Saturday, May 18, 2024

PSL: Nicol leads Surrey Health to another crown

Peter Barker in action

Surrey Health & Racquets Retain PSL Crown

In the first all-Surrey final in the history of the world’s most prestigious squash league, defending champions Surrey Health & Racquets overwhelmed final newcomers TWP St George’s Hill 4/1 to win the Premier Squash League title at the Surrey Sports Park in Guildford for the third time in four years.

The county rivals faced each other twice earlier in the season, with Weybridge-based St George’s Hill claiming victory on both occasions before going on to top the Group B table by a significant margin after winning all but one of their ten ties.

With ample support for both teams, the Croydon club’s French star Camille Serme took on St George’s England international Dominique Lloyd-Walter at the beginning of the evening – while in the adjacent court England legendPeter Nicol, the now-retired 38-year-old former world number one and world champion, faced top-ranked HungarianMark Krajcsak.

Serme, the world No9 from Paris, took only 38 minutes to overcome her Weybridge-based opponent – ranked 35 places lower – 11-3, 9-11, 11-6, 11-5 to put Surrey Health into the lead

But all eyes were on the titanic battle raging on the next door court, where – in their first ever meeting – Krajcsak was desperately trying to even the score against Surrey Health stalwart Nicol.

After dropping the first game, the 27-year-old Tour regular from Budapest moved to 10-7 and game-ball in the second.  But Nicol would not cave in – and saved four game-balls before finally clinching his own at his fourth attempt to win 16-14.

Nicol led 6-1 in the third, and the end looked in sight.  But Krajcsak kept up the pressure to reclaim the advantage before a full length dive into the front backhand corner caused a minor cut to the Hungarian’s elbow which required the game to be halted while he received treatment.

The break seemed to be just what Nicol needed, as the left-hander saved Krajcsak’s matchball at 11-10.  But the St George’s fourth string secured his next to win the games and reduce the match deficit.

It was nip and tuck in the fourth game, but Nicol was able to pull off master strokes at exactly the right time before clinching the popular 11-7, 16-14, 11-13, 11-7 victory after 75 minutes which extended Surrey Health’s lead to 2/0.

“He’s very experienced – he can come back from situations which most other players wouldn’t be able to,” said the perplexed Hungarian afterwards of Nicol.  “He’s a great fighter – he never gives up.”

It was Krajcsak’s first ever meeting with one the game’s biggest names.  Was he overawed by the occasion?

“I may have been a bit affected by his reputation early in the match – I made five or six unforced errors – but from then on it was just like playing any other opponent,” said the world No54.

Nicol admitted that his form was good:  “I’m in better shape now than I have been for the last three years or so – I probably only play about once a week, but I do a lot of other things to keep fit, including a lot of walking.

“It’s hard for these guys who play day in day out – then I come along having not played for a week.  I’m their worst nightmare!

“But I love playing team squash – whether it’s for your country or your club. And Surrey Health is particularly special for me – I do camps there and am quite involved with the club,” explained the four-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist.

“Mark is a tough opponent and played a good game.  But maybe he could have been more attacking – he was towards the end, but that was probably too late.”

It was a battle between two England internationals which sealed victory for the defending champions when Londoner Adrian Grant, who made his England debut in 2004, beat this year’s England debutant Tom Richards 11-7, 11-8, 11-9.

Grant is making a comeback after a long layoff following a hip injury.

“It’s my first season for Surrey Health, and I was struggling with my injury in my games early in the season, so it’s really a good feeling to win for the club tonight – particularly as it was the match which clinched the title,” said the 30-year-old former world No9.

Swiss star Nicolas Mueller gave the St George’s fans some consolation by beating Surrey Health’s Scottish number one Alan Clyne in straight games – but in the best-of-three top string clash between England internationals and close Essex friends Peter Barker and Daryl Selby, left-hander Barker beat reigning British National champion Selby in two games to cement Surrey Health’s title-winning victory.

“I’m really chuffed – and I’m very proud of the team,” said the Croydon club’s team manager Pete Smith.  “To defend the title is very special.

“We struggled a bit in the season – and they beat us twice, so it’s good to get them back.  But the turning point for us was beating Exeter 4/1 at home at the beginning of March.

“Our man of the match was probably Peter Nicol,” Smith continued.  “For him to play the way he did was magnificent.  We really needed that win – it gave us a cushion.

“But our team overall was fantastic tonight – to win the title three times in four years is incredible.  It’s been a real squad effort.”

St George’s Hill team manager Danny Lee was full of praise for the new PSL champions.  “Congratulations to Surrey Health – they thoroughly deserved their win.  I thought Peter Nicol was amazing.  His shot selection tonight was superb.

“But overall I am delighted with what we achieved this season – even though it’ a bit of an anticlimax to finish like this tonight.

“But we’ll definitely be back next year,” added the former junior England international.

Surrey Health & Racquets now become one of four clubs which have won the PSL title three times – includingDuffield, from Derbyshire; Leekes Welsh Wizards from Cardiff; and Cannons of London.

But the Croydon club will now sets their sights on next year when they could make history by becoming the first to four.

RESULTS:            Premier Squash League Final, Surrey Sports Park, Guildford

Surrey Health & Racquets 4  TWP St George’s Hill 1

Peter Barker bt Daryl Selby 11-5, 13-11 (13m)

Adrian Grant bt Tom Richards 11-7, 11-8, 11-9 (53m)

Alan Clyne lost to Nicolas Mueller 8-11, 8-11, 9-11 (46m)

Peter Nicol bt Mark Krajcsak 11-7, 16-14, 11-13, 11-7 (75m)

Camille Serme bt Dominique Lloyd-Walter 11-3, 9-11, 11-6, 11-5 (38m)

For all the latest news, visit the official website


England Team-Mates Clash In All-Surrey PSL Final

After leading England to European Team Championships success at the weekend in Finland, Peter Barker andDaryl Selby will go head-to-head in tomorrow’s (Tuesday) Premier Squash League final when defending champions Surrey Health & Racquets face final newcomers TWP St George’s Hill in the first all-Surrey final of the world’s most prestigious squash league.

The climax of the 27th PSL season will take place at the Surrey Sports Park in Guildford, starting at 7.00pm

Peter Barker, the world No7 from London, will be celebrating his fifth appearance in a PSL final since 2004 – and played his part in Surrey Health & Racquets’ title successes both in 2008 and 2010.

The 27-year-old left-hander boasts a 10/5 career head-to-head record over Selby, the TWP St George’s Hill top string who will be hoping to lead the Weybridge club to their maiden PSL title success in the first appearance in the final.

But Brentwood-based Selby, the recently-crowned British National champion who is ranked 12 in the world, beat Barker in their most recent clash – in the 2010 National Championships over a year ago.  Selby, 28, is making a long-awaited return to the PSL final after last appearing in the 2000 event, where his team Connaught finished as runners-up.

The second string clash will also see two England internationals line up on opposite sides of the court.  Adrian Grant, the world No18 who is also making his fifth appearance in a PSL final, will face St George’s Hill’s recent England cap Tom Richards, a Guildford-born 24-year-old who this month celebrates a career-high world No25 ranking.

The experienced 30-year-old Grant boasts a 5/0 record over Richards – but the pair will be meeting for the first time since September 2009.

The Croydon club’s No3 Alan Clyne also saw PSL success with Surrey Health & Racquets in the 2010 final.  The Scottish number one faces top-ranked Swiss opponent Nicolas Mueller in the pair’s first meeting since May 2009.

World squash legend Peter Nicol will be Surrey Health’s fourth string candidate.  England’s former world number one and world champion is unbeaten this season in the PSL – but so is his St George’s Hill opponent Mark Krajcsak, the Hungarian number one who boasts seven wins out of seven for the Weybridge club.

Nicol and Krajcsak will be meeting for the first time in Guildford – in what is sure to be a treat for the Surrey Sports Park crowd.

The top player in France will be Surrey Health’s representative in the women’s match:  Camille Serme, ranked nine in the world, takes on Dominique Lloyd-Walter, the world No44 from Guildford who helped England reclaim the women’s European title at the weekend.

Serme, 22, from Paris, boasts a 3/2 record over her St George’s Hill opponent – but the pair’s last meeting was a PSL clash in October 2009 which went to five games.

The 2011 PSL final is expected to be one of the closest contests in the history of the event.  But final newcomers TWP St George’s Hill will be hoping to repeat their run earlier in the season in Group B, where they twice beat their county rivals.

Surrey Health & Racquets v TWP St George’s Hill

Peter Barker v Daryl Selby

Adrian Grant v Tom Richards

Alan Clyne v Nicolas Mueller

Peter Nicol v Mark Krajcsak

Camille Serme v Dominique Lloyd-Walter

For all the latest news, visit the official website


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