Posted on 18 October 2013.
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.
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!"
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
Posted on 17 October 2013.
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)
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."
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 ..."
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."
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
Posted on 16 October 2013.
The quarterfinals concluded in Philadelphia with four matches in the bottom halves of the men's and women's draws—offering equal prize money for the first time ever in a World Series event—in Drexel University's John A. Daskalakis Athletic Center in Philadelphia.
The women's quarters saw a major upset as Malaysia's Low Wee Wern, seeded six, beat world number three and last year's runner-up Raneem El Weleily in a thrilling five-setter, while second seed and 2011 champion Laura Massaro came from a game down to beat Kasey Brown in a mirror image of their the 2011 final.
The men's matches produced two English winners as second and third seeds James Willstrop and Nick Matthew both looked to be cruising to victory but were made to fight hard for 3-1 wins against Simon Rosner and Peter Barker.
 Low Wee Wern (MAS) bt  Raneem El Weleily (EGY) 7-11, 11-8, 7-11, 11-9, 11-8 (66m)
 Laura Massaro (ENG) bt Kasey Brown (AUS) 10-12, 11-4, 11-8, 11-5 (55m)
 James Willstrop (ENG) bt Simon Rosner (GER) 11-5, 11-2, 8-11, 11-9 (59m)
 Nick Matthew (ENG) bt  Peter Barker (ENG) 11-5, 11-2, 8-11, 12-14, 11-6 (76m)
Low Wee Wern couldn't have picked a better time to tecord her first win against Raneem El Weleily, the world number three and finalist here last year, as the Malaysian came through a five-game thriller to clinch a place in the semifinals.
It wasn't a hit-or-miss winner-or-tin affair like El Weleily's all-Egyptian match in he previous round, this was all about building rallies, probing for a weakness and taking opportunities when they came. Both players covered the court well, varied the play, and there was rarely more than a couple of points between them in the first four games.
El Weleily pulled away from 7-all to take the lead 11-7, Low edged ahead from 4-all in the second and stayed ahead to level 11-8, and from 7-all in the third it was the Egyptian who again finished the better.
El Weleily looked on course for the semis as she led 7-4 in the fourth, but Low hung in, won some lengthy exchanges and got the verdict in a video review to level at 8-all. From 9-all two strokes levelled the match.
Up to this point El Weleily's error count had been low, but she hit the tin five times at the start of the decider as Low took a 6-1 advantage. Cutting out the errors, the Egyptian worked her way back, and edged ahead at 8-7. It was in her own hands as Low, as well as she was playing, was effectively relying on El Weleily to make errors.
"I feel like going back on for another game, the rallies were so hard it doesn't feel like it's all over!" Said a delighted winner.
"It's definitely one of my best wins, but there was no pressure on me going into the match, so I just had to stick in and that seemed to work in my favor today."
Brown started strongly, hitting powerfully, moving well and hunting down balls all over the court. The Australian led 5-2 and 7-3, but Massaro started to find her game and almost made it back—she levelled at 8-all, even had a game ball but she lost out on a video review and Brown seized the chance, taking the lead 12-10.
From 6-2 she took the second 11-4, then from 7-3 in the third it was enough. Brown threatened to close up in both, but a determined Massaro wasn't going to let that happen as she closed out the match 11-8, 11-5.
"We hadn't played for a couple of years, so I had to get used to how Kasey plays, and she's playing well at the moment. She's very strong down the middle so I had to adjust my game to counter that and I'm happy with how I played the last three games."
James Willstrop played awesome squash for three games tonight, and Simon Rosner simply couldn't get near him. It wasn't that the big German was playing badly, far from it, but Willstrop was outmaneuvering, outhitting, and outdropping him with a superb display.
Willstrop went up 6-1 then 8-2 in the first, taking it 11-5. From 4-2 in the second he eased away again, taking seven points in a row for 11-2. The trend continued up to 6-2 in the third, and it looked for all the world
as if the match was over.
But Rosner, frustrated at not being able to make an impression, simply refused to go quietly. He fought back to 6-all, forcing some errors from Willstrop's racquet at last, and punching away some winners of his own, again at last. The crowd loved it, and when Rosner took the third 11-8, they roared.
Willstrop quieted them again with more controlled squash to go 6-2 up. Rosner dug in, again, and got back to 6-9, then to 9-all and the crowd were loving the prospect of a decider. It wasn't to be though. Willstrop squeezed a tin out of his opponent, then got in front in the final rally, smacking away a low crosscourt that Rosner somehow got back, then smacking away another that he couldn't for 11-9 and a place in the semis.
"It's not easy to put three games of that quality together in a row," admitted Willstrop, "if you can it would be pretty magical, but I was pleased to be able to do it for the first two games.
"It's tough, especially when you get blamed all the time," said Willstrop in reference to the several warnings he'd received from the central referee about clearing his shots better. "We're both big guys and I certainly don't think I was entirely to blame. I see it happening in other matches without them being warned, but maybe it is me, maybe I need to find a way to solve it.
"Anyway, I'm happy I managed to find a way to close out the win, and it should be a good all-English match tomorrow, whoever I play."
Nick Matthew set up an all-English semi-final with Willstrop as he beat compatriot Peter Barker in a match that, like Willstrop's, started off comfortably for the higher seed but ended up being a real scrap.
Matthew was well in charge in the first two games, controlling the rallies with precise volleys, punching the ball deep into the corners, with Barker seemingly unable to do much about it, and he trailed 11-5, 11-4.
From the start of the third though, Barker was more aggressive, firing in a couple of spectacular volley kills as he opened up a 5-1 lead. Matthew closed, to 3-5 and 6-7, but a determined Barker stayed ahead, for a while at least. Matthew levelled at 8-all, led 9-8 and then 10-9 but lost that first match ball with a scuffed shot off the sidewall.
At 10-all there were three lets, Barker hoped for more on each of them but didn't appeal. He saved another match ball at 10-11, lost a game ball at 12-11, but finally got the break at 13-12 as Matthew tinned at the end of another fast-paced rally.
Matthew regrouped, took a quick 6-2 lead in the fourth and, although the rallies were unrelentingly tough, he held Barker off to take it 11-6—finishing with two lovely winners, and set up another all-English match in the semifinals.
"I saw how the last match went, with James cruising at 6-2 in the third," said Matthew, "so I was on my guard against that happening to me, but he played really well at the start of the third and suddenly I was 5-1 down and he was becoming confident.
"It got a bit scrappy and bitty after that, a lot of lets and bumps, but I just had to tough it out, and I'm pleased how I was able to do that."
El Weleily v Low (5-0)
Finalist here last year, Egypt's Raneem El Weleily is a double world junior champion. Now 24 years of age and having entered the world's top ten almost three years ago, she is firmly established in the world's top three. She has six WSA titles to her name—from fifteen finals—and many more are sure to be added.
Malaysia's Low Wee Wern was also a top junior, but missed out on her best chance of world junior success due to a birthday that came a week too soon! Nevertheless, the 23-year-old from Penang made rapid strides in the senior ranks, and currently stands at No. 7 having just completed a full year in the top ten. She also has six titles from fifteen WSA final appearances.
In their WSA matches, El Weleily leads 5-0, from three meetings in Malaysia, one in Hong Kong and most recently here in Philadelphia last year.
Massaro v Brown (3-2)
The second women's match is a repeat of the 2011 final here. England's Laura Massaro, champion then and seeded two this year, made her debut in the top ten in the middle of 2008 and has been there ever since—and continuously in the top three for over a year. She has truly had a spectacular couple of years, and is the reigning British Open champion, one of twelve WSA titles in her locker, from twenty-four finals.
Kasey Brown, now resident in the U.S., famously beat Nicol David on the way to the 2011 final. After being in the top ten for all of 2011, she has hovered just outside since the end of 2012, but results here will surely see her retun. She boasts eleven WSA titles, from twenty-four finals.
Massaro leads their WSA meetings 3-2, but they haven't met since the 2011 final.
Willstrop v Rosner (4-0)
Second seed James Willstrop spent eleven months of 2012 as world number one thanks to a spectaculer run of three World Series wins to end 2011. A former world junior champion, Willstrop, now 30, has been in the world's top ten for 103 of the last 106 months, and permanently in the top five for the last four years. He has won seventeen PSA titles from thirty-six final appearances and famously won the deciding match in this year's World Teams final in France.
Simon Rosner is Germany's highest-ever ranked player, and at 25 is on the verge of entering the world's top ten. A finalist in the recent European Individual Championships, he has six PSA titles from eleven finals, and this is the furthest he has reached in five U.S. Opens.
Willstrop is unbeaten in their four PSA meetings, and has yet to drop a game.
Matthew v Barker (20-2)
Nick Matthew, 33, has won everything—three British Opens, five British Nationals, two World Opens, two Commonwealth Gold, World Games gold, World Teams, and many more among his twenty-six PSA titles from fifty-four finals—including the 2007 U.S. Open. He entered the world's top ten in May 2004 and has been there for all but three months ever since, spending the whole of 2011 at number one.
Fellow Englishman Peter Barker has, along with Willstrop and Matthew, been a fixture on the England squad for many seasons and has been in the world's top ten since June 2008. At 30, he has fifteen PSA titles from twenty-three finals.
In their PSA meetings, Matthew leads 20-2, Barker's successes coming in Hing Kong in 2010 and in their last meeting, this year's Canary Wharf semifinal.