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The stage is set

Match reports by Jesse Cramer:

Zac Alexander bt. Asyraf Azan (9-11, 11-9, 11-6 3-11, 12-10) in 104 minutes
The weather is gorgeous outside here in Rochester, a rare occasion. But inside the Lyman Squash Center, Asyraf Azan and Zac Alexander faced off in the first semi-final match. Asyraf’s game plan was very apparent, boasting an unusual number of times. He was trying to expose what he thought was rust in Zac’s movement. But Zac seemed prepared for it, moving quite fluidly and striking the ball with stereotypical Aussie cleanliness. All tied up at 4-4, some early nerves and tins from both players. They settled down, and started playing clean rallies and clean winning shots. Asyraf’s speed allowed him to keep a few tough points going, winning some rallies even though Zac seemed in control. 8-6 to Asyraf. An unforced tin from Zac, followed by a cross-court fade from Zac, and then a tin from Asyraf , and it’s 8-9, Zac’s serve. The serve was loose, and Asyraf crushed it into the nick, 10-8. Asyraf squandered his first game ball, hitting a weak tin. But on his second, he managed the squeeze Zac to the backhand wall, forcing a loose shot from Zac that resulted in a stroke. First game to the Malaysian, 11-9.
To start the second, Asyraf playing exhibition style squash, going for nicks and using rather inefficient movement patterns. Although fun to watch, it hurt him more than it helped, as Zac used play to build a 5-3 lead, and then 6-4 lead. A bit of controversy on the next point, as Asyraf’s drop clipped a small crack in the front wall plaster and jumped unnaturally sideways; Zac kept playing, Asyraf stopped…a no let was given. Can we get an official ruling from someone in cyberspace? The best rallies, in my opinion, are when the two players trade control multiple times, showing that they can both distribute and absorb pressure. The tail end of the second game was defined by those rallies, and the crowd was very much appreciative. Asyraf found his finishing touch, and out-manuevered Zac back to 8-8. Tin, tin, tin after three lengthy rallies, 10-9 to Zac. A few lets over the next three rallies, Zac unhappy with Asyraf’s movement, and Asyraf unhappy with the ref’s judgment. After another drawn out rally, Zac squeezed Asyraf with a tight drop shot, and Asyraf could not pick it up cleanly; game to Zac, 11-9.
Zac’s continued his consistent play in the third, taking advantage of some unwise and poorly executed attacking shots from Asyraf; 3-0 after 45 seconds. Although it appeared Asyraf was settling down, the crowd was baffled when, after a legitimate let call, the Malaysian threw down his racket, kick the ground, and punched the wall. After another let call, the Malaysian released a barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world, “WHHHHHY ref?! WHY?!” Proceedings were getting chippy. The squash carried on to 5-5. Straight nick roller, an easy tin, and a stroke; 8-5 to Zac. Two traded rallies, and then an unforced tin from Asyraf, 10-6 to Zac. Right off the next serve, Asyraf found the tin, and the third went to Zac 11-6, 2-1 up.
Zac couldn’t maintain his form into the fourth, and Asyraf took advantage of the many free points that Zac gave him. 4-1 quickly grew into 8-2, and the game was all but over. The fourth to Asyraf, 11-3.
The fifth, as could be expected, was slow and staccato. Many lets interrupted play, as the match surpassed the 80 minutes mark. The scoreline advanced slowly but evenly, the two players locked at 3-3. But by using some unforced errors from Zac, combined with a couple cheeky winners, Asyraf built an imposing 7-4 lead. Back and forth, 8-5. A wonderful drop shot, 9-5. Zac tried to sneak a shot down the middle, but Asyraf read it and took advantage of Zac’s bad position, 10-5 match ball. But after a straight nick, a tin, and a no let, Zac found himself at 8-10. Another tin from Asyraf, 9-10. Next point, Zac held Asyraf and sent him the wrong way. By the time the Malaysian recovered, the ball was dying in the back. 10-10, tie-breaker. Doesn’t get closer than this. Another dying length from Zac, and a no let; 11-10, match ball for the Aussie. After a series of lets, a reverse boast from Zac sent Asyraf the wrong way, and the comeback was complete. Zac Alexander wins a drawn out thriller, 12-10 in the fifth.

Todd Harrity bt. Peter Creed (11-8, 11-7, 11-5) in 45 minutes
Fast players and fast play defined the early goings of the second semi-final match. The crowd was enthralled by Peter skittering and scuttling about the court, while Todd’s fast reactions across the T kept Creedy under pressure. Still, the squash was even, and the players fought to 6-6. A few tight lengths in a row gave Todd a crucial two point advantage, and he continued tight play to secure three game balls. Although Creedy saved the first, Todd converted the second. First to Harrity, 11-8.
Todd continued his strong play into the second, and Peter couldn’t maintain his class from the first. A 4-1 lead grew to 8-2, as Todd vollied Peter into the back of the court time and again. Creedy fought back to 6-9, then 7-10, but the hole was too deep. The second goes to Todd, 11-7.
More pressure to start the third from Todd. 3-1, 5-2, 6-3 to Todd. Even when Peter anticipated a shot, Todd was too wide, or too tight, or too low. At 9-4 down, Creedy released his emotions towards the heavens, a culmination of his frustration. A stroke gave Todd six match balls. Peter saved the first, but Todd converted the second. Game and match to Harrity, 11-5.

And so the stage is set for tomorrow…will Zac be the second Australian to become the next Rochester ProAm Champion (following in the footsteps of his countryman Ryan Cuskelly in 2009) or will Todd become the first American to claim the title in the 13 year history of the event. We find out tomorrow at noon Eastern time. Live streaming action at http://www.rocprosquash.com/live

Posted in 2014
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