Shabana and Lincou through as Massaro and Duncalf set up all-English semi
The second night of quarter-final action in the Delaware Investments U.S. Open at the Daskalakis Athletic Center at Drexel University provided the Philadelphia crowd with a somewhat mixed bag of matches.
The in-form British National Champion Laura Massaro eased past an out of sorts Rachael Grinham, the Aussie fourth seed unable to find anything like her true form, giving Massaro, in her own words, an easy 3/0 win.
Second seed Jenny Duncalf looked on course for a similarly straightforward win when she stood at 11/3, 10/5 against Annie Au, but a dramatic recovery as the Hong Kong youngster started to find her range meant that the English world number two had to work hard for a four-game win in a match that could easily have gone the distance.
Dutchman Laurens Jan Anjema, having already created an upset to reach the quarters, really took the game to third seed Amr Shabana, but the Egyptian fought back brilliantly from a game down, eventually getting the better of a tense and exciting finish to an extended fourth game.
The final match of the round was a more low key affair as sixth-seeded Frenchman Thierry Lincou also came from a game down to beat unseeded Malaysian Azlan Iskandar.
Quarter-Finals (bottom half):
 Laura Massaro (Eng) bt  Rachael Grinham (Aus) 11/3, 11/3, 11/7 (29m)
 Jenny Duncalf (Eng) bt Annie Au (Hkg) 11/3, 10/12, 11/8, 11/8 (49m)
 Amr Shabana (Egy) bt Laurens Jan Anjema (Ned) 5/11, 11/6, 11/4, 15/13 (78m)
 Thierry Lincou (Fra) bt Azlan Iskandar (Mas) 6/11, 11/5, 11/5, 11/8 (56m)
One of those days for Rachael
Laura Massaro played well tonight, in the first quarter-final of the evening, that’s for sure. But even she admitted that it was “an easy win” against an out of sorts Rachael Grinham who struggled to get any sort of foothold in the match.
Normally the Aussie puts the ball deep into the four corners with a variety of flicks, lobs, and angles, but for the most part tonight those shots were finishing nearer the centre of the court, or out, or in the tin.
Only in the middle of the third did Grinham threaten to make a real contest of it with a trio of decent rallies, but that still left her 8/5 down, and a couple more errors made any prospect of a comeback remote.
The first game took 5 minutes, the second 7, the third 10, and in less than half an hour Massaro was through to the semi-finals.
“I was trying to use all four corners of the court, and was moving pretty well. I’ve been playing well all year so I wasn’t about to let losing one match in Brooklyn last week get me down.
“Still, I’ll take my easy win and be ready for a tough match with her next time, like it usually is, but for now I’m just really pleased to be in the semi-finals.”
“I was just getting more and more frustrated out there, I thought I was getting into it a couple of times but it just went away again.
“I’ll just have to put it down as one of those days to forget and put it behind me …”
Not so easy for Duncalf
It wasn’t as if Annie Au was playing badly, but she was up against an opponent who was moving well and striking the ball smoothly, and the Hong Kong youngster’s game, based on the accuracy of her drops, lobs, boasts and flicks, wasn’t quite firing as she made a few too many errors to seriously trouble the Englishwoman.
After taking the first comfortably, Duncalf extended a 7/4 lead in the second to 10/5, helped by three tins from Au. On the next seven points though she managed to put the ball just above the tin, and from out of nowhere, with Duncalf doing nothing wrong, it was one game all. You could see the thought-bubble as she left court, “how did that happen?”.
From 5-all in the second she eked out a bit of a lead to take it, was pulled back to 8-all but managed to take it 11/8, putting away two of Annnie’s not-quite-low-enough drops.
Again in the fourth, Duncalf held marginal control at 8/5, but at 8-all anything could have happened. Fortunately for her she was presented with another couple of loose dropshots which she capitalised on, then put in her own to finish the match. Phew.
“I was playing well and then I think I just relaxed a bit at the end of the second and gave her a look into the match. After that it got tougher, the ball got deader and deader as she slowed things down.
“In those last rallies at the end of the games I was just trying to knuckle down try not to give anything away – it got a bit flicky droppy and too much at the front, which is th game she likes, if you leave anything loose she’s deadly, so I had to try to pin her to the back.
“I’m happy I managed to get it back, it should be a good semi-final with Laura, we know each other’s games well enough …”
Shabana and LJ entertain Philadelphians
The big Dutchman was keeping a tight rein on his illustrious opponent, with Amr Shabana unable to get Anema off the ‘T’ or out of his rhythm. Always in front, it was 11/5 to Anjema.
But as the second game got under way the Egyptian seemed to be picking the pace up. He was moving well – fast – now, and although there were still some of the patient rallies of the first game, Anjema was starting to be hurried and harried.
From 2-all Shabana moved ahead – not easily, but still he reached 7/4 then 10/5, and took it 11/6.
Shabana was buzzing in the third, moving effortlessly and playing some amazing shots. Anjema was definitely doing the chasing now, trying to put his finger in the dam, so to speak, and not having much success at it as the Egyptian went 5/1 and 8/3 ahead, taking it 11/4 on two forced errors from Anjema.
He was still having to hurry in the fourth, but Anjema was staying in the rallies better, and he eked out leads of 4/2 and 6/4 – again, not easily, it was getting pretty tough by now. Shabana kept on attacking, finally levelled at 7-all and went ahead 9/7 with three winners but LJ struck back with two of his own to make it 9-all.
A perfect length, much to LJ’s annoyance brought up match ball, which heralded a tremendous rally, both trading volleys at the front of the court but LJ had the last laugh laugh – despite Shabana’s mock-throttling - and we were into extra points.
It was all at breakneck speed now, high quality and great to watch. Shabana had another match ball at 11/10, LJ two game balls at 12/11 and 13/12. Shabana saved that with his favourite return of serve into the nick, put a dropshot too tight to bring up a third matchball, and volleyed into the nick one final time to bring everyone’s enjoyment to an end.
“Sometimes things don’t happen the way you want – he started well, the crowd got behind him and got him pumped up, so I needed to focus, regroup and do it all the hard way.
“I got back into it, he changed his game plan so I had to come up with new one myself, it was like a chess game, but it was very tough at the end.
“Now the crowd favourite is out, maybe I’ll be their favourite tomorrow …”
Lincou wraps up the last spot
The second men’s match of the evening was a less lively affair than the one that preceded it, Thierry Lincou and Azlan Iskandar serving up a match that never really ignited, with a mixture of some good quality squash interspersed with periods of patchy play, neither able to take control.
Iskandar played well enough to take the first, always ahead for 11/6, but Lincou is a known slow starter, and the Frenchman tightened up in the second and third, with some assistance from Iskandar who was finding the tin when not under pressure too frequently for his own good.
Good starts in both games were consolidated without any undue scares, and at 11/5, 11/5 the tide had definitely turned.
Azlan cut out the errors to make the fourth more competitive, the rallies were longer and tougher, and there was no more than a point between them up to 7-all.
It was the Frenchman who seemed to want it more at the end though, and it was a final unforced error from Azlan that put Thierry through to an all-thirty-something semi-final with Shabana.
“I felt pretty comfortable in the second and third games, I wasn’t sure if something was wrong with Azlan as he was very up and down, didn’t seem really fired up and was giving me a few easy points which boosted my confidence. I knew I still had to try to keep the ball as straight a I could though, he’s very explosive on attacking the crosscourts.
“He played better in the fourth, I think I was trying to finish it off a bit too quickly and froze a little.
“It should be a good match with Shabana. Once you get to these later rounds the pressure is off, you still want to win but you know you’ve reached where you should, everything’s a bonus after that.