Monday, July 15, 2024

Commonwealth Games: Joelle King equals record as Willstrop and James win men’s doubles gold

By ALAN THATCHER (Squash Mad Editor)

New Zealand’s Joelle King has equalled Rachael Grinham’s record as the most decorated female squash player in Commonwealth Games history as she and Amanda Landers-Murphy sucessfully defended their 2018 women’s doubles title against England. The host nation ended the day with a gold and two silvers after Declan James and James Willstrop beat Daryl Selby and Adrian Waller in an all-English men’s doubles final.

In the bronze medal matches, Scotland won their first medal since 1998 with an entertaining win over Malaysia, who picked up a medal of their own in an all-Malaysia women’s doubles clash.

King, who yesterday won a mixed doubles gold partnering this year’s men’s singles champion Paul Coll, had to convince Landers-Murphy to come out of retirement after the 2018 Games. On today’s evidence, it was a decision well made.

The Kiwi duo made a flying start to the match, targeting the front successfully against a flat-footed England on the way to a 5-2 lead.

Perry and Waters responded, pushing up the court to good effect, which led to thrilling duels at the front and an 8-6 England lead.

New Zealand, though, quickly regrouped, with Landers-Murphy imposing herself on the court and sealing the first game 11-8 with a terrific cross court nick.

The second game was initially even, before New Zealand pulled away from 3-2 down to build a 9-4 lead. England then dug deep to reduce the deficit to 9-7 as an exciting crosscourt duel developed between left-hander Landers-Murphy and right-hander Waters.

Joy for Joelle King (left) and Amanda Landers-Murphy after winning the women’s doubles final

To the dismay of the home fans, the Kiwis were able to regain their grip on the match, and they ended England’s scoring run before securing New Zealand’s third gold of the 2022 Games with a second 11-8 win.

King, who now has eight Commonwealth Games medals, said afterwards: “I’m exhausted! If you were to look through our chats, every single day I was messaging her [to convince Landers-Murphy to come out of retirement].

“People don’t realise she was studying, working full time and training for this, with 5am wake-up calls to do training before work and then going straight to training after work.

“I’m extremely proud of her, she had unfinished business and she’s done it!”

Waters said: “I’m really proud of the way we fought. They were a privilege to share the court with.”

Perry, who was born in Birmingham, added: “My partner Becky has been amazing, taking up the slack with our five-month-old son Elijah so that I could train properly.

“It has been extra special him being here and being able to watch me throughout the Games.”

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Despite the disappointment of this defeat, England soon had a gold – their second of the Games following Georgina Kennedy’s singles gold last week – after James and Willstrop overcame compatriots Selby and Waller in the first ever doubles gold medal match contested by teams from the same nation.

The top seeds made the perfect start as they won the first game 11-3, with Willstrop moving well and James keeping left-hander Waller quiet on the left wall.

Selby and Waller responded well in the second, with the 2018 silver medallists, who knocked James and Willstrop out in the 2018 semi-finals, scoring seven successive points as they came back from 5-2 down to level the match with an 11-7 win.

In a nail-biting final game, James and Willstrop saw an 8-4 lead reduced to just 9-8. Eventually, though, they were able to check the 3/4 seeds’ momentum and had three match balls at 10-8.

After Selby and Waller saved the first, James, who was almost ruled out through injury ahead of the Games, brought the gripping final to an end with a brilliant backhand, and the 29-year-old sank to the ground in tears as the scores were confirmed.

James revealed: “That’s one of only two or three moments in my squash career that I’ve cried. I wasn’t sure if I’d be here two months ago.

“To have one last dance with Jimbo, after five years of an amazing partnership, well if we don’t get to do it again, what a way to finish. I’m so grateful.”

Selby, who last week announced his retirement from the PSA World Tour, said: “I’m sure it will hit me soon. This is my last match as a professional, so losing in the final is going to be tough to take. I’m sure it will sink in after a while.”

He is, however, turning out in a non-PSA tournament in Canterbury starting on August 19.

There was another national derby in the bronze medal matches, when Rachel Arnold and Aifa Azman overcame Malaysian compatriots Ainaa Amani and Chan Yiwen 2-0.

Arnold and Azman, a new doubles partnership that was formed only a month ago when Arnold’s usual partner Sivasangari Subramaniam had to withdraw ahead of the Games after being badly injured in a road accident, made a dominant start to the match to take the first game 11-3.

The second was more even as Amani and Chan found some of the form that saw them shock top seeds India in the quarter-final, but Arnold and Azman were able to hold out for an 11-9 win.

Arnold said: “For their first Games, they came and didn’t give up at all. There was a lot of pressure for us today, and I’m really proud of them!”

In the men’s bronze medal match, Greg Lobban combined with Commonwealth Games debutant Rory Stewart to end a run of three consecutive men’s doubles bronze medal match defeats for the Scots.

Their opponents, the dangerous Eain Yow Ng and Ivan Yuen of Malaysia, pushed them all the way in an exciting match.

The first game was even throughout, with the two sides trading the lead before Scotland saved game ball at 10-9 before going on to claim a vital 1-0 lead with an 11-10 win.

Malaysia initially recovered well and started game two as the better team, before a steady progression of Scotland points wrested momentum away as Lobban and Stewart secured the medal with an 11-6 victory.

The victory came as a particularly rewarding one for Lobban, who was beaten in the bronze medal match alongside Alan Clyne in 2018.

Lobban said: “It feels great. I think there’s been pressure on us at the last few Games to come home with something. We knew we had a chance to win the event, so it feels bittersweet. But we’ve tried for so many years and to come through and get a medal for Scotland feels terrific.”

Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games Squash Doubles, University of Birmingham, England.

Men’s Doubles Final:
[1] Declan James & James Willstrop (ENG) bt [3/4] Daryl Selby & Adrian Waller (ENG) 2-1: 11-3, 7-11, 11-9 (61m)

Women’s Doubles Final:
[3/4] Joelle King & Amanda Landers-Murphy (NZL) bt [2] Sarah-Jane Perry & Alison Waters (ENG) 2-0: 11-8, 11-8 (30m)

Men’s Doubles Bronze Medal Match:
[2] Greg Lobban & Rory Stewart (SCO) bt [5/8] Eain Yow Ng & Ivan Yuen (MAS) 2-0: 11-10, 11-6 (45m)

Women’s Doubles Bronze Medal Match:
[5/8] Rachel Arnold & Aifa Azman (MAS) bt [5/8] Ainaa Amani & Chan Yiwen (MAS) 2-0: 11-3, 11-9 (28m)

Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games Medal Winners

Men’s Singles
Gold: Paul Coll (NZL)
Silver: Joel Makin (WAL)
Bronze: Saurav Ghosal (IND)

Women’s Singles
Gold: Georgina Kennedy (ENG)
Silver: Hollie Naughton (CAN)
Bronze: Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG)

Mixed Doubles
Gold: Joelle King and Paul Coll (NZL)
Silver: Alison Waters and Adrian Waller (ENG)
Bronze: Dipika Pallikal Karthik and Saurav Ghosal (IND)

Men’s Doubles
Gold: Declan James and James Willstrop (ENG)
Silver: Daryl Selby and Adrian Waller (ENG)
Bronze: Greg Lobban and Rory Stewart (SCO)

Women’s Doubles
Gold: Joelle King and Amanda Landers-Murphy (NZL)
Silver: Sarah-Jane Perry and Alison Waters (ENG)
Bronze: Rachel Arnold and Aifa Azman (MAS)

Pictures courtesy of WSF, PSA and  England Squash


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