By A. J. Hakim and Henry Payne
Spain’s Borja Golan made the most of his first trip to the Motor City Open presented by the Suburban Collection, sweeping through a tough field featuring five of the world’s top-20 to take the title from top-seeded Englishman, Adrian Grant. In reward for his efforts, the second-seeded Golan received $5,000 and a Rolex watch, courtesy of Greenstone Jewelers.
The top seeds looked the cream of the crop all week, and both players acknowledged feeling fit and in top form. Neither dropped a single game on the way to the final, setting up a highly-anticipated showdown before a capacity crowd at the Birmingham Athletic Club in early February.
The match was a gritty, physical affair featuring two of the game’s fastest players. After 90-minutes, 71 lets, and a deep scrape to Grant’s right knee, Golan escaped the victor, 10-12, 11-9, 11-5, 14-12.
The event’s friendly club atmosphere, with families offering accommodations for the players, makes the MCO a welcome stop for PSA players. As testimony to the event’s popularity, returning veterans included Finland’s World No. 22, Olli Tuominen, Laurens Jan-Anjema (No. 17) of the Netherlands, Australia’s Cameron Pilley (No. 18), and World No. 19 Stewart Boswell of Australia.
Top-seeded Grant, another MCO regular, came into this year’s tourney with his highest ranking ever, having defeated World No. 2 (and former MCO champ) Greg Gaultier last October.
Reflecting the recent Egyptian dominance of the sport—the top three players in the world hail from that country—the MCO featured a strong lineup of Egyptians, including Yasser El Halaby (the first collegiate athlete to win the NCAA title four years running) and 20-year-old Tarek Momen. Already ranked No. 29 in the world, Momen was the tournament’s surprise, defeating No. 4-seed Pilley and No. 5 seed Boswell on his way to the semifinals.
In the penultimate round, however, Grant ended Momen’s Cinderella run while Golan dashed another title bid by defending champion Tuominen.
Against Momen, Grant accomplished what Boswell and Pilley could not – imposing his will on the young phenom. While boasting a toolbox full of big shots, Momen does not yet have the match maturity of upper echelon players, and Grant exploited the Egyptian’s lack of experience in long rallies.
“He’s got a massive future in front of him,” said Grant. “But in terms of playing big points in certain situations, I had more experience and it showed today. The scores were fairly even at 7-all or 8-all, then all of the sudden I would break away.”
Prior to Monday night’s final, Grant and Golan had met three times, with Grant the victor in all three. But they have not played since Saudi Arabia in 2006, when Grant eked a 3-2 win after trailing 0-2.
In the final, Grant started out the aggressor, composed, and on the attack. But he quickly grew frustrated with Golan, who gave little ground for retrievals. “I found it quite frustrating to get around him,” Grant said after the match. “On these (permanent club) courts you have to win six or seven shots to actually win the rally. It’s not like a glass court where you get rewarded for attacking, attacking. Here, you really have to work it.
“The match was long, but there was a lot of starting and stopping as well,” he continued. “You have to try to keep your composure and not get wrapped up into this stopping and starting because it’s not good for the crowd and the players get frustrated as well. But you get that at the top of the sport because we’re all moving pretty fast in and out of the corners, so you’re going to get some sort of collision.”
Grant was on the receiving end of several collisions. At one point, the two competitors got tangled and Grant tripped and scraped his knee. A six-minute delay followed so that Grant could bandage the wound.
The physicality and lack of rhythm (game four alone had 30 lets and spanned 43 minutes) ultimately took its toll on Grant, who began to cramp in Game 4.
“In the beginning of the fourth I got a cramp in my leg,” he said. “I’ve never had a cramp, so once that happened I started compensating and using my left leg a lot. And then I started getting a cramp in both, so, once that happens, it’s like, well, I need a wheelchair or something.”
Afterwards, two-seed Golan basked in his victory and gave rave reviews to the MCO in his maiden journey here. “The club is so nice,” he said. “They do many fine shows, many parties for the players. I think it was so fun here, to stay here one week, and I hope I can come next year, of course.”
To view all of the MCO’s action and pictures, go to the tournament’s official website: www.TheMotorCityOpen.com.
With the PSA Tour nearing the conclusion of its North American swing, the fifth annual Berkshire Open, a $20,000 two-star PSA event, took place on the campus of Williams College in bucolic Western Massachusetts April 21-26. For the first time, main-draw matches were held on an all-glass McWil court temporarily erected in Chandler Gymnasium, making the tournament the third in North America to be contested on the McWil court. Only the Tournament of Champions in New York and the North American Open in Richmond (both PSA Super Series Silver events), also use the glass court.
The tournament’s chief aim was to raise $10,000 for NUSEA, the National Urban Squash and Educational Association, to sponsor the organization’s national championship tournament played in early June at Williams. Tournament organizer and director Zafi Levy, the head squash coach at Williams, said, “I feel very proud about our association with NUSEA and more people care about the tournament because of what we’re doing to promote opportunities for inner-city kids to play squash.”
Levy put together the tournament’s best-ever field, drawing entries from many top-40 players, and the play reflected the caliber of the entrants. He said, “I’m extremely excited that we brought a glass court to town. It’s a huge step up for the tournament. Now that we’ve done that successfully, we hope to do it again next year and make the Berkshire Open one of the biggest squash tournaments in the country.”
After two days of qualifying at Williams’s Simon Squash Center, sending through four qualifiers into the main draw of 16, first-round play got underway Thursday afternoon.
With hardly an exception, the seeding held true to form, with four of the top five seeds making it through to the last four. In the semifinals, #2 seed Jonathan Kemp of England overcame a determined challenge from fifth-seeded Arturo Salazar of Mexico, 9-11, 11-7, 11-4, 9-11, 11-5 in 55 minutes. “It’s good having had a tough match heading into the finals,” Salazar said. “It usually helps me play better the next day and takes the edge off the nerves.”
The top seed, Omar Mosaad of Egypt, got past American favorite Julian Illingworth, 12-10, 11-7, 11-9 in 53 minutes in Saturday’s second semifinal. The American said afterwards, “He’s just dangerous…he’s got a cannon on his arm and I didn’t really find the balance I wanted today.”
Sunday afternoon’s final featured a contrast between Mosaad’s power and imposing size, and the left-handed Kemp’s all-court prowess, which includes a great ability to disguise his shots, particularly near the front wall. Mosaad had dominated his three prior opponents but appeared a step slow from the outset of the final, an opening that the English veteran was quick to exploit.
Kemp took control of the final early in the third game and cruised to his second title of 2009, capturing his seventh PSA Tour title with an 11-7, 3-11, 11-5, 11-2 win in a match lasting just 33 minutes. The 28-year-old from Halifax, England, added the Berkshire title to an earlier win in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Kemp’s record in finals now stands at a sterling 7-2 overall.
“I wasn’t nervous at all out there today,” said the winner. “I’m not sure what happened with Omar [in the last two games] but I don’t think it was physical. I’ve had the same thing happen to me before.”
Mosaad fell to 3-4 in PSA Tour finals, and is 0-2 in finals in 2009, having also lost in the Kuala Lumpur final.
As ever, sponsorship plays a key role in any successful pro tournament, and True North Financial, Sabre Yachts, and Towers Perrin provided key support both leading up to and during the tournament, ensuring that the Berkshire Open’s fifth rendition was the most successful yet, and helping grow momentum for next year’s tournament.