Wednesday, September 27, 2023

British Nationals: It’s Mo v Makin and Jaz v Lucy Bee in the finals

Lucy Beecroft buzzes back to beat No.2 seed Lucy Turmel in semi-final stunner
By ALAN THATCHER (Squash Mad Editor)

Mohamed ElShorbagy meets Joel Makin in the men’s final at the British National Championships in Manchester. The women’s final will be contested by No.3 seed Jasmine Hutton and world No.55 Lucy Beecroft, who fought back from two games down to beat No.2 seed Lucy Turmel.

The former Yale student Beecroft, from Newcastle, struggled to make much of an impact against world No.25 Turmel in the opening two games. However, she fought back to save four match balls in the third and a crucial recovery saw her her take it 13-11.

That was the turning point for Beecroft, who maintained the pressure to claim both the fourth and fifth games by an 11-7 margin with some stunning winners to complete victory in 58 minutes.

Beecroft admitted she was as surprised as everyone to reach her first senior Nationals final, saying: “It was all or nothing for me there. I felt like the first three games, she was completely controlling the pace and I was on the back end of every rally and I don’t want to play like that.

“I tried to not focus on the score and just play each point as it is. I tried to just leave it all on there and my arm relaxed and the ball started to soften up which went in my favour in the fourth and fifth, so I’m shocked.

“I wasn’t necessarily thinking about the new ball in the third but once I got that game I thought it would open up and the first couple of points in the game, the ball wasn’t coming out the back as much. But I’m just really proud of sticking in that one and getting the win.

“I think the last time Jaz and I played, I snuck it in four but Jaz is a great player and I’ll have to be on my game tomorrow. I was actually supposed to fly back to America tomorrow morning so I guess I’ll have to change that flight.”

Jasmine Hutton (left) in action against top seed Emily Whitlock

No.3 seed Hutton scored a win over the event’s top seed Emily Whitlock to reach her second Nationals final.

Hutton stormed out of the gates on the hot and bouncy all-glass court in the opening game and immediately took the pace to her opponent. The crisp hitting of Hutton gave Whitlock no time to impose her excellent short game and controlled lobs.

After taking the opening game 11-9, Hutton continued to pile on the pressure onto the Welsh No.2 and started to move Whitlock into the front corners more consistently. Whitlock appeared to be struggling with her movement in the latter stages of the game and lost it 11-6.

Before the third game, Whitlock was forced to withdraw through injury, handing Hutton the victory and a place in her second British nationals final.

Hutton said: “It’s not easy to come through after a retirement, and I hope Emily gets better. We have a packed schedule at the start of next season so it’s better to pull out than make it worse.

“I really love a bouncy court. I don’t mind the heat and I was thriving off it, to be honest. I love how quick you can play and you have to react quickly and I really like playing at that pace. I tried to get a good length and then attack when I could.”

Contemplating her second Nationals final appearance, she added: “Back in 2020, it was really weird. I had never seen two withdrawals to get someone through to the final. I like to think that might give me an advantage having already been in a final and I’d like to think I’m a better player now than I was then and hoping to be strong again tomorrow in the final.”

James Willstrop displays his famous one-legged forehand against Mohamed ElShorbagy

Mo avoids a bagel on the way to the final

In the men’s draw, both top seeds Mohamed ElShorbagy and Joel Makin progressed through to today’s final, setting up a repeat of May’s Manchester Open final where Makin achieved a breakthrough victory, winning the title in four games.

No.1 seed ElShorbagy overcame four-time champion James Willstrop in an entertaining four-game battle to move into his first final in his maiden appearance in the competition after switching international allegiance from Egypt to England.

The former world champion controlled the opening two games of the encounter and used a devastating mix of pace and control to move the tall frame of Willstrop into all four corners of the court and mop up the loose retrieval of the Englishman.

With ElShorbagy leading 2-0, former world No.1 Willstrop relaxed and displayed his full range of artistic, attacking squash. With his undoubted skill and touch in full flow, Willstrop attacked the front of the court with superb accuracy and consistency to build an impressive 10-0 lead. A desperate ElShorbagy managed to score a point on the board to avoid the dreaded ‘bagel’ but it was Willstrop who secured the third game.

In what was arguably the game of the tournament, the No.1 seed closed out the match, winning 14-12 in a quality fourth game. ElShorbagy kept setting himself up with match balls but the Englishman wouldn’t go away and refused to be beaten easily. After saving four match balls, another brutal rally finished the tournament for Willstrop as the No.1 seed booked his place in the final.

A delighted and relieved ElShorbagy said: “I’ve never lost 11-0 in my life, so when I was 10-0 down I thought I just had to go for it.

“Full respect to James, I could see from mid-way in the second game he was getting better and better. In the third game I might have had a bit of a lapse of concentration, but your opponent still has to be 100 per cent focused to win every single point. It was unbelievable he stayed focused for 10 straight points like that.

“In the fourth it was all to play for. It was such a high quality match, and I always feel like we enjoy playing each other because there is always good squash played fairly and in a good spirit. We played in Mauritius last week, but that was his first tournament in ages, so you can see he keeps getting better and better.”

Looking ahead to the final, ElShorbagy added: “Joel and I have so much respect for each other. On paper we are the two best players in the country right now, so it’s fitting that we are in the final to hopefully play a good quality match for the English crowd here.”

Joel Makin dominates the middle of the court against Patrick Rooney

Makin moved into his third consecutive British Nationals final after he overcame England No.2 Patrick Rooney in straight games.

With the hot temperature in the venue, the ball was extremely lively throughout the match which played into the hands of the Welshman as he moved the ball at pace into the back corners. The workload resulted in a flurry of errors from Rooney allowing Makin a comfortable win in the first game.

This pattern continued in the second game as Makin established a healthy lead at 8-2. From there, Rooney started to showcase his excellent touch at the front of the court and strung together a succession of winners to level at 8-8. Makin returned to his stubborn style of play to close out the next three points and earn a 2-0 lead.

The second game seemed to take its toll on Rooney and the streetwise Makin recognised this and started to turn the screw in the third game. He continued to pummel the back corners and restrict the Englishman’s attacking opportunities to run through and take the game 11-6 and book his place in the final.

Makin said: “Patrick’s got those threats through the middle, so you’ve got to take him away from there. In the middle of the second game, I hit a crosscourt and he was all over it, making me work but once I got it past him I got him trying to force it from behind me and that’s where I need to be.

“I play a pattern-based game, I try to stick to my game plan. I’m putting some short balls in and know it’s the right shot, I’m not going for anything drastic from behind so just keep plugging away and putting work into him and it might take some time to get the reward for that.”

As for the conditions, Makin added: “What a great place to be (on a hot court). I was enjoying it. There were probably three decisions in the whole match, (full of) great free-flowing squash. Sometimes you don’t get that continuity of play on glass courts with court cleaners and reviews, but that was just hard squash. It was good quality so I’m pleased to be through.”

British National Championships, National Squash Centre, Manchester.

Men’s Semi-Finals:
[1] Mohamed ElShorbagy (ENG) bt [5] James Willstrop (ENG) 3-1: 11-6, 11-9, 1-11, 14-12 (47m)
[2] Joel Makin (WAL) bt [3] Patrick Rooney (ENG) 3-0: 11-2, 11-8, 11-6 (50m)

Men’s Final:
[1] Mohamed ElShorbagy (ENG) v [2] Joel Makin (WAL)

Women’s Semi-Finals:
[3] Jasmine Hutton (ENG) bt [1] Emily Whitlock (WAL) 3-0: 11-9, 11-6 retired (23m)
[6] Lucy Beecroft (ENG) bt [2] Lucy Turmel (ENG) 3-2: 5-11, 8-11, 13-11, 11-7, 11-7 (58m)

Women’s Final:
[3] Jasmine Hutton (ENG) v [6] Lucy Beecroft (ENG)

Pictures by Steve Cubbins courtesy of England Squash 


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