It was a rough day for most of the locals as the Delaware Investments U.S. Open men’s qualifying got under way at four clubs across Philadelphia.
At Drexel University, which will be hosting all the main draw matches for the men’s and women’s events, four local teaching pros failed to advance as active tour players Campbell Grayson, Alfredo Avila, Rex Hedrick and Steve Finitsis all advanced in straight games.
Merion Cricket Club was the scene of the sole home win as Todd Harrity, the former collegiate number one, delighted his home club crowd with a comeback five-game win over England’s Chris Ryder in 75 minutes, the longest match of the round. Eddie Charlton, Abdullah Al Mezayen and Ramit Tandon—a student at Colombia University—all advanced without losing a game.
At Germantown Cricket Club Yasir Butt, Matthew Karwalski and Jaymie Haycocks won in straight games while Malaysia’s Muhd Asyraf Azan took the full five games and 72 minutes to see off Irishman Arthur Gaskin.
The Racquet Club of Philadelphia was the scene of victories for Mohamed Abouelghar, Shaun Le Roux, Shahier Razik and Charles Sharpes—Abouelghar and Le Roux ending the hopes of USA’s Chris Hanson and Gilly Lane respectively.
Day One at Drexel
Men’s qualifying got under way at Drexel as local Jamie Macaulay took on Kiwi second seed Campbell Grayson.
Macaulay, a Scotsman but resident of Philadelphia for four years now, held his own at the beginning of the match, but Grayson pulled clear from 6-all in the first and Macaulay found it tough to stay with the pace thereafter, a 3-2 lead in the third was his final flourish as Grayson won 11-6, 11-2, 11-5 in 21 minutes.
“It’s just a case of trying to get used to the courts and keeping the ball tight,” said Grayson. “I made a few mistakes at the start but felt pretty good after that. I’ll watch the next match with some interest!”
Macaulay was upbeat: “I just forgot how to play after 6-all in the first,” he quipped. “But getting through to this stage via pre-qualifying and getting to play someone of that standard was a good result. It’s much harder to train to that level when you’re an amateur.
“I hope US Squash will continue to see me as a local,” added the Scot. “The Philly area is the place to be at the moment, if you could see the amount of juniors we have participating. It’s so exciting.”
Next up was Drexel head coach John White, taking on speedy young Mexican Alfredo Avila. “Let’s go, Coach” rang out from the crowd, now packed with White’s Drexel students, but it was Avila who made the better start, taking a 3-0 lead.
White recovered to 5-all, but the pattern was set and the former world number one was always playing catchup, despite drawing occasional whoops of delight from the crowd with his trademark piledriver winners.
From 8-all in the first, Avila took three points in a row to take the lead, then saw a 9-4 lead disappear in the second as White, now tiring but hanging in and still firing in those winners, forced extra points.
The Mexican saw off that danger to take the second 13-11 and always had a slight edge in the third, with White now running on fumes but still, somehow, managing to keep going and going and going, reminiscent of his run of marathon 3-2 matches in the Canary Wharf Classic a few years ago.
In the end, sheer effort wasn’t enough as Avila advanced 11-8 to a qualifying final against Grayson.
“It’s very different to play someone like him,” admitted Avila. “He looks tired but he keeps going and plays some great shots that you just can’t see coming!
“It’s my first time in the U.S. Open so I’m excited to win. I only played Campbell once before, a few weeks ago when I won 3-0, but all the games were close so it will be a tough match.”
A tired White was still delighted to have the U.S. Open back on “his” courts: “It’s third time unlucky for me, but it’s great to have one of the biggest squash tournaments in the world here at Drexel; great for the crowd, for Philadelphia and for US Squash in general—it puts us on the map nationally and internationally.”
A third ex-pat ex-pro coaching in the Philly area took to the court next, this time it was the turn of Welshman Gavin Jones to hear the “come on Coach” encouragements as he took on young Australian Rex Hedrick.
Hedrick always seemed to have the edge, but only just in a match where the rallies were consistently tough, and long, as evidenced by the 45+ minutes it took for the three games.
“I was trying to make it tough for him,” said Hedrick. ” Whenever I took it short he was picking it up and causing me some trouble, so I had to revert to hitting it deeper. Then, when he was a bit tired, he started to play smarter. I really had to work hard to stay ahead.”
Jones was reflective in defeat: “I remember when I was young, fit and fast like him! It’s seven years since I played at that level. I had to work hard for every point I got, but I really enjoyed it.”
Last up at Drexel was another Australian against another Philly teaching pro. Hard-hitting Steve Finitsis had too much firepower for pre-qualifying winner Imran Khan, who competed well in patches but couldn’t mount a serious challenge to the scoreboard.
“It’s 13 years since I played a match at that level,” admitted Khan, “but I’ve had a good run and, to be honest, I was doing this in preparation for the SDA tour. It was a good workout and showed me just how slow I am!”
Finistis said: “I had to play fast. He really has some shots and, if I’d played at his pace, I would have been in a bit of trouble.
“Rex and I are good friends, but we both want to qualify, so I’ll just rest up and see how it goes tomorrow.”
For daily reports, more information, and to get your tickets to the U.S. Open, visit www.usopensquash.com
Eddie Charlton (ENG) bt Dane Sharp (CAN) 11-9, 11-8, 11-4 (49m)
Abdullah Al Mezayen (KUW) bt Joe Chapman (IVB) 11-6, 11-7, 11-7 (33m)
Todd Harrity (USA) bt Chris Ryder (ENG) 4-11, 11-13, 11-9, 12-10, 11-6 (75m)
Ramit Tandon (IND) bt Jan Koukal (CZE) 11-6, 11-6, 11-9 (38m)
Yasir Butt (PAK) bt Sergio Lopez (MEX) 11-8, 11-8, 11-7 (26m)
Matthew Karwalski (AUS) bt Faraz Khan (USA) 11-7, 11-8, 11-7 (33m)
Muhd Asyraf Azan (MAS) bt Arthur Gaskin (IRL) 8-11, 11-8, 11-6, 6-11, 11-6 (72m)
Jaymie Haycocks (ENG) bt Dylan Murray (USA) 11-3, 5-11, 11-5, 11-2
Shahier Razik (CAN) bt Ben Coleman (ENG) 7-11, 11-4, 11-8, 11-2 (51m)
Mohamed Abouelghar (EGY) bt Chris Hanson (USA) 11-4, 11-5, 11-4 (21m)
Shaun Le Roux (RSA) bt Gilly Lane (USA) 9-11, 13-11, 12-10, 11-2 (56m)
Charles Sharpes (ENG) bt Gonzalo Miranda (ARG) 7-11, 11-4, 12-10, 12-10 (56m)
Campbell Grayson (NZL) bt Jamie Macaulay (SCO) 11-6, 11-2, 11-5 (21m)
Alfredo Avila (MEX) bt John White (SCO) 11-8, 13-11, 11-8 (47m)
Rex Hedrick (AUS) bt Gavin Jones (WAL) 11-5, 11-4, 11-7 (48m)
Steve Finitsis (AUS) bt Imran Khan (PAK) 11-6, 11-3, 11-3 (22m)