Monday, November 11, 2019


Day 5
November 9

The stands were packed again. In fact, the members were trickling in up to an hour before the start of the match to secure their seat. By the time the final started, it was standing room only, seat sharing, lap-sitting, neck-craning, toe-tipping viewing left. The court area was energized, famished for more pro squash. Despite the world class quality of the play since round one, the first four days of this event had not satiated their seemingly inexhaustible appetite whatsoever.

[1] Olivia Blatchford Clyne (USA) v [2] Nele Gilis (BEL)
With world number 18 and world number 19 on court, to have 2 top 20 players for our first DAC Pro Squash final was a tournament dream. It was interesting to hear how the members were split on who they thought would win… which is no surprise really considering their current ranking and they both have fairly similar playing styles. Leading up to this match, I thought Olivia had the edge - simply based on her first three matches.

The match started off with literally nothing between them. Long, long rallies. It was a game of attrition, both girls working the length with considerable pace. Pounding the back corners, trying to maintain the front position, playing the cat-and-mouse spiel, not terribly willing to take the ball in short in the early stages. The third rally was close to 30 hits each, enough to put most of our members in hospital for a week, one actually quipped that they expend more calories per rally then they expend in an entire season (!)… and it ended in a ‘let’. It was the pattern for game one. It was a duel that kept the crowd on the edge of their seats (if they had one!) - who was going to break first? To my surprise, as clean as Olivia and Nele play, the referee was called upon numerous times. I will not sit here and say that I understood all the decisions awarded - because I didn’t - but it did appear that the calls were mentally affecting Nele more than what they did Olivia. I will say, the calls were fairly consistent, which is most important. At 18 minutes in, Olivia had survived the challenge and had the first game in the bank, 12-10.
It was a blow to Nele. This match could have been - and no doubt would have been - very different had the first game fell to the Belgian. But pro sports is such a mental tight-rope: if you falter ever so slightly, you are likely to fall off. Nele found it difficult to regain her game and uncharacteristically - compared to performances in the first 3 rounds - the unforced errors were creeping into her play. Olivia’s game plan was clear - simply stay the course. She didn’t need to change anything. It would be up to Nele to find the adjustments, but her rhythm and psyche was now wavering. The second game ended in less than half the time of the first - Olivia 11-4.

More resistance at the start of the third, Nele had to fight her way back hard. It is never easy to come back form 0-2 down, but she was not going down without a huge effort. Back to basics, the game started off in similar fashion to the first, the two exchanging points, a little more pace injected into the hitting. It was the right thing for Nele to do to get herself back on even footing, but in order to gain even a fraction of ascendancy, she needed something a little extra to break the American’s resolve. Olivia wasn’t flinching. No matter was the Belgian threw at her, Olivia was up to the task and at 6-5, she broke the resistance. Dropping only one more point, Olivia took the third 11-6 and with it, the first ever DAC Pro Squash Classic title!

So there we have it. Episode 1 is in the history books. We are looking at running this event - building on it - annually. I hope the players enjoyed Detroit and the DAC as much as we enjoyed hosting them, we look forward to welcoming many of them back in 2020.

Saturday, November 9, 2019


Day 4
November 8

To say that the membership was excited about the semifinals was an understatement. The stands were packed. There is a buzz and enthusiasm around the club that we haven’t often witnessed surrounding an event - and not just from the squash community. Interest came from all corners of the DAC. We don’t focus enough on professional female athletes, and the fascination from all who came to witness the squash turned quickly into awe, respect. We’ve been missing out. But no more.

Olivia Blatchford Clyne (USA) v Donna Lobban (Australia)
This match started off with both players feeling each other out, a comfortable pace, establishing their length, trying to gain some rhythm. Pretty much exactly what many coaches recommend when starting off any contest: play yourself in. Nothing fancy, just good, solid hitting.

Sharing the first 10 points, neither Olivia nor Donna looked ready to take the next step. But the game did suddenly change. It didn’t appear that Olivia altered any part of the current tactic either, but more that Donna slightly lost her way. It was little of a nonchalant ending to the game, they weren’t grinding rallies - not short mind you - but not… frenetic. 11-6 Olivia.

Donna Lobban and Olivia Blatchford Clyne
Of course, that changed for the rest of the match. Both players were now warmed up and ready to step it up. And we got the battle we were expecting. The pace picked up, the ball was being placed into the front corners with more venom, and the desperation was starting to increase. Donna’s technique is virtually flawless, a beautiful swing, and she uses the lob so effectively, her ability to lunge low into the front and lift the ball is a lesson in defense we could all learn from. Olivia, however, wasn’t overly fazed. She wasn’t afraid to volley from deep in the court, being very prepared to simply reset the rallies with a counter length. She is also wickedly quick, literally zipping around the court as if her shoes had a turbo boost. It was interesting squash to say the least. The second game was tight and it could have gone either way, but it was Olivia in the end that was able to finish the stronger of the two… 11-9.

The third game was almost a facsimile to the second. A classic arm-wrestle, Donna extremely committed to extend the match to a fourth game, Olivia just as determined not to. Up to this point, Donna had had a tougher run - she had spent 45 minutes longer on court this week. Was this a factor? I have no idea, but Olivia did look a little sprightlier out there as the third game was coming to an end. At 10-6 it looked all but over. Four match-points. But Donna wasn’t rolling over so easily for her, she fought back with new spirit and saved the first 3. It was 9-10, the crowd eager to see more… but it wasn’t to be. Fourth time a charm for Olivia, she took it 11-9.

Nele Gilis (BEL) v Nadine Shanin (Egypt)
Another mouthwatering contest for the membership. World number 21 v world number 18. These 2 have never played each other on the tour before so both were entering the court as ‘strangers’. For me the most telling factor would actually be what both had done this week leading up to the semifinal. Nadine had to come back from 2-1 down in her first match to win in 5 and also had a tough 4-setter in the quarter final just the day before. Nele for her part, had a scare in her first match and escaped 3-1 in a long 4 setter, but had a lot easier run in her quarter final meaning she was probably the fresher of the two, not just physically, but mentally as well.

Nele is a machine. And I mean that as a high compliment. Is it possible to get her heart rate up? No matter how stressful the rally, she not once appeared like she was under duress. A model of consistency. Nadine, though, has that Egyptian flair that has become a trait with many of their players. The ability to create a lot of power - but not lose the velvet touch, and the skill to pull a winner out of thin air - hit a nick from improbable angles.

But Nadine struggled to find her feet. What she did find was the tin way too often as she forcing the front court too soon. And you can’t give a top 20 player freebies and expect a lot of success. Nele was ruthless in her approach and wasn’t letting up. Keep the rally going, patience, patience. The first 2 games were not much in doubt: Nele won 11-7, 11-3.

The third started off in the same vein, with Nele racing off to a 5-2 lead and it looked like this would be over quickly. But Nadine wasn’t on the same wavelength. Maybe she felt more relaxed at this point, but a couple of slick winners, helped by a couple of (rare) unforced errors from Nele, and Nadine suddenly had new hope and a sniff of a comeback. She rode the momentum she suddenly owned and just like that, she had snagged the third 11-6. The crowd was loving it.

Unfortunately, that was all that Nadine had left. Nele scooted off to a 7-0 lead before Nadine could bother the scorekeeper and the lass from Belgium was not going to let her opponent re-live another comeback. No mercy, Nele cleaned up the fourth 11-2.

We were in for a dream final. Number 1 seed v the number 2 seed. World number 18 v the world number 19…

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