Copp sets the scene for battles at Boars Head
By STEVE COPPINGER – Squash Mad Correspondent and 2015 Harrow Charlottesville Open champion
The 2016 edition of the PSA World Tour started with a bang in East Asia at the Hong Kong and China Opens. But the city of Charlottesville will serve as the backdrop for the first taste of the new season for many of its entrants.
The superb operation of the event, along with the magnificent venue and atmosphere at the McArthur Squash Centre, have once again attracted a field that is oozing with talent. Spectators can expect to enjoy a variety of styles of play from seasoned veterans and young guns alike.
The top seed for this year’s event is last year’s runner-up Ryan Cuskelly. In 2015 he recorded some impressive victories, dispatching then higher-ranked Cameron Pilley and Ali Farag.
It was the beginning of a sensational year for the Australian, who went on to make two World Series Semi Finals and capture his most impressive PSA title to date in the Bluenose Classic. His recent performance at the Hong Kong Open cements his right to be considered the favourite for the tournament.
On the other half of the draw, and seeded to meet Cuskelly in a repeat of last year’s final, is your correspondent and defending champion, Steve Coppinger. I certainly have fond memories of the event and will be looking to draw on them during the tournament.
As it was last year, this will be my first tournament of the season and should the seedings bear out, I will certainly be doing all I can to keep the trophy on the African side of the Antipodes.
First things first though, and that is my match against the lone standard bearer for the USA, Chris Gordon. Gordo also recorded a great win this time last year against much higher ranked Tom Richards and so will be expecting nothing less than to send me packing early on. Speaking of early, be sure to pack your thermos with strong coffee, as we spin the racquet at 10:30am sharp!
The chasing pack is led by the #3 seed Diego Elias. The young Peruvian enjoyed an exceptional junior career, including a World Junior Championship Title in 2014, and he is producing impressive results so far in the major leagues.
He will be looking to get a little more consistency in his form but when he is on point he is a match for absolutely anyone. Diego is set to come up against Cuskelly in the semi finals but he has to negotiate his way through the solid up-and-coming Englishman Nathan Lake.
Presuming he comes through, he will face the winner of Alfredo Avila, himself a winner of a PSA $50k last year, and Wild Card Anthony Graham. Avila is one of the fastest players around so keep your eyes on him if you can; his retrieval is spellbinding.
Fourth-seeded Adrian Waller, in the bottom half, will see his first PSA action since May and the imposing left hander will be keen to get off to a good start.
Having reached a career-high ranking of world #24 early last year, and with a few top 10 scalps to his credit, Waller will be coming out with all guns blazing to make an impact statement in his bid for the title. Waller’s opponent in the first round is his compatriot, newly married and recently relocated to the USA, Eddie Charlton.
Charlton is a crafty player whose deceptive holds have sent many a player heading straight into thin air. The winner of that match will face the victor from the match between #6 Seed Kiwi Campbell Grayson and Englishman Ben Coleman.
An intriguing match looms here, as the younger Englishman is fresh off a victory last month in Pontefract and at his career high ranking of world #50. We may see some white coats from the UVA Department of Physics on hand to study the collision between Coleman’s momentum and the mass of Grayson’s experience.
In a tournament curiously devoid of Egyptian players we have two from Finland in the draw. Henrik Mustonen takes on the top seed in his first match. At age 37, Olli Tuominen holds seniority and will carry the coat of arms for the old guard.
His professional squash career has spanned almost two decades and there are few players that can match his wide-eyed, infectious enthusiasm for the sport. Olli plays Mexico’s Arturo Salzaar in what should be a first round match full of action and passion.
I’m going back to the future for my pick for match of the day for the first round: 2014 champion Alister Walker, the Rasta Rocket, against Qatari sensation Abdulla Al Tamimi, who narrowly missed out on a berth in the finals back in 2013.
Their past performances in Charlottesville have won each some major fans in the stands. So this might also be your best chance to witness some fisticuffs between spectators at a squash facility. Abdulla has been making good on his early promise recently and is highly skillful and speedy around the court. Walker has dropped a bit recently from his career peak of #12 in the world.
But if his game has gone a bit dormant, it certainly is nowhere near extinct. No doubt he will be looking to fire up the volcano again and erupt straight through the draw.
Enjoy a great week of squash at this fantastic venue!
Pictures courtesy of the McArthur Squash Centre