Scottish qualifier joins a top-quality main draw in Inverness
By MICHAEL GREGSON – Squash Mad Highlands Reporter
As Qualifying concludes in the £15k Be Personnel Loch Ness Challenger, the intensity and drama are building by the minute. Scots players are vying with international talents for the generous prize fund, and crowds and media interest are unmatched up here.
Top Scots Alan Clyne and Greg Lobban, both local boys, will be eager to do well as their Commonwealth Games challenge approaches, and after a successful season in which they led the Scots team to fourth place in the European Team Championships. But several others will be keen to have a say in the final destiny of the trophies.
Four players made it through a tough qualifying competition today – Lewis Walters, Youssef Abdalla and Mike Harris (England) and Scotland’s own Kevin Moran.
Patriotic crowds were especially pleased to see Paisley’s Moran battle to a lung-bursting win in Inverness this evening. As one of the key members of the Scots Commonwealth Games team, his was a morale-boosting victory indeed.
Club Squash Coach and Manager Malcolm MacKay said, “We are delighted to be hosting this event, which is a real marker of how successful the Inverness club has become.
“The organisers and sponsors have really put the Be Personnel Loch Ness Challenger on the world squash map, and we’re looking forward to the main event starting on Thursday.”
Overall, Harris was the more clinical player, showing greater creativity and initiative, taking the match in four.
Mike Harris said later: “I was happy to push through to win 3-1 – Joel was very solid and I had to play well to close out the tight fourth.”
Kevin Moran (Sco) beat Chris Fuller (Eng) 11-9, 11-6, 13-11 (60 minutes)
The second match of the night saw Scotland’s Kevin Moran win a high-tempo match with some incredible retrieving, resulting in a 3-0 win in a close, competitive match.
Some controversial decisions upset the Englishman’s momentum when 9-5 up in the 3rd, and Moran’s ability to maintain tight play and pace saw him home. This win confirms 3 of Scotland’s Commonwealth Games team (Clyne, Lobban and Moran) in the Main draw for Thursday.
Youssef Abdalla (Eng) beat Robert Downer (Eng) 11-6,
5-11, 11-4, 11-7 (35 minutes)
Match of the day. Downer’s stubborn and skilled play proved unequal to the flair and unpredictability of Abdalla, who used cross-court and a range of incredible crowd-pleasing shots to great advantage, and forced occasional looseness and poor shot selection from his opponent.
In the event both players were feeling the effects of their previous difficult matches, and the combination of two powerful and very individual players made this match a real treat for a big crowd.
Youssef commented: “I really had to rely on my shot-making, as Robert’s punishing play, his pace, and ability to play the unexpected shot placed great demands on my fitness after yesterday’s hard match with Jan van den Herrewegen.”
Downer paid tribute to his opponent: “Not meant to be for me tonight – credit to Youssef who, like me, had a hard match yesterday but saw it through today in 4. I really wanted to go to a 5th, but it wasnt to be.”
Lewis Walters (Eng) beat Reuben Phillips (Eng) 11-6, 5-11, 11-7, 11-9 (58 minutes)
The last match of the evening was a tough battle, lasting just under an hour. Both players showed a combination of power and finesse, with Walters coming out on top in four. In the end Walters’ ability to conclude rallies took its toll on his opponent, who struggled to gain the initiative as the third and fourth games wore on.
Pictures by MICHAEL GREGSON, ALLAN McKAY and LOUIS JONES