R8: Surrey back to form

Surrey back to form and Winchester a bit flat

SH13713With Surrey having lost their last two consecutive matches, you’d have thought that the focus of the evening might be on whether they could pull one back and keep themselves in contention for the top-spot.

SH13714 The players however, seemed a little bit preoccupied with it being Shrove Tuesday and whether there were going to be pancakes on offer afterwards.

Some were so hungry for pancakes in fact (Mr Downer – take a bow) that they took batters matters into their own hands and showed off their culinary talents, and at one point, it looked likely that Rob might even get his chef’s apron out of his squash bag and whip up some pancakes for everybody.

Cooking aside, Surrey managed to steal a 4-1 win against Winchester and kept themselves on the trail towards the finals.

Alison Waters bt Emily Whitlock (3-1) 11-8, 7-11, 13-11, 11-4 (52m)

SH13818Anyway, back to the squash. First on court was Alison Walters who returned to play after a busy few months and a string of successes under her belt including being part of the winning England team in the Women’s World Team Championships. She took on young rising star, Emily Whitlock who is proving to be a dangerous opponent after nearly having scalped Laura Massaro in a five-game-thriller in the British Nationals that took place in Manchester last week.

Whitlock made a strong start at 4-2 in the first and it became apparent that Waters was really going to have to put in the work to fend off her opponent. After pulling a few points back to draw level at 5-5, Waters had to get clinical to gain the lead. At 8-6 there was an incredible rally that ended up with Whitlock tinning and this appeared to be the deciding factor in Waters keeping the momentum and getting to the finishing line at 11-8.

The second game saw Whitlock take another early lead with a two-point buffer for most of the game. Whitlock’s use of height and incredible accuracy seemed to be pushing Waters further and further into the back corners. Whitlock seemed to play some inspired squash as she mixed things up and used also variation to twist and turn Waters and force the errors. Whitlock managed to surge ahead to 9-5 maintaining the pressure on Waters and eventually closed the game out at 11-7.

In the third game, Waters had clearly regrouped and began to push back from the start with an incredible drop into the front left of the court. Waters was evidently picking up the pace in the third to reassert her dominance. The score-line remained even through most of the game with Whitlock managing to weather the storm. After the referee gave a let decision when Waters clipped Whitlock with her racket at 10-10, the game could have gone either way. Waters showed her professionalism and experience and held her nerve to take it 13-11.

The fourth was also another close game but it became apparent that fatigue was setting in for Whitlock as Waters executed some superb attacks and increasingly sent her opponent deep into the back court. This seemed to allow Waters to open up a lead at 8-4 and then soon finished things up at 11-4. Whitlock put in a superb performance and demonstrated that she is certainly a contender for the top.

“I was pleased with how the match went and obviously Emily is an up-and-coming young player and she has improved quite a lot since I last played her,” said Alison, “so I knew it was going to be a tough match going into it. It was a crucial third game and she had a couple of game balls but I managed to win it 13-11. Obviously I was pleased to get the win and it was a good team effort as well.

“We have quite different styles of play. I try to attack at a fast pace and she lifts the ball really well and it’d quite hard to play against because if you don’t hit a good shot off her lift, then she’s there ready for the next shot. So for me, it was a case of making sure that I hit my targets and my length and making sure that I kept her pinned behind me and trying not to let her use the lift as much but if she does use it, I tried to get myself back in a good position”.

Talking about her run of successes last season and in recent months, Waters commented that she was: “…enjoying it and when I enjoy it, I tend to play a bit more free-flowing squash and hopefully I can build on this and keep working hard”.

Lyell Fuller lost to Scott Fitzgerald (2-3) 8-11, 13-11, 7-11, 11-7, 13-15

Over on the neighbouring court, up-and-coming Surrey player, Lyell Fuller took on Surrey stalwart, Scott Fitzgerald. The match proved to be the tussle of the evening. Fitzgerald drew first blood 11-8 in the first. As the match heated up, there were a few contested decisions with the referee and saw Fuller receive a conduct warning when his frustration bubbled up. After a short break with a knee injury, Fuller regained his focus in the second and managed to close it out 13-11.

More discussions ensued later in the match with the referee in this see-saw match that saw the more experienced, Fitzgerald take the third 11-7. Fuller pushed forward though and dazzled with an array of attacks to keep the pressure on his opponent and close out the fourth 11-7. In a close fight to the finish, Fitzgerald managed to creep past his young compatriot, 15-13.

Much to the dismay of Fuller who had clearly put his all into the match. Fuller now joins the ranks of the professionals and seems sure to rise up the echelons of the professional rankings.

Piedro Schweertman bt Rob Downer (3-0) 11-5, 11-1, 11-7 (28m)

This match between the “Ice Man” Piedro Schweertman against pancake Chef de Partie, Robert Downer proved to be a blistering match that was over before you could say “syrup and lemon juice please”.

Schweertman was so quick out of the blocks in the first that Downer seemed dazed by Scweertman’s powerful and robust squash. Schweertman seemed very much in control and dominated with a combination of holds and a very short back-swing which seemed to generate a huge amount of power that simply overcame Downer. In a matter of minutes, Schweertman was up 6-2 in the first and then 8-2. Downer managed to squeeze in another couple of points at the 4-10 stage but Schweertman powered through taking it 11-5.

Downer was still clearly smarting from the first and made a succession of errors and not getting a point on the board all the way up to 0-9. Downer became increasingly frustrated with what he considered were blocks. The referee disagreed though and made a number of no-let decisions. Downer managed to pull a point back on a stroke decision before Schweertman marched on to take it 11-1, to which Downer threw down his racket in frustration. In the third, a fired-up Downer resumed things, determined to get a foot-hold but Schweertman managed to stay ahead. Although Schweertman appeared to take his foot of the gas slightly, Downer’s frustrations continued as he once again complained to the referee about access to the ball.

Downer seemed to refocus towards the middle of the game and got himself within a point or two before gaining parity at 7-7. It seemed like Downer might edge it and take the game when he was at 8-7 but Schweertman saw the resurgence coming and made a final push to take it 11-8. Schweertman, now ranked 71 in the world is making good progress in the rankings and has put in some solid performances for Surrey and it is clear that the Ice Man cometh.

“I think we played once before and that was much closer,” said Piedro. “I was happy with the first two games and nothing really went wrong. In the third game, he played a bit more to the back and hit some good shots, so I was happy to take it. So it was a good start, and in the end, a good finish.

“I have a league match tomorrow in Holland and then a weekend off, which is always good! At the end of this month, the PSA starts again for me in a tournament in Edinburgh where I’m seeded 4.”

Steve Richardson bt Steve Wykes (3-0) 12-10, 11-7, 11-8

Meanwhile, Irish number 4 Steve Richardson took on Winchester’s, Steve Wykes (also a pancake enthusiast). The first game was closely contested with both players starting well. Richardson’s experience got him the first though at 12-10.

Undeterred, Wykes maintained the pressure with excellent retrieval and racket skills but Richardson managed to stay ahead and doubled his lead to 11-7. The third followed the pattern of events with a wily Richardson drawing on his experience to clinch the third 11-8.

Gregoire Marche bt Scott Handley (3-0) 11-8, 11-3, 12-10

SH13817This unlikely comedy duo provided a thoroughly entertaining match for the crowd. Marche sparkled from the start demonstrating superbly why he is named “The Acrobat” with his athletic agility and speed. Handley managed to stay with him though in the first and it was all square at 7-7. Marche picked up the pace though and progressed to 9-7 and then 10-8 which he then converted to 11-8. In the second it appeared that Handley was struggling with the pace as Marche forged ahead up to 10-1 before taking it 11-3.

The match was very good humored though, particularly so in the third where there were a few light-hearted exchanges with the referee. At 4-2 Marche approached the referee to question a let ball decision and asserted that Handley was too far away and wouldn’t have been able to get the ball to which Handley remarked: “I couldn’t…no”, much to the amusement of the crowd. At 5-2 there was a great rally that had the crowd whooping. Marche pushed forward to 9-6 as Handley faded. The laughs continued as Marche fell over at the front of the court, crashing into the side wall. #

With perfect comedy timing, Handley approached the referee once again to quip that: “He always does that…I’ve no sympathy.”

The entertainment continued at 9-7 when Marche faked a shot at the front that sent Handley scurrying to the back of the court to play a back-wall-boast only to then play a drive that sent Marche deep into the back of the court. At 9-8, Marche tried to get past his opponent to reach a ball at the front of the court, which would clearly have been a no-let but playfully pushes his opponent forward before then asking for the let ball. At the 10-9 point, Marche tins and it goes to a tie-break giving Handley a chance but Marche steps up and takes a crosscourt nick that leaves even Handley astonished.

By this point, Marche consolidates his pole position and brings the show to an end at 12-10. Marche and Handley will be embarking on their comedy tour from next month, please contact them directly for tickets to their next show.

“I think it was a funny match and I tried some different things and I think the crowd enjoyed it,” said Marche. “I’ve felt a bit better now after a few weeks in the US where I wasn’t playing very well. I’m now just trying to enjoy my game and I hope it is going to improve in the next few months. I’m in Chicago next week for the Windy City Open where I’ll be playing in the qualifications.”

Match report by Daniel Richards

You can follow Surrey’s progress on Twitter: @VA_SurreyPSL

Matches start at 7:00pm. Tickets are £10 and are available by contacting Pete Smith on 0208 253 1314 or squash.surrey@virginactive.co.uk