Sunday, October 1, 2023

James Willstrop needs to summon up another mighty performance to get past Joel Makin

Defending men’s champion reveals that he was inspired by watching Lucy Turmel’s incredible effort against Joelle King
By ALAN THATCHER (Squash Mad Editor)

Four British players are left in the Commonwealth Games singles competitions, and two of them are guaranteed to be finalists after today’s semi-finals. Reigning champion James Willstrop will need to summon up another mighty performance to beat No.2 seed Joel Makin, while women’s No.2 seed Sarah-Jane Perry faces a fascinating duel with team-mate Georgina Kennedy, who has been in ruthless form all week in Birmingham.

In the other semi-finals, New Zealand’s top seeds Paul Coll and Joelle King start as clear favourites against India’s Saurav Ghosal and Canada’s Hollie Naughton.

Yesterday we were treated to two epic contests. Firstly, King took 85 minutes to see off the brave challenge of England’s Lucy Turmel, and later in the day Willstrop admitted that Turmel’s performance had inspired him to dig deep to come from behind to stop another giant-killing from Scotland’s Rory Stewart.

Both of these encounters provided the very best advertisement for squash, with gladiatoral combat embellished by the highest levels of skill and commitment.

​Play began with one of the most entertaining and absorbing women’s matches in history as defending champion King was put through the ringer by English 5/8 seed Turmel.

The tenacious 22-year-old Turmel began confidently and took advantage of some loose, nervous shots from King to win it 11-9.

King suddenly transformed herself into producing machine-like consistency to build a 10-2 lead in the second.

Then something extraordinary happened.

Turmel simply refused to be beaten, and began clawing her way back into the game, point by point. Incredibly, she drew level at 10-10 but the drama continued throughout a lengthy tiebreak until King converted her 11th game ball to take the 29-minute game 18-16.

In a stop-start third game, King was able to get her nose in front with a tight 11-9 win and then looked well set to take the match when she had two match balls at 10-8 in the fourth.

Once again, Turmel battled doggedly and was able to save both match balls and force another tiebreak, before King finally made the decisive breakthrough to win it 14-12.

With Kennedy displaying such masterful control against Rachel Arnold later on in then day, England can look forward to a successful future with Turmel and Kennedy hopefully inspiring a new generation of female squash players, much the same as football’s Lionesses did on Sunday afternoon.

Afterwards, King said: “Lucy played an unbelievable match – all credit has to go to her. She came here on a big occasion, came from an upstairs (traditional) court and gave everything. I was thinking it was going to be a long walk back to camp if I lose and just had to find a way to win and I’m happy to be in the semis.”

King’s opponent today will be 5/8 seed Hollie Naughton, after the 27-year-old upset India’s 3/4 seed Joshna Chinappa to become the first ever Canadian woman to reach the Commonwealth Games semi-finals.

Naughton, who was born in Barnsley, Yorkshire, was roared on by the crowd as she took a fast-paced opening game, fighting back from 6-2 down to win 11-9.

The Canadian seemed to draw confidence from this as Chinappa wilted. From 6-5 up in game two, Naughton then accelerated away and took a commanding 2-0 lead with an 11-5 win.

The decisive final game was a much more even affair, with neither player able to pull clear. Chinappa had opportunities to find a foothold in the match with game balls at 10-9, 11-10, 12-11, and 13-12, but was frustrated each time by Naughton, who finally put the match to bed to make history with a 15-13 win.

Afterwards, Naughton said: “It’s unbelievable, a dream come true really. I knew I had to keep the nerves at bay. Playing in front of an atmosphere like this is something you don’t do too often! Thanks everyone for coming out.”

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Defending men’s singles champion James Willstrop rolled back the years to overcome Scotland’s Rory Stewart in a thrilling contest between two 6ft 4in giants of the court. 

The 38-year-old Willstrop watched world No.65 Stewart send team-mate Patrick Rooney out the previous day, and looked composed as he took the first game 11-5.

Stewart, however, came back hard and played aggressive, intelligent squash with plenty of hugely skilful winners that must have earned some grudging acknowledgement from his vastly experienced opponent, a former world No.1.

Three times, Stewart was sent lunging into the back left corner only to respond each time with a phenomenal boast that hit the front right nick!

Stewart enjoyed a long spell of dominance to win the second and third games 11-9 and 11-7 wins, but Willstrop responded with his customary precision to win the fourth 11-6.

Stewart then gained a second wind and powered into a 7-3 lead in the fifth game, and a tired-looking Willstrop was in trouble.

However, he dug deep one more time to suddenly turn the match around. It was a brutal battle, played in a temperature of 31 degrees, and Willstrop had frequently irritated Stewart by stopping to wipe sweat patches off the floor with the soles of his shoes.

But that squeak of rubber was replaced by a huge roar from the crowd as Willstrop won the match with a trademark soft volley drop into the front left corner to reach a fourth successive Commonwealth Games semi-final with an 11-8 victory.

More success came England’s way in the women’s draw after No.2 seed Sarah-Jane Perry recorded a 12th consecutive victory over Welsh 5/8 seed Emily Whitlock and 3/4 seed Georgina Kennedy brutally dispatched Malaysia’s 9/16 Rachel Arnold.

Kennedy’s 16-minute victory was the quickest match of the day by some margin. Kennedy simply smothered the Malaysian with relentless harrying and and high-speed attacking squash to reach her first Commonwealth Games semi-final.

Even Kennedy herself seemed somewhat surprised by the quality of her performance, with the 26-year-old saying afterwards: “I don’t know what came over me. I’ve been training a couple of years for this event and that’s the best squash I’ve played this season. All day I’ve had a lot of energy and it all came together.

The other home player involved, Adrian Waller, lost out 3-0 to New Zealand’s top seed Paul Coll, with Coll speeding away after a tight 12-10 win in the first game.

India’s 3/4 seed Saurav Ghosal beat Scottish 5/8 seed Greg Lobban 3-1 in a match defined by rapid rallies, while Joel Makin ended the day’s play with a 3-1 win over Malaysian 5/8 seed Eain Yow Ng in a match interrupted for 15 minutes by an injury to the Malaysian’s eye.

No official match time was provided for Makin’s win, but it finished around 11pm with the whole day’s programme broadcast on the BBC iPlayer.

Today’s semi-final programme begins at 4pm. Keep up to date with Squash Mad’s Live Blog.

Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, University of Birmingham, England.

Men’s Quarter-Finals:
[1] Paul Coll (NZL) bt [5/8] Adrian Waller (ENG) 3-0: 12-10, 11-4, 11-7 (47m)
[3/4] Saurav Ghosal (IND) bt [5/8] Greg Lobban (SCO) 3-1: 11-5, 8-11, 11-7, 11-3 (59m)
[5/8] James Willstrop (ENG) bt [9/16] Rory Stewart (SCO) 11-5, 9-11, 7-11, 11-6, 11-8 (72m)
[2] Joel Makin (WAL) bt [5/8] Eain Yow Ng (MAS) 3-1: 11-4, 9-11, 11-3, 11-9

Women’s Quarter-Finals:
[1] Joelle King (MZL) bt [5/8] Lucy Turmel (ENG) 3-1: 9-11, 18-16, 11-9, 14-12 (85m)
[5/8] Hollie Naughton (CAN) bt [3/4] Joshna Chinappa (IND) 3-0: 11-9 11-5 15-13 (33m)
[3/4] Georgina Kennedy (ENG) bt [9/16] Rachel Arnold (MAS) 3-0: 11-4, 11-2, 11-1 (17m)
[2] Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) bt [5/8] Emily Whitlock (WAL) 3-0: 11-6, 11-6, 11-6 (29m)

Men’s Semi-Finals:
[1] Paul Coll (NZL) v [3/4] Saurav Ghosal (IND)
[2] Joel Makin (WAL) v [5/8] James Willstrop (ENG)

Women’s Semi-Finals:
[1] Joelle King (NZL) v [5/8] Hollie Naughton (CAN)
[2] Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) v [3/4] Georgina Kennedy (ENG)

Pictures courtesy of World Squash Federation


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