Nicol gets her revenge in Cleveland

After playing two strong semifinals the previous night in the Tub O’ Towels WSA $50k Cleveland Classic, Nicol David and Laura Massaro knew something had to give when they met in the final; the woman who could dictate the pace and impose her will on the other would end up the winner. As things turned out, neither player let the other get into her comfort zone for long. Instead they fought a tense battle that wound up hinging on a few crucial points.

The opening game started much to Massaro’s liking — she established a deliberate rhythm and showed exceptional racquet work, reeling off four winners on the way to a 6-0 lead. She followed up with two tins and a ball out high, giving David a crack of daylight. All told the game would see nine errors (four from Massaro, five from David), making up half the game’s points — totals that were in stark contrast to the near-flawless play of the previous night.

At 4-8 down, David began to up the pace and move with more of the characteristic spring in her step. She lost the game 11-7 (on a service-return cross-court nick from Massaro), but the faster tempo would prove to be a good omen for the world champion.

In the second game David took a 3-0 lead, but Massaro benefited from two more David errors to move ahead 4-3. From there they traded high-pressured points to 9-9, when Massaro got a fortunate back-court nick to give her game ball.

What followed was the most memorable point of the night. Massaro was on the offensive, repeatedly hitting near-winners that David miraculously retrieved, at one point diving and recovering to chase the next shot down. Ultimately one of her returns died in the back left corner, much to Massaro’s dismay. (She was further dismayed by a debatable pickup from David, but after the match a well-timed photo showed the shot to be good.)

David forced an error to get her own game ball, 11-10, and Massaro nearly repeated David’s retrieving heroics, hanging on for dear life with three back-wall boasts, the last of which David polished off with a drop nick to take the game and seize the momentum.

David didn’t find the tin once in the third, and the improved execution would be decisive in her taking the game 11-7. In the fourth she decided to force Massaro to the front of the court, a strategy that proved effective: David raced to a 7-1 lead, fueled exclusively on drops and drives off Massaro counter-drops. The Englishwoman still had some fight in her, coming back to within two points at 9-7, but a marginal stroke gave David match ball, and after knocking a backhand overhead into the tin, she hit an unreachable drive that gave her the championship.

Afterward both players promised they’d be back in Cleveland same time next year, to the crowd’s cheers of approval.

01-Feb, Final:
[1] Nicol David (Mas) bt [3] Laura Massaro (Eng) 7/11, 12/10, 11/7, 11/8

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