The local pre-qualifying rounds of the 2013 Delaware Investments U.S. Open came to a close September 17 at Drexel University in Philadelphia. This year’s pre-qualifying draw consisted of sixteen men and four women handpicked from the best of Philadelphia’s local players and teaching professionals. Imran Khan, Gavin Jones, and Georgina Stoker all advance to the first qualifying round of the U.S. Open and will join the rest of the field in October.
The matches took place on Court 1 of the Kline & Specter Squash Center in front of hundreds of squash fans including junior and collegiate players supporting their coaches, Drexel students, and the Philadelphia squash community. US National Team member and coach, Gilly Lane, emceed the event.
Parth Sharma and Imran Khan took the court first. A former four-time All American, Sharma was a member of the Trinity Squash team from 2007-2011, where he served as Captain his senior year. Now Sharma is the Assistant Squash Pro at the Philadelphia Cricket Club. Khan also played squash at the collegiate level for Bahria College in Pakistan. Khan is the squash coach at Malvern Prep and ranked world No. 11 on the Squash Doubles Association Pro Tour. Khan and Sharma kicked off the tournament with a lively four game match. Although close, Khan came out on top, 9-11, 11-5, 11-6, 11-9, earning him a spot in the qualifiers.
"The feeling is amazing, I've put together four to six weeks and was really focused on this big match and building up that fitness." Khan said.
"Parth is a much younger player, very skillful with great, short hands. When I got on court, I realized he was doing a great job of keeping me in the back court and with any opening he would put the ball away, and he did a great job of that, which is why he won the first match. I had to change my game plan, and come up with a better strategy to push him in the back court. I had to pick up the pace a little bit harder and faster, and I realized that he was struggling with his fitness. So instead of keeping the match short, I started moving into all four corners and I eventually got him tired in the second and third game, which is why the fourth was easier for me to win."
"I'm from Pakistan, and we never had such an event this big in recent years. So I think everyone in Philadelphia, at Drexel University, and in the area is lucky to have such a great exhibition and should take full advantage of this event. Come watch each and every match, and enjoy."
Olivia Fiechter and Georgina Stoker followed with a fast-paced match. Fiechter, a senior at Germantown Friends School, is one of America’s best junior players. At 18 years of age, she has competed in the 2012 Women’s World Team Championship, and most recently in the 2013 Girls’ World Junior Championships. Stoker, a teaching professional at Berwyn Squash and Fitness Club, is an accomplished player as well. Originally from England, Stoker joined the Women’s Squash Association Pro Tour in 2003 and achieved her highest rank of world No. 46 in 2006. Stoker defeated Fiechter in four hard-fought games, 11-5, 11-4, 8-11, 11-4.
"I didn't actually expect to win," Stoker said. "It's been a long time since I've played pro, and Olivia's been playing awesome so it was a nice win.
"First game I was pretty nervous with it being my first match for a while so it was pretty even, I was trying to settle in. Second game, I came out guns blazing, everything was working for me. She came back in the third, slowing the pace down as I was enjoying it fast and it worked in her favor. Fourth game I came out and tried to pick up the pace again and tried to get back into my comfort zone, and it worked for me."
The evening concluded with a high-caliber final match between Gavin Jones and Jamie Macaulay. The Scotsman Macaulay is a Philadelphia-area teaching professional and advanced past last year’s pre-qualifiers. Jones, a Welsh international, is the Director of Squash at Franklin & Marshall College and has been ranked as high as 37 in the world. Jones beat out Macaulay in three games, 11-5, 11-4, 11-9, to the cheers of his F&M team members, many of whom traveled from Lancaster to watch him play.
"We pride ourselves in being one big squash family, and it shows that the guys and girls came down to support me, and Lancaster squash as well," Jones said.
"I'm just lucky to be at a place where they love to play squash and support our team, which is great.
"I think Ramy knew I was in the draw so he pulled out."
Check out interviews with the winning players below: