by the top clubs.

The 2002 finals saw the team
from Zwolle — know officially as "DKTP IT/ Squash Zwolle" face
off against against The Hague’s oldest club team, "C3 Sports/HSRC."
The star-studded lineup included: Peter Nicol, Alex Gough, Joe Kneipp and
Lucas Buit (for Zwolle) facing off against John White, Stewart Boswell, Oli
Touminen and Tommy Berden (HSRC). All of the players except Buit (who’s not
a PSA member) are ranked in the top 30 in the world, so some great squash
was expected

Left to right: Zwolle manager
Tony Schwab, Joe Kneipp (captain), Alex Gough, Lucas Buit, Peter Nicol,
John White, Oli Touminen, Stewart Boswell & Zwolle manager Rutger Jan
Kamperman (photo © 2002 Dan Kneipp

The event was hosted by Joe’s
club Zwolle, and team managers Rutger Jan Kamperman (Kampy) and Tony Schwab
put on an unbelievable final. They erected a perspex court in the car park
of their club, set up a bar, VIP area, very close seating and then erected
huge tents over everything – you can never count on the weather in Holland.

The atmosphere was only
rivalled by the keenness of the Dutch fans and the presence of local media
interest. At one stage there was seven TV cameras all vying for the best
position to film from.

Venue for Dutch League Finals
in Zwolle (photo © 2002 Dan Kneipp

The first and perhaps most
crucial match was between the two best Dutch players, which ensured the Dutch
crowd was in a boisterous and enthusiastic mood from the start (although I
was ready to throw a clog at the supporters who brought along fog horns –
I still don’t have hearing in my right ear).

Some readers of SquashTalk
won’t be familiar with Zwolle’s Lucas Buit, but he’s not a player to be underestimated.
A mistake that Anthony Ricketts made the last time they met in Dutch league,
with Ricketts scraping a hard fought win in 4. Buit is a legend of the Dutch
game, having won nine of the last ten National titles. One player has prevented
Buit from reaching the magical 10 National titles – Tommy Berden. Last year
Tommy won the Motor City Open and Australian Open and has a current world
ranking of 27. Berden represents the possible changing of the guard and has
made it clear to Buit that his time as the Netherlands’ champion may be nearing
an end.

Berden has been struggling
with injury problems for over six months, withdrawing from this year’s Tournament
of Champions due to a slow healing ankle injury. Despite Tommy having played
the last few PSA events, his match fitness was perhaps questionable coming
into the finals. Over the last few years Buit’s main training partner has
been Joe, and he made sure he was getting plenty of match practice leading
up to Saturday’s final. The Hague would have considered it the match they
were most likely to win.

Buit on the attack
against Berden (photo © 2002 Dan Kneipp)

Someone forgot to mention
this to Buit who from the first rally made it clear that he was going to fight
for every point. He got off to an early lead and kept his momentum going to
take the first 15-10 in 22 minutes. The second game was played at an even
faster pace, but again Buit dug deep and scraped it 15-12 in 24 minutes. Berden’s
movement was obviously not as good as usual and Buit capitalised on it with
delayed forehand boasts that continually caught Berden on the back foot. By
the third game Buit had the finish line in his sights and he upped the pace,
began volleying more and found better touch on his drops. 9 minutes later
he had the game 15-3.

The crowd was aware of the
deeper rivalry and significance of the match and showed their appreciation
for the great match. Lucas Buit summed up its importance:

“On paper this was Zwolle’s
toughest match. I was keen. I haven’t played Tommy for a year and a half and
I knew he hadn’t played a lot of matches. We couldn’t have asked for a better
start.”

The second match was the
#2s, with Zwolle’s Alex Gough meeting The Hague’s Stewart Boswell. Bozza’s
current world ranking is 4, with Gough at 12. Upsets are becoming a common
part of the men’s world game with most players in the top thirty capable of
taking a top five scalp. Gough beat Peter Nicol in five in an English league
match just days earlier, so Boswell would have been aware that he had his
work cut out.

Boswell prepares his attacking
drive to nick against Gough (photo © 2002 Dan Kneipp
)

Bozza made his intentions
clear from the start, playing fast and aggressive squash with continuous volleys
and going for slam nicks at every opportunity he was given. This is the game
plan that helped him make the final of the PSA Masters in Qatar in April.
Gough spent the first game trying to contain the onslaught and showed his
experience by not trying to match Boswell with pace and intensity, instead
keeping the ball moving to every corner and making great retrievals. Bozza
took the first game reasonably comfortably 15-8.

In the second game Gough’s
retrieval skills seemed to raise a notch and he began putting more and more
pressure on Bozza who responded by going for tighter and harder shots. The
pressure from Gough paid off as Bozza began tinning regularly and going for
low percentage winners. The score see-sawed throughout the game, with disputed
calls and arguments with the Ref coming very regularly and progressively more
intense, especially from Gough who felt like he was getting all of the bad
calls. With Gough leading 14-12 they played one of the rallies of the day.

It seemed like Bozza thought
they were playing best of 3 for a World Title because Gough hit three winners
that should have ended the game, but three dives from Bozza kept the ball
in play and the crowd on the edge of their seats. Bozza has a willingness,
perhaps even eagerness to dive around the court, which makes for great viewing,
but the third dive was too much and he remained on the court floor on his
back as Gough finished off a well earned game.

The intensity remained for
the third and fourth games, but Boswell was able to keep his nose in front,
eventually winning 15-8, (12-15), 15-10, 15-12.

This meant the matches were
1-1, with Zwolle having a one game lead. The result and perhaps game score
of White versus Nicol was going to be crucial. This was a rematch of the British
Open final. It was also Whitey’s birthday, and a win over Nicol would be a
lovely birthday present. I don’t know what to say about this game. If you
watch Whitey and Nicol you expect fireworks. You expect Whitey to go for and
get some ridiculous winners. You expect Nicol to scramble around like a madman
and get balls back that leave you shaking your head. You expect good squash.
No you expect GREAT squash. Anything less means one of them is having a bad
day.

Calling this a great match
understates the quality of the match – this was as good as squash gets. It
had everything including the intensity and shot range that these two are capable
of. Naturally it had Nicol retrieving balls and putting unbelievable pressure
on every shot. And of course it had Whitey trying to blast the ball through
the front wall and across a few postal zones, with a 2-1 error to winner ratio.
But it also had things you didn’t expect, like Peter Nicol diving around the
court, something I’ve never seen from him before. I asked him about it later
and he said I had never seen it because he never did it. Whitey was diving
around like an Olympic swimmer and I think Peter knew he had to match the
intensity.

Peter Nicol (in red) dives and
watches John White’s return (photo © 2002 Dan Kneipp
)

One rally saw both of them
diving, with Peter ending up on his stomach in the middle of the court, about
two metres in front of the T. He had just managed to get to the ball and scraped
it onto the front wall. Whitey was right there and smashed it straight back
at Peter, who was scrambling up from the floor. Somehow he managed to get
to his feet, realise the ball was racing straight at him, get his racquet
around his back and between his legs and give it a wack, and the rally continued
with the crowd gasping, laughing and clapping. (Next time you watch Whitey
play try to imagine standing two metres in front of the T and have him smack
the ball as hard as he can at you. He’s regarded as the hardest hitter on
the tour, so getting a racquet onto the ball is impressive without worrying
about getting to your feet and the racquet between your legs.) Another rally
saw Whitey diving to the front and hitting a beautiful drop while horizontal.
Nicol got to it leaving Whitey no option but to play the next two vollies
while on his knees.

John White makes the return
from his knees (photo © 2002 Dan Kneipp)

Possibly the most entertaining
rally was at 10-11 in the fourth, with Nicol serving and up two games to one.
After an intense exchange Whitey had to dive from the T to the back of the
forehand corner. He kept the rally alive and a couple of shots later was on
the attack and had Nicol scrambling in the same corner, having to move so
fast that he was on all fours. His return sat up and Whitey hit a forehand
drop that left Nicol no option but to dive into the right corner. As Nicol
struggled to get to his feet Whitey (at the T) hit the ball to the back, but
realised that by now Nicol was bearing down on him like a steam train and
all his hard work could end in a let, or a nasty collision. So Whitey dropped
to the floor onto his stomach as Nicol came through stepping lightly on his
back to avoid tripping. The crowd went wild!

The match was not only great
squash, but a reminder that White and Nicol are two of the most honest players
in the game. The tin was made of the same material as the rest of the court,
so if a ball was hit hard enough it was difficult to know if it was just up
or just down. Whitey was leading 14-13 in the crucial first game. Peter hit
a fierce drive that seemed to be down, but the referee called it up. Understandably
Whitey protested loudly. Peter was unsure so he looked to Joe Kneipp for his
opinion. Joe gave the shot the thumbs down so Peter walked off conceding the
game.

I was sitting next to Joe,
and Kampy the team manager was sitting next to me. Considering the time and
money Kampy had invested into hosting the final he could have been forgiven
for wishing he didn’t have such honest players on his team. But Kampy is a
very honest and generous man and I don’t suppose the thought even crossed
his mind. Eventually Nicol won the ninety minute marathon in four games (13-15),
15-5, 15-12, 15-13.

Joe Kneipp focuses on the deciding
contest (photo © 2002 Dan Kneipp
)

This meant the Championship
result hinged on Joe’s game with Olli Touminen. Joe is the captain of the
team and has steered Zwolle to the last two Dutch league championships. In
2000 he played last and the team’s win relied on his victory.. Last year he
had to beat Whitey for the championships and again came through in the final
match. Both years he won Dutch League player of the year, and Kampy his manager
knew he could be counted on in 2002:

“I expected it to come down
to Joe winning his match, and I expected him to win”. Lucas Buit’s victory
meant that Joe only needed to win one game. Olli’s world ranking is 17, compared
to Joe’s current 23. I think it would be an inexperienced squash supporter
that would bet on Olli beating Joe in three games. Peter Nicol is the only
person this year that has done that, and Joe has beaten a number of the top
ten players in three himself.

Joe Kneipp jumps high to retrieve
Tuominen’s lob (photo © 2002 Dan Kneipp
)

Nevertheless the pressure
of playing for a team in the deciding match means nothing is certain. Joe
burst out of the blocks and put the pressure straight on Oli, who took awhile
to settle in, showing early nerves and hitting lots of tins. Joe raced to
a 6-0 lead then continued to 10-2. It looked like the game would be a formality
and the celebrations could begin. Olli stopped hitting errors and Joe tightened
up, obviously with the finish line so close and sooner than expected. Olli
clawed to 9-11, but Joe refocused and won the game and League Championships
15-11.

The media frenzy that ensued
was only cleared once the Zwolle team started showering each other in Champagne.
You’ve never seen five cameramen move so quickly as when there’s a magnum
of Champagne being sprayed in their direction. The packed house had been rivetted
to six hours of squash. The first game started at 6:30pm, and the presentation
ceremony was held well past midnight. I’m sure they all felt they got their
money’s worth and witnessed one of the best league finals, and deserved champions
in the Zwolle team.

JOHN WHITE VERSUS JOE
KNEIPP

Readers of SquashTalk in Europe (or North American readers with a willingness
to travel) will be pleased to know that Joe and Whitey are having some exhibition
matches in July. They’ll be playing in Amsterdam at SquashWorld (where we
train) on Saturday 13th of July. Call Olav at Squash World for more information
020 663 0903. I guarantee it’ll be a match to remember!

Joe Kneipp and John White in January
02 action (photo © 2002 Debra Tessier)

 

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