Crucial time for international players to hit peak form ahead of Birmingham
By NICK MATTHEW
I am really excited by the prospect of some high-quality squash at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham this summer.
In the past few weeks we have been treated to a flurry of tournaments on home soil as numerous players have taken advantage of the opportunities to impress the selectors – and improve their world rankings.
The Canary Wharf Classic in London was soon followed by the British Open in Hull, the World Doubles in Glasgow and the Manchester Open, providing a real treat for squash fans.
And, ahead of the Tournament of Champions in New York, England’s men and women’s teams achieved a double triumph at the European Team Championships in Eindhoven.
New Zealand’s Paul Coll is certain to be the top seed in the men’s singles at the Commonwealth Games. He celebrated his elevation to the top of the men’s world rankings by winning the Windy City Open in Chicago but then crashed out at the first hurdle at Canary Wharf, losing to France’s Victor Crouin, who is winding down his time at Harvard.
Coll quickly bounced back to win the British Open and did so in fine style. In the third round I watched him against another Frenchman, Gregoire Marche, and wondered if he might still have been suffering from some sort of hangover from Canary Wharf.
However, he clearly improved round by round and then beat Diego Elias, Mostafa Asal and Ali Farag to win the title without dropping a game. That takes some doing, believe me.
Paul has now elevated himself to a very elite group of players at the top of the game. Even the most successful of players, even Jahangir Khan, found it difficult to go through an entire tournament without dropping a game and to do so is a very rare achievement.
Paul now looks forward to the forthcoming World Championship in Cairo (from May 13-22) and will be approaching the event with supreme confidence after winning December’s Black Ball Open on Egyptian soil.
The Egyptians, of course, would love to see a home winner but Coll has now beaten Farag in three consecutive finals. He is clearly the man to beat, and his performances in the British Open were absolutely spellbinding, weaving everyone into his web.
He is clearly doing something special with coach Robert Owen in the Midlands and he will be going into the Commonwealth Games in familiar territory.
So, too, will Midlands-based Joel Makin and Sarah-Jane Perry, who will be gunning for gold for Wales and England.
It was good to see Joel win the Manchester Open in such fine style against his training partner Mohamed ElShorbagy, a richly deserved triumph that has been a long time coming.
Joel’s game is still evolving and he still has many years ahead of him to climb higher in the rankings. Manchester was a big breakthrough win and to climb from his new career-best position of seven towards the top four he will need to reach the semi-finals or better in every tournament.
I like the fact that he has kept steadfastly to his path, and he clearly has a hunger to do well. He doesn’t let any negative results sway him from his path and his attitude reminds me of what my dad used to say to me: “Don’t get too high after victories and don’t allow yourself to get too low after any losses.”
Right now a lot of players are putting in some excellent performances in individual tournaments, like Fares Dessouky winning his first Canary Wharf title, but consistency is the key and hopefully that win against Mohamed will give Joel the belief to keep pushing forward.
Patrick Rooney has been in good form recently and had an excellent run in Manchester, beating Marwan ElShorbagy and Raphael Kandra before losing a tough battle against Joel in the semi-finals.
But Patrick then lost to Scotland’s renowned battler Alan Clyne in the quarter-finals of the Irish Open in Dublin.
Alan and all the Scottish players love pulling on their national jerseys and they were rewarded with three medals in the recent World Doubles Championship in Glasgow, followed by a third-place finish in the men’s event during the European Team Championships in Eindhoven.
We may well have seen a sneak preview of the Commonwealth Games women’s final when Sarah-Jane Perry met Joelle King in the Manchester final.
These two will certainly be the top two seeds in Birmingham and Joelle managed to overcome some injury niggles to beat Sarah in three tight games at the National Sports Centre.
However, Sarah would love nothing more than to strike gold in her home region and she will now be doing everything she can to make sure she is in peak condition for the Games.
It will be interesting to see how the rapidly-improving Gina Kennedy performs and it’s good to see Wales’ Tesni Evans coming back into form, reaching the semi-finals in Manchester.
Both England teams won their respective finals in the European Teams, the men beating France and the women overcoming Wales, led by Tesni and Emily Whitlock.
I will wind up by saying that the North West Counties League, the world’s biggest squash league, deserve a lot of credit for holding their team play-offs on the glass court during the finals weekend in Manchester.
It was great to see Grove Park squeezing past Liverpool Cricket Club to win the title, giving the weekend a real festival feel to it.
That’s exactly the atmosphere generated by the Commonwealth Games and, once again, it is certain to be like a family reunion for much of the global squash community.
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Stay tuned to Squash Mad for further Commonwealth Games Countdown Columns from Nick Matthew