Monday, December 4, 2023

Commonwealth Games Live Blog, Day 4: Quarter-finals at the University of Birmingham

James Willstrop battles back to stop Rory Stewart after top seeds Joelle King and Paul Coll overcome Lucy Turmel and Adrian Waller
By ALAN THATCHER (Squash Mad Editor)

New Zealand’s top seeds Joelle King and Paul Coll powered through to the semi-finals after winning the first two quarter-finals against English opponents in today’s 2022 Commonwealth Games quarter-final programme at the University of Birmingham.

King took 85 minutes to see off a phenomenal challenge from Lucy Turmel, and was followed on court by Coll, who grew stronger as the match went on against Adrian Waller.

Next up, Canada’s Hollie Naughton upset the seedings to beat India’s Joshna Chinappa, but her compatriot Saurav Ghosal overcame Scotland’s Greg Lobban in the final match of the afternoon session.

Four matches are on the glass show court this evening, each one featuring a British star.

Evening Session
18.00: [3/4] Georgina Kennedy (ENG) v [9/16] Rachel Arnold (MAS)
18.45: [9/16] Rory Stewart (SCO) v [5/8] James Willstrop (ENG)
19.30: [2] Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) v [5/8] Emily Whitlock (WAL)
20.15: [2] Joel Makin (WAL) v [5/8] Eain Yow Ng (MAS)


[2] Joel Makin (WAL) beat [5/8] Eain Yow Ng (MAS) 11-4, 9-11, 11-3, 11-9 

Joel Makin meets reigning champion James Willstrop in tomorrow’s semi-finals after this stop-start win over Eain Yow Ng.

The match was held up when Yow had treatment on his eye after Makin accidentally caught him with his racket.

Makin turned up the pressure when Yow returned to court and powered through the third game.

Yow fought back in the fourth but Makin finished strongly to make the semi-finals, where he meets the stylish Willstrop, who was made to work hard for his win earlier tonight by Scots outsider Rory Stewart.

[2] Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) beat [5/8] Emily Whitlock (WAL) 11-6, 11-6, 11-6 (29m)

Quick work by Sarah-Jane Perry as she beats Emily Whitlock in straight games. Perry looked comfortably in control throughout each game, opening up a solid lead and protecting it as Whitlock got a few points on the board at the end of each one.

Afterwards Perry said how much she was looking forward to her semi-final against team-mate Gina Kennedy.

“She has had a fantastic season and is a great person to have on the team. She is always making me laugh and inspires us all with her squash and her attitude – the ultimate pro.

“It was absolutely incredible from Lucy Turmel as well earlier on against Joelle King. English Squash is in a really good place right now.”

Sarah-Jane Perry on her semi-final against Georgina Kennedy 

“We have very different games but we will both be massively up for winning a place in the Commonwealth Games final. I would absolutely love to get to another final.

“We didn’t really know each other before she started coming into the squads a year or two ago. She is a consummate professional but I didn’t realise quite how ditzy she was until this week.

“We have nicknames for her and Lucy [TURMEL (ENG)], they’re called Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. Just ask Gina what a chef de mission is!

“They have both come out with a few corkers but they are lovely girls and it’s really interesting to be part of a changing of the guard with young players coming in.

“They are a breath of fresh air and there is a lot of laughing and joking. Gina is very intelligent but she is good at hiding it sometimes!”

On her form and fitness 

“I feel like I’m the fittest I have been for a long time. This is the event the players wanted to peak for and I really think we have done.

“I’ve got a lot of people coming [to watch tomorrow]. I think half of Kenilworth was here tonight and many of them have tickets for tomorrow as well.

“My parents, family and everyone will be the ones shouting loudest, I’m sure. It gives you that extra little push when you most need it.”

[5/8] James Willstrop (ENG) beat [9/16] Rory Stewart (SCO) 11-5, 9-11, 7-11, 11-6, 11-7 (72m)

Reigning Commonwealth Games champion James Willstrop produced an immaculate finish to the fifth game to stop flying Scot Rory Stewart from putting another Englishman to the sword here in Birmingham.

This battle between two 6ft 4in giants was full of mesmerising squash as Stewart frequently outplayed Willstrop with a mixture of raw power combined with an array of incredible attacking shots.

World No.65 Stewart hit several backhand boasts that rolled out of the front right nick, and frequently left Willstrop rooted to the spot in mid-court as he held and disguised several backhand crosscourts.

It was one such shot that took Stewart to a 7-4 lead in the fifth game. Perhaps he saw the finishing line and panicked. Or maybe the 38-year-old Willstrop simply wasn’t ready to leave this stage he loves so much.

Whatever the reason, it was Willstrop who summoned up a spell of high-quality squash to turn the match on its head.

He struck a forehand volley winner and then Stewart’s trusty backhand boast went down. A  backhand volley drop brought Willstrop level at 7-7, then a backhand volley from Stewart crashed into the tin to put Willstrop 8-7 up.

Stewart tried another boast but Willstrop was on to it in a flash and played a soft forehand drop to make it 9-7.

Another error from Stewart, a backhand volley drop into the tin, gave Willstrop match ball at 10-7.

A stroke to Stewart gave him hope of mounting a recovery, but a superb backhand volley drop won the match for Willstrop.

It was squash of a phenomenal quality from two big guys toiling in hot conditions, with the temperature inside the venue reaching 31 degrees.

There were some fascinating passages of play throughout the match as Stewart set about repeating his win over Patrick Rooney the previous evening.

Willstrop mixed up the pace but maintained the pressure throughout the opening exchanges to win the first game. It was classic Willstrop with his usual high level of precision down both side walls and punishing drops into the front corners.

Stewart constantly tried to delay and disguise his crosscourts, in the hope of both stopping and moving him around.

The Scot stepped up the pace in the second and even enjoyed success when he engaged in a length game up and down the walls against the ultimate perfectionist in that particular discipline.

We had the rare sight of Willstrop almost diving to keep the ball in play in the second game but a few shots later he surrendered the point with a loose ball down the middle resulting in a penalty stroke. His video review was denied, putting Stewart on game ball at 10-8.

Stewart lofted a backhand crosscourt out of court but he took the game with a forehand volley kill. One game all.

Stewart has some amazing shots in his armoury and an outrageous backhand boast that hit the front right nick not only won the point but also boosted his confidence. Stewart began working Willstrop around the court, forcing him into some uncomfortable movements by mixing high shots with low ones to keep the Englishman at full stretch.

Stewart clinched the game with an astonishing volley, nailing a backhand crosscourt that rolled flat out of the nick. Stewart was 2-1 up: 5-11, 11-9, 11-7.

The momentum changed again in the fourth and we were treated to a Willstrop master class as he dictated long passages of play.

Stewart, game ball down at 10-4, hit another nick with that backhand boast, but Willstrop buried a backhand volley kill to take the game 11-6 and set up that epic battle in the fifth.

James Willstrop: On receiving coaching tips from his eight-year-old son Logan

“We talk about squash a lot and he sent me a little email this morning with his tactics.

“I wanted to get here for him. He is really interested in this sport and he plays squash. Not many athletes get to share it with their children.”

On his fitness at aged 38  

“I probably can’t do the training sessions repeatedly like when I was 25. I don’t think I’m quite the athlete that I was but definitely I’m as much of a squash player as I’ve ever been.

“The neurons and the knowledge of the squash court are developing with age. That tactical nous is growing as I study the game and do more coaching, but physicality is the tough thing when you get older.”

On the match 

“I was digging in hard, my short game wasn’t quite as I wanted it and I wasn’t feeling too fluent. He put so much pressure on me and putting the ball in great areas.

“It was a fine line all the way, trying to balance good length with my attacks. I couldn’t quite find that balance, but in the last five points I probably did.

“He played very well. You think he was absolutely gone but he kept finding more.”

On his future

“I probably won’t be in another Commonwealth Games singles again, so my over-riding thought was just to give it everything, because I want to come back and play in this arena again.”

[3/4] Georgina Kennedy (ENG) beat [9/16] Rachel Arnold (MAS) 11-4, 11-2, 11-1 (13m)

England’s Gina Kennedy had the crowd roaring as she produced another ruthless performance to reach the semi-finals.

Game by game, her shot placement grew tighter and more punishing as Rachel Arnold struggled to make an impact.

Gina took just 16 minutes to win her second round match against Amanda Haywood of Barbados, 22 minutes to beat Canada’s Nicole Bunyan yesterday, and completed tonight’s task in just 13 minutes.

Her performance level is at an all-time high here in Birmingham, playing high-quality squash at an incredible pace.

Gina Kennedy on her form

“I feel like everything just came together tonight. I have been feeling really confident in the matches leading up to this and it was one of those games where I was seeing everything like a football.

“It felt smooth, I was confident in my movement and my line hitting.

“The way I play is I simply don’t let up for a second. Rachel is so skilful that she can slot winners from anywhere so I really had to be on my A-game and I absolutely was.

“I feel like a lot of opportunities came from playing a good length. This was the tournament I wanted to peak for and it’s so far, so good.”

On her match being screened live on the BBC

“It’s a big opportunity for us to showcase our sport. I know every sport says it, but squash does not get the recognition it deserves.

“We train so hard, the athleticism that we have is tough to achieve and squash deserves to be recognised for the brutal sport that it is.

“Everyone just wants to showcase our sport and this is the best place to do it, in this incredible venue with this amazing atmosphere.”

On meeting England team-mate SJP in the semi-finals

“Obviously tomorrow will be a completely different scenario. I will have to change my tactics. But if I can bring in some of the stuff I was doing there into tomorrow, I’ll be happy.

“If SJ wins tonight she is probably the most skilful player on tour. With her hold she is extremely dangerous on a glass court. She can make anyone feel very uncomfortable so it will just be about sticking to the plan and inserting my game.”

Good to see England junior Asia Harris helping Mr Squash (Mike Harris) on the mini court today

[3/4] Saurav Ghosal (IND) beat [5/8] Greg Lobban (SCO) 11-5, 8-11, 11-7, 11-3 (59m)

India’s Saurav Ghosal wore down the resistance of Scotland’s Greg Lobban to book his place in the Commonwealth Games semi-finals against top seed Paul Coll.

It was hot on court, with the temperature understood to be 31 degrees, and those conditions clearly favoured the more experienced Ghosal.

The third game was crucially poised at one game all and 7-7 when Ghosal tightened up and forced errors from his opponent. Lobban put a forehand drop into the tin on game ball and gave Ghosal a massive boost in confidence.

With former England captain Chris Walker coaching the Indian team, he must have said something inspiring before the fourth because Ghosal was in ruthless form as he won eight points in a row from 3-3 to close out the match.

[5/8] Hollie Naughton (CAN) beat [3/4] Joshna Chinappa (IND) 11-9, 11-5, 15-13 (33m)

Canada’s Hollie Naughton suffered a few nervous moments as she homed in on victory but finally won the tiebreak that puts her into the Commonwealth Games semi-finals.

Chinappa fought hard in the opening game but let slip a 6-3 lead as Naughton began to move her opponent around the court.

Naughton that 11-9 and was on top throughout the second as she took it 11-5.

The third was close all the way through and Chinappa wasted three game balls as Naughton stuck to her attacking plan and was rewarded with the final three points to take it 15-13.

Naughton faces top seed Joelle King in the semi-finals tomorrow.

Hollie Naughton on reaching the semi-finals and her chance of winning Canada’s first squash medal since 2002: 

“That would be phenomenal. It would be an absolute honour to be Canada’s first female medallist and the first in two decades. It would be a dream come true.

“It feels unbelievable to win. I don’t think I know what my emotions are right now. I’m just really happy to be through.

“This is my first Commonwealth Games and my goal was to get into medal contention. I’m there now, and it’s all about resetting ready for tomorrow.”

New Zealand 2, England 0

(1) Paul Coll (NZL) beat (5/8) Adrian Waller (ENG) 12-10, 11-4, 11-7 (47m)

Paul Coll made it a double celebration for New Zealand as he followed Joelle King on to court.

Adrian Waller fought hard throughout and enjoyed his best form in the opening game as he pushed Coll all the way.

The tall left-hander Waller fought back from 7-3 down to draw level at 9-9. Coll was first to game ball but Waller levelled again at 10-10 before Coll closed out the game.

The second and third games were more straightforward for a determined looking Coll, who kept to a strict game plan. Waller enjoyed some moments of brilliance but one or two errors made life easier for the Kiwi.

Paul Coll on his roar on winning the final point

“It was a roar of satisfaction. I wanted to properly start my tournament today the way I want to finish it. 

“What I took out of yesterday’s game (a 3-1 win over Emyr Evans of Wales) was that it was time to get my arse into gear and start focusing. It’s a long event so you’ve got to minimise the mental lapses.

“No disrespect to my opponents before today, but it’s a long 10 days we’ve got to compete for and today was quarter-finals of the Commonwealth Games. It doesn’t get any bigger so I wanted to do myself and my country proud.

“Adrian is a very dangerous player so I’m very happy with the way I executed my game plan. I was up for it today and very focused. I didn’t want to give him a sniff of getting back into it.”

Lucy Turmle gives her racket to a young fan after her match against Joelle King

(1) Joelle King (NZL) beat (5/8) Lucy Turmel (ENG) 9-11, 18-16, 11-9, 14-12 (85m)

First match finished and what a battle we saw as Lucy Turmel bravely challenged the authority of reigning champion and top seed Joelle King.

Turmel, the 22-year-old from Ipswich, played determined, attacking squash aimed at moving her taller opponent around the corner, and trying to force her to bend and stretch into the front corners.

The tactics paid off as she hit back from 6-3 down to win the first game 11-9. Then followed an incredible 29-minute game as King moved to game ball at 10-2 but needed 11 more attempts to finish it off as Turmel fought back in incredible fashion, reeling off a run of points to draw level at 10-10. She held three game balls herself but King eventually won it 18-16.

The third game was closer all the way through but at 8-8 King won the next three points to move 2-1 ahead.

The fourth game had several fractious moments with both players and spectators unsure about lets, no lets and strokes.

Again, Turmel fought back after King reached match ball at 10-8. Turmel drew level and held game ball at 12-11 but King won the next three points to reach the semi-finals.

Lucy said: “The biggest thing I found out about myself today is that I’m a fighter. I knew that already, but being 10-2 down and fighting back is almost a different level, isn’t it?”

Lucy Turmel, on saving 12 game balls in the second game 

“I don’t ever give up. That’s something that I pride myself on. My coach said before the match that Joelle would have to win it today, you’re not going to give anything to her. That was my thought process when I was 10-2 down.

“The biggest thing I found out about myself today is that I’m a fighter. I knew that already, but being 10-2 down [and fighting back] is almost a different level, isn’t it? So I’ll take that into next season.

“I was on there to win and although that didn’t happen today I feel like it was a good match for everyone watching on the BBC, which is huge for squash. Putting on a good show for everyone is the most important thing today.”

On the support from a noisy home crowd 

“It was massive. When I was down 10-2, the cheers I got at 10-3 and 10-4 were what got me back into it. If I was on one of the back courts upstairs and didn’t have this crowd behind me, the score might have been different.”

England’s Lucy Turmel (left) gives it her all against top seed Joelle King in the quarter-finals

Record Ticket Sales

Reports indicate that the 2022 Commonwealth Games will achieve record ticket sales, according to British Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston.

An article on the superb Inside The Games website revealed that more more than 1.3 million tickets have been sold for Birmingham 2022, making it the best attended edition of the Commonwealth Games ever to take place in Britain.

Glasgow 2014 had previously held the British record, but Birmingham 2022 has now moved ahead of them following a surge in demand for tickets.

According to Birmingham 2022, more than 500,000 tickets have been snapped up by people living in the West Midlands.

Yesterday’s exclusive article by Rod Gilmour

TV Scandal

With so many top matches on the schedule today, let’s hope that squash features more prominently on the BBC coverage after being ignored for almost three days.

Rod Gilmour’s article on the BBC’s response to complaints from the squash community drew a lot of traffic to the site yesterday, so thanks to all those who popped in to see us. We hope you will stick around for the best coverage of the Games.

#BBC #BestBritishCoverage

Party time in Amsterdam

Good luck to all those squash players staggering home from a massive party weekend in Amsterdam as the Junkies Festival celebrated its 25th anniversary.

The winners were the Dutch team Casanovas, led by Tessa ter Sluis, who beat Scots team AirTight1 in yesterday’s final. The winning squad included: Marc ter Sluis (PSA), Frank Goossens, Roel Zwagerman, Tom Lucas (SBN director), Bjarni Kemperman, Bart Hostman and Tessa Ter Sluis (PSA).

Must get a Squash Mad team together for next year!

The Casanovas celebrate their win in Amsterdam

Join the debate:

If there’s anything you want to mention about squash at the Games, feel free to publish your comments below.

Today’s Results:

Men’s Quarter-Finals:
[1] Paul Coll (NZL) beat [5/8] Adrian Waller (ENG) 12-10, 11-4, 11-7 (47m)
[3/4] Saurav Ghosal (IND) beat [5/8] Greg Lobban (SCO) 11-5, 8-11, 11-7, 11-3 (59m)
[5/8] James Willstrop (ENG) beat [9/16] Rory Stewart (SCO) 11-5, 9-11, 7-11, 11-6, 11-7 (72m)
[2] Joel Makin (WAL) beat [5/8] Eain Yow Ng (MAS) 11-4, 9-11, 11-3, 11-9

Women’s Quarter-Finals:
[1] Joelle King (NZL) beat [5/8] Lucy Turmel (ENG) 9-11, 18-16, 11-9, 14-12 (85m)
[5/8] Hollie Naughton (CAN) beat [3/4] Joshna Chinappa (IND) 11-9, 11-5, 15-13 (33m)
[3/4] Georgina Kennedy (ENG) beat [9/16] Rachel Arnold (MAS) 11-4, 11-2, 11-1 (16m)
[2] Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) beat [5/8] Emily Whitlock (WAL) 11-6, 11-6, 11-6 (29m)

Pictures courtesy of England Squash 


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