Thursday, February 29, 2024

Anjema continues clinical comeback to set up clash with Cuskelly in Canadian final

LJ Anjema shakes with Shawn Deelierre (left)
LJ Anjema shakes with Shawn Delierre (left)

LJ powers through in straight games to halt home hope Shawn Delierre
By MIKE McCUE – Squash Mad Correspondent

Dutchman Laurens Jan Anjema maintained his return to top form after injury by reaching the final of the Northern Ontario, where he will meet Australian Ryan Cuskelly.

11188187_10205308676575331_3147392652733431569_nAnjema (right) continued his clinical path through the draw with another 3-0 victory, this time over Canadian Shawn Delierre. True to the form of his previous two matches, the Dutchman started tentatively and played primarily straight drives.

Making a few unsettled errors, he found himself down 6-8 to the Canadian #1, who was once again playing very tough squash.

For the third night in a row, LJ rose to the occasion, increasing the pace and pressure to take five consecutive rallies and the game. This constant intensity led to some uncharacteristic errors from Shawn in the second game, who must have felt like he needed to produce something special just to win a rally.

The capacity crowd were looking to get behind the Canadian, but time and again saw their hopeful come out on the losing end of tough rallies. Shawn forced a second game tiebreak but never held gameball and was soon down 2-0.

The squash was very contained and thoughtful, neither player taking any undue risks. Sensing his tournament run nearing an end, Shawn found some extra energy in desperation while matchball down.

But a No Let decision after Anjema had passed him with a straight drive from the front right marked the end. LJ has been entirely composed all week, maintaining a stoic disposition even in the most critical situations.

Having not dropped a single game and spending less than three hours on court, he will feel confident before tomorrow’s final.

10384314_10205308681895464_9062852715945642551_nCesar Salazar produced a Herculean effort in the second semi-final, pushing Ryan Cuskelly to the brink before the Australian (right) booked his place in the final.

The Mexican scored a massive 100-plus minute victory over Diego Elias the previous night, and was clearly feeling the effects as he went down 11-2 and 6-1 before even featuring in an extended rally.

However, as often happens, the first wall of fatigue is the hardest to push through. As his body seemed to loosen up, Salazar began covering Cuskelly’s sharp attacks more effectively, playing some excellent counters and flicks.

This clearly took Ryan by surprise, as he had been on cruise control until this point. Cesar leveled at 6-all, and we had a match on our hands. Switching demeanour from defeated to focused, Salazar found the motivation to accept the pressure Cuskelly was applying.

10478794_10205308681015442_5032406517506743802_nEvery inch of court was utilized and covered, with one player often ending up well out of position at the end of a rally. Winning the second game on a No Let, Salazar (right) was a new man and looked a real threat to win the match.

The Aussie continued to control 80% of points in the third, but couldn’t quite put the ball out of Cesar’s reach. Relishing this defensive roll, Salazar waited for errors and asked for any Let referee Shawn Delierre would give him.

After exchanging game balls, Cesar somehow won the third despite barely being able to stand.

Understandably frustrated, Cuskelly look like he may be running out of ideas. He went down 1-5 in the fourth before finally breaking Salazar’s spirit and legs.

The remainder of the match was essentially a painful pressure session, with Cuskelly dispatching attacks to all areas of the court for Salazar to lift back to the front wall.

At 7-2 in the decider, Cesar unfortunately cramped and the final points were a formality. Massive credit must be given to both players.

They covered every corner of the court hundreds of times, never letting a single point go. Their efforts show that the mind will always break down long before the body. 

Northern Ontario Open, Sudbury, Canada.

Semi-finals: (3) Laurens Jan Anjema (NED) bt (8) Shawn Delierre (CAN) 11-8, 12-10, 11-9 (58m)
(5) Ryan Cuskelly (AUS) bt (4) Cesar Salazar (MEX) 11-2, 9-11, 12-14, 11-9, 11-3 (83m)

Pictures by MEGHAN McCUE


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