Experience prevails as Khan edges marathon match against Blatchford
By MICHAEL CATLING – Squash Mad Chief Reporter
World number 32 Latisha Khan gained the bragging rights over fellow compatriot Olivia Blatchford in a dramatic five game battle in the first round of qualifying at the Cleveland Classic in Ohio, USA.
In a match which featured three dramatic tie-breaks, Khan overturned a 2-1 deficit to stun her lower ranked opponent and triumph 10-12, 11-9, 11-6, 13-15, 13-11 at the Cleveland Racquet Club.
Khan, 41, suffered a heavy first-round defeat at the Tournament of Champions last week and looked set for another early exit after Blatchford recovered from losing an opening game tie-break to win the second and third games.
But despite amassing match balls in a fourth game tie-break, Blatchford failed to capitalise and Khan (pictured right) duly forced a decider before repeating the feat again in the fifth game to seal a remarkable win over the world number 49.
The American veteran will now meet Annie Au for a place in the main draw, after the world number 13 defeated Egyptian teenager Nouran Ahmed Gohar in straight games.
Gohar rose to a career high 35th in the January world rankings following her victory at the Prague Open last month, but was outclassed by her more experienced opponent as she failed to progress past the qualifying stage of a WSA event for the first time since the Macau Open in October.
“She [Gohar] is only 16 and I can see she is very attacking, eager and never gives up so I had to concentrate on not giving her any chances and not to make any errors,” revealed Au in her post match interview.
In the top half of the draw, former world number one Rachael Grinham cruised past home favourite Samantha Cornett 11-3, 11-7, 11-6 and will now face Egyptian Nour El Tayeb next, who advanced at the expense of Cecelia Cortes in straight games.
Grinham said: “I felt good and was moving well which is the main thing for me these days. I was hitting the ball quite well too and had a plan with a couple of things to focus on which I managed to stick to. I also didn’t make too many mistakes which always helps.”
Elsewhere, former world number four Nour El Sherbini (pictured above) continued her comeback from injury by dropping just eight points en route to thrashing Micaala Seth of Canada in straight games.
The 18-year-old Egyptian was knocked out in the qualifying finals at the Tournament of Champions last week but after reaching the quarter-finals at the Greenwich Open, the world number 16 is optimistic about the state of her game.
“It’s been a while since I’ve had comfortable match like that so it gives me confidence as I have been out for a while,” revealed El Sherbini.
“I haven’t been confident in my shots and mentally thinking they are not very good but today I was thinking positively and played my shots well.”
The 2012 British Open finalist is competing in only her third WSA tournament since May last year and will now meet England’s Emma Beddoes (pictured right) for a place in the main draw, after the world number 25 overcame Aussie Melody Francis 11-7, 11-6, 11-4.
“I’m pleased to get off in three,” admitted Beddoes. “Mel is dangerous in the middle of the court and can either make an error or hit a winner but fortunately today she made more errors.
“It’s good to get going again after Greenwich last week and I haven’t played Sherbini before so although it will be tough, I am looking forward to it.”
Beddoes’ compatriot Sarah Kippax also progressed through to the final round of qualifying after quelling a spirited fightback from world number 47 Sabrina Sobhy to prevail in five games.
The England number four will bid to join fellow Englishwomen Laura Massaro, Alison Waters and Jenny Duncalf in the main draw but will need to overcome Denmark’s Line Hansen, who cruised past Sarah Cardwell 11-5, 11-6, 11-4 in her opening fixture.
Final Qualifying Round Draw:
Rachael Grinham (AUS) v Nour El Tayeb (EGY)
Line Hansen (DEN) v Sarah Kippax (ENG)
Annie Au (HKG) v Latasha Khan (USA)
Nour El Sherbini (EGY) v Emma Beddoes (ENG)
First Qualifying Round Results:
Rachael Grinham (AUS) 3-0 Samantha Cornett (CAN) 11-3, 11-7, 11-6
Nour El Tayeb (EGY) 3-0 Cecelia Cortes (USA) 11-6, 11-2, 11-1
Line Hansen (DEN) 3-0 Sarah Cardwell (AUS) 11-5, 11-6, 11-4
Sarah Kippax (ENG) 3-2 Sabrina Sobhy (USA) 9-11, 12-10, 11-5, 6-11, 11-3
Latasha Khan (USA) 3-2 Olivia Blatchford (USA) 10-12, 11-9, 11-6, 13-15, 13-11
Annie Au (HKG) 3-0 Nouran Ahmed Gohar (EGY) 11-7, 11-9, 11-2
Emma Beddoes (ENG) 3-0 Melody Francis (AUS) 11-7, 11-6, 11-4
Nour El Sherbini (EGY) 3-0 Micaala Seth (CAN) 11-3, 11-4, 11-1
Pictures by Steve Cubbins (SquashSite)