Finals Day in Philly
It's Finals Day in Philadelphia, with two champions of the PSA and WSA World Series events — offering equal prize money for the first time ever— crowned tonight in Drexel University's John A. Daskalakis Athletic Center.
Nicol Still the Champion
It was a meeting of the world No. 1 and world No. 2 and Nicol David retained her U.S. Open title with a thrilling five-game victory over Laura Massaro—eighty-four minutes of captivating play that could have been choreographed to say to to the men's finalists "follow that if you can!"
For five games they traded blows, testing each other out with long, patient, well-crafted rallies, then one or the other would prize open an opportunity and pounce on it. Unforced errors were few and far between, the quality was unfailingly high and the tension palpable throughout.
Hardly a point between them in the first two games—Massaro gets first chance at game ball 10-9, David seizes her first chance to take it 13-11. At 9-all in the second David gets first shot, but Massaro takes the game 13-11 on her second game ball. (on her first at 11-10 to Massaro, David gets a let as she runs into her opponent's knees, Massaro appeals hoping for a no let, video ref says 'stroke to David!').
David leads early in the fifth, Massaro levels at 2-all, but David has the momentum now, and two rare errors from Laura's racquet take it to 7-3. The end comes quickly—a winning boast for 10-5, then a ball driven into the deep that Laura can't retrieve and Nicol, still the champion, leaps in delight.
"It feels fantastic, it means a lot to win that match and to win another U.S. Open title," said David.
"It's been such a journey this year. I knew Laura was playing well, and I would have to dig deep. When I was down in the fourth, she maybe stepped off it a little, I just knew I had to keep going and going to the last point.
"Liz [Irving] helped me such a lot, she gave me the confidence to go in there, to know I could do it, and she and the team in Amsterdam have been doing that for the last ten and a half years.
"This is such a fantastic event, all credit to US Squash, the sponsors and the venue, making the prize money equal is putting the women's game where it deserves to be and we all look forward to coming back for the next ten years!"
Masterclass From Greg
What followed was a masterful performance from Gregory Gaultier as the French top seed added to his U.S. Open title of 2006 with a straight games win over Nick Matthew, the third seed and 2007 champion.
In yesterday's semifinal with compatriot James Willstrop, Matthew was the one in charge, but tonight the boot was firmly on the other foot as Gaultier assumed early control and only on sporadic occasions could Matthew break free.
It was never as easy as that makes it sound of course—that second game took over 20 minutes to complete, and there were plenty of fiercely competitive rallies—but it truly was a masterclass from Gaultier - watch the video.
"It's amazing," said a delighted Gaultier. "The last time I won this was 2006 so to win it again here in this great venue is like a dream.
"For me it's my fifth tournament in a row, Nick has only just started after five months off, so I have the matches in my legs—maybe that was the difference tonight. I'm sure he'll come back strong, maybe we can have another match in the World Open final next week!
"The sponsors, the organization and the venue here are all fantastic, and they're doing great things in helping to raise the women's game too."
David v Massaro
Malaysia's Nicol David, just turned thirty, is the undisputed world No. 1—a position she's held since January 2006, during which time she's accumulated every squash title on offer: seven World Titles, British Opens, World Games, Commonwealth games, WISPA Grand Prix, WSA World Series, Hong Kong, Qatar...you name it, she's won it, including a record sixty-eight WSA titles from eighty-seven finals.
It wasn't until last year, however, that she properly completed her collection with victory here at Drexel to claim her first U.S. Open title. She'll be looking for another one tonight.
Aiming to stop her is England's world No. 2 Laura Massaro, just a year younger at 29, and champion here in 2011.
The raw head to head figures don't look good for Massaro, training as she does—5-18 in their meetings since 2005. But look a little more closely and you'll see that David won the first nine before Massaro scored a couple of wins in 2011. David avenged those with seven wins on the bounce, but since then Massaro has won three of the last four.
They shared wins in January's World Series Finals—Massaro won the group match, David took the Final—but in their two full-blown WSA meetings this year, Massaro first beat David on her home turf in the Malaysian Open semifinal, and then took her British Open title from her in the final in Hull. Those are two of Massaro's twelve WSA titles from twenty-four finals.
David's route to the final has been more clinical—she's yet to drop a game, whereas Massaro's matches have been getting progressively tougher and longer: 211 on-court minutes compared to David's 132, but who adds a second U.S. Open title to their tally tonight is truly anyone's guess.
Gaultier v Matthew
"He's already played seventy-five matches this season and I've only played four," joked Nick Matthew after winning through to the final last night. The statistics are somewhat exaggerated, but it's certainly true that Frenchman Gaultier, thirty, is well into his routine, having already competed in the European Individuals, PSA Netsuite in San Francisco and PSA Abierto Mexicano (two wins, one runner-up) before heading to Philadelphia. So the world No. 2's form speaks for itself.
Matthew's four matches have all been in Philadelphia, but there's been nothing to suggest he's not in good form, even if he's spent 208 minutes getting to the final compared to Gaultier's 169.
Their records are exemplary—Gaultier has been world No. 1, has won seven European titles, been in two World finals, and has won many of the major tournaments including the British Open and the U.S. Open in 2006, twenty-four PSA titles from fifty-three finals. At thirty-three, Matthew's CV is more impressive, with a longer run at No. 1, two World titles plus Commonwealth and World Games gold medals, more British Open titles, plus the 2007 U.S. Open crown included in twenty-six PSA titles from fifty-four finals.
Gaultier has the edge on the head to head though—in PSA matches at least—and leads 14-10. This decade though it's Matthew who leads 6-5, and you have to factor in wins for the Englishman in European and Team Championships too, notably their epic in the World Teams semifinal in Mulhouse this June. You could also look at their 2013 PSA record, which Gaultier leads 3-1.
So, just as with the women's final, it's not clear cut, not clear cut at all.
The bottom Line
The probability is that we're going to have two tremendous finals.
The certainty is that, for the first time ever, not only will the winners' trophies be the same size, so will their checks.
Stats and head to heads from SquashInfo.com
Day NINE, and we were at the semifinal stage with four matches in the PSA and WSA World Series draws—offering equal prize money for the first time ever—in Drexel University's John A. Daskalakis Athletic Center in Philadelphia.
Four of the players enjoyed healthy leads in the head to head records going into tonight's matches, and it was those four who won through to the finals—but it was easier for some than others.
Laura Massaro reached a second final in three years with a marathon five-game victory over Low Wee Wern, but the Malaysian fans will have someone to cheer on tomorrow after defending champion Nicol David beat Joelle King in a repeat of their 2012 semifinal, but 3-0 this time around.
In the men's semis top seed Gregory Gaultier looked in great form as he beat Karim Darwish in straight games, and in the final he'll meet Nick Matthew after the 2011 finalist maintained his winning record over fellow Englishman James Willstrop with a solid 3-0 victory.
 Laura Massaro (ENG) bt  Low Wee Wern (MAS) 11-6, 9-11, 11-6, 9-11, 11-7 (86m)
 Nicol David (MAS) bt  Joelle King (NZL) 14-12, 11-4, 11-6 (38m)
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt  Karim Darwish (EGY) 11-7, 11-4, 12-10 (46m)
 Nick Matthew (ENG) bt  James Willstrop (ENG) 11-3, 11-6, 11-5 (42m)
Massaro outlasts Low
Second seed Laura Massaro reached her second U.S. Open final in three years, but my, how she had to work for it to get past Malaysia's Low Wee Wern, who yesterday put out third seed Raneem El Weleily in another five-setter.
This was a cat and mouse type of match, lots of long, patient rallies, one or the other upping the pace when a chance arose, or scrambling to retrieve a shot then settling down again. And there was little to split them, either within the rallies or on the scoreboard.
For the record, Massaro recovered from 1-4 to take the first 11-6; Low was a point or two ahead for most of the second, taking it 11-9; Massaro pushed ahead from 3-all in the third to a 7-3 lead which she converted 11-6; Low came from 4-1 down in the fourth to level at 6-all, then led before taking it 11-9.
Massaro took the lead 8-7, appealed a let which was over-ruled into a stroke for 9-7, hit a winning boast from deep for 10-7 and a loud "C'mon," then won the match with just about the only shot she had been consistently winning points with, a little crosscourt flicked dropshot.
"I started well, it's just a pity I couldn't carry on like that for the whole match," she said. "But Wee Wern played well, she's like a human sponge, she just keeps soaking everything up and you end up just having to go for something.
"It's great to be back in the final in a big event like this. It was a long break over the summer so it feels good to be back playing these events again."
David Back in the Final
Looking calm and playing with her usual authority, David denied King the opportunities to attack that had taken the Kiwi to a 6-0 lead in the deciding game of last year's semifinal at this same venue.
David led 8-2 in the opening game, but now, a year later, it was King's turn to mount a comeback as she levelled at 8-all and earned a game ball at 10-9, helped along the way by some uncharacteristic errors from David.
The world number one held firm though, took the game 14-12 and played the next two games the way she had the first half of that first game, bossing them 11-4, 11-6 and a place in the final. No doubt the sizeable and noisy Malaysian crowd will be back for that.
"I started well but Joelle came back strong at the end of the first," said David. "I told myself I couldn't let her get that one, so I dug in, then managed to push through in the next two games.
"It's good to be back in the final, I'll just rest up, focus on what I need to do and go out and give it all ..."
Greg on Song
The top-seeded Frenchman was in control from the outset, controlling the pace, controlling his opponent's movement, slotting in crisp winners when the chance arose, and led 6-3. Darwish, although subdued compared to last night's performance, threatened a comeback but, from 7-6, Gaultier eased away again.
Darwish managed to break free of the shackles in the third—Gaultier was always ahead, but never comfortably so. Darwish appealed a let that became a stroke to level at 9-all, then saved match ball on another stroke.
"I stuck to my game plan and was pleased with how I played in the first two games," said Gaultier. "He played unbelievable squash to beat Shorbagy 3-0 yesterday, I was aware of that and knew I had to be focused from the start.
"In the third I went short too early, and he's better at the front than me, so it became tough and I was just lucky enough to win the points at the end.
"I'm happy to win in three and really pleased to be in another final, it's what we're all here for."
Matthew in Three
The seedings and the world rankings put Willstrop ahead, but when these Yorkshire rivals meet, Matthew has won every time since December 2007, and not just in their 15 PSA meetings since then.
Matthew certainly seems to have Willstrop's number. He seems to know where to go for each of Willstrop's shots, patiently controls the rallies and builds a situation where James is out of position enough to force an easy winner or a stroke. It's never as easy as that sounds, of course; we're talking about two of the best three players in the world here, but in a lot of their exchanges there's a sense of inevitability about it.
Matthew started well, taking a 6-1 lead in the first and closed it out 11-3. The second was level up to 5-all but then Matthew pulled away again, taking it 11-6. Willstrop came out strongly for the third, led 4-2 but Matthew took seven points in a row before closing out the match 11-5 after 42 minutes.
"It's good to get through in three, Greg's in great form so I'll need to be as fresh as possible for the final. I'm not putting any pressure on myself, he's played seventy-five matches this season and I've played four, so he's much more match sharp than I am! I'll just go out to express myself and enjoy it, and if I happen to win that would be great!"
Head to Head stats from SquashInfo.com