Top Seeds Advance through First Round of the Main Draw in Halifax
FM – Farley MacLeod, JC – Jeff Cullis, MD – Martin Dumas, KB – Kevin Byrne Reporting
There was plenty of squash fan support and excitement as the first round of the 2012 Bluenose Squash Classic main draw kicked off on the impressive glass court located centre stage of the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Every spectator enjoyed a bird’s eye view of entertaining squash on the glass court as the top seeds managed to hold rank to advance to the quarter finals.
 Hisham Ashour (EGY) bt Shahier Razik (CAN) 11-3, 11-4, 2-0 ret. (20 mins)
Spectators were still in awe of the pristine glass court newly setup at the Rebecca Cohn Theatreas the first match got underway Wednesday. The crowd was eagerly anticipating the match between two players who had both performed well in previous years at the Bluenose. Razik, the top-ranked Canadian and former Bluenose winner, was the obvous choice for crowd favourite.But Hisham Ashour, too, had grown a strong following in Halifax after his amazing display of skill in last year’s Bluenose yielded some of the most exciting matches of the tournament en route toan appearance in the finals against Iskandar.
True to his reputation, Ashour took the play into the front court early and often in the first game,and used his great touch to quickly rack up a 6-0 lead. Fans felt something was amiss as Razik seemed to be lacking his usual deceptive and apparently effortless court coverage, not able toget to some shots that normally wouldn’t trouble him. Ashour clipped the tin before putting in another round of deft attacking shots, and suddenly it was 10-1. Razik hit a good winner to getthe crowd cheering again and then added another point before Ashour closed the game out 11-3.
Fans were not hitting the panic button just yet, as they tried to convince themselves that Razik,a known slow starter, would find another gear in game two. Hisham took the first point but then miss-hit the ball to make it 1-1. From there, Ashour again went on an attacking tear to get up 5-1. At this point, Razik appeared to regain form and knuckled down, winning two longer rallies to make it 5-3. But again Ashour’s drops and low attacking boasts and kill shots came into play, and he took the next four points to go up 9-3. Then Razik gave it his all in a long rally featuring some amazing retrieval from both players, before putting it away. Ashour then finished off the game in his usual clinical manner 11-4.
After the game, Razik took his three minute injury time out to extend the break. The players took to the court and fans cheered Razik on, but after two quick points by Ashour, Razik conceded defeat. It turned out that he had pulled a muscle early in the match but had attempted gamelyto play through it. Unfortunately for Razik, Ashour would not make things easy for him. After thegame, Ashour praised his opponent’s efforts but knew that something must have been wrong.Nevertheless Ashour was glad to be spared the typical “hour and eighteen minute” attritional match that Razik normally likes to torture his opponents with. JC
Stephen Coppinger (RSA) bt Andrew Schnell (CAN) 11-6, 11-8, 11-2 (31 mins)
In the second game of the day, Canada’s Andrew Schnell (92) took on South Africa’s Stephen Coppinger (26). Schnell came out in the first game showing some great determination butCoppinger play was too much for the young Canadian to handle. Coppinger had great control ofthe T and appeared to read the ball a little better during the first game which helped him get up 9-1. Schnell made a great push to cut the lead to 9-6 but the tall powerful South African put it awayto win the first game with a tight drop shot into the nick.
The second game brought some great rallies between the two players. Both players were hitting tight shots and maintaining pace, but Coppinger found the drop into the nick a few more times than Schnell to take the second game 11-8. The third game was controlled by Coppinger whoswiftly took the game 11-2. After the match, Schnell was asked what were some of the difficulties playing on this type of court? He responded “Steve did a great job taking controlling of the Tand he volleys everything. He puts you under so much pressure so you always feel that theball is going away from you. On this court it rewards better play – so, in this case, it was him.
”Coppinger was asked how he felt about moving on to the next round of play. “Any first round youget through is an ideal first round – really!”, he exclaimed. Coppinger also indicated that he has been training with David Palmer for the last five weeks and that this has been his first tournament since then, “I look forward to seeing how my game will shape up against some of the top players”.MD
Julian Illingworth (USA) bt [Q] Shawn Delierre (CAN) 11-2, 9-11, 10-12, 12-10, 11-8 (69 mins)
Shawn Delierre is the second highest-ranked Canadian after Razik and has been a staple at the Bluenose since its inception. At that time, as Neil Harvey put it, he won a tournament that has since increased in size, stature, and prize purse by an order of magnitude. Illingworth, meanwhile,is the top-ranked American and a six-time national champion. This match may have had the potential to boil over into an ugly national rivalry, but luckily squash fans were more interested in watching some great games, and this match certainly delivered.
Right off the bat, Illingworth took the first point with a cross court drop into the nick. The nextrally was longer with both players exchanging tight length. Delierre brought the ball in first, then Illingworth attacked with a back court drop but Delierre made an excellent pickup before being squeezed too hard by tight work down the wall from Illingworth. At 3-0, Illingworth put pressureon Delierre with a solid drop but Delierre pounded it cross-court to get on the board.
Illingworth then put on a drop clinic, moving to 7-1 before Delierre again stepped up court to crank outanother cross-court winner. After a scrambly rally with both players running diagonal court sprints, Illingworth finally had enough and put a cross court to irretrievable length. In the following three rallies, Delierre found the tin and then Illingworth feathered in two beautiful drops to take the first 11-2.
The second opened with a long free-flowing rally with good movement from both players, Delierre building up to a well-weighted cross-court length finish. After a tin and back-and-forth drop winners, Delierre was up 3-2. Things got a bit more choppy, ending with a couple of let calls.Then both players began using good height on the front wall to get the ball deep before again punctuating the rally with drop shots. After a few strokes to Delierre, followed by him finding some tin, the game was knotted at 7-7. Illingworth went for a nick but came up with tin instead and then couldn’t scrape up a long but very tight drop from Delierre, who went up 9-7 and held on to win11-9.
The third began with a quick juxtaposition of strokes and nice drops from both players to makeit 3-3, at which point Illingworth hit three excellent drop winners to charge ahead 6-3. Delierre responded by thundering a tight backhand past Illingworth on the return of serve. Illingworth ended the next rally with a wonderful drop that got the crowd going, and later made it 9-4 with agood use of width.
Illingworth then went for some ill-advised drops that found tin to make it 9-8.Down 9-10 Delierre showed his mettle, getting to a number of Illingworth’s drops before play wasinterrupted on two quick let calls. Finally Illingworth went for the drop kill but with a broken string he clipped the tin to knot it 10-10. Illingworth then made a miscue and miss-hit a drop to giveDelierre the game 12-10.
Fatigue began to set in for both players in the fourth, leading to more appeals to the referees.In the first rally, Illingworth put up a high ball and Delierre wanted a stroke but then, in his own words, “couldn’t dream up” a reason why he deserved one. Play resumed and after some tight backhand rallying Illingworth made it 1-1 on a nice drop. At 2-2, it was Illingworth’s turn to look for answers from the refs, but none were forthcoming. Delierre then raced out to an 8-4 lead off of some excellent retrieval work that stymied Illingworth. Clearly tired from all the running, Delierrethen gave up the next four to even the score at 8-8. After four straight lets the next rally, Delierre made some questionable decisions winding up in strokes and then narrowly lost the game 12-10.
In the fifth, Delierre started out with some excellent power, moving to 4-0 before Illingworth countered with a nice drop that Delierre couldn’t scrape up. Both players appeared to want to avoid any long rallies, and a flurry of nicks and drops got the game to 8-3, Delierre leading. Illingworth kept at his game, however, and was rewarded as Delierre began to tire, giving upfive straight points to make it 9-8 for Illingworth, with Delierre at one point lying down on the floor between rallies in order to stop play, much to the consternation of his opponent.
Illingworth,realizing his opponent was even more tired than himself, summoned the discipline to put in some long attritional rallies, aiming slightly higher on his drops. The tactic paid off, but not before Delierre treated the crowd to some excellent gets. Illingworth took the final game 11-9. JC
Borja Golan (ESP) bt [Q] Jan Koukal (CZE) 11-5, 11-4, 11-7 (42 mins)
It was a 42 minute all European match-up with Spain’s number one Borja Golan (21) against Czech Republic’s number one Jan Koukal (42). Koukal’s colorful yellow and fire red attire definitely made him an instant fan favorite. Golan controlled the pace of the game for most of the match – he was moving around the court effortlessly which created more pressure for Koukal that led to several errors into the tin. Golan seemed to dominate the momentum and captured the first two games 11-5 and 11-4.
Koukal came out more aggressive in the third and there were some great rallies, but it was not enough for the fashionable Czech who lost 11-7 after he was unable to retrieve a Golan tight shotalong the wall.
In the post match interview, when Borja was asked about his pre game routine, he responded, “in the morning I practice, have a good warm up to wake up, then play on the court for a half hour, and then stretch. I will eat carbohydrates (pasta or rice), drink a lot, nap 30 or 40minutes in the afternoon. I will come an hour before my match watch squash – I like to watch the other guys and then a half hour before my match I start stretching”. A routine that Golan will likely be replicating in an effort to repeat another win in the quarter finals. MD
 Daryl Selby (ENG) bt [Q] Cesar Salazar (MEX) 11-6, 11-3, 11-8 (40 mins)
Through the first half of game one, it was difficult to tell which player was ranked 44 points abovehis opponent. After a couple of winners, Salazar had gained a 6-2 advantage. However, Selbyreeled off nine straight points to take the game. Selby’s consistent play was to his credit, andnumber of errors by Salazar didn’t help his cause.
The second game followed a similar pattern with Salazar going up 3-1, followed by Selby scoringten in a row to win 11-3.
The third game began with Selby working up a 3-0 lead, but was followed by a couple of errorsby Selby, as Salazar evened it up 3-3 and moved ahead to 5-3. Unfortunately for Salazar, thatwas followed by a stroke call against him and three consecutive tins to put him down 7-5. Salazar fought back to even it up at 7-7. Selby gained some momentum and both players showed their hunger to win by diving for balls in the last few points.
Down 9-8, Salazar dove for a ball, but injured his right (racquet) hand in the process. After an in injury timeout, Salazar came back with his hand wrapped, but wasn’t deterred, as he dove again for another ball in the very next rally.Although he made the shot, he was out of position and his racquet was on the floor, leaving Selbyan easy put away for the victory. FM
 Amr Shabana (EGY) bt [Q] Chris Simpson (ENG) 11-9, 12-10, 11-4 (33 mins)
The debut of tournament number one seed, Amir Shabana of Egypt, was an anticipated match as he faced off against the up-and-coming qualifier Chris Simpson of England. Shabana, an ambassador of the sport and natural crowd favorite got off to sluggish start as Simpson quicklygrew a 6-1 lead.
Shabana countered back with well placed shots putting Simpson on thedefensive as he gathered seven consecutive points to take an 8-6 lead. Simpson battled backwith a backhand drop winner followed by a favorable stroke call to tie the score at 8-8. Bothplayers traded points to move the score to 9-9. A volley cross court winning drive put Shabanaback in the lead at 10-9. Throughout the next point, both players displayed impressive retrievaland shot making abilities before it ended on a Simpson drive into the tin for a Shabana 11-9game one win.
Game two saw Shabana mount a 3-1 lead on series of well placed drop shots in the front ofthe court. Simpson rallied back to tie the score at 3-3. Both players exchanged points to again even the score at 4-4. Over the next five points, Shabana moved Simpson around the court hitting outright winners and forcing errors as he mounted a 9-4 lead. Simpson managed to hit a sidewall nick to break Shabana’s streak. Shabana countered back with a front court drop fora 10-5 lead and game ball. However, Simpson was not quite ready to concede the game as he grinded through the next five points making well placed drops and forcing two Shabana drops intothe tin to battle back and tie the game 10-10. Over the next two rallies, Shabana’s patience andexperience were highlighted as he ended two long exchanges with perfectly executed side walllength shots for a 12-10 game two win.
Capitalizing on momentum from the two previous games, game three began with Shabana cruising to a 4-1 lead. Simpson, who had been doing the majority of the running throughout thematch, appeared to be slowing as Shabana began to dominate the rallies as he pushed his lead to 10-3. Simpson was able to get one more point before Shabana closed out game three 11-4 for a 3-0 match win. KB
 Laurens Jan Anjema (NED) bt Cameron Pilley (AUS) 11-7, 12-10, 7-11, 11-8 (63 mins)
In his introduction of the match, Neil Harvey said this was likely to be “the match of the night”, featuring two “sharpshooters”, and he was right on both counts. The current world rankings andthese two players’ previous head-to-head results are contradictory, with Anjema being higher ranked and Pilley holding a 3-1 advantage in previous PSA contests.
From early in the first game, it was a hard-hitting affair, and the intensity was much to the crowd’s liking. Pilley’s quick hands helped him to climb to a 5-2 advantage, and as so often happensin squash, the momentum shifted and Anjema reeled off five straight points to go ahead 7-5.Spirited rallies resulted in “ooohhs” and “aaahs” from the crowd as Anjema held on to take thefirst 11-7.
The second game was tightly contested, with the players trading points all the way to 7-7. Again,the aggressive play of both of these tall and athletic players was a notable contrast to other matches of the night. Both players were making every effort to play through interference ratherthan slow the game and ask for lets. Pilley utilized excellent deception to pull ahead to 10-7, but squandered the lead, hitting the tin twice before Anjema played a perfect drop to even it at 10-10.Perhaps this discouraged Pilley, as he swung and missed in the next rally before Anjema ended it 12-10.
In the third, Anjema pulled ahead to 4-1, before Pilley reeled off five points to go ahead 6-4 withthe use of his deception and a kill into the nick. Anjema created and perfect boast and brought
the score back to 7-7. However, Pilley was more steadfast this time, smashing a cross as well a drop into the nick and making tight shots to bring the score to 11-7 for Pilley.
The aggressive play continued in the fourth. After being tied at 5-5, Anjema pulled ahead to 9-5. Pilley fought to stay in the match, bringing the score to 8-9, when he perfectly timed a flying dive to the backcourt to make what looked to be an impossible get, only to end up on the floor with Anjema having an easy end to the point. Despite some exciting retrieves in the last points, Anjema ended it at 11-8.
In his post-match interview with Neil Harvey, Anjema described the court as “very lively”. He thought the style of play in the match was “scrappy at a whole different level”, but the Halifax fans seemed to like it that way, as it was extremely entertaining and certainly the best match of the evening session. FM
Thierry Lincou (FRA) bt Martin Knight (NZL) 11-2, 11-9, 11-4 (30 mins)
In the final match of the evening, Thierry Lincou, the 2010 Bluenose Classic Champion from France faced off against seven time tournament returnee Martin Knight of New Zealand. Bothplayers are well known by local squash fans so cheers could be heard from the start of the match.
In game one, Lincou was in near perfect form as he dominated the majority of the points as herapidly mounted an 8-1 lead. Knight appeared to be attempting to adjust his playing rhythmthroughout the game as he was only able to scrape together two points as Lincou went on to win11-2.
Knight appeared more energized in the second game as he and Lincou exchanged points fromlong entertaining rallies for a 2-2 tie. A set of forehand winners put Lincou ahead 4-2. Knightcountered with a cross court drive to move within one point at 3-4. Both players continued totrade points with the score tied at 6-6. In subsequent points, Knight pulled into a two point lead only to see it disappear as Lincou gathered four straight points to take a 10-8 lead. A Knight errorinto the tin gave Lincou an 11-9 game two win.
The third game started similar to the first, as Lincou dominated early on to take a 3-0 lead. Knightmanaged to battle back with a well executed cross court followed by a tight shot up the side wallto pull within a point at 2-3. Lincou’s shot making remained consistent and dominated play as hecontinued to win the majority of the points as he accumulated an 8-4 lead. Knight’s best effort toturn things around fell flat as Lincou captured the next three points to close game three 11-4 for a3-0 match win. KB