Saturday, April 1, 2023

Title return! Paul Coll bags third Canary Wharf Classic squash title

LONDON — A tournament which had a subplot of three players vying for the World No.1 spot instead saw Paul Coll bag a hat-trick of Canary Wharf Classic titles with a clinical, come-from-behind display over Joel Makin.

While Makin had beaten six players ranked higher during a stellar few weeks on tour, Coll hadn’t lifted a title since last year’s British Open success. He will now aim for a hat-trick in Birmingham too following his 7-11, 11-6, 11-4, 11-4 win over 82 minutes. The New Zealander took control of this cleanly-contested finale early in the second with superb control, coupled with unerring retrieval play, as he won his 11th match in 14 meetings against Makin.

“He played with straight lines, error-free and free flowing,” admitted Makin. “I was beaten by a better player and I can’t complain.”

This was the first Canary Wharf Classic final not to feature an Egyptian since 2015 when Nick Matthew beat Simon Rosner. That was down to both players having ousted Ali Farag and Mostafa Asal, the latter having hung on to rop ranking this week. Instead, it was a repeat of the Commonwealth Games singles final against two nations, in Wales and New Zealand, with plenty of rugby rivalry. Squash has been served with its own on court hits this season, but Friday’s final was played pretty much as fair as it comes.

Makin started brightly, carving two forehand winners low into the right corner. The Welshman was full of zest, concise and focused in opening a 5-1 lead, his backhand volleys and deft work at the front causing a lacklustre Coll plenty of problems.

The Kiwi mustered his best squash at 8-3 down, the longest rally of the game ending with a Makin tin, the first of three successive unforced errors, before securing a 20-minute opener.

Coll slowed the pace in the second and was always ahead before Makin opted for a quicker pace at 8-6 down. Coll held on and the former world No.1 was now clinically dictating pace and rallies in the third as he opened up a 4-1 and 8-3 lead. It was a reversal of Makin’s early domination at the front as Coll found tight cross-court and backhand drop winners.

After 48 minutes of play, Makin called for the tournament physio at the end of third, seemingly hampered by a hip problem.

At 2-0 up to Coll in the fourth, Makin then seemed to have the Kiwi on the racks in another punishing rally. Each time Coll’s retrieval play and tight lines were out in force. This time it ended with a let but the 30-year-old was now in the ascendancy. The next rally saw Makin bent over as he failed to land more than a let decision at 4-0 down. 

At 7-1 down, Makin accrued a crowd-pleasing volley winner into the nick. Just as he did when behind in the Birmingham 2022 final, Makin started to play with more freedom as he rallied to 7-3. But this was simply a night where nothing was going to penetrate Coll’s defence.

It was, then, a surprise to hear how the Kiwi had come through a “dark place” and unable “to find my range” last week in Cairo, where he had also lost to Makin. Thus, he thanked his team for not only ending his slump but also his lean year without top podium success. He has hit form at just the right time as the tournament which has served him so well on the global stage looms large.

“This is one of the best feelings I’ve had ever, to be honest,” added Coll. “It’s a really, really cool win for me and a huge milestone.”

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