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Part One – The Squash Mad 2013 Awards

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The 2013 Squash Mad Review 

By MICHAEL CATLING – Squash Mad Reporter

With 2013 finally drawing to a close, the Squash Mad awards have been finalised, the winners have been contacted and the prizes are in the post. It may not hold the same prestige as the Oscars but we are confident professionals view it in a more positive light than the Golden Raspberry awards at least.  

Over the past 12 months, the entire squash community have been treated to a catalogue of controversial, nail-biting and memorable moments. In the first of our two-part feature, we reveal the top five matches of 2013 and which shot made the Squash Mad Wall of Fame…

The Top Five Matches of 2013

5. Shawn Delierre v Adrian Waller – National Capital Open Final

It was recorded as the longest squash match for more than three decades and even equalled the running time of ‘Gone with the Wind’. It seems fitting then that it shares the same running time as a film which won best picture at the Academy Awards. Indeed, the sight of both Delierre (pictured left) and Waller collapsing to the ground after their marathon match encapsulated the emotion, intensity and exhaustion in equal measure.

Shamefully though, their two hour and 37 minute epic was witnessed by only a select few spectators in Washington DC. Shielded from our view as Squash TV pointed us in the direction of the 2012 Tournament of Champions highlights, Delierre survived four tie-breaks to claim victory at the $15,000 Challenger event. The third game totalled 44 minutes alone – most amateur matches barely last that length. For a tournament that kick-started 2013, the climax was almost beyond comprehension.

4. Laura Massaro v Nicol David – British Open Final

In anyone’s book, a victory over Nicol David deserves a nomination for ‘Performance of the Year’. To defeat the seven-time World champion three times in one year, however, is almost unheard of. Perhaps that is why few truly expected Laura Massaro to repeat her final victory at the KL Open. Instead, there was an overriding sense of expectancy that David would reassert her authority and claim a fifth British Open title.

But under the beaming sunlight in Yorkshire, Massaro delighted the 1,000 spectators at the KC Stadium as she became the first home winner of the sport’s oldest tournament since Lisa Opie in 1991. Although the Malaysian’s performance was relatively error-strewn, the tension was unrelenting and Massaro had to save two game balls in the third before a video-review handed her a 2-1 lead.

The real moment of drama was reserved for the fourth and final game as David inexplicably served out when trailing 9-6. The gasps from the audience were soon punctuated by screams of delight as Massaro secured victory at the second time of asking. And while the match will not be remembered as a classic, it will perhaps go down as the moment David’s dominance finally began to wane; albeit only slightly!

3. Nick Matthew v Gregory Gaultier – World Team Championships Semi-final

Heralded as a match that ‘would have graced the Olympic Games’, Nick Matthew’s long-running rivalry with Gregory Gaultier came to a head at the World Team Championships in France as they fought to secure international bragging rights for their respective countries.

What followed was another titanic and adrenaline-fuelled tussle between two warriors as the pair exchanged games amid a litany of bellows, screams and whistles from a vociferous French crowd. With both players struggling to stand after severe bouts of cramp, Matthew summoned enough energy to recover from 9-6 down in the fifth to win 12-10 and break French hearts.

In terms of unbridled drama, their match was unrivalled and deservedly drew a standing ovation from both camps. And while England went on to triumph in the final against Egypt, many still point to Matthew’s breathtaking win over Gaultier as the standout moment from the event. Rightfully so as well.

 2. James Willstrop v Mohamed Elshorbagy – Hong Kong Open Quarter-final

It was plagued by controversy, featured no end of lets and strokes and ended with Mohamed Elshorbagy launching a verbal tirade at the officials in his post-match interview. But the battle between the Egyptian and James Willstrop features second on our list purely because of the never-say die attitude that engulfed their 122 minute quarter-final in Hong Kong.

Such were the fine margins in the match, it was a minor miracle that they had not contested a tie-break in the previous four games – all of which ended 11-9. But after Willstrop battled back from 2-0 down to level the scores, there was inevitability that the Englishman would ultimately prevail.

Although this eventually proved the case, the 30-year-old needed eight match balls before finally avenging his defeat at the quarter-finals of the World Championships. The match was perfectly summed up by SquashTV commentator Lee Drew who cried: “That was simply stunning, unbelievable squash.” You only had to watch Borja Golan thrash Willstrop the following day to see how much the match had taken out of both players.

1. Nick Matthew v Gregory Gaultier – World Championship Final

Regarded as the pinnacle event on the calendar, the World Championship is renowned for producing some of the greatest and most memorable matches in history. Only last year, Ramy Ashour and Mohamed Elshorbagy delivered an awe-inspiring final that still lingers strongly in the memory even now.

The 2013 event in Manchester had a lot to live up to but thankfully, expectations were surpassed yet again as Nick Matthew and Gregory Gaultier delivered another classic encounter. In a near two-hour epic, Matthew became the first person since 1977 to win the title after letting a 2-0 lead slip.

After falling out of love with the game just six months earlier, It was a fairy-tale ending that no one could begrudge the 33-year-old and the perfect response to the critics who had ruthlessly wrote him off. But while Matthew was left celebrating a hat-trick of World titles, the sight of Gaultier trudging off court after finishing runner-up for a fourth time epitomised the fine margins between ecstasy and heartache. 

Facing a match-ball at 11-10 down in the third, Gaultier went on the offensive and somehow fought back before taking the match into a decider. Very rarely do you see a partisan crowd switch allegiances mid-match but Gaultier’s comeback left many supporters transfixed by the Frenchman’s courage and fighting spirit. Although the final game proved slightly underwhelming as an exhausted Gaultier struggled to even stand upright, the preceding four games had showcased some of the most dramatic and brutal squash ever witnessed. 

The Shot of the Year

Ramy Ashour v Gregory Gaultier – Tournament of Champions Final

It’s a category that provoked plenty of debate in the Squash Mad office with two shots immediately springing to mind. For many, people still shake their head in disbelief after watching James Willstrop execute his triple whammy shot against Ramy Ashour at the North American Open. But while it was unlike anything we had ever seen before, there was one shot (or two to be precise) that truly epitomised the talent of one particular Egyptian.

Two-one down in the final of the New York-based event and with his unbeaten run hanging in the balance, Ashour was struggling to quell the threat of fiery Frenchman Gregory Gaultier. One rally later however and the momentum had shifted irreparably and the Egyptian would go on to claim his third Tournament of Champions title. 

Born out of skill and incredible reflexes, Ashour somehow returned two body shots travelling at a speed of knots with little more than nonchalant swish of his racket. The first missed the nick by millimetres, before the second dyed at the front left corner and left the spectators at the Grand Central Terminal in total delirium. Squash at its best…and Ramy’s celebration wasn’t bad either!

 Do you agree with our selections? Is there a match or shot that we have missed that has left you in a state of uproar? Please post your views below and have your say now!

Pictures by Steve Cubbins (SquashSite); Videos courtesy of SquashTV

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