Scotland’s Braveheart hero plays through the pain barrier in Glasgow Games
SQUASH MAD EXCLUSIVE
Braveheart hero Harry Leitch played through the pain barrier to compete in the Commonwealth Games doubles competition, just two weeks after breaking two bones in his left foot.
Leitch partnered Alan Clyne to a highly creditable fourth place in the men’s competition, matching their achievement four years earlier in Delhi. Despite Leitch’s injury, they ended up playing six matches in five days.
They began with a comfortable Pool A tie against Trinidad and Tobago, and negotiated a much tougher task in overcoming Welsh pair Scott Fitzgerald and David Haley.
They beat Zambia in the round of 16, then produced possibly their best squash of the tournament in removing the Australian team of Ryan Cuskelly and Matthew Karwalski.
The Scottish pair, both 28, then faced off against England’s top seeds, Adrian Grant and gold medal singles champion Nick Matthew, in the semi-finals.
Roared on by a noisy, packed crowd, Clyne and Leitch attacked from the start and opened up a 7-5 lead in the opening game, with Leitch’s big booming forehands a major part of their strategy.
However, the more experienced English team gradually worked their way into the match to gain control. They won 17 of the next 19 points to win the match 11-7, 11-2.
Clyne and Leitch then featured in the bronze medal play-off match against another formidable English pairing of James Willstrop and Daryl Selby.
The Scottish team pushed England hard all the way and it was a desperately close-run affair. England pinched the first game 11-9 and were marginally in more control of the second to win it 11-7 and clinch the bronze in 79 minutes of absorbing squash.
Looking at how Willstrop and Selby celebrated at the moment of victory proved how much a doubles medal meant to two world top 10 singles players. The Scots boys gave their all. They left everything on court and can be proud of their performances.
After the Games had closed, Leitch admitted: “It was a freak accident caused by a collision in training. It didn’t affect the outcome in the end, but at the time it looked like I was out of the Games. Luckily, we managed to keep it quiet. It’s amazing the extent you can hold someone together with sticky tape!”
Immediately after the medal match, Leitch and Clyne looked devastated (right) as they took part in a BBC interview at courtside. Leitch told reporter Keir Murray: “We were in it all the way. The margins were very small. Maybe one or two mistakes from us, and some good shots from them.
“We tried to play exciting squash all week and tried to entertain this great crowd. We are very proud of what we have achieved. It’s good for squash in Scotland.”
Clyne added: “There’s a great atmosphere in here. The crowd have been great all week. Even during the rallies, they have been making some noise and that all helps to build the atmosphere.
“We just did not get the medal that we wanted. I definitely fancy another go in four years time, absolutely. I am not looking to give up any time soon. I want that medal.”
Scotland’s other main doubles pair, Stuart Crawford and Greg Lobban, also produced some impressive performances before bowing out to the eventual gold medal winners, Cameron Pilley and David Palmer of Australia.
Lobban was like a man possessed as he covered every inch of the bigger doubles court in pursuit of glory for a proud home nation. He and Crawford delivered a massive performance to beat the No.7 seeds from India, Saurav Ghosal and Harinder Pal Sandhu, 11-5, 8-11, 11-9 in 51 minutes of high-octane, adrenalin-fuelled squash, again roared on by the massive home support. It was by far the longest match of the round and the Scots pair reached phenomenal heights of control, shot-making, strategy and retrieving.
Overall, Scotland can be proud of their performances, with Clyne’s marathon victory over India’s Harinder Pal Sandhu in the men’s singles second round, lasting 116 minutes, one of the highlights of the whole Games.
Cheered to the rooftops, with the crowd noise echoing all the way home to the Highlands, Clyne’s win took him into a third round battle with top seed Nick Matthew.
Amazingly, both players were celebrating their birthday on the same day, with England’s Opening Ceremony flag bearer needing to work hard and stay focused to overcome a Scottish opponent inspired by the support of an incredibly raucous home crowd.
Looking ahead to the next Commonwealth Games in four years time, Clyne and Leitch will both be 32. While Clyne has expressed his desire to play on, Leitch (right) will have to juggle his squash commitments around his job as a doctor in Cambridge.
Scotland will be hoping that hugely talented young stars like Lobban and Kevin Moran can continue to improve under national coach Roger Flynn, with several other young players, including Doug Kempsall, not far behind.
The absence of a dominant female number one is a cause for concern, especially after Lisa Aitken’s decision to cross the border to play for England.
Frania Gillen-Buchert put off retirement to compete in Glasgow but Alex Clark showed real signs of potential once she overcame her early nerves.
Overall, there is a massive mood of optimism in Scottish squash right now after a highly successful staging of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
The fact that hundreds of non-squash spectators turned up to watch the action every day at Scotstoun, and left enthralled by the entertainment and gladiatorial combat on the spectacular glass court, was a major plus factor.
It proves that there is a market for similar events, professionally managed, in the future.
Scotland already stages three decent sized tournaments, with the successful Loch Ness Challenge earlier this year joining the Edinburgh Open and the North of Scotland Open in Aberdeen on the calendar. These are all played on club courts, and it would be a massive achievement if an annual glass-court event was to be staged in Scotland.
As one of those responsible for taking the British Open to Aberdeen in 1999, and being thrilled at the sight of so many giant Saltires bouncing around the bleachers among a crowd of 1,600, I would love to see at least one major international event staged in Scotland every year.
The passion is there to sustain it, and I would hope that the success of these Games will help to deliver the funding.
BBC interview with Alan Clyne and Harry Leitch: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/scotland/28633556