Match reports by Jesse Cramer, Photos by Paul Schwartz:
Asyraf Azan bt. Cameron Stafford (6-11, 11-7, 11-7, 13-11)
First round of the Rochester ProAm, and the number 1 seed Asyraf faced off the against the potentially fatigued qualifier Cameron Stafford. The first started out with Asyraf looking rather unconcerned, and Cameron jumped out to a 5-0 lead in less than 90 seconds. The crowd, suffice to say, was speechless. Asyraf did settle down eventually, and pulled back to 4-7 after some basic, clean squash. But a couple of tins and some soft Caymanian hands drove Cameron to 10-4 up, and he converted the third game up with a thunderous nick off the serve. 11-6 to Cameron, 1-0 up.
The second game started with a visibly more focused Asyraf, as he pushed Cam deep into the court time and again, and then capitalized with a soft touch up front. Although Asyraf jumped out to a quick 6-2 lead, Cam fought back to 5-6, but a few tins gave Asyraf another big lead at 9-5. Although Cam fought to 7-9, Asyraf played a couple well-constructed rallies to win the game 11-7. One all.
The third starting with Asyraf in control at 4-1 up, but Cameron drew level at 4-4. A few points traded back and forth until Asyraf gained a crucial two point lead at 8-6, and the 9-7. A stroked then gave Asyraf three game balls at 10-7 up. A straight backhand kill secured it for Asyraf, winning the third 11-7.
In the fourth, it appeared that Asyraf was in control, but a few unforced errors gave Cameron a 5-3 lead, which he quickly turned into 7-4. But back came Asyraf, tying the game at 7-7. But Cameron refused to be beaten, scrambling around the court and picking up winners, eventually winning the rallies himself; 9-7 to Stafford. But two correct no lets brought Asyraf back to 9-9, and the atmosphere grew tense. A stroke gave Asyraf his first match ball, but a wonderful volley length from Cam resulted in a no let, and the tie-break ensued. After a straight nick winner from Cameron, Asyraf put together two solid rallies to gain a 12-11 lead. After a lengthy rally, a cross-court fade from Asyraf hit its second bounce before Cam could pick it up, and the fourth game and match go to Asyraf, 13-11.
Recorded stream – Alzabidi vs Bukhari, Alexander vs Leong, Harrity vs Khan, McCue vs Kobayashi:
Ahamd Alzabidi bt. Hamza Bukhari (11-9, 11-2, 8-11, 9-11, 11-7)
This match saw big (Ahmad) vs. small (Hamza) in a wonderful clash of styles. Hamza played clean and smooth, while Ahmad played hard and fast. Both players found common ground, however, when it came to asking “Why?” to the referee. Back and forth they went to 5-5, before Ahmad was able to string together a few drops and nicks to take him to 8-5. But back came Hamza, keep the pace steady and clean to 8-8. Discussion ensued, both lawyers…err, players…making their cases to the referee. Back and forth, Ahmad eventually putting together a few clean shots to get to 10-9 up. And an unforced tin from Hamza gave Ahmad the first, 11-9.
The second started with Ahmad controlling the pace through volleying every ball possible, keeping Hamza at the back of the court. Just like the first, both players felt compelled to plead with the judge…sorry, referee…to prove their respective cases. But overall, Ahmad controlled the pace with his volleys, and finished the rallies with touch and flicks, building a 7-1 lead. Although Hamza managed to put together a few good rallies, Ahmad’s pressure and touch proved too much, winning the second 11-2.
Hamza came out much more settled in the third, and steadily built a 4-1 lead. Ahmad clawed back to 3-5 down, and then the pain ensued; argument after argument, neither player happy with the other’s movement nor the ref’s decisions. C’mon fellas, the ball should be your focus. Decision after decision, an injury timeout finally had to be taken for the referee, as his hand was cramping from all the let calls. Hamza managed to put together a few rallies to take a 9-5 lead. Although Ahmad fought back to 8-10, a stroke gave Hamza the game, 11-8. 2-1 overall to Ahmad.
Should I mention that the fourth was contentious? I’m just a man with a keyboard and an opinion, but this is the dark side of squash. Nobody minds the occasional player comment, but this kind of squash is what every fan fears. It’s hard to write about the rallies when the crowd is focused on the players’ commentary. But, you squash enthusiasts, I’ll do my best. Hamza started out the stronger of the two, but Ahmad started hitting his shots and fought back to 9-9. But a down-the-middle cross court shot drew a stroke against Ahmad, and Hamza found himself with a game ball to force a deciding fifth game. A tin from Ahmad ended it; 11-9 to Hamza, 2-2.
Ahmad started out strong in the fifth, forcing loose shots and tins out of Hamza to take a 4-0 lead. But Hamza climbed back to 5-7, taking advantage of some tinny play from Ahmad. A stroke followed by a dead roller gave Ahmad a 9-5 lead, and it appeared as though the match was his to lose. A hoooooold-straight drive gave Ahmad a 10-5 lead, as Hamza couldn’t find his balance to retrieve the deceptive shot. Although Hamza clawed a couple game balls back, Ahmad pulled it out 11-7.
Aqib Hanif bt. Mario Yanez (11-13, 11-5, 5-11, 11-2, 11-4)
First things first, is that Wael el Hindi playing in capri pants?! No, it’s the ever-so-smooth Aqib Hanif. Good squash was played from the first, but Hanif was applying a bit more pressure than Mario, and the scoreline favored Aqib 6-4. But Mario fought back to 7-7, retrieving Aqib’s best shots and returning pressure of his own. A beautiful jumping cross-court nick brought Mario to 9-9, and the pressure was on. The two traded points to 10-10, and then a wonderful hold-hold-length gave Mario his first game ball. Although he couldn’t convert at 11-10, Mario got another game ball at 12-11, and converted with a dying forehand length. 13-11 and 1-0 to Yanez.
Aqib started the second much more determined, and quickly built a 5-1 lead, using tight length and soft touch to force Mario into unforgiving positions. Unfortunately, Mario had no good answer, and Aqib found himself 10-2 up. Although Mario was able to save three game balls, the lead was insurmountable, and Aqib pulled even with an 11-5 second game win.
Mario carried his late game momentum into the third, and pushed Aqib around the court time and again, finishing the rallies wonderfully to the tune of a 6-1 lead. Aqib fought back to 4-6, but Mario kept pushing the pace and forced some errors to go up 9-4, before winning the game 11-5. Yanez up 2-1.
Mario could not hold his form going into the fourth, finding the tin too many times. Aqib took advantage to build a 6-2 lead. Mario simply couldn’t come back, and the game went to Aqib 11-2. Two games all.
The fifth game started out tight, but Aqib began to pull away, as it appeared the qualification rounds began to show in Mario?s legs. A 5-2 lead quickly grew to 10-4. Try as he might, Mario could not come back, and Aqib converted his first game ball to win 11-4.
Zac Alexander bt. Leroy Leong (11-4, 11-3, 11-4)
From the first point, Zac asserted himself on the T and refused to let Leroy gain any semblance of control. Zac?s 5-0 lead grew to an 11-3 victory.?The second picked up where the first left off, Zac controlling the T, the pace, the points. Although more competitive, Zac still won with a fair margin, 11-4.
The third, again, saw the tall Aussie dominating play, leaving no openings for Leroy to make any headway. The third to Zac, 11-3.
Lewis Walters bt. Thomas Brinkman (11-13, 11-1, 11-6, 11-4)
Back and forth they went. 3-1 turned into 3-5 into 7-6, as neither Lewis nor Thomas could establish and maintain a lead. Sure enough, they found themselves at 11-11 after 15 minutes of wonderful squash. But at 12-11 up, Thomas played a wonderful straight flick that had even the fans going to wrong way. First game to Brinkman, 13-11.?The second saw a turning of the tides. Lewis came out like a bat out of hell, dominating the pace and taking full advantage of too many Brinkman tins. The second goes quickly to Walters, 11-1.?Lewis carried his good play into the third, going up 3-1, then 5-2, then 8-4. Try as he might, Thomas could not close the gap. Although he did get to 6-8 down, Brinkman eventually succumbed to Lewis?s pressure. The third to Walters, 11-6.?Although Thomas was applying pressure, his finishing shot found the tin too much. Lewis, meanwhile, was playing error-free squash and gained a 6-1 lead. More steady play from Lewis, some fancy tins from Thomas, and the match was all but over. Thomas saved a few match balls, but Lewis finally converted to win the game and match 11-4.
Todd Harrity bt. Shahjahan Khan (11-9, 11-6, 11-8)
Hard and straight from Todd. Smooth and steady from Shah. This match saw clean hitting and clean play. Shah suffered through Todd?s early pressure, and built himself a nice 7-3 lead. But Todd fought back, making nary a mistake, to 7-8, and then 8-9. A tin leveled to two, 9-9, and a tight drop from Todd gave him a game ball at 10-9. After a lengthy rally, Todd pinned Shah in the back, and Shah couldn?t dig it out; 11-9 to Todd. In the second, Todd began to establish his physical superiority, moving Shah around and dominating the T. After falling behind 5-0, Shah managed to string a few points together, coming back to 4-6. But it wasn?t enough. Todd regained control to go up 9-5, and then 10-6. Shah scrambled to stay in the game, but his back-wall boast clipped out of court, and Todd pulled out the second game 11-6 to gain a 2-0 lead.
The third saw more of the same, with Todd asserting himself a bit more than Shah. But after Todd gained a 8-5, Shah came back to make it 8-8, and the crowd was excited. A lengthy rally ensued, only to end in…an accidental back-wall nick, 9-8 to Todd. The next rally was even lengthier, only to end in…another back-wall nick, 10-8. Todd converted his first match ball on a beautiful backhand volley drop, winning the third and the match 11-8.
Peter Creed bt. Chris Binnie (11-7, 11-2, 11-3)
Creedy is used to playing against bigger opponents, but not many as big as Chris Binnie. The crowd loved the contrast, but sadly for Chris, they usually choose David over Goliath.?The squash was even and clean at the start, Creedy gaining a slight 6-4 advantage. Peter was playing the tighter of the two, but was also making more errors, allowing Chris to stay close. Everyone appreciated some great sportsmanship from Chris when he agreed to play a let (even though he was given a stroke) at 6-8 down. Creedy won the point, and turned what could have been 8-7 into 9-6. Chris could not come back, and Peter won the first 11-7.
Creedy continued his strong play into the second, picking up all of Chris?s best shots and returning some quality of his own. Clearly, he?s hiding some power in his beard…or his leg tattoo…or maybe his Alfafa hair-do. 3-0 turned into 7-1, Peter completely in control. If one thing is true, Creedy knows how to construct a rally. At 10-2 up, the game was all but won, and Creedy?s tight drop shot sealed the deal. 11-2 to Creed, 2-0 up.
Too much speed, too much Creed. Even with a few unforced errors, Peter continued to control the pace and the scoreline in the third. The pressure from Chris in some rallies seemed insurmountable, but Peter scrambled and absorbed, drawing wordless smiles from the awestruck fans. Game and match to Creed, 11-3.
Mike McCue bt. Ryosei Kobayashi (11-8, 11-13, 11-6, 12-10)
Two youngsters faced off in this first round match, with Rochester freshman Ryosei Kobayashi taking on Canadian (relative) newcomer Mike McCue. Mike took advantage of some loose play from Ryo early on, and built a strong 6-3 lead. Ryo managed to put a couple points together, but Mike still held on, up 8-5. Never say die, and Ryo fought back to 8-9 down, and the crowd grew edgy. But it wasn?t quite enough, and Mike held on to win the first, 11-8.?
Ryo appeared fatigued coming into the second, and Mike took full advantage, steadfastly building an 8-4 lead. But a two solid rallies and two tins brought Ryo back to 8-8, anyone?s game. Back and forth, 9-9. And then Ryo anticipated a cross-court and played a perfect length, securing his first game ball, 10-9 up. After a couple dubious lets, Mike managed to save it, 10-10. Then Ryo?s turn to save a game ball, 11-11. A tight drop gave Ryo another game ball, and then CLAP OF THUNDER, Ryo smashed a straight drive too hard, too low for Mike to pick up. The second to Kobayashi, 13-11.
Cheeky, Kobe. That was just cheeky. Ryo was pleasing the crowd while fighting for points, but it was Mike that gained a 3-1 lead. Some early scrappiness turned into downright contention, as Mike wasn?t happy with Ryo?s movement nor the calls he was getting. Squash on, gents, and Mike gained a 6-4 lead. A lucky (unlucky?) nick, followed by a tin gave Mike a commanding 8-4 lead. Mike wouldn?t relinquish, winning the game 11-6.?
Mike started the fourth determined to end the match, but Ryo had other ideas. Despite falling behind 3-1, Ryo hit some magical shots to take the lead 5-3. Not too fast, Ryo, as Mike made it 6-6. Back and forth to 8-8, and then 9-9. Ryo kept attacking, but Mike defended like a Spartan. Finally, Mike forced a tin out of Ryo to get a match ball, but KOOOOOOBE, Ryo hit a rolling nick to force the tie break. Another steady rally from Mike, 11-10. Finally, Mike squeezed Ryo too tight on the backhand wall, winning the game and match 12-10.