Howard Harding reports
A quartet of players representing England, Malaysia, New Zealand and Wales will line up in both the men’s and women’s Squash singles semi-finals at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, after a day of shocks and marathons which ended well after midnight.
It was Wales which produced a double whammy on the all-glass showcourt at Oxenford Studios where the defeat of top seed Laura Massaro by Tesni Evans (pictured below) in the women’s quarter-finals was followed by the dismissal of eighth-seeded Scot Alan Clyne in a 99-minute marathon in the men’s event which saw 11th seed Joel Makin earn his first place in the last four.
A tense match was anticipated when sixth seed Evans, the Welsh number one from Rhyl, took on England’s former world champion Massaro – the silver medallist in 2014. Whilst Massaro, the world No.7, boasted a 6/3 head-to-head advantage going into the match, world No.12 Evans had won their most recent two meetings – in February this year ousting the defending champion en-route to becoming the first ever Welsh winner of the British National title.
Evans took the opening two games, but the experienced Massaro reduced the deficit after the third – then saved three match-balls in the fourth before the Welsh wizard clinched her 11-8, 11-8, 5-11, 15-13 triumph in 61 minutes.
“I guess my style maybe doesn’t suit her, maybe it’s because of the last couple of times – but I try and build on that,” said the 25-year-old. “But it’s never easy – the toughest person to play by a mile on the Tour is Laura.
“Being a Welsh person against England – it’s our biggest rivalry. We fight for our lives. And I think we showed that today. Wales has helped me massively.
“It’s probably the biggest match I’ve played yet – in an arena like this, there’s nothing like it, it’s our biggest event – yes, that was a massive match.”
David Evans, the Welsh national coach and a former world No.3, added:
“This massive for Welsh squash – and especially for Tesni who’s our number one player, she’s the first Welsh person ever to win the British championships and she’s got the highest-ever world ranking for a woman in Wales.
“So we’re trying to get a medal now. In the Commonwealth Games we’ve only ever had one medal and that was Alex Gough in 1998, so it would be massive if she were able to do it. The way she handled herself in that game was excellent.”
Makin, from Haverford West, is making his second appearance in the Games. In one of the most evenly-contested matches of the day, 23-year-old Makin fought back from 2/1 down against higher-ranked Scot Clyne to survive a tense decider and reach the semis in an 11-9, 4-11, 8-11, 11-8, 12-10 scoreline.
“In terms of the occasion, that’s the biggest match I’ve played – getting me potentially to a medal position,” explained the triumphant Welshman.
“I’m just happy to get through that – I knew when Chris Binnie took out the seed (Saurav Ghosal) it really opened up the draw on our side and I think everybody thought they had the chance of getting through.
“We played the Tournament of Champions qualifying in January and it was a very similar match – it was tough and hard and long.
“Tesni did really well this afternoon – it was a big win for her. Whoever I play, it’ll be hard at this stage.”
Makin will line up against Paul Coll, the No.2 seed from New Zealand, who beat Englishman Daryl Selby 11-5, 11-9, 7-11, 11-5 in 77 minutes in a heavily-delayed last match of the night – while Evans faces England’s fourth seed Sarah-Jane Perry.
World No.8 Perry is making her Commonwealth Games debut – and disappointed the packed and partisan Oxenford Studios crowd by beating Australian number one Donna Urquhart 11-5, 7-11, 11-2, 11-5.
“I’m so happy right now – Donna is such a tricky opponent, she’s been playing some seriously good squash recently, pushing some of the top players, so I knew I had to go out there and play really well,” said 27-year-old Perry (pictured above, right). “I was really pleased with how I played the whole match – I kept myself nice and positive, had some good play and built some good rallies.
“It’s a fantastic crowd – it’s been pretty much this full since day one as well which is amazing. We like a good crowd – sometimes you have a big crowd and they don’t make any noise, which is a bit odd as well. So it’s nice to hear them between the rallies – even if it wasn’t for me, most of it! But I heard plenty of English people, which was nice.
“I know what it’s like playing against the crowd – I’ve played Amanda Sobhy in New York! I don’t think anything can top the brashness of some of the American fans!
“It’s my first experience of a multi-sport Games and I’m absolutely loving it. It’s a really good set-up from the village to everything here – we couldn’t really ask for anything more. The court looks amazing and the crowd is amazing so I’m just really excited I get to play on there tomorrow again.”
The men’s gold medal will go into new hands after Malaysian outsider Nafiizwan Adnan pulled off arguably the biggest shock of the day when he beat top seed Nick Matthew (both pictured below). The 37-year-old Englishman is a double gold medallist – in 2014 and 2010 – and was hoping to round off his distinguished career with gold in Gold Coast.
Matthew twice overcame leads by underdog Adnan – but the brave Malaysian, the 12th seed who had never before beaten his opponent, closed out the decider to claim his major 11-7, 6-11, 12-10, 4-11, 11-6 upset in 81 minutes.
“Nick has been my idol – it’s hard to beat him, so in my heart I am really proud,” said the UK-based 31-year-old. “I am really proud for Malaysia that I am the second guy in the semi-finals. I really pushed myself. In the match, I kept saying to myself, just one more, one more, one more.
“It’s my day!
“Yes – it is the best win of my career, when you think he has been a three-time world champion.
“It’s all about targets – I am proud of the fact that I have really achieved something. But Malaysia has so many talented players. I am a product of the sports school – and there are so many players who are really good players.
“So I hope the Malaysian government can give more funding for squash in Malaysia.”
Major Maniam, a Director of the Squash Racquets Association of Malaysia, said:
“I am very happy to say I’m a proud Malaysian.
“Wan is generally a very steady player. Today his performance was absolutely outstanding. In the three games that he won, he showed great mental strength and very disciplined squash – and what a fighter he was!
“He set a great example to the rest of the players in the squad. And to beat the No.1 seed when you are seeded nowhere – it’s just too good to be true!
“We were cheering as though we’d won the gold – and when you beat a person of Nick Matthew‘s calibre, it feels like you’ve won gold!
“I’m absolutely thrilled and proud of the show – I’m proud to be a Malaysian having seen that performance.”
Adnan will now face England’s James Willstrop, the silver medallist in both the 2010 and 2014 Games. The fourth seed provided a killer blow to the hosts on day three by removing Australia’s last semi-final hope Cameron Pilley (both pictured below). In a fiercely-fought 95-minute battle, Willstrop emerged victorious courtesy of a 7-11, 12-10, 7-11, 11-6, 11-6 scoreline.
A downbeat Pilley, the 35-year-old world No.20 from New South Wales, said afterwards:
“It’s extremely disappointing. It’s a ridiculous crowd, friends and family are here, so to play in front of them is special – it’s probably only happened twice in my career to play in such a big event on home soil.
“I got off to a good start – then after losing the second I managed to get back on track and implement my game plan and get on top of him. But he managed to switch it and implement his game plan on me, so it was tough.
“He’s a former world number one – so he’s so good at getting the game back on his terms. Overall it’s a bitter pill this morning.
“I’ll have a little sulk over the next 24 hours then I’ll get on court with my doubles partners and start to try and hone our combinations so I’ll have another two chances to get on the podium.
“The venue is unbelievable. The Commonwealth Games Federation have done an unbelievable job for squash.”
Malaysia’s second semi-finalist is Nicol David, the country’s ‘Queen of squash’ who is making a record sixth successive appearance in the Games, with gold success both in 2010 and 2014.
Looking completely out-of-sorts, the 34-year-old former world No.1 from Penang went two games down as England rival Alison Waters looked set to reduce the 26/2 head-to-head that the Malaysian had built up since 2004.
But a revitalised David came onto the court in the third and soon forced a decider – and after saving two match balls in the fifth, celebrated her stunning 7-11, 11-13, 11-9, 11-9, 12-10 win in 61 minutes.
“When you go into matches like that, you don’t know what to expect – and when your opponent comes out strong, you start think ‘what am I doing’?” said David.
“In the third, I knew I really had to enforce my game now – there’s no time left. So I had to put the pressure on, and put the pressure on to the very end. She made some mistakes and I just gave it my best so I’m very pleased.”
When asked what coach Liz Irving had said to her in the break after the second game, David replied:
“She said I had to get a little more assertive and enforce my game. It’s now or never, I thought, why not! I’d worked so hard – I’m going to go for the long haul! I knew I had to push and push and not give up!”
Of her compatriot Wan’s success, David added: “That was amazing, I’m so proud of him. What he did was truly special and it means we have two players in the semi-finals.”
David will now face Kiwi Joelle King after the No.2 seed saw off India’s 8th seed Joshna Chinappa 11-5, 11-6, 11-9.