Mexico’s Alfredo Avila (left) needed five games and sixty minutes to shut down American Chris Hanson to advance to the second round of qualifying. Just a year ago, Hanson struggled to hold his own for just three games in the qualifier in his first attempt.
The 2014 edition of the Delaware Investments U.S. Open kicked off today with sixteen PSA qualifying first round matches, spread over six Philadelphia venues.
Before that, the Racquet Club of Philadelphia hosted a Welcome Luncheon for sponsors, supporters and players – check out the photo gallery.
Le Roux Dominates Opening Round of Qualifying
In the opening round of qualifying at the Racquet Club of Philadelphia for the 2014 Delaware Investments U.S. Open, South African Shaun Le Roux (right) dominated American local Adrian Leanza. From the start, Le Roux established his presence in the center of the court while pressuring Leanza into the depths of the back corners—until his opportunities came to play short and end the points. Leanza kept the pace with Le Roux for the first few rallies until Le Roux pulled away. The balance of the match was clinical as Le Roux progressed to the final round of qualifying tomorrow night.
Hanson Succumbs to Avila in Five
American Chris Hanson, facing a stiff qualifying challenge from Mexican Alfreo Avila (left), stood tall for four-and-a-half games, narrowly dropping the first after squandering two game balls from 10-8 up. But rather than be let down, Hanson came back with a vengeance to run away with the second. Down 2-1 in the fourth, Hanson saved five match balls from 5-10, and at 9-10 he actually told Avila that the Mexican had a broken string. Avila simply said, “Oh, thank you,” and changed his racquet. Hanson immediately grunted, “Why did you tell him,” as the crowd laughed—and then went on to not only save another match ball but successfully win the fourth, 12-10. Avila, however, jumped all over Hanson in the fifth as the American ran out of answers and fell 11-5.
Lane Puts Up Fight Against Lobban
Local favorite Gilly Lane held his own against Scotsman Greg Lobban (left) for two games before fading with a string of errors in the third that ended his hopes of advancing to the final qualifying round. Despite racing out to a 5-2 lead in the first, the American lost control of the game as Lobban strung together four points to take a lead that he never relinquished. The second was even at the start befor Lobban took complete control by cutting the ball off at the T and forcing Lane to do far too much work which took a visible toll in the final game as Lane found the tin on five consecutive points.
Grayson and Creed Full Contact
It took two match balls and several collisions, but New Zealand’s Campbell Grayson (left) survived a game of “full contact squash”—as described by a spectator—to punch his ticket into the final round of qualifying tomorrow night. The tattooed Peter Creed of Wales put up a strong fight by scratching his way to a win in the first game before falling in four. Waiting for Grayson on Friday night will be Scotland’s Greg Lobban.
Day One at Drexel
Drexel was to host four matches on the opening day, and while the crowd at the Kline and Specter Squash Center grew larger and noisier when their own coach John White took to the court, they were treated to four quality, entertaining matches with locals performing well, but falling short, in the first three.
First up was Brad Thompson, who raced to a quick 5-0 lead over Muhd Asyraf Azan, and extended it to 9-3 with the Malaysian still trying to find his way into the game. Although Azan leveleed at 9-all it was Thompson who celebrated as he took the next two points to lead.
“I got a bit too excited about that, and I used up a lot of my best mental energy in the first,” admitted Thompson after the match. Azan was in control for the next three games, finishing them off 11-4, 11-3, 11-7.
“I played much the same all the way through,” said Azan, “he made me work hard in the first but I managed to increase the momentum as the match went on.
White used his physical advantage to power through the first 11-5, but Au stayed with him throughout the second, taking the last two points to level 11-9. At 9-5 in the third the crowd were quiet, but the volume rose as White clawed back to 8-9 only to lose the game on a tin and a mishit.
At 8-3 in the fourth it was surely over for the 43-year-old … but White was always renowned for hanging in when he appeared to be done, and today was no exception as he dug deep, very deep, and again pulled back to 9-all with the crowd willing him on all the way.
The final few rallies were as dramatic as they come, with desperate retrieving, spills, and a trademark White full-length dive. It was to be in vain though as Au saved two game balls and finally took the game 15-13.
“I knew he was fast, but he gets to everything,” admitted White, “and it’s a big step up to playing someone at this level these days, the ball comes back at you so much faster, you think you’re ready for it and then it’s past you.
“I enjoyed it, but I’m going to be stiff tomorrow, that’s for sure!”
The last two matches were less dramatic as Ali Anwar Reda just about managed to stay ahead of pre-qualifier Faraz Khan for three close games 14-12, 11-8, 11-9. That those three games took 50 minutes tell you that Khan pushed Reda all the way, but just lacked a finishing touch on the crucial points.
“It’s my first real match for four months,” admitted Reda, who moved to Philadelphia three weeks ago, “but he played well and I was a bit lucky to win three-nil. It was a good day for me in movement, I hope that tomorrow will be a better squash day.”
“I’ve been thinking of retirement for a while now,” admitted Razik, “but I’m still having fun playing and I’d like to carry on until the PanAms in Canada and maybe a few more US tournaments.
“I’ve played Leo a couple of times, he’s 2-0 up on me so it will be tough tomorrow, but ‘ll be trying to get one back.”
Germantown Cricket Club Hosts Two Qualifying Matches
England’s Eddie Charlton (left), world No. 51 and seeded eleven in the qualifiers, had never played Nigeria’s Baba Tunde Abagje, world No. 173, but the match proved to be a bit of a “dogfight,” according to Charlton. Abagje came out strong, getting on the ball early and hard, but Charlton countered with cross-court lobs, putting Abagje under pressure to volley early and fast. Charlton took the first two games 11-7 and 11-5, but Abagje stole the third 11-6. Charlton took the fourth game 12-10 to take the match, saying afterwards, “I had to scrap and change my tactics a little bit, because I was a little loose and he [Abagje] took full advantage of that. I need to be a bit tighter tomorrow, but looking forward to it.”
The second match of the evening, between F&M Head Coach, Gavin Jones (left)—who had a crowd of his players cheering him on—and world No. 47 and fourth seed in the qualifiers, New Zealander Martin Knight, proved to follow a similar pattern to Charlton and Abajbe’s match. Jones took the first in a tight 11-9, but dropped the second and third games 4-11 and 8-11, respectively. Knight and Jones battled through the fourth, but Knight won out 12-10, in a match that lasted sixty-seven minutes.
When asked what he could have done differently, Jones joked: “Got fitter. Lost weight.” But in a moment of earnestness he admitted, “Actually I only started back playing for six weeks. I was told medically that I couldn’t play squash ever again. Six weeks ago I actually got cleared, so I was just really happy to be on court and this is probably the best I’ve ever played…I like playing Martin, he’s a good guy and likes to have a laugh on court.” Knight shared his gameplan with the crowd: “Try and keep it quite physical. Jones knows exactly how to manipulate the ball and open the court up and hit winners. It’s kind of a tricky match for me, to be honest. I’m trying to physically get him out of shape, but also put him under pressure, because as soon as he’s got a loose ball it’s a winner. Mentally it’s a tough match.”
Jones did share with US Squash that this would in fact be his last professional tournament.
Philadelphia Country Club Features Biggest Upset
Not even forty-eight hours after finding out he made it into U.S. Open qualifying due to the withdrawal of Laurens Jan Anjema, Columbia University No. 1 Ramit Tandon (right) opened his U.S. Open account with a three-game victory over Australian world No. 57 Rex Hedrick at Philadelphia Country Club.
“I think yesterday I found out I was in the U.S. Open, just happy that I’m here and now that I won, it’s even better,” Tandon said. “Everyone wants to do their best here, Alex and Mohamed Aboulghar should be a great match, I hope they go into five!”
The ensuing match at PCC was a special moment for former PSA world No. 53 Alex Stait (left) whose career was cut short after multiple knee surgeries. Now living in the U.S. and coaching for Agnes Irwin, the thirty-four year Englishman was playing in a professional match before his seven-year-old son and Agnes Irwin students for the first time against world No. 36 Mohamed Abouelghar.
As expected, Stait fell to the Egyptian, thirteen years his junior, in three games—11-3, 11-5, 11-9—but put up an admiral fight in front of a partial home crowd.
“It’s been nine years maybe since I played someone ranked in the top forty of the world,” Stait said afterwards. “He’s on his way up and it showed tonight. He’s going to be a very, very good player and he already is.”
When asked about the 2015 U.S. Open, Stait squashed any chance of a return: “No chance! I’ll stick with doubles.”
Serme Survives Local Favorite Todd Harrity
Cesar Salazar’s (right) U.S. Open campaign is off to strong start after an opening three-game victory against Rochester alum Adam Perkiomaki who occupied one of seven local spots in men’s qualifying at Merion Cricket Club. The Portland-native, who now trains at his alma mater in up-state New York, provided the Mexican world No. 40 with a stern test early on, stretching the first two games to 11-9, 11-8, but Salazar’s experience shone through in the fourth as he closed out the match 11-4.
Merion’s gallery continued to fill up in anticipation of seeing their own Todd Harrity (left) search for his second U.S. Open qualifying victory on the courts that fostered Harrity’s formative squash years, adding to his 2013 inaugural five-game professional victory against Chris Ryder in 2013. Ranked over 150 places higher one year later, Harrity, now world No. 83, faced another young gun in the form of twenty-two-year-old Frenchman Lucas Serme.
An opening rally, more than two minutes long, set the tone for what would be an intense encounter. Harrity, supported by a boisterous Merion home crowd, and Serme, supported by his older sister and world No. 6, Camille—and compatriots Gregoire Marche and Mathieu Castagnet—began with a blistering pace with Serme forcing errors to win the first game 11-4, then recovering from 8-10 in the second game to earn a 2-0 advantage. Harrity renewed home hopes in the third game, edging out a 12-10 win, but capitulated in the fourth and final game 11-4 in a sixty-four-minute encounter.
The home crowd embraced a humble Serme after the match who admitted it was essential to mentally drown out the home support mid-match.
“You just need to make sure you don’t hear anything,” Serme said. “I know that everyone hates you if you win a point. I just had to focus on the people who were cheering for me, and just focus on the game.”
“I think I just had to keep it straight towards the end because I think I was giving him too much to volley,” Serme continued. “He’s quite deadly around the T really. I had to go back to basics and keep it tight and make him make the mistake.”
Serme, like Harrity, has seen a recent rise in ranking having reached his highest career world ranking of fifty-seven this month, thanks to reaching the final of September’s $25,000 U.S. Pro Series Charlottesville Open as a qualifier. When asked how his recent move to Prague affected his professional development, Serme’s response was simple: “I got my girlfriend over there, I think that helps.”
Berwyn Squash & Fitness Features Major Upset
5pm  Muhd Asyraf Azan (MAS) d Bradbury Thompson (USA) 9-11, 11-4 11-3, 11-7 (35min)
6pm  Leo Au (HKG) d John White (SCO) 5-11, 11-9, 11-8, 15-13 (77min)
7pm  Mohd Ali Anwar Reda (EGY) d Faraz Khan (USA) 14-12, 11-8, 11-9 (50min)
8pm Shahier Razik (CAN) d  Steve Finitsis (AUS) 11-6, 11-8, 11-4 (42m)
Racquet Club of Philadelphia
5pm  Shaun Le Roux (RSA) d Adrian Leanza (USA) 11-5, 11-5, 11-8 (23min)
6pm Alfredo Avila (MEX) d Chris Hanson (USA) 12-10, 5-11, 11-4, 10-12, 11-5 (60min)
7pm  Greg Lobban (SCO) d Gilly Lane (USA) 11-9, 11-7, 11-1 (37min)
8pm  Campbell Grayson (NZL) d Peter Creed (WAL) 9-11, 11-4, 11-6, 12-10 (60min)
Germantown Cricket Club
6pm  Eddie Charlton (ENG) d Baba Tunde Ajagbe (NGR) 11-7, 11-5, 6-11, 12-10 (51min)
7pm  Martin Knight (NZL) d Gavin Jones (WAL) 9-11, 11-4, 11-8, 12-10 (67min)
Merion Cricket Club
6pm  Cesar Salazar (MEX) d Adam Perkiomaki (USA) 11-9, 11-8, 11-7 (26min)
7pm  Lucas Serme (FRA) d Todd Harrity (USA) 11-4, 12-10, 10-12, 11-4
Philadelphia Country Club
6pm Ramit Tandon (IND) d  Rex Hedrick (AUS) 11-6, 11-6, 11-8 (57min)
7pm  Mohamed Abouelghar (EGY) d Alex Stait (ENG) 11-3, 11-5, 11-9 (22min)
Berwyn Squash & Fitness
6pm Arthur Gaskin (IRL) d  Matthew Karwalski (AUS) 11-6, 11-5, 16-14 (40min)
7pm  Ryan Cuskelly (AUS) d Lewis Walters (ENG) 11-2, 11-6, 11-7