Friday October 1, 2010
By Phil Yarrow
Another packed house at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park in downtown Chicago witnessed some amazing squash in the semi-final matches of the Metrosquash US Open. The setting could not be more perfect; a beautiful fall evening for this unique outside squash event.
[album: http://www.mariankrausphotography.com/wp-content/plugins/dm-albums/dm-albums.php?currdir=/wp-content/uploads/dm-albums/2010 US Open Semifinals/]
First on court former world number one and Dutch champion Vanessa Atkinson. Her opponent was the Danish number one, Line Hansen. Atkinson came out focused and put on a clinical display. Hansen tried to stay with her in the first game, but Atkinson was too strong and took the game comfortable 11-5. Atkinson continued to dominate in the second game. Hansen showed some promise rattling off four points to gain an early 4-3 advantage. But it was a temporary spell of momentum for the Danish woman as Atkinson ran off the next seven points and closed out the second game 11-5. Atkinson was now in complete control and Hansen became dispirited. In the third game, Atkinson’s deep drives were causing Hansen all sorts of problems. She was making errors in the back corners or being forced to offer up weak boasts. Atkinson won the game 11-0 to complete a comfortable victory. After the match Atkinson said that she wasn’t sure whether she won so easily because of her strong play or because Line had had a bad day. Regardless of whether the Danish woman was a little overawed by the occasion, it was a solid performance by Vanessa.
The second match was the first men’s semi-final between Omar Masaad and Laurens Jan Anjema. Masaad was coming off his massive win against Thierry Lincou last night. But he was up against another tall strong player who would battled him every inch of the way for control of the T. The rallies were highly entertaining in the first game, but Masaad was prone to a few too many tins. Anjema on the other hand was disciplined throughout. He built up a 9-2 lead and then closed out the game 11-4. Masaad started off much better in the second game. He built a 6-2 lead with some amazing squash. But Anjema continued with his steady play and the mistakes again start to come off the young Egyptian’s racket. Maybe last night’s marathon match was taking a bit of a mental toll on Masaad, but there was no doubt that the Dutchman was causing many of the errors and Anjema rattled off eight points in a row to take a 10-6 lead. Masaad steadied himself and fought off the first two game balls. Up until this point in the game, both players had been able to play through much of the interference and there was surprisingly few lets. But that would start to change. There were five lets at 8-10, before Masaad hit a winner to save a third game ball. Three let balls followed, before Anjema finally managed to capture the game with a wonderful combination of drop shots that had Masaad scrambling around the front court.
In the third game, Masaad again built a 6-2 lead. This time though he would push on and he started to force some rare unforced errors from the Dutchman. He advanced to 10-4 game ball, and then despite a couple of badly mishit shots that followed, he was able to win the game 11-6 when Anjema tinned a backhand boast.
In the fourth game, the lets started to come in thick and fast as neither player wanted to give up the advantage. It was tough going to win a point. But again it was the Dutchman who seemed to be just a little bit more focused and he built a 5-2 lead. The game had seemed such a battle to that point, but in an instant thereafter Anjema would open up a 10-2 advantage. Masaad had one last stand though and he fought back to 6-10 before a tight drive by Anjema that died in the back corner gave the Dutchman the win.
Masaad had played such great squash in the match but the bottom line is he simply hit too many tins compared to his opponent whose unforced errors in the whole match could be counted on one hand. After the match Anjema said that it is never easy to play Omar as he is such a dangerous player and with two tall players on the court it always makes for a hard physical battle.
Next up was the 17 year American sensation Amanda Sobhy against Italian Manuella Manetta. Sobhy has been in incredible form of late. She strikes the ball with power and accuracy keeping her opponent constantly on the back foot. In the first two games against Manetta she delighted the packed crowd by simply ripping through her Italian opponent with the confidence that suggests she will soon to be testing all the top women players in the world. She won the first two games 11-3, 11-5. To her credit though, Manetta, who had been totally outplayed to this point, seemed to get to grips with the situation in the third game. She slowed the pace of the game and used more of a lob drop approach to good effect. She negated Sobhy’s power and the American began to find the tin with increasing frequency. Manetta won the third game 11-5 and the fourth game was close throughout. To the great pleasure of the huge crowd though it would be Sobhy who would find the winning touch just at the right time and she would win the game 11-9 to close out the match.
After the match Sobhy said it was amazing to be in the US Squash Open final. She had been pumped up by the large crowd support. She will face a tough test against Vanessa Atkinson in tomorrow’s final. But she certainly will have the crowd cheering her on.
The final match was between Olli Tuominen from Finland and another Egyptian Wael El Hindi. Tuominen has been a frequent visitor to Chicago tournaments over the past 15 years, but he may never have been playing as well here as he has been this week. He was simply sensational in his victory over Mohamed El Shorbagy in the quarter-finals on Wednesday night and he would continue that good form at the beginning of tonight’s match. The Finn dominated the early going. He was quick on to the ball and his shots were crisp. El Hindi is an awkward opponent who fights hard and doesn’t give an inch in the middle of the court. But Tuominen had him off balance and the Egyptian was struggling for a response. Tuominen won the first game 11-4 and raced to a 6-1 lead in the second game. Perhaps predictably though, the game started to become much more physical as El Hindi fought back. Both players were frustrated with the referees’ decisions, but it was tough for the three officials as both players fought for position on the court. El Hindi got within one at 7-8 and then again at 8-9. The play was choppy but entertaining. A no let call brought El Hindi level and a forehand boast in the tin gave the Egyptian game ball. He would level the match with a tight backhand drive that Tuominen could not retrieve.
The let appeals continued to come in the third game and both players argued a lot with the referees. The excited crowd was more than willing to voice their opinion to add to the atmosphere. The game was close throughout. El Hindi opened up an 8-5 lead but it was soon back on level terms at 9-9. A backhand drop winner would give the Egyptian game ball and he would take a two game to one lead when Tuominen put a backhand boast in the tin on the next rally.
El Hindi is also a frequent visitor to Chicago and is a favorite with the fans. They roared their approval as he fought back from such a bad position. The Egyptian was now growing with confidence. His racket skills are awfully good and he started to punish Tuominen with great shots to the front court and disguised crosscourts that would wrong foot his opponent. He opened up a 5-0 lead. But Tuominem did not give up and he battled back to 5-6 as the Finn’s fans in the crowd started to find their voices. But the Egyptian would regain the initiative and pulled away again and to his great delight at the end won the final game 11-6.
El Hindi said afterwards that he was not feeling good during the second game as Tuominen was putting everything away. But he just tried to stay calm and play his way back into the match. That he did and he sets up what should be a very interesting final tomorrow against LJ Anjema.