Rui Soares wins Mexican stand-off as Leonel Cardenas shows massive potential
By ALAN THATCHER – Squash Mad Editor
Top seeds Rui Soares and Jan Van Den Herrewegen will contest the final of the Colin Payne Kent Open, sponsored by Select Gaming, after two contrasting semi-final encounters.
Soares was made to battle hard by the tenacious talents of young Mexican Leonel Cardenas, but Van Den Herrewegen enjoyed a comfortable passage courtesy of tired opponent Stuart Macgregor.
In front of a packed gallery at Tunbridge Wells Squash Club, Portuguese ace Soares began strongly against Cardenas but the 18-year-old was furious at being denied a stroke when game ball down.
He began the second in furious fashion and went 8-2 up with a succession of stunning winners. However, Soares weathered the storm and gradually regained control to hold game ball at 10-9.
Cardenas was annoyed by more controversial decisions that went against him and Soares squeezed home 15-13.
The third game saw a complete turn-around as Cardenas dominated throughout and Soares offered only token resistance in many rallies as the Mexican raced through 11-1.
Soares found himself behind again in the fourth as the crowd got behind the Mexican, who led 7-3 and seemed destined to take the match to five.
However, from that point on he was only to score one more point as Soares regained control to win 11-8 and complete victory in 45 minutes. Soares said: “I’m happy to get through to the final. Leonel is a dangerous player. I’ve never seen him before this tournament so I am pleased with my performance today. Look forward to play the final tomorrow!”
Cardenas may have lost the match, but he certainly won plenty of friends with his stylish play. He is an unknown quantity in the UK, but a little research on SquashInfo reveals that he won two tournaments in 2018, one in Canada and one in Guatemala. His triumph in the $10k Lethbridge Open in Canada saw him power through the draw unseeded to beat No.2 seed Nick Sachvie in the quarters and No.1 seed Charles Sharpes in the final.
In November, he also went toe to toe with Shawn De Lierre for 101 minutes before losing 11-8 in the fifth game in the Saskatoon Boast.
You might say, well, who hasn’t been on court with Shawn for 101 minutes? But we are talking about an 18-year-old junior who refused to be deflected by Shawn’s own unique approach to clearing the ball in various parts of the court.
Leo hits the ball sweetly, has a good hold on his forehand, floats a nice, high backhand tight down the wall, smacks kill shots at a ferocious pace, and, some 5,000 miles away from home, is not afraid to play an aggressive, attacking game against a more experienced opponent.
A lot of knowledgeable squash fans in Royal Tunbridge Wells are looking forward to watching his career progress.
Sadly, the second semi-final lacked the same level of drama between two Birmingham-based players who frequently train together at the Robert Owen Academy.
The 20-year-old Macgregor admitted to feeling exhausted after two brutal five-setters the day before and went down to Van Den Herrewegen in just 24 minutes.
He tried his hardest against Van Den Herrewegen but admitted: “I was shattered after those two matches yesterday. It would have been nice had one of them been an easy three-love, but that wasn’t the case. I had my ankle strapped up for support but that wasn’t an issue. I was simply exhausted.”
Van Den Herrewegen stuck to a simple game plan and powered through the first two games with an emphatic 11-3 scoreline. Macgregor tried his hardest to make inroads in the third, but the Belgian stepped up the court and happily slotted a few crosscourt volley kills to stem his opponent’s advance.
COLIN PAYNE KENT OPEN (PSA Challenger Tour 5k event) Sponsored by Select Gaming, at Tunbridge Wells Squash Club, Kent, England.
Semi-Finals. Friday January 11th.
(1) Rui Soares (Por) beat (3) Leonel Cardenas (Mex) 11-5, 15-13, 1-11, 11-8 (45 mins)
(2) Jan Van Den Herrewegen (Bel) beat Stuart Macgregor (Eng) 11-3, 11-3, 11-8 (24 mins).
Final: (1) Rui Soares (Por) v (2) Jan Van Den Herrewegen (Bel) Saturday 6pm.
Preceded by Collins Jewel Women’s International Challenge: Elise Lazarus v Jasmine Hutton, 5pm.
Pictures courtesy of ARTYOM LISS