PSA $35k Dayton Open, Qualifying Finals
Charlie Johnson reports
In an 83 minute, 5 game “battle of giants,” Pakistan’s Yasir Butt continued his success in Dayton at the EBS Dayton Open defeating Christopher Gordon of the USA. Last year, the Dayton Squash Center’s “adopted” hero took only 3 games to earn a spot in the main draw and an eventual march to the finals against Alister Walker. Tonight was a different story and again the packed gallery witnessed an incredible display of squash and athleticism from both players.
The 18 minute first game set the tone for the match as it was apparent that both Gordon and Butt were determined to earn a spot in the main draw. With both players tall, both rangy, both willing to cut the ball off and attack the front, the crowd was treated to a great back and forth game that saw Butt victorious 11-8. In game 2 that seemed to be almost a rewind of the first, Gordon, who was urged on by his supporters in the crowd, turned the tables and won 11-8.
The important third game saw both players raise their game to an incredible level. Words can’t describe the extraordinary and often long points displayed on the court, many ending in lets (much to the groan of the crowd and dismay of the players!), and after 23 minutes Butt took a 2-1 lead in the match winning 13-11 on a point that featured incredible retrieves and attacks from both players. The crowd roared, the players rested for 90 seconds, and they played on.
The game three win seemed to take a toll on Butt who had played the long 5 game match last night to get to this point and Gordon got back in the match winning game four 11-4. Gordon, refusing to acknowledge the fatigue he must have felt, stayed out front, took the ball early, and forced Butt to conserve energy on retrieving punishing attacks.
Over an hour after they started, Butt and Gordon walked back on the court right back where they started: even in game wins. This time, one game meant the match. Despite their obvious fatigue, the squash returned to the level of game 3 and for another 20 minutes they battled as before and thrilled the crowd point after point. At 9-all in the fifth, with both players giving 120% despite no gas in the tank, one spectating PSA player was heard to say “all this for $500 and 55 ranking points, now that’s commitment” – the crowd obviously agreed! Although Gordon fought hard, Butt won back to back long rallies to take the match and enjoy the cheers of the crowd. Gordon’s effort was also acknowledged and the American is playing some excellent squash at this point in his career. (photo attached, not sure of the quality as I took it myself!)
The match preceding the above mentioned Titanic struggle saw Qualifier # 1 seed Gregoire Marche of France, world # 42, take the court for the first time against Shawn Delierre of Canada. It took the Frenchman 76 minutes to take care of business in a match where Marche won 11-13, 12-10, 11-6, 11-6. Numerous points ended in “let” and had to be repeated which contributed to the length of the mach but this contest got the crowd “primed” for the rest of the evening.
The night’s third match saw Mexico’s Cesar Salazar, seeded # 8, upset the # 3 seed Aamir Atlas Khan of Pakistan in 4 games. The 52 minute match saw a tight two first games that the player’s swapped, 11-9 for Khan and 12-10 for Salazar. In the third game, Khan made some unforced errors that gave Salazar the edge and he won 11-6. By game 4, Khan seemed to see the writing on the wall. He got down 0-4, won a long rally but then dropped 4 more straight to be down 1-8. After dropping 3 points, Salazar closed out the match and won 11-4 to advance.
The night’s final match was anything but “anti-climatic” as #7 seed Campbell Grayson of New Zealand also advanced to the main draw by upsetting higher seed, # 2 seed Omar Abdel Aziz of Egypt. Continuing the night’s precedence of long matches, it took Grayson 72 minutes to score the win 11-8, 9-11, 11-4, 11-8. The sponsors, patrons, and spectators who filled the Dayton Squash Center tonight got an incredible “dish” of squash served up right until the end of the “meal.”