Seeds all reach last eight in World Teams but Tesni Evans shocks Alison Waters
By HOWARD HARDING in Paris
On the opening day of play in the WSF Women’s World Team Squash Championship on the all-glass showcourt at Palais Des Sports Robert Charpentier in the Paris suburb of Issy-les-Moulineaux, hosts France defied the seedings by overcoming Hong Kong China to top their qualifying pool.
Hong Kong, the No.4 seeds, took the lead in the final tie in Pool D when Joey Chan defeated France’s second string Coline Aumard in straight games. Cheered on by the excited and partisan crowd, France drew level when top string Camille Serme beat her Hong Kong counterpart Annie Au 11-7, 13-15, 11-9, 11-9 in 51 minutes.
In the decider, Laura Pomportes took a two-game lead against Liu Tsz-Ling. But when the Hong Kong player fought back to take the third, memories came flooding back of the pair’s previous meeting in the championship two years ago in Canada – where, at the identical stage in the event, Liu regained the lead to take the match and consign France to second place in the pool!
Pomportes (pictured above in action against Liu), now clearly better able to cope with such pressure – particularly in front of a home crowd – dug deep to reassert her authority on the match and went on to clinch an 11-6, 15-13, 6-11, 11-7 triumph and a preferred position for France in the quarter-final draw.
“Laura and I had already spoken about that match two years ago and she was mentally prepared,” said French national coach Philippe Signoret, whose team now faces Australia for a place in the semi-finals. “It’s good to win the pool – but the job is not finished yet, we still have a lot of work to do.”
It was in the last tie on the glass court that sixth seeds Australia reserved their place in the last eight courtesy of a 2/1 win over Netherlands. Milou van der Heijden gave the Dutch team an unexpected lead after surviving a close encounter with veteran Australian campaigner Rachael Grinham.
In the first team match they have ever played for opposing teams, Rachael’s younger sister Natalie Grinham went on for Netherlands – but soon went down to the higher-ranked Aussie left-hander Donna Urquhart to make matters level.
Despite making her first senior appearance for Australia, and having a year-long injury break which almost took her out of the game, Tamika Saxby rose to the occasion by beating Dutch opponent Milja Dorenbos 11-2, 6-11, 11-1, 11-6 in the decider to seal her country’s place in the quarter-final play-offs.
“Despite losing tonight, Rachael can give so much – it’s good to have her in the team,” said team manager Michelle Martin, the former world No.1. “It was good experience for Tamika to bring it home for us the way she did.
“We’ve achieved what we had to do – we’ve got nothing to lose against France. They’ll have the crowd behind them and we’ll be the underdogs. We’ll just go out and enjoy it!”
Saxby (pictured above) was overjoyed with her performance: “I was really excited to play today and enjoyed playing the decider – knowing that the rest of the girls wanted me to get the job done,” said the 23-year-old from New South Wales.
“I had no idea I’d be here six months ago when I hadn’t played for a year after getting over an illness – so all this today is totally surreal!”
Top seeds Egypt became the first nation to score maximum points in their pool action after storming to a 3/0 win over Mexico, the No.13 seeds. Raneem El Welily and Nouran Gohar both recorded straight games wins before third string Omneya Abdel Kawy celebrated her 50th match in the championships since making her debut 18 years ago by beating 15-year-old Mexican Dina Anguiano Gomez 11-5, 11-4, 11-8.
World No.8 Abdel Kawy, the team’s fourth string, is marking a record 10th successive appearance in the championships – and has played in all three of the team’s ties to date.
“Omneya has so much experience and is so reliable that I want to pick her as often as possible,” said team coach Amr Shabana. “We have such a good team that all I have to do is manage them.”
When asked if she could identify with the feeling of her young opponent today – making her championship debut in her mid-teens – Abdel Kawy responded: “I remember feeling fearless then, knowing that the pressure was always on my older opponents – but later in my career being in the position of having to deal with the pressure of being expected to win.
“But now it’s gone the full circle, and I can relax again – without the expectation of winning!”
The other final tie in Pool A saw eighth seeds New Zealand take on India, the ninth seeds – both sides seeking a guaranteed place in the top eight after ending the previous campaign in 10th and 14th place, respectively.
India took the lead when second string Dipika Pallikal Karthik beat Megan Craig in straight games. The Kiwis fought back, Joelle King extending her 8/2 career head-to-head over Joshna Chinappa by overcoming the world No.13 from Chennai 11-5, 11-3, 5-11, 13-11.
Event debutante Sunayna Kuruvilla did her best to bring India back into contention, but experienced left-hander Amanda Landers-Murphy was too strong for the unranked 17-year-old, winning 11-9, 11-8, 11-7 in 24 minutes to see New Zealand through to the quarter-finals.
“The play-off between the eighth and ninth seeds is always going to be tough – and so it was today,” said world No.9 King afterwards. “We were 1/0 down when I went on, so I had to win. As far as I’m concerned, Joshna is a top ten player and she’s been pushing all the other players up there. When you’re playing for your country, it makes the match even more important.
“Now that we have made the top eight, we can relax – we’re the underdogs from now on!”
King is back at her best after undergoing Achilles surgery in 2014. “It’s been two years now – and a long road back. I think I’m playing some of the best squash I’ve ever played – but the level of the women’s game grew while I was away which made it even more difficult to climb back. But it’s really awesome to be back.”
Indian national coach Cyrus Poncha was disappointed to miss out on a quarter-final place: “We were banking on Dipika to win. Then Joshna played exceptionally well, coming out aggressively to win the third and came very close in the fourth. If the match had gone to five it would have opened up the door ….
“We have an inexperienced number three so we knew it would be extremely tough to make the top eight.
“Playing in the 9/12 group means that we will certainly do better than we did last time – but we now have to lift the team spirits to aim for ninth place.”
England claimed top place in Pool B, but for the second time in a row failed to gain maximum points. After going ahead in the tie against 14th seeds Wales, the No.2 seeds were rocked by a shock 15-13 11-9 11-5 win by Welsh number one Tesni Evans over Londoner Alison Waters, the world No.10.
Order was restored in the decider when event debutante Victoria Lust beat Welsh opponent Nia Davies, also making her first appearance in the championship, 11-2, 11-6, 11-6.
“I get a lift when I play for Wales,” said Evans, who also pulled off a notable upset against a higher-ranked English opponent in the 2014 championship in Canada. “I’ll do whatever it takes to help the team win.”
Over at the St Cloud Club, USA and Canada were battling for a place in the last as runners-up in Pool B. 10th seeds Canada took the lead when Samantha Cornett beat Olivia Blatchford 3/0 but US No.1 Amanda Sobhy extended her unbeaten run in Paris with a 19-minute win over Hollie Naughton.
Amanda’s younger sister Sabrina Sobhy sealed the US win courtesy of an 11-5, 11-6, 6-11, 11-2 victory over Danielle Letourneau.
“You could feel the tension in the room and it was gut check time,” said Paul Assaiante, US Squash Head National Coach. “Olivia found Sam Cornett just too strong and that put Canada up 1/0. Sam used to be Canada’s number one player but after a foot injury her ranking had dropped to where she played No.2.
“Amanda coming off of two brutal days in a row put on a world class display of pace and shot-making against Hollie,” Assaiante continued. “Sabrina just got off the plane due to passport issues and we immediately threw her to the wolves. She started off fast with leads in the first and second, but a close third game was nip and tuck and she started to fade. We weren’t sure what to expect in game four, but the volley drops started flying off the Sobhy racquet and she pulled away to give us the win in the fourth.”
WSF Women’s World Team Squash Championship, Paris, France.
Final qualifying round – Pool A:
 EGYPT bt  MEXICO 3/0
Raneem El Welily bt Nayelly Hernandez 11-9, 11-6, 11-2 (21m)
Nouran Gohar bt Diana Garcia 11-6, 11-6, 11-5 (21m)
Omneya Abdel Kawy bt Dina Anguiano Gomez 11-5, 11-4, 11-8 (13m)
 NEW ZEALAND bt  INDIA 2/1
Megan Craig lost to Dipika Pallikal Karthik 6-11, 7-11, 5-11 (26m)
Joelle King bt Joshna Chinappa 11-5, 11-3, 5-11, 13-11 (45m)
Amanda Landers-Murphy bt Sunayna Kuruvilla 11-9, 11-8, 11-7 (24m)
Final positions: 1 Egypt, 2 New Zealand, 3 India, 4 Mexico
 ENGLAND bt  WALES 2/1
Sarah-Jane Perry bt Hannah Davies 11-1, 11-5, 11-3 (19m)
Alison Waters lost to Tesni Evans 13-15, 9-11, 5-11 (41m)
Victoria Lust bt Nia Davies 11-2, 11-6, 11-6 (17m)
 USA bt  CANADA 2/1
Olivia Blatchford lost to Samantha Cornett 8-11, 7-11, 7-11 (37m)
Amanda Sobhy bt Hollie Naughton 11-2, 11-5, 11-3 (19m)
Sabrina Sobhy bt Danielle Letourneau 11-5, 11-6, 6-11, 11-2 (37m)
Final positions: 1 England, 2 USA, 3 Canada, 4 Wales
 MALAYSIA bt  AUSTRIA 3/0
Delia Arnold bt Sabrina Rehman 11-3, 11-3, 11-8 (21m)
Nicol David bt Sandra Polak 11-3, 11-2, 11-1 (17m)
Rachel Arnold bt Judith van der Merwe 11-7, 11-3, 11-6 (19m)
 AUSTRALIA bt  NETHERLANDS 2/1
Rachael Grinham lost to Milou van der Heijden 7-11, 10-12, 13-11, 12-14
Donna Urquhart bt Natalie Grinham 11-4, 11-6, 11-8 (21m)
Tamika Saxby bt Milja Dorenbos 11-2, 6-11, 11-1, 11-6 (26m)
Final positions: 1 Malaysia, 2 Australia, 3 Netherlands, 4 Austria
 JAPAN bt  GERMANY 2/1
Satomi Watanabe bt Franziska Hennes 11-1, 11-7, 11-5 (20m)
Misaki Kobayashi bt Sina Wall 11-5, 11-5, 11-3 (18m)
Risa Sugimoto lost to Saskia Beinhard 8-11, 11-8, 18-20, 13-15 (44m)
 FRANCE bt  HONG KONG CHINA 2/1
Coline Aumard lost to Joey Chan 4-11, 9-11, 6-11 (37m)
Camille Serme bt Annie Au 11-7, 13-15, 11-9, 11-9 (51m)
Laura Pomportes bt Liu Tsz-Ling 11-6, 15-13, 6-11, 11-7 (48m)
Final positions: 1 France, 2 Hong Kong China, 3 Japan, 4 Spain, 5 Germany
 EGYPT v  USA
 FRANCE v  AUSTRALIA
 MALAYSIA v  HONG KONG CHINA
 ENGLAND v  NEW ZEALAND
9th – 12th place play-offs (round robin):
 INDIA v  NETHERLANDS
 CANADA v  JAPAN
 INDIA v  JAPAN
 CANADA v  NETHERLANDS
 INDIA v  CANADA
 NETHERLANDS v  JAPAN
15th – 17th place play-offs:
 MEXICO v  GERMANY
 WALES v  SPAIN
Pictures courtesy of WSF