Miguel is the Champion!

(By Thomson Chew)

Photos from the Finals
(By Paul Schwartz, Mithun Mukherjee)

On a rainy Sunday afternoon the enthusiastic squash fans packed the University of Rochester squash courts to view the final match of the 2006 Rochester Pro Am. Many of the spectators had witnessed the solid play of both players over the previous two days and were anticipating an exciting finish.

Rochester Squash Racquets Association President Bob Gerace offered a round of thanks to the tournament sponsors, volunteers, and fans for helping to bring pro squash to Rochester. Tournament Director Eric Hernady introduced the finalist Miguel Angel Rodriguez of Columbia and Yasser El-Halaby of Egypt. Miguel is on the pro tour and ranked 73. Yasser is finishing a stellar career on the Princeton University varsity squash team and is preparing himself for the pro circuit.

Game 1:

Yasser serves in and begins to dictate a fast and furious pace. The first point involves dozens of rails and boasts by both players, ending in a point for Yasser. Two unforced errors from Miguel give Yasser a quick 4-0 lead. Miguel gains the service after a stroke is awarded him. He proceeds to win the next point after a long exchange of shots that took Miguel around the four corners of the court before Yasser places his attempted winner into the tin. Despite the error, Yasser responds back with a hard and low service return along the right rail. Back on the service, Yasser continues to enforce his pace, but Miguel is settling down and playing better length. Working Yasser to the front and back, Miguel picks up the next three points to tie the game at 5-5. At this point, it appears that Miguel is stepping up the pressure and feeling more confident in his shot selection. Yasser hits the tin on the next point to give Miguel a 6-5 lead. This lead is short lived as Yasser hits a beautiful backhand volley into the knick to take control of the service again. The next three points are created by errors as Miguel hits one out of court and Yasser hits the tin twice to give Miguel the lead again at 8-7. At 8-7 the fans got a treat watching one of the longer points of the game (and match). Both players push each other around the court with rails, drops, and incredible retrievals from the front and back of the court. The point ends after Yasser retrieves Miguel’s fake to the cross court drop and plays it into the knick. After two rallies and two lets, both players pick up a point to tie 9-9. After another intense rally that ends in a let, Miguel wins the next point on a well executed cross court drop. At 10-9, Yasser fights back to 10-10 when he hits a tight drop that Miguel cannot return. With the score tied 10-10 Yasser hits a tin on the next point. At game point Miguel serves in and a long rally ensues with Yasser pushing Miguel front and back, only to end the point with a tin that gives game one to Miguel 12-10.

Game 2:

The crowd was anticipating a similar fight as game one, but after the first two points are sent to the tin by each player, the game was all Yasser. From 1-1 he proceeds to run up the score to 6-1 before Miguel scores again. Most of Yasser’s points are out right winners or errors from Miguel. It appears that Miguel left his legs off the court as he is one or more steps out of position on each point. (After the match Miguel conceded that his quadricepses were feeling the wear of game one and his previous matches.) Within several minutes Yasser is at game ball. Miguel ends the game with his fourth tin, giving Yasser an 11-2 win and added confidence for the third game.

Game 3:

Yasser starts the game with a convincing volley into side knick to go 1-0. He continues the pressure on Miguel and races to 4-0 after earning two tins from Miguel and a cross court that catches Miguel retreating to the T a step too late. At this point the crowd senses a repeat of game two. Miguel finally scores a point and serves in at 1-5. After exchanging a point each, Yasser returns the pressure on Miguel. At 6-2 both players use attacking shots to the front, but Yasser prevails with a faked drop that he drills to the back corner. Yasser continues to use his tight rails and boasts to drag Miguel back and across the court effectively. At 9-4 Miguel serves in and benefits from Yasser’s return into the tin. On the next point Miguel plays a great counter drop that Yasser cannot reach in time. Another tin by Yasser takes Miguel within two points of tying at 7-9. There is a great rally between the two as each player scrambles to retrieve well-placed shots. Yasser ends the point with a drop into the front left knick to reach game ball at 10-7. Yasser controls game point by moving the ball to the left and to the right sides at Miguel’s expense. Despite a great effort to keep the game alive, Miguel gets caught by Yasser’s tight right side rail. The game ends 11-7 and Yasser has a 2-1 lead.

Game 4:

Yasser serves in and begins to apply his backhand volley drops on Miguel, but instead of falling behind, Miguel picks up the first point. Yasser replies with a backhand volley knick to tie at 1-1. A tin by Yasser on the next point turns the serve over to Miguel. Both players trade points to reach 3-2 in Miguel’s favor. Yasser continues his steady pressure with plenty of drops to keep Miguel running and bending low to retrieve. At 4-2 Miguel gets worked around the court by Yasser, but he makes several incredible retrieves in the front and in the back of the court as Yasser hits deep and then drops and hits deep again and drops again. After losing the point to Yasser the crowd responds with an enthusiastic applause. Even Yasser had to acknowledge the athletic determination that was displayed by Miguel. Miguel hits a tin on his next shot to give Yasser a chance at 3-5. Yasser works himself back into the game to tie 6-6. Yasser wins the next point on a counter drop. Both players are attacking well and forcing errors to occur. At 8-8 a great rally occurs with both players dropping and counter dropping in the front court. A shot into the tin by Miguel gives Yasser the lead at 9-8. Another long point has Miguel benefiting this time with a well placed drop to the front left that a diving Yasser cannot reach before the second bounce. Tied at 9-9, Miguel and Yasser pound the balls down the rails. The rally continues for several shots and appears to be Yasser’s point with a deep rail up the right wall. Miguel scrambles to reach it and makes an outstretched dive toward the back wall. A snap of his wrist knocks the ball off the back wall and to the front left wall where Yasser is waiting. Despite his attempt to push Miguel back again, Miguel recovers well to attack and ends up placing a beautiful drop to the front left to win the point. At game ball Miguel completes the comeback with a winner to end the game at 11-9 and to set up a decisive game five.

Game 5:

The packed crowd is leaning in toward the glass back wall for the anticipated battle between these two great players. Miguel has fought back and is looking refreshed and confident in his new red shirt. The game starts well for Miguel as he benefits from his well placed shots, especially the boast and cross court. Yasser adds a couple of tins that allowed his opponent to reach 4-0 after a few minutes of play. At 4-0 it looks like Miguel will run away with the game. Yasser finally responds with a nifty cross court fake. At 2-4 Yasser calls for a let after he sets up near the T to play a ball with Miguel within his backhand stroke. The let stands much to Yasser’s consternation. Miguel proceeds to take control again and runs the score up to 8-3. Miguel appears to pulling out all of the moves to keep Yasser guessing. At 9-4 Yasser hits the tin on an open drop to the front left. Miguel served in at 10-4, but proceeds to hit a potential winner into the tin. Yasser picks up another point to reach 6-10. On the next match point Miguel benefits from a cross court drive that hits strangely and forces Yasser to miss-time his stroke. Game, match to Miguel Angel Rodriguez 3-2.

Final scores: Miguel Angel Rodriguez def. Yasser El-Halaby 3-2. Scores were 12-10, 2-11, 7-11, 11-9, 11-6


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