& Grinham win US Open
GRINHAM RESISTS THE BOTWRIGHT CHALLENGE
This was squash for the thinking person, this final between Natalie Grinham of Australia and Vicki Botwright of England. Squash played at a leisurely pace with just the odd flash of fireworks. It was tight safe squash into the back corners with just the odd boast or drop shot to try and catch each other out. I heard one club player (male) comment to his friend: “This is the game we can emulate, that we can aspire to.”
Botwright has improved enormously over the last year and here in Boston she has shown that she can play intelligent, attractive squash suggesting she should continue her climb up the rankings. I really thought she had a chance of beating Grinham but the world number four is still a little too experienced for the lass from Manchester.
The trouble was that Botwright was slow in starting and in all four games of this 62 minute match Grinham notched up a very handy lead which meant that Botwright was nearly always playing catch up. The point was they were evenly matched most of the time. Grinham however, knows that the first person to go short will control the game. Her use of the clipped boast is vital to her game. Even when Botwright managed to get to them, she was too stretched to do any serious damage with her response.
Grinham also likes to go for winners from the back left corner and while she hit some lovely winners she also hit eight clunkers. And that was in the first game! Her backhand boasts found the tin so often that I started wondering why she ever tries the shot.
She led 6-1 in the fist game and Botwright kept her composure to continue her solid play and with the help of five of those unforced Grinham errors pulled back to 8-7 and then spoiled her run with a backahdnd rop into the tin to give Grinham the service. The final rally was a textbook piece of play by Grinham ending in a drop/drive combination that gave Botwright no chance.
In the second game Grinham ran to a 5-1 lead and then to game ball 8-6. Once again the emotionless Botwright plugged away, using the right shot at the right time to keep Grinham honest – and working hard. She tied the score at 8-all and then continued her run to snatch the game 10-9 after 19 minutes of hard graft.
It should have been a good psychological victory for Botwright but Grinham came out for the third game unfazed by the loss and once again took control. This time however, it was Botwright who was just the slightest bit sloppy, giving away six unforced errors, usually when she had worked hard to put herself in a position to go for the winning drop. That she hit the tin so many times, suggests a new practice routine with her coach. Even she could not stop herself showing her frustration at turning a winning situation into another lost point.
Grinham won the game 9-3 and following the established pattern ran to a 6-0 lead in the fourth by turning the screw: increasing her short game and making Botwright move to the front as often as possible. This was simply too much of a mountain to climb for the tiring Botwright and although the rallies were still contested, there was never any doubt that Natalie Grinham would be the 2005 US Open champion. She won the game 9-4 in nine minutes to deservedly add another cup to her crowded shelf.
BEACHILL BEATS PALMER – BUT ONLY JUST
It is rare in a tournament to get two really good semi finals as we did last night. It is even rarer to get two good semi-finals and a great final, but the fortunate people in Boston who crowded the Murr squash centre got just that from Lee Beachill and David Palmer. These are well matched players. It would be hard to pin down the differences between their skills and the way the play the game. Sadly, I think the difference in deciding who would take the title was contained in two referee’s decisions in the closing stages of the fifth game. Decisions that both went in Beachill’s favour – or was it against Palmer?
I don’t want to take anything away from Beachill’s victory in the slightest but I think when two players are so very closely matched, even one wrong decision can tilt the balance one way or the other.
After two rallies Beachill knocked Palmer on the jaw on the way to the ball bringing remarks of “Full contact squash’ from the sportier members of the crowd. But Beachill was more fired up and went after the points in a hungrier way than Palmer. When he was leading 9-7, Palmer was again hit in the face and to make matters worse lost the last two points on strokes.
Beachill was up 5-2 in the second and seemed set to whitewash Palmer, but Palmer dug in, kept going short when the time came and stopped left wall rallies by cutting ball across the court. He ran to a 9-6 lead earning eight out of nine points. He then led 10-7, almost spoiled it with two unforced errors to make the score 10-9. The final point involved slight injury to Palmer as Beachill ran across the court to get the ball and bruised Palmer’s leg. Beachill then asked for a let but the referee thought he was being just a bit too optimistic, said No Let and Palmer had the game 11-9.
In the third Palmer reached the peak of his game and hit some beautiful winners on the way to winning it 11-8 to take a 2/1 lead. The fourth game started at supersonic speed with some cracking rallies and recoveries but when Beachil went 4-1 in short order, Palmer decided to save himself for the fifth and barely contested the rallies, losing 11-1 in six minutes.
The fifth game truly demonstrated how equal these players are and the went point for point from the word go. This was tenterhook, cliffhanger stuff and as the score crept up the question of who would win became almost impossible to answer. At 8-8 they played the critical rally, one which ended when Palmer raced across to the back corner on the way to getting a fairly high Beachill shot. Beachill was slightly in the way, Palmer clipped him and asked for a let. Unbelievably referee Mike Riley refused to give him a let. I happen to be a big fan of Riley, and think his elevation to world status was long overdue. However he got this one wrong and Beachill now led 9-8. While Palmer seethed Beachill won the next point on a perfect backhand volley drop to put him at match ball 10-8. The next rally ended with Beachill being given a let, another dubious call. Palmer hit the glass with his racket in frustration because he felt that Beachill could not have got to the ball and the score would be 10-9. Instead he was given a conduct warning for his glass-thumping and the game restarted. Beachill forced the pace, Palmer had to lunge and his shot went out of the court to finish the match and give Beachill the title after 84 breathtaking minutes of drama.
US OPEN FINALS
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