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> Unexpected Semi Finals by Team Kneipp

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Expect
the Unexpected

by Dan Kneipp

December
4, 2003, ©2003, Team Kneipp               <
see also Team Kneipp Index >

Lee Beachill was on fire against Nick
Matthew © 2003 Fritz Borchert

What
an amazing tournament! Imagine how much money a bookmaker could have made
prior to this tournament if he had given semi final odds. For the first
time in years Jonathon Power’s ranking went outside of the top four
prior to this tournament and he was faced with sharing the top half of
the tournament with Nicol the world #1, and Palmer the world champion.
This promised an interesting prospect as to who would make the semi finals.
But who in the world would have predicted a semi final that had no Nicol,
no Palmer or no Power? And among the players expected to cause an upset,
surely Ricketts would have been on top of the predictions. Only a die-hard
English squash fan swept away with patriotic fervour from the recent Rugby
World Cup victory (let’s never talk about it again) would have even
imagined Lee Beachill playing Nick Matthew.

Let’s
make something clear. Nick Matthew has made the semi finals here (which
will virtually guarantee him a top 10 ranking next month, or thereabouts)
by having victories over three injured players – an extraordinary
situation. But a couple of other things need to be made clear. Exceeding
at this sport can be all about taking advantage of a lucky situation,
something Matthew was able to do. Secondly Palmer was undoubtedly injured
and playing below his normal standard, but he was still playing very good
squash. He was aware of his movement limitations and concentrated more
on getting into position when he had time, and going for more winners
which he hit a lot of.

1st
Game

Beachill
was the first player to feel comfortable on court, happily slotting the
ball into the nick on his backhand side at any chance he got. He quickly
raced to a 5-1 lead, but then the shots that had been winners started
clipping the top of the tin and Matthew began going for more shots himself
and won the next five points in a row. Virtually every point was being
determined at the front of the court and none of the rallies were very
long. This wasn’t attritional squash, instead more about attacking
with winners.

Matthew
had been down 5-1, but took the initiative and the lead to go 6-5 ahead.
Beachill didn’t seem either phased by this, or willing to allow
this pattern to continue and quickly stamped his domination again. He
didn’t drop another point in the game in a concentrated attack that
won him the next ten points in a row. There were a few longer rallies,
but mostly it was Beachill’s deception and attacking prowess that
made it nearly impossible for Matthew to stem the tide. 15-6 in less than
fifteen minutes.

2nd
Game

Beachill
had won a lot of points on his backhand, particularly going short for
the nick. He started the second game in the same form to take the first
three points. Matthew took control and got the score to 5-4 in his favour.
No points were longer than three or four shots. Both players were holding
their shots well, using deception effectively and hitting winners as soon
as a tiny opening presented itself. Matthew won the next point with the
first moderately long rally of the game.

Normally
if you’re hitting the ball hard from the front of the court to length
you have three main options – down the line, cross court, or if the other
bloke is volleying your cross courts well a very wide cross court that
hits the side wall near the service box to leave them stranded looking
for the volley. There’s another shot that isn’t played that
often on the tour with Palmer and Joe the only player’s I’ve
noticed that seem to use it regularly in their shot repertoire. Instead
of hitting the cross court to a good width, you crack it either straight
at your opponent, or in between where you are, and where they are standing
on the T. So that if you’re hitting from the backhand front corner,
and your opponent is looking for the forehand volley they are faced with
either a ball coming suddenly at them, or on their backhand side with
no time to change the side their racquet is on. This shot is a great tester
of reflexes and I’ve seen Joe play it on a lot of players, with
Palmer and Mark Chaloner being the two players that have shown the most
extraordinary reflexes when faced with this position. McWhitey proved
the most innovative and entertaining. Joe and he were doing an exhibition
and Joe slammed the ball straight at the pseudo-Scot’s body. McWhitey
jumped directly backwards so that he was horizontal with his head moving
towards the back wall and the soles of his feet facing the front wall.
This momentarily stopped the ball from hitting him and gave him room,
while midair, to slap the ball into the nick before landing heavily onto
his back with the crowd going wild.

The reason
I started rambling on about this shot is because Beachill was playing
it very effectively, and it gave Matthew one more reason to be unsure
about where the ball was going and what his opponent was going to do next.
At 6-4 to Beachill he played this shot from his backhand with Matthew
ready for a forehand volley. The ball came screaming to Matthew’s
backhand, and he didn’t have the time or position to hit the shot
quick enough. He scrambled and reached back, asking for a let. He wouldn’t
have been able to cut the ball off before the back wall because it was
too far behind him. If it had come off the back wall it would have been
a let, or a stroke as had happened earlier in the match. But Beachill’s
length was perfect and the ball nicked on the back wall at the second
bounce. Beachill went to the service box presuming a call of ‘no
let’ but was shocked to hear ‘let’. He screamed out.
Matthew picked up the ball and appeared to go to serve again, but instead
he threw the ball to his opponent, laughing at the obviously incorrect
decision.

This
was the second time at this tournament I had seen a very nice display
of gentlemanly behaviour on court from Matthew. During the crucial second
game against Palmer in the quarters he stopped mid-rally from a dominating
position for no obvious reason – there was no contact or interference.
Matthew had simply noticed that Palmer had a shoelace that had come undone
and didn’t want his opponent to fall over.

Sadly
a few points after Matthew sportingly conceded the point to Beachill he
got a really bad ‘no let’ call. I wouldn’t be surprised
if this was because he had not only overturned the ref’s decision,
but made him look silly by laughing at it while conceding the point. Refs
don’t like looking silly.

The score
got to 8 all, and again Beachill’s pressure, intensity, concentration
and pace stepped up a gear. He only dropped one more point as he took
the game 15-9 in just ten minutes.

3rd
Game

Matthew
wasn’t playing badly but Beachill was playing great squash. He came
out firing for the start of the third game, went to a 4-0 lead that he
extended to 6-3, then again won the match from the middle game by simply
not allowing his opponent to win points. 6-3 quickly became 15-6 and the
40-minute match booked Beachill a place in his first final. Like his quarterfinal
victory over Nicol, Beachill hadn’t allowed his opponent to get
into the game. After the match Matthew appropriately acknowledged that
he hadn’t played that badly, but wasn’t given a chance by
an incredibly in-form rival.

Media
Coverage
Before
coming to work with Joe on the PSA tour I was doing a university degree
in Melbourne. Each January when the tennis players came to town for Grand
Slam tennis I was faced with nice spectator options. Either I could go
to the venue with some mates and watch the matches live, or stay at home
and view it on tele. This isn’t a scenario that happens often in
squash, but when it does I feel everything is finally right in the sporting
world. The semis and finals are televised live on the local station so
I had two choices; either watch the matches live at the court, enjoying
the better perspective and atmosphere, but endure the near freezing air
conditioning of the Doha court appropriately being dubbed ‘The Ice
Box’ (remembering that when you’re trying to travel light
on a trip that includes one week in Doha, one week in Dubai and one week
in Lahore you don’t want to waste valuable luggage space with a
jumper) ; or I could view the matches from the living room on live TV,
enjoy a viewing temperature more befitting of a desert country and have
beverages of my choice (alcohol consumption is both rare and discreet
in this country and certainly not permitted at the tournament). Tough
decision. The hot pizza, cold beer and warm room easily won.

Doha
rematch

McWhitey
and Lincou made the final the last time they were in Doha in May. McWhitey
won that comfortably. This match wasn’t comfortable, but it started
out looking like it would be. McWhitey was focused and in complete domination
as he began to make Lincou look like a carousel horse winding around and
around the T retrieving balls. The Scot took the lead, but as is often
the case his low percentage winners turned into errors and a 10-7 lead
quickly became an 11-12 deficit. But McWhitey was able to close it out
15-13 in 22 minutes.

John White had the patience in games
4 and 5 to make the finals © 2003 Fritz Borchert

The next
few games had a lot to do with patience and temperament. McWhitey was
getting upset at the frequent body contact and numerous let calls from
seemingly soft positions. He seemed to be visibly annoyed at this and
was allowing it to affect his shot selection and on court manner. Lincou
won the 2nd game 15-11, and the third 15-5 with 10 points coming from
winners off the Frenchman’s racquet. Although he was playing well,
McWhitey was allowing his opponent to create openings, and most rallies
were only a few shots long.

The fourth
game was a couple turn-around with McWhitey entering the court a different
man looking much more focussed and calm. It showed in his play and he
won comfortably 15-8 in just 11 minutes.

5th
Game
McWhitey’s
patience from the 4th game carried over to the decider, and he began with
immediate pressure that allowed him to keep the T and forced Lincou to
spend the time scrambling and simply trying to stay in the rallies. The
Scot moved to an 8-2 lead with his favourite shot- the 3 wall boast that
nicks. The rallies weren’t going long, but this was because of the
pressure and pace McWhitey was using.

A mixture
of winners from Lincou and errors from McWhitey moved the score from 8-2
to 10-6. There had been a lot of soft lets and unnecessary minor body
contact throughout the whole match, but at this crucial points with the
next few points probably determining the winner, things got tighter. McWhitey
won the next point but not until eight lets had been played and the rallied
decided on a no let. Three more lets during the next rally and an error
gave Lincou the point, 11-8. McWhitey structured the next point beautifully,
driving Lincou into the corner forcing the boast and then playing a delicate
backhand drop nick, then followed it up in the next rally by blasting
a backhand straight nick winner so hard it probably left an indentation
in the glass. Lincou made a counter drop error on the next point bringing
the score to 14-9. Lincou was able to hold off the first match ball, but
at 14-10 McWhitey cracked a forehand cross-court from the front that left
Lincou scrambling and unable to win the rally or the match.

White
versus Beachill in the final!

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