Monday, October 2, 2023

Quality squash on show as Curtis Malik and Satomi Watanabe win Kent Open titles

Curtis sets sights on a ranking rise in 2022 after claiming third PSA title in Tunbridge Wells
By ALAN THATCHER – Squash Mad Editor

Curtis Malik has set his sights on rising up the rankings in 2022 after claiming his third PSA Challenger Tour title in recent months at the Colin Payne Kent Open, sponsored by 501 Entertainment, at Tunbridge Wells Squash Club.

Malik stuck to his game plan to beat Yorkshire’s James Peach 3-1 in a highly entertaining final full of attacking squash allied to a high quality technical and tactical approach from both players.

The match time of 41 minutes was the same as his first round battle with wild card Noah Meredith, who put on an impressive display in front of a packed and raucous home gallery.

Malik was happy to get off court safely with a win after four close games, but followed that with a straight-games win over the artistic Aaron Allpress, who was intent on beating his own personal Mizuki record during an enjoyable contest.

In the semi-finals Curtis came up against Welsh international Owain Taylor, who had beaten younger brother Perry Malik in the quarters. With those two having battled for 96 minutes in Lockerbie the week before, with Taylor winning 18-16 in the fifth, the fact that he managed to get through in straight games showed that he had stepped up a gear.

Curtis produced an immaculate display of disciplined squash to reach the final by nullifying an opponent who admittedly was feeling physically below-par on the day.

James Peach had reached the final after beating young Spaniard Alvaro Martin then saving a match ball against Kent’s No.2 seed Josh Masters before beating 17-year-old Finnlay Withington in the semis.

Curtis was pleased with his performances throughout the week and said: “Overall it was a really positive week for me, winning my third PSA Title and second this month. I’m happy with the quality of squash I produced throughout the week.

“The first round encounter was a tough one against Noah, who was playing extremely well, but I managed to find a way to win after a shaky start. The quarter final against Aaron was another enjoyable match which set me up nicely for the semis against Owain.

“In that match, a lot of the training I had been doing came through nicely into the match, so I was pleased to get off in three games.

“Then, the final went even better than I expected. I had a clear game plan in mind and made sure I stuck to it as much as possible, which ended up being enough to seal the win 3-1. James is extremely skilful with the racket so I had to make sure I didn’t give him the angles but to also be positive going in short myself.

“Being back competing since lockdown has been tough but rewarding. It was a rough start back but I eventually found the form I was looking for at the back end of this year.

“This should move me up safely in the top 100 next year and I then hope to reach the World Series events as soon as possible after that.

“I want to be competing against those top 50 guys regularly and continue moving on up the rankings to play those Egyptians!”

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Finals day reports from Tunbridge Wells

Curtis Malik and Satomi Watanabe triumphed in the Colin Payne Kent Open, sponsored by 501 Entertainment, after two entertaining finals at Tunbridge Wells Squash Club.

Malik kept the family flag flying high by beating Yorkshire’s James Peach after his sister Torrie lost in the women’s final to Watanabe.

Top seed Torrie mounted a battling comeback after losing the first two games.

Watanabe, 22, began in positive fashion, driving the ball with pace and precision to take advantage of a nervous start by the 17-year-old Sussex player.

She won the opening two games by an 11-7 scoreline as Malik struggled to get the ball past her into the back corners.

Malik responded aggressively in the third, finding her targets and dictating the play for large parts of the game to win 11-8.

Her accuracy slipped a little in the fourth game as Roehampton University student Watanabe regained control with her solid driving forcing errors from her opponent.

However, from 9-5 down Malik won three points in a row as the packed gallery roared their encouragement.

There were some intense, physical rallies but it was Watanabe who moved to match ball at 10-8. Malik clawed back another point but the stylish Japanese player unleashed a squeal of delight as she clinched victory and the title.

In the men’s final, family honour was restored as Curtis Malik outplayed James Peach to win in straight games.

Malik is playing with immense confidence after a recent run of outstanding form has taken him to five finals since August and this was his third triumph.

He moves the ball around court intelligently, has an impressive flat forehand kill, and is never afraid of crashing the ball into either nick whenever the opportunity arises.

Peach is a meticulous, methodical player with superb touch at the front of the court but Malik managed to keep the ball out of the danger zones for most of the match.

In the first game, Malik powered into a 7-3 lead and was clearly in a zone of confidence created by several months of outstanding form culminating in five finals.

After an even start to the second game, he made the decisive move from 4-4 to 8-4 and saw out the game to lead by two games to love.

Peach responded in the third and produced spells of outstanding quality as the score seesawed throughout. He led 6-2 only for Malik to draw level, and from then on Peach managed to keep his nose in front to squeeze home 11-9.

Malik recovered his focus, length and control to dominate the fourth game. Peach was still doing some incredible retrieving but he clipped the tin a few times and hit the ball out once as Malik stepped up the pressure to win 11-4.

The finalists were joined on court for the presentations by former Tunbridge Wells captain Colin Payne’s father Malcolm and daughters Alice and Charlotte.

2021 Colin Payne Kent Open, sponsored by 501 Entertainment, at Tunbridge Wells Squash Club, Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England.

Women’s Final:
(4) Satomi Watanabe (JAP) beat (1) Torrie Malik (ENG) 11-7, 11-7, 8-11, 11-9 (31m)

Men’s Final:
(1) Curtis Malik (ENG) beat (7) James Peach (ENG) 11-7, 11-6, 9-11, 11-4 (41m)

Pictures courtesy of Camron Malik and Noah Meredith


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