(Inputs from Hugh Higgins, Mithun Mukherjee)
Photos from the SemiFinals (by Paul Shin)
Yasser El Halaby bt. Ahmed Hamza (11-7, 12-10, 11-7)
By Mithun Mukherjee
The crowd was there not just because it was a semifinal but because Yasser was playing – like they’ve always been since Round 1. This evening, the Princetonian wildcard in the tournament was pitted against Westchester based pro and a regular Rochester visitor, Ahmed Hamza. Th game started off with Hamza tinning he first serve from Yasser but keeping it tight for the rest of the game. In the end Yasser’s low boasts and deceptive front court game got the better of him.
In the second , Hamza seemed to have hit upon something as he played lob after lob making it difficult for Yasser to stick to his front court plan. Inspite of this, Yassers excellent racquet skills took him to a 10-6 lead but then Ahmeds resilience paid off as Yasser faltered and made a couple of unforced errors, enough for Ahmed to come back and level the score 10-10. The game ended with Yasser being awarded a stroke coming down from his backswing.
In the third, Hamza raced to a quick 5-0 lead. But then Yasser resumed his frontcourt deception with a healthy dose of boasts. The tall Ahmed stretched unimaginably to retrieve every shot but Yasser clawed back to level it 7-7. He continued in s similar fashion until 10-7 and was awarded a stroke alongwith a place in tomorrows final.
Miguel Angel Rodriguez bt. Ben Gould 3-1 (8-11, 12-10, 11-7,11-9)
By Hugh Higgins
Top seeded Miguel Angel Rodriguez of Columbia moved into the finals of the Rochester Pro after he faced off against 3rd seed Ben Gould of Australia in the first of the tournamentâ€™s semi-final matches. With a large crowd watching them, top seed Rodriguez took on the retrieving machine that is Ben Gould and matched him shot for shot. It was a fast-paced first game with long rallies that featured high lobs to the back corners and deft drop shots to the front. Rodriguez, a compact and lithe player, was incredibly quick to the ball. Gould showed great shot making ability â€“ no doubt a beneficial by-product of his doubles playing experience. The first game was very close and Gould took the early lead winning the game 11-8.
The second game flowed seamlessly from the first with both players visiting all corners of the court on almost every point. Matching each other shot for shot, Rodriguez tried to keep Gould low in the front of the court and Gould kept pushing Rodriguez back into the corners, digging impossible shots off the back wall. This was very clean squash with only a few let calls, Rodriguez kept to the short game and won 12-10 in a close tie-breaker.
With the match tied at a game apiece, the third game saw very few mistakes. This is not to saw this was safe squash, it was full of highly exciting and low percentage squash, but still there were very few errors. The players waged a battle of attrition with points that went on for 30 shots or more. Towards the end of the game, after just tinning his second shot in a row, Gould made a comment about the tin being high. Though he was only venting, this caused the crowd to murmur excitedly in the way only true fanatics can about the subtle differences between the college and pro game.
Meanwhile, the players themselves were putting on a display of almost exhibition squash, hitting impossible shots off the back wall and replying with reverse boasts and a behind the back volley by Gould that highlighted his lightning reflexes and kept him in a point when most would have given up. Rodriguez was quick throughout to ask for lets and received them to the chagrin of Gould. At 8-7, Rodriguez showed great deceptive skills and set-up for a cross-court drive off a short drop that caught Gould flat footed and even had the crowd leaning the wrong way. Gouldâ€™s problems with the tin continued to plague him and Rodriguez closed out he game at 11-7 and went up two games to one.
Rodriguez appeared for the fourth game with a determined look on his face while Gould appeared relaxed and almost Zen-like. The pace of the last two games had caused Gould, on his third shirt of the match, to seem a half-step slower than the first game and Rodriguez went up 6-1. Gould protested a not-up call by the referee to no avail, but this seemed to strengthen his resolve and he started to hit with authority. Rodriguez however, was quicker to get back to the T. With Gould going for more winners the pair had their longest point of the match, with almost 50 shots being traded. Rodriguez had a superior drop shot and went up to 9-7. On the next point Rodriguez faked not one but two different shots, purposely swinging and missing the ball on the volley in an attempt to draw a stroke from Gould, only to then hit the ball after it hit off the back wall, but still lost the point. At 9-10, however, Rodriguez hit a rail cross-court into the body of Gould, catching him off guard at mid-court for the win. Gould was visibly disappointed, but not the crowd, who were treated to superb squash and a great preview of one of the finalists. If we get a final half as good, we should consider ourselves lucky.