Roehampton edge past Hallamshire on night of drama
By ALAN THATCHER – Squash Mad Editor
It was a great pleasure to watch Nick Matthew roll back the years as his Hallamshire side visited London to take on Roehampton in the quarter-finals of the England Squash Nationals Clubs Knockout competition.
After a slow start, at number one string against Roehampton’s Adrian Waller, he turned the tables and we were treated to a show of immense court control and flashes of attacking genius.
His movement across the middle of the court may not be as sharp as it was at the peak of his fitness, but this 38-year-old still possesses the aura of a great champion.
Looking slim, toned and tanned after a recent trip to South Africa, he was on court first against Waller and later claimed he was feeling a bit stiff after a three-hour coach ride from Sheffield along with a 20-strong group of supporters, including Australian international Donna Lobban.
Waller worked the ball around the court intelligently and, with Matthew initially struggling to find his customary length, the tall Londoner chopped the ball in short with successful results.
Matthew stepped up the pace and began to control the rhythm of the contest in the second game and Waller appeared surprised by the sudden change.
The third was a brutal episode as both players fought to impose their own momentum on proceedings and Waller made two crucial mistakes with a couple of tinned shots to allow Matthew to take it 11-9.
Matthew was clearly enjoying the occasion, proving to himself that he could still compete in a hard, physical environment, and took time out to offer some friendly advice to the home marker after a couple of decisions went against him.
As this battle unfolded, there were raucous cries echoing around the Roehampton squash annexe as Ben Coates and Alex Cutts fought out their own gladiatorial contest on the adjacent court.
The ascendancy swung one way then the other before Cutts produced a storming finish to win it 14-12 in the fifth.
With Matthew having clinched the fourth game 11-7 against Waller, Hallamshire had clearly laid the foundations for victory.
Nick Wall took to the court hoping to clinch it for the Yorkshire club, but he met an in-form Ollie Pett who stroked the ball around with beguiling skill and accuracy.
Now a student at Roehampton University, studying psychology and counselling, Pett showed what a loss he is to the professional game with a display of controlled genius that left Wall grasping for solutions.
Vini Rodrigues and Harry Falconer had already taken to the court to begin the third string battle, which would ultimately prove to be the decisive encounter.
After Pett’s artistic denouement, the supporters somehow squeezed into the narrow space behind Court Two.
Two tall and athletic performers, one aged 20 and the other 32, gave it everything. As Falconer edged home 11-9 in the third, the experienced Brazilian Rodrigues knew he needed to win the next two games.
Seemingly unfazed by the pressure, he attacked with style and precision. Slotting volley kills off the serve, and floating crosscourt drops into the nick with zen-like consistency, he took the fourth and set up an all-or-nothing fifth game decider.
The 6ft 4in Falconer (I swear he’s grown a couple of inches since the Kent Open in January) played intelligently and fought hard for every point. But there was nothing he could do about some of the winners flowing from the racket of Rodrigues. The Brazilian slotted a couple of stunning straight kills and at other times it seemed as though his brain was enjoying its own in-house WiFi network tuned in to the left-hand nick.
It was a thrilling battle, worthy of any grand stage in the pantheons of squash, but here we were treated to an occasion that encompassed the very essence of the game: two guys slugging away on a back court and giving it everything they had for their clubs and their team-mates as well as themselves.
Ultimately, Rodrigues triumphed 14-12 in the fifth to give Roehampton victory by a single game. So Waller’s early loss was not in vain. That solitary game against Matthew proved one of the decisive factors on a great evening of squash.
Both teams and sets of fans joined each other for the post-match meal and Roehampton Rackets Manager Paul Lindsay spoke warmly of his admiration for the visiting Hallamshire team and their army of supporters.
Here were two great clubs, with wonderful facilities, superb players, and professional, visionary staff who understand what it means to engage with their neighbouring communities.
Roehampton’s Rackets Cubed project, and Nick Matthew’s steadily-growing academy, are shining examples of how squash needs to perform to thrive in a leisure industry market-place where kids prefer their phones or Xboxes to working up a sweat with some actual exercise.
There was plenty of sweat left on the Roehampton courts on Tuesday night. Most of it was of real vintage quality.
England Squash National Club Knockout.
Quarter-Finals, Roehampton v Hallamshire:
Adrian Waller lost to Nick Matthew (1-3) 11-6, 6-11, 9-11, 7-11
Ollie Pett beat Nick Wall (3-0) 11-6, 11-3, 11-5
Vini Rodrigues beat Harry Falconer (3-2) 11-8, 5-11, 9-11, 11-7, 11-3
Ben Coates lost to Alex Cutts (2-3) 11-4, 9-11, 12-10, 8-11, 12-14
Roehampton beat Hallamshire (2 matches all, 9 games to 8 on countback).
Picture courtesy of Paul Lindsay and Patrick Brandl (Roehampton Squash)