PSA KENT OPEN Qualifying First Round at The Mote Squash Club, Maidstone, Kent
By ALAN THATCHER
Read the Full Kent Open blog on www.squashsite.co.uk
Four fantastic qualifying finals are in prospect in the Kent Open with four places in the main draw on offer to the winners.
Five English players won through to the finals, with two from Pakistan and one from Hong Kong after an opening night of exceptional squash.
In the longest match of the night, Chris Fuller achieved an excellent victory over the higher-ranked Neil Hitchens, triumphing 6-11, 11-5, 11-6, 11-5 in 62 minutes.
Fuller meets the tall Surrey player Phil Nightingale, who overcame gallant Mote member Jonny Powell, who came desperately close to achieving his goal of pinching game in a very close second. Nightingale’s superior fitness told as he squeezed home 11-9, but Powell drew warm applause from a packed gallery for some outstanding winners.
Ben Coleman played superbly to overcome Adil Maqbool 3-1 and he faces another Pakistani, Aqib Hanif, in the qualifying finals. Hanif won a very tight match against Rory Pennell in 54 minutes, with disappointed to hit a succession of tins from winning positions.
Leo Au from Hong Kong was too fast and accurate for Jamie Mathews and eased home in straight games. He is sure to be extended in a contest of contrasting styles by the hard-hitting Robbie Downer, who triumphed against Richard Birks in the match between the two tournament reserves who stepped in after the withdrawals of Wael Farag and James Evans.
Downer blitzed his way through the opening game 11-1 but Birks worked his way back into the matchwith some intelligent squash in the second game. It was a tight battle from then on, but Downer won the third and fourth games by an 11-5 margin to boo his place in the finals.
Yasir Butt of Pakistan followed his weekend triumph in Lahore by beating Richard’s brother Andrew Birks, responding strongly after losing the opening game. Birks plays a game with deft touch and superb use of the lob, but ultimately Butt’s drops were tighter and his shot placement was more accurate. However, the Birks brothers look sure to make in impact on this game with their measured style of play.
Butt’s opponent in the qualifying finals will be Alex Ingham, who overcame the Kent county captain Neil Baker in straight games, but the improving Baker worked hard to keep his opponent on court for 34 minutes.
Ben Coleman (Eng) beat Adil Maqbool (Pak) 11-7, 11-6, 11-5 (32 mins)
Aqib Hanif (Pak) beat Rory Pennell 11-8, 9-11, 11-3, 11-9 (54 mins)
Leo Au (HKG) beat Jamie Mathews (Eng) 11-5, 11-3, 11-5 (23 mins)
Robert Downer (Eng) beat Richard Birks (Eng) 11-1, 8-11, 11-5, 11-5 (45 mins)
Phil Nightingale (Eng) beat Jonny Powell (Eng) 11-4, 11-9, 11-3 (20 mins)
Chris Fuller (Eng) beat Neil Hitchens (Eng) 6-11, 11-5, 11-6, 11-5 (62 mins)
Yasir Butt (Pak) beat Andrew Birks (Eng) 7-11, 11-6, 11-9, 11-8 (49 mins)
Alex Ingham (Eng) beat Neil Baker (Eng) 11-5, 11-6, 11-2 (34 mins)
Qualifying finals (Wednesday)
All on Court 1:
5pm: Ben Coleman v Aqib Hanif
6pm: Leo Au v Robbie Downer
7pm: Chris Fuller v Phil Nightingale
8pm: Yasir Butt v Alex Ingham
TUESDAY MORNING: Drama last night as Egyptian Wael Farag pulled out of the tournament because of a knee injury.
By a twist of fate, Richard meets fellow replacement Robbie Downer, who came in yesterday to replace the host club’s British Under-15 champion James Evans, who injured his ankle at the weekend.