After slumping to a surprise defeat to lower-seeded Malaysia in the qualifying stages of the WSF Men’s World Team Championship, eighth seeds India fought back to ensure a top eight finish in the biennial World Team Squash Federation event by beating Germany, the No.7 seeds, in the last 16 round at Modern Squash in the French city of Marseille.
Germany suffered a setback overnight when squad number two Raphael Kandra, the in-form left-hander ranked at a career-high world No.41, was taken ill. So, with the day’s playing order being 2,1,3, it was the country’s third string Rudi Rohrmuller, an unranked 26-year-old, who took to the court to face India’s world No.61 Vikram Malhotra.
Underdogs India duly took the lead when Malhotra beat Rohrmuller 11-8, 11-1, 11-8 in 27 minutes – but in the following battle between top strings Saurav Ghosal and Simon Rösner , it was Rösner who prevailed 9-11, 11-4, 5-11, 11-6, 3-11 in a dramatic 57-minute clash which ebbed and flowed between the two regular PSA World Tour combatants – and saw Germany draw level.
India took full advantage of their weakened opponents in the decider when world No.69 Mahesh Mangaonkar defeated Valentin Rapp, ranked more than 200 places lower, 11-6, 11-8, 11-4 to claim victory for the eighth seeds.
“I am really relieved,” exclaimed Indian national coach Cyrus Poncha. “There was a lot of pressure on us to make the top eight. From the start, Vikram was very sound. Saurav was absolutely brilliant. He had his chances – he was outstanding in the first game. In the fifth, Rosner was very solid – Saurav played his heart out. We knew we couldn’t take any chances in the third match. We didn’t want any mishaps, no easy points – but Mahesh was strong. Overall, the boys were very down after the loss to Malaysia and we took full advantage of yesterday’s rest day to put in a lot of preparation. The boys were very focussed and very hungry. Now it’s on to England tomorrow, when we’ve got nothing to lose.”
Hong Kong vs USA
Elsewhere at Modern Squash, another tie went the full distance when fifth seeds Hong Kong China had to recover from the loss of the second match to beat USA 2/1.
Hong Kong champion Leo Au put his side ahead after beating former US champion Christopher Gordon in four games. But the 11th seeds bounced back when top string Todd Harrity played the game of his life to see off world No.28 Max Lee 7-11, 11-4, 7-11, 9-11 and claim perhaps the best scalp of his career.
To the delight of his team-mates, Yip Tsz Fung restored order for the fifth seeds to beat Chris Hanson 11-9, 11-7, 11-4 and put Hong Kong into the quarter-finals.
“It wasn’t how I predicted it – I thought all my players were in good form,” admitted the new Hong Kong national coach Chris Robertson afterwards. “But it just shows how this team event produces a different atmosphere and different adrenalin. Max was playing a guy who was pretty inspired but Max wasn’t as positive as he has been. The match created a perfect scenario – the favourite struggling against the underdog – and Harrity’s success fuelled the American camp. But it gave Yip a perfect opportunity to play under pressure – and that was a positive. I wanted to see my players under pressure. I said to Max, if you were playing on the PSA Tour, you’d be on your way home – but you’re not and tomorrow you could be playing Greg Gaultier. We didn’t play as well as we can and USA played really well – it showed what the event is all about. I’m now looking for a response from my players to get us back.”
US team manager Paul Assaiante added: “That was fun – it was a great match. I don’t know where we’ll end up this week, but we are making progress.”
Harrity was more than happy with his contribution to the tie: “I just felt really relaxed today and was up for the match. I got a great start – winning the first game was huge. I didn’t want to let him get on top of me, I wanted to put as much pressure on him as possible. I was really on form and I could see he was edgy. I’m really happy that I could put it together. Towards the end of the fourth I kept telling myself not to get tense. It was very close, but the win will give me a lot of confidence.”
Australia vs Canada, New Zealand vs Spain
One of the most popular sporting confrontations in the southern hemisphere will take place at Modern on Friday when Australia and New Zealand face each other for a place in the semi-finals. Australia, the No.4 seeds, beat 14th seeds Canada 3/0, while sixth seeds New Zealand defeated 12th seeds Spain 2/1.
“The pressure was on us today so it was good to come through,” said Australian team manager Paul Price. “It was also good to be on the glass court for the first time.
“If we get New Zealand next, that will be great – there’s always that extra dimension to a sporting battle with our Trans-Tasman rivals. We have a regular Trans-Tasman junior series with New Zealand, so if we meet tomorrow it will be a big chance for the seniors to show the juniors how it’s done!”
New Zealand coach Kashif Shuja said: “It’s a big deal for us to make the quarters because we hadn’t reached that stage for more than 20 years. We’ve been working hard for the last three years and are definitely on a high at the moment, so this gives us an extra boost.
“We’ve had six amazing days so far here, and the boys are confident and playing well. Yes, it was a very close tie against Spain, but we were expecting this, it’s the World Championship after all! Now we are playing Australia, who are our sporting rivals. They are seeded four and we are six, so it’s a close one on paper – and I expect it to be on the court tomorrow!”
France vs Wales
The event’s top three seeds were in action on the all-glass showcourt at Salle Vallier in Marseille. Favourites Egypt comfortably claimed their place in the quarter-finals after beating Finland 3/0, while in the evening tie, hosts France despatched Wales by the same score.
England vs Switzerland
There was drama in the England v Switzerland clash when, after James Willstrop put title-holders England head, team-mate Nick Matthew faced his first ever defeat to Nicolas Müller when the Swiss number one built up a 2/0 and 8-7 lead and was just three points away from an historic upset.
With three world individual titles to his name and more than 100 caps for England, 37-year-old Matthew called upon his vast experience in the game to weather the storm and assert his authority on his opponent to close out the match 9-11, 9-11, 11-8, 11-5, 11-7 in 53 minutes to carry England into the last eight.
“The team stuck with me mentally,” said the relieved world No.5 after the match. “I wasn’t feeling confident and Nicolas played really well. The coach and the guys helped me stay positive. I was moving a little bit slowly and Nicolas is a very quick and dangerous player. I need to improve for tomorrow!”
Malaysia vs Scotland
Back at Modern, day four finished in dramatic style when 10th seeds Scotland fought out a shock 2/1 win over Malaysia, the ninth seeds.
When squad second string Greg Lobban defeated Malaysian Eain Yow Ng 11-9, 5-11, 11-9, 11-7 and team number one Alan Clyne forged a 2/1 lead over Nafiizwan Adnan, it looked as if Scotland were heading for a straightforward 2/0 upset over their more fancied opponents.
But Adnan, who had a superior head-to-head record over the Scot, regained control to overcome Clyne 7-11, 11-1, 11-8, 3-11, 8-11 in 74 minutes. So it was left to the decider for Scotland to clinch victory when third string Douglas Kempsell beat Mohd Syafiq Kamal 11-3, 3-11, 11-5, 10-12, 11-6.
“I thought we had it in the second match,” said Scottish team manager Martin Heath. “I was quite confident once Alan went 2/1 up, but Wan (Adnan) played faultless squash in the fourth and fifth games to deny us. I didn’t know what to expect in the decider – it was always going to be close. But I am so proud of the guys for taking us into the last eight.”