Punishing pathway to the Motor City final as Rodriguez and Coppinger step on the gas to win marathon semi-finals
From JAMES HAWKINS – Squash Mad Correspondent in Detroit
Bloomfield Hills, Mich. — One week after becoming the first South American squash player to reach the semifinals of a PSA World Series event, World #12 Miguel Angel Rodriguez can check another personal milestone off the list.
The 29-year-old Colombian advanced to his first ever PSA final by wearing down World #15 Mathieu Castagnet in Monday’s semi-finals at the Motor City Open presented by The Suburban Collection: winning 7-11, 11-4, 8-11, 11-7, 11-2 in 96 minutes.
Rodriguez will battle World #21 Stephen Coppinger in Tuesday’s championship match at 6:30 p.m. for the champion’s share of the $70,000 purse and a Rolex watch courtesy of Greenstone’s Jewelers.
The two players train together in Orlando with former world champion David Palmer. This showdown is a measure of his influence on two individuals of hugely contrasting physiques and his success as a leading coach. Losing semi-finalist Max Lee is also part of that group.
“I always wanted to win this tournament. It’s my fourth time here and I need to push one more match,” Rodriguez said. “It’s going to be hard with Stephen because we know each other’s game since we train together in Orlando.”
Rodriguez got off to a slow start in Game One as Castagnet controlled the pace on the way to a 6-2 lead. But Rodriguez began to pick up the tempo in Game Two – jumping on four unforced errors by Castagnet to even the match at 1-all.
“It’s difficult to win a point against him especially in the beginning of games because he’s accurate,” Rodriguez said afterwards. “The last two matches I played him, I lost on a glass court and I wasn’t patient.”
Rodriguez continued to suck Castagnet into his fast-paced style of play, mounting an 8-5 lead in the third game. Yet two Rodriguez’ unforced errors gave Castagnet new life, and the Frenchman stole Game Three with six straight points. Rodriguez bounced back in the fourth and fifth, roaring out to 7-2 leads behind his lightning speed and quick reflexes.
“Each game was crucial. I thought it was good for me to get the third, but he was too good in the fourth and fifth games. He was too fast for me,” Castagnet said. “He picks up every ball and it’s a nightmare to finish points.”
In the other semi-final, 30-year-old Coppinger recorded his third straight five-game upset as he knocked off World #16 Max Lee: 9-11, 11-5, 11-8, 8-11, 11-7.
Coppinger and Lee split the first four games but the match took a turn for the worse when Lee began cramping severely early in the deciding fifth game.
After hitting a backhand winner to take a 2-1 lead, Lee started limping and grabbing at his left knee. Barely able to stand, Lee fought bravely through the excruciating pain – extending his lead to 5-3. In the end, though, the pain was too much to overcome as Coppinger took eight of the next 10 points to secure the win.
“I started cramping in the fourth around 4-2. Between the fourth and fifth I pressed my muscles to not make them tight, but at 2-1 in the fifth I started cramping again until the end,” Lee said. “It’s a shame to lose this game. It’s the first time I really cried on the court. I could hardly stand, I could hardly move and I could hardly serve. My hands and arms was cramping, as well. My whole body was cramping.”
Nobody was as impressed with Lee’s gutsy effort than his regular training partner Coppinger.
“What a performance (by Lee) and he still almost won it. I couldn’t believe it,” Coppinger said. “I sympathize with him hugely but at the same time I couldn’t because I knew what he was still capable of. I had to stay focused on my own game because he was dangerous even in that state.”
Coppinger admits he’s been a bit lucky to get to the final as he hasn’t quite hit his stride.
“I’ve been hanging in every step of the way kind of limping through the draw rather than slicing and dashing my way,” Coppinger said. “Hopefully I’m saving the best for tomorrow.”
Motor City Open, Birmingham Athletic Club, Detroit, USA.
Monday’s semi-final results:
–  Miguel Angel Rodriguez (COL) def.  Mathieu Castagnet (FRA) 7-11, 11-4, 8-11, 11-7, 11-2 (96m)
– Stephen Coppinger (RSA) def. Max Lee (HKG) 9-11, 11-5, 11-8, 8-11, 11-7 (79m)
–  Miguel Angel Rodriguez (COL) vs Stephen Coppinger (RSA)
Pictures by BRYAN MITCHELL