Motor City Open – Detroit
What an eventful tournament the Motor City Open turned out to be. Beginning the day after the finals of the ToC in New York has put major strain on the top seeds in the past editions and this year they suffered again as there were withdrawals from the top 2 seeds Mohammed El Shorbagy and Amr Shabana. This was obviously a worrying scenario for the sponsors, organisers and indeed the PSA even though it seemed somewhat inevitable given the proximity of the tournaments. The players themselves can’t shift all the blame though as they were perfectly aware of the lay of the land before entering each event and given their respective World Rankings will surely have expected to play deep into New York before starting Detroit’s campaign immediately afterwards.
Fortunately there was no shortage of drama for the Birmingham Athletic Club’s enthusiastic crowd to lap up during the week. This is one of the few events on the tour where there is a packed gallery for 6 straight days from the 1st round of qualifying right through to the finals. The unique, inclusive member participation in the tournament provides a rare atmosphere to play in front of and makes for a rather special tournament. Now with the top 2 seeds out of the picture there was a huge opportunity for the rest of the draw to cash in on some valuable ranking points and a shot at an ‘almost major’ trophy.
My tournament got off to a shaky start against the 7th seed and WR15 Marwan El Shorbagy as neither of us seemed able to find a rhythm on court. He fared slightly better and took a 2-0 lead before I was able to get a game on the scoreboard. The third looked as if he was going to wrap it up when he secured 3 match balls at 10-7, fortunately I was able to somehow find myself back in the game at 10-10 after a few frantic points including a drop that only just made it above the dreaded tin. How fine are the margins between winning and losing in sport! Once I had levelled it gave me a new surge of energy and he seemed to suffer from having been so close, I was able to close out the 4th and then overturn a small early deficit to book my place in the Quarter Finals.
The next 2 rounds I got through 2 more 5 setters; against a still stiff Pete Barker who the week before had a punishing encounter with Miguel Rodriguez in New York, and Max Lee who managed an impressive win against Omar Mosaad in the Quarter Finals coming back from 9-5 down in the 5th while cramping. Max’s efforts in the semis were immense. He started cramping once again in the 4th, somehow hiding his pain from me and going on to win that game to set up a 5th. He couldn’t suppress it any longer though as at 2-2 in the 5th he literally broke down in pain and could not stand unsupported. Despite this ridiculous state, he still managed to get a lead on 5-3 with some brave racquet work and causing no small amount of nerves in me as I knew I had to win from this position but couldn’t seem to find a clear way ahead. It proved too much of an obstacle however for Max and I managed to get over the line, then having to lift him off the floor to receive his standing ovation and pass him on to some volunteers to help him off the court.
This set up a final with my training partner Miguel Rodriguez who himself had a phenomenal run in New York reaching the semis after defeating WR2 Greg Gaultier. We know each other’s games extremely well which makes it easier and more difficult in different ways. I knew my plan and stuck to it throughout the match, I had to control proceedings against him as he thrives on frantic, rapid squash. We alternated the first 4 games in over 100 minutes of intense, punishing squash. I had my chances in the 4th game to take a commanding lead but it seemed that whenever I was on the verge of streaking ahead there would be an untimely error or series of points that ended up going his way and keeping him in the hunt. It was enough unfortunately for him to hang in and then make his own big push at the end of the 4th to level at 2-2. The 5th was cruel for me as it was one of those games that just kept getting further out of reach, I felt that I was the fresher (although by no means fresh) and should have the advantage but the points just raced away and soon Miguel was claiming his biggest title to date and completing a remarkable month that’s seen him rise to number 6 in the World. The result has brought me up a few places too to number 16 which equals my personal best from 2013 and with it some valuable momentum to help reach higher in the next few months.
Next up is the Swedish Open starting on the 5th where I will take on Swedish local hero Rasmus Hult in the 1st round due to the withdrawal of my original opponent Pete Barker. We will get a chance to meet though in the opening stage of the Windy City Open in Chicago at the end of the month.
Be Brave, Believe