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Diego Elias gives Halifax fans a glimpse of the future of squash

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High-quality qualifiers at the Bluenose Classic
By Squash Mad Reporters in Halifax

Diego Elias plays out of the back left corner
Diego Elias plays out of the back left corner

Halifax squash fans were treated to a full night of high quality squash on the second day of qualifying for the 2014 Fiera Properties Bluenose Squash Classic.

There were no short matches tonight, as the competitors were all closely matched. Ryan Cuskelly, the top-ranked qualifier, took his predicted place in the main round with a win over former Bluenose champion Shawn Delierre.

However, Cuskelly was the only one of the highest five ranked qualifiers to make it through to the main draw. Sebastiaan Weenink scored his second upset victory in as many nights.

It is quite likely that we had a glimpse of part of the future of PSA squash, as the 17-year-old World Junior Champion Diego Elias of Peru showed maturity beyond his years in a comeback victory over the higher ranked Cesar Salazaar of Mexico. Elias demonstrated a range of skills that is downright scary for someone his age.

In the end, our four qualifiers who move on to the main draw on Wednesday represent four continents, highlighting the high level international draw that Bluenose fans will get to enjoy over the next four days.

Ryan Cuskelly (AUS) bt Shawn Delierre (CAN) 11-8, 11-5, 11-6 (50 mins)

bludelcusThe first match of the night started with Delierre hitting the ball well, earning him a 4-1 lead. Both Delierre and Cuskelly (right) picked up the pace and traded the next several points to make it 7-3 for Delierre. Due to two quick stroke calls, Cuskelly managed to close the gap to 5-7; however at 6-8, the momentum shifted when Delierre broke his strings, and following a racquet switch, Cuskelly finished the game with 6 straight points to win the first 11-8.

In the second game, Cuskelly continued where he left off, driving the ball to the back corners, and hitting winning drop shots when the opportunities arose, jumping to a 9-2 start. Delierre made a valiant attempt to bring the score to 10-5; however Cuskelly’s shot selection was too good, leading to an 11-5 victory.

The third game saw both players come out strong, making quality shots to lead to a 4-4 tie. Cuskelly began to increase the pressure on Delierre, leading to several unforced errors, and a subsequent 9-4 lead. Delierre was able to win 2 more points, but Cuskelly was on his game, making minimal mistakes and hitting great lengths to take the game 11-6, and the match 3-0.
By Brian Reid

Sebastiaan Weenink (NED) bt Muhd. Asyraf Azan (MAS) 11-6, 11-9, 7-11, 11-6 (58 mins)
The crowd was electric tonight, having just enjoyed a thoroughly entertaining 60-minute match between Shawn Delierre and Ryan Cuskelly. Not to mention it was free pizza, and free squash, for all in attendance! Spotted in the crowd tonight, Ms. Orshy Torok chatting about Miguel Angel Rodriguez and his clothing preferences, Ms. Sara Lafrance enquiring as to the mood amongst the players and sharing stories about Chris Gordon’s food preferences and quantities, the Gifted Typist herself, Ms. Gail Lethbridge waxing poetic about the virtues of muscle memory, and of course Mr. Tim Roberts looking positively ravishing in a mauve collared shirt. But enough about the crowd, let’s get to the action.

Seb puts on his Halloween face to dig this one out
Seb puts on his Halloween face to dig this one out

Two lanky players with very contrasting styles, Weenink very deliberate in the pre-match knock-up, hitting all four corners, while Azan seemed more keen to impress the crowd with his racquet skills, hitting between-the leg shots and topspin drops. This theme pervaded much of the competition, with Weenink playing a strong, consistent game with some occasional flair, whereas Azan went for more glory with his crosscourt nick attempts, deceptive holds, and attacking drives.
In the first game Azan opened with two quick points on crosscourt nicks, giving a taste of what was to come. Weenink gained the points back on two Azan tins, before reeling off six straight points through a mixture of steady, tight drives, the occasional working boast, and wonderful volley work. Azan was flicking his wrist and trying to catch Weenink off guard but the man from the Netherlands was having none of it. Every flashy shot was followed up by a routine straight drive or volley drop, and Azan appeared to be getting frustrated with the lack of success. “Is that even allowed?” wondered someone behind me, as Azan faked six shots before putting away a hard low crosscourt for a winner. Azan began to look for interference on the tighter shots, but the referees were having none of it. Several no lets were given, and Azan was given a conduct warning for excessive contact when down 6-10. Appropriately, it seemed, Weenink took the first game 11-6 on a decisive No Let call by the upstairs officials. Voices in the crowd wondered aloud if the pattern of play would decay to the level seen last year in Azan’s qualification match, an affair marred by excessive interference and conduct issues.
The second game began with a faster pace, Azan seemed to recognize he needed to change tactics after the opening game loss. Several lets punctuated the first point, and the crowd heaved a collective sigh. “Here we go again” said someone near the back of the grandstands. A stroke to Weenink followed by two No Lets gave the Dutchman the early 3-0 lead. Unlike his opponent, Weenink made every effort to play each ball despite occasional interference from Azan, earning congratulatory applause from the appreciative fans in attendance. Furious hitting by Azan earned him a point, but Weenink took the next two with steady length shots and another No Let, pulling ahead 6-1. Some ridiculous short work by both players had the audience on the edge of their collective seat, with some polite golf clapping for a delightful nick by Azan. The Malaysian stormed back to 6-6 on the strength of aggressive play and some impeccable precision. The players pushed forward to 8-8 as they traded decisive crosscourts and tight drops. A quick stroke to Weenink followed by an incredible hold and flick, and Azan was suddenly down game ball at 8-10. One game ball was saved with a drop shot that found a comfortable resting place in the nick, but a disappointing tin spelled the end of Azan in the second game 11-9.
Here we go for the third game, the crowd firmly rooting for Weenink largely because of his workmanlike attitude, but also his enormous lumberjack style beard, which resonated with the Canuck locals. Azan came to play in this game, however, pulling ahead 2-0 with some tight drives followed by devastating drop shots. Weenink began to work the lob to the forehand back corner, catching Azan several times en route to a 2-2 scoreline. Azan raced forward to 7-3 as he began to find some form and began to play through some minor interference. Weenink’s level was clearly slipping a bit, perhaps correlated with the increased redness of his face due to the extreme effort. Picking up his energy level a bit, Weenink won back two points on a deceptive trickle boast and a stroke on his approach to the front left which was prevented by the presence of Azan’s body. 9-5 now for Azan despite being tackled to the floor by the enthusiastic Weenink, who was only too keen to re-enact Azan’s theatrics to the delight of the viewing audience. At 10-6, Azan earned his first gameball as Weenink levitated his lob out of court, saving the next point on an extremely fast cutoff volley. Not willing to concede this game, Azan closed it out 11-7 after winning a prolonged counterdrop battle. According to local sports authority Tim Roberts, this was a spicy win for the Malaysian.
After some yeoman’s service by none other than local squash celebrity Mr. Carl Helmick mopping up the court floors, the crowd settled in for one more piece of free pizza and some entertaining squash. Azan seemed keen to build on his success in the preceding game, exerting his immense skill and constructing a 3-0 lead. A few minutes later we were level at 4-4 as Azan found the tin and Weenink began to regain some precision and footwork. “He should do that all the time” remarked one young squash fan as Azan casually deposited another serve to the forehand nick. Azan fell to 5-6 down on a no-let followed immediately by a conduct stroke for abuse of equipment, extracting some degree of satisfaction by striking the offending floor with his racquet. The wheels started to come off Azan’s wagon as he continued to self-destruct, with Weenink enjoying a 9-6 lead on the strength of little more than steady play. The crowd erupted at Weenink’s lucky nick on that fading drive that took him to match ball at 10-6. Azan pirouettes to the front trying to avoid Weenink, but only receives a no let for his efforts as Weenink claims the final game 11-6 and the match 3 games to 1. The crowd seemed suitably pleased with this result.
By David Westwood

Diego Elias (PER) bt Cesar Salazar (MEX) 3-2 (8-11, 3-11, 11-5, 11-7, 11-9) (80 mins)
Despite less than two years of experience on the PSA World Tour and being lower in rank, those in the ‘squash-know’ would have favoured the rising star Diego Elias, having won the past two encounters against Cesar Salazar earlier this year. Those wins were far from one sided though (3-2 & 3-1), and from the first rally the squash crowd knew they were about to witness the unfolding of a battle between walls.

Salazar started solidly, picking up all of Elias’ millimetre tight drops and took a 7-3 lead. Elias retaliated with slugger drive variations from the frontcourt directed straight at Salazar, which took ‘Matrix’ dodges to stay alive in the rally more than once. Elias didn’t manage to get closer than within two points though, with the first game going to Salazar 11-8 after some outlandish rallies.

The second game saw Salazar run away quickly to a strong lead by exploiting loose cross courts and front court shots from Diego that Salazar read and pounced on early. With a dip in concentration resulting in two errors, Elias chose to tank the 2nd at 8-3, leading to an 11-3 and 2-0 for the Mexican.

The third and fourth saw both players demonstrating their expertise in varying the pace as the shots ranged from beautiful soft straight lobs and feather drops to bludgeoning drives and low kills on each side. It was Salazar’s turn to tank a game in the third as Elias rode a wave of energy to take it 11-5. The fourth also saw several strings of points from the Peruvian Puma to push the well-contested match into a nail biting fifth game.

After solid tight play from Elias to take the lead at 5-4, several close call appeals in Elias’s favour saw the animated Salazar vent his frustration to the squash gods above (the referees upstairs). Not a dull moment as the match became tied up at 7-7. “Absolutely nothing between them!”

Tense rallies saw them level again at 9-9, but two decisive errors from the Salazar racquet gave the closest match of the night to Diego Elias.

By Jeff Scribner


GORD FLOORED: Chris Gordon hits the deck against Shahier Razik
GORD FLOORED: Chris Gordon hits the deck against Shahier Razik

Christopher Gordon (USA) bt Shahir Razik (CAN) 11-9, 6-11, 11-9, 11-6 (62 mins)

In the last match of qualifying which lasted 62 minutes, we saw a clash of North America. American and world #59 Chris Gordon played Canadian PSA veteran and world #108, Shahier Razik. This was their third time competing against each other. Gordon appeared determine to be on the winning side after losing last week in Montreal to Razik in 5.

Gordon came out on top winning the first game 11-9. Gordon started the second game strong taking a 4-0 lead but Razik fought back to tie it 5-5. There were some good rallies back and fourth but Razik’s patience helped him win the game 11-6. The third game was another close one, with Gordon taking it 11-9. In the fourth, Gordon went up to a quick 7-2 lead after Shahier threw his racket in frustration and received a conduct stroke. A last push by Razik to shorten the gap got him to 6-8. A let call for contact between the two lead to Gordon being rammed to the floor in Razik’s attempt to keep the rally going. Gordon kept his focus on the main draw and took the game 11-6.

By Martin Dumas

2014 Fiera Properties Bluenose Squash Classic – October 28, 2014 – Qualifying Day Two

Ryan Cuskelly (AUS) bt Shawn Delierre (CAN) 11-8, 11-5, 11-5 (50 mins)

Sebastiaan Weenink (NED) bt Muhd. Asyraf Azan (MAS) 11-6, 11-9, 7-11, 11-6 (58 mins)

Diego Elias (PER) bt Cesar Salazar (MEX) 3-2 (8-11, 3-11, 11-5, 11-7, 11-9) (80 mins)

Christopher Gordon (USA) bt Shahir Razik (CAN) 11-9, 6-11, 11-9, 11-6 (62 mins)

Pictures by Jim Neale and Farley MacLeod.


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