Long matches the norm in Ohio

Charlie Johnson reports

It was a long but exhilarating night of squash at the first round matches of the 2012 EBS Dayton Open. A packed gallery on hand witnessed some of the best squash played in the 10 year history of this event that has names like Nicol, Darwish, Lincou, Gaultier, White, R. Ashour, and last year’s champion Alister Walker on the champion’s trophy.

World # 10 and the top seed Omar Mosaad of Egypt took the stage first and set the tone for the evening as it took him 49 minutes to take care of business against Zac Alexander of New Zealand ranked 36 in the world. Mosaad, who recently reached the finals of the finals of the International 70 event in Mexico City, seemed no worse for wear from that bruising tournament and played his usual very controlled game. Alexander, who was in Dayton last year, prevailed in the first game playing a similar steady but physical game, lost the next two games, and then fell victim to Mosaad’s steady play in overtime (14-12) in the 4th game.

The 49 minute 3-1 win of Mosaad, as good a match as it was, paled in comparison to France’s Mathieu Castagnet’s 3-1 victory over Campbell Grayson of New Zealand that took 108 minutes! The 40 minute first game exhibited to the packed gallery that this was a war and qualifier Grayson took the first game 13-11. Castagnet said “we both played a very physical first game and he pushed me very hard. He had good attacking shots to the front and he seemed very focused.” Easily the longest single game in the 10 year history of this event then lead to the longest match in the history of the event. Both players continued to have long punishing rallies, back and for games, but the next three went to Castagnet (11-7, 11-7, 11-4) that took another 68 minutes! Grayson said “that coming fresh from Mexico and altitude, we both seemed to be flying around the court the whole match” and there were numerous incredible retrieves that had the crowd gasping in exhaustion just from witnessing. The toll from qualifying showed up in the 4th game and Grayson fell to the “relatively” fresh Frenchman.

After these two opening matches, wildcard entry 19 year old Aurangzeb Mehmund of Pakistan now based in Dayton, OH and training with Charlie Johnson, stepped on court to face world # 26 Marwan El Shorbagy of Egypt. Obviously Mehmund had the crowd support (see pictures attached) and the local touring pro acquitted himself well as it took 40 minutes for the Egyptian to beat “Ranga” (our nickname for him) 11-5, 11-8, 11-7.

While all the shouting and cheering was going on for “Ranga,” on the other tournament court, the #4 seed Borja Golan of Spain (world # 17) took 30 minutes to dispatch world # 40 Siddharth Suchde of India in three straight games. Golan said “he felt very comfortable on these courts and I played a very controlled game” and although Suchde fought hard in the first game, losing 7-11, he just didn’t have an answer for Golan’s level of play.

Canada’s Shahier Razik (world # 27) stepped on court with # 3 seed and world # 16 Cameron Pilley of Australia to a mixed bag of support. The host club, Dayton Squash Center, has many Canadian expatriates as members and Razik a favorite has been here before, BUT….. no one can beat Pilley’s record 6 of 10 appearances at the EBS Dayton Open and they delighted the crowd with an excellent match. Razik took the first game 11-9. “He came out running like lightning and I was a bit sluggish” said Pilley as Razik took the first game 11-9 but it looked like he knew the veteran Razik couldn’t sustain the pace of play. Pilley dominated games 2 & 3 (11-2, 11-2) but in game four, Razik stepped it back up to the level of the first game and traded rally for rally until 6-all but Pilley realized he couldn’t relax and pushed on to win the next 5 rallies.

Qualifier Yasir Butt of Pakistan (world # 61 and last year’s finalist and local favorite) saw his successful run in Dayton end tonight against Australia’s Ryan Cuskelly ranked world # 32. In another long (52 minutes) and heatedly contested match, Butt lost 1-3 to the determined Cuskelly who had to battle Butt and the crowd. Cuskelly took the first 2 games (11-5, 11-7), but Butt fought back to take the 3rd game 11-8 before falling 6-11 in the fourth.

The Butt match had most of the crowd’s attention and missed the accompanying match where qualifier Gregoire Marche of France (world # 42) was placed against main draw player and world # 40 Chris Ryder of England. Evenly ranked, on paper this looked likely to be another long contest in a night of long matches. Although the games were close (11-9, 11-9, 11-6), the French qualifier won in three and moves on in the tradition of this tournament where at least one qualifier makes it through past the first round (some to finals: see Ramy Ashour and Yasir Butt).

Although the 2012 EBS Dayton Open had already witnessed a main draw match tonight that took 108 minutes, it was tonight’s 88 minute final match between # 2 seed, last year’s EBS champion, and world # 13 Alister Walker of Botswana against qualifier Cesar Salazar (world #52) of Mexico that thrilled the packed crowd.

Salazar had looked strong in the qualifying draw and continued his quick and aggressive play tonight and took Walker to a place that few top athletes can return from. Salazar was quick, Salazar was accurate, Salazar anticipated and he hit nicks almost at will. After the first two games, last year’s EBS Champion Alister Walker, found himself down 2 games (11-9, 11-7) and facing a quick exit from Dayton. With a change of strategy, changing the pace, lobs from the front instead of drops, and better shot selection, Walker got himself back in the match winning the third game 11-0.

Now down 1-2, the # 2 seed had some soul searching to do. Salazar needed a rest in game 3, the change of strategy had worked, but with a 1-2 deficit, Walker still faced a challenge and although Walker was playing well, Salazar seemed to have an answer for every question on the court. What would game 4 produce?

Game 4 was almost a repeat of game 2 except this time Walker won. Salazar continued to try to “shoot” to victory and who can blame him as he’d played two matches prior to meeting Walker tonight. The tin, however, proved to be his enemy in this game as he had to risk the volley short from the back of the court due to fatigue. At the end of this game where now Walker had battled back from 0-2 to 2-2 veteran players sitting with me spectating said “he’s done” – meaning Salazar………far from the truth.

After being down 0-2 in games, now 2-all, # 2 seed Walker made some really bad unforced errors in game five to find himself down 1-8 in the 5th game. Turning to the glass back-wall at this point, he seemed determined to believe he could come back and you could see it in his eyes. Salazar, playing like a true champion all night, sensing this might be his moment to break into the elite tried to close. What happened over the next 13 minutes is the most intense 5th game of squash I’ve ever seen.

Walker faced 4 match points before he won 15-13.

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