Top seed Ryan Cuskelly lets it slip after building a two-game lead
By ALAN THATCHER
South African Steve Coppinger retained his Harrow Open title in Charlottesville after fighting back from match ball down to beat Australia’s top seed Ryan Cuskelly in a 90-minute spectacular.
On an evening of drama at the University of Virginia’s impressive McArthur Squash Centre, the Australian left-hander held match ball at 11-10 and 12-11 in the third game, but the tall South African weathered the storm to win the game 14-12.
Coppinger then squeezed home 11-9 in the fourth and opened up a commanding lead to win the fifth 11-4.
The New York-based Cuskelly, currently enjoying the best form and the highest ranking position of his career, had begun the match in fine form, opening up a 5-1 lead in the first game. Coppinger pulled back from 5-9 to 8-10 but Cuskelly closed it out.
Coppinger had found his rhythm too late in that opening game but maintained his form at the start of the second, building a 4-1 lead before Cuskelly worked his way into the points. The scores were level at 4-4, 6-6 and 8-8 before Coppinger won two points to hold game ball at 10-8. Cuskelly then dug deep to defy Coppinger, who failed to convert four game balls before the Australian won the second game 15-13.
The third produced a similar scoreline with Coppinger creating an early lead and Cuskelly giving it everything to stay in contention. Coppinger advanced confidently to game ball at 10-6 but Cuskelly won five points in a row to move to match ball. This time it was reigning champion Coppinger who produced the gutsy finish to stave off defeat as he took the game 14-12.
The fourth was equally competitive, with both players producing significant runs of points. From 5-4 down, Coppinger strung five points together to lead 9-5 before Cuskelly hit back to draw level. Coppinger regained the ascendancy with two crucial points to win the fourth 11-9.
It was all to play for in the fifth, and Coppinger enjoyed an early ascendancy as he moved to a 5-1 lead. Cuskelly pulled back to 4-5 but was unable to score another point as the South African closed out the match to keep his hands on the Charlottesville trophy.
Coppinger said: “Absolutely delighted to retain the title here and get the season off to a winning start.
“Ryan has also been playing great squash and made it very difficult in the final. Thankfully I had a bit more left in the tank and was able to pull away in the end. Huge thanks to all, especially the crazy South Africans, my family included, who stayed up till the early hours to follow on the live streaming.”
PSA M25 Harrow Charlottesville Open 2016, McArthur Squash Center at Boar’s Head Sports Club, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA:
 Stephen Coppinger (RSA) bt  Ryan Cuskelly (AUS) 3-2: 8-11, 13-15, 14-12, 11-9, 11-4 (90m)
Pictures by Xiaoqi Li