- New format throws up several challenges for World Cup players
Johannesburg, South Africa: South Africa’s leading squash players returned from India buoyed by the chance to experience something new as the World Squash Federation hosted a highly successful World Cup Championships from June 13 to 17.
The tournament, which had not been held for 12 years, took place on an all-glass court in the Express Avenue Mall in Chennai and there was praise across the board for the exceptional efforts of the local organising committee.
Although somewhat disappointed at not improving their seventh seeding, the South African team had the satisfaction of defeating Hong Kong, China – repeating their round-robin effort – in the playoff for seventh place.
Hayley Ward got things started with a 3-1 win over Toby Tse, with Dewald van Niekerk doubling the advantage as he beat Andes Ling in straight games.
Just as she did earlier in their tie earlier in the week, it was Heylie Fung who got Hong Kong back into the tie as the 20-year-old scored a valuable 3-0 win against Lizelle Muller to give them an outside chance.
To win the tie-on games won, Chung Yam Long needed to beat JP Brits in straight games. However, after taking the first game, he was unable to keep up the pace, with Brits coming back to win 3-1 to assure South Africa of a seventh-place finish.
This came after the team had narrowly lost to Colombia in their 5-8 cross-pool playoff.
For this event, South African women’s No 1 Alex Fuller was not available, and Tristen Worth had to withdraw due to illness, being replaced by Brits.
For the experienced Brits, it was a special moment to represent South Africa on the international stage. “The set-up of the venue and the whole organisation was excellent, creating a really great platform for the players to play their best squash and to represent their countries with pride,” he said. “To play for your country is always such a big honour and it was good to participate in something that has not been on the calendar for the last 12 years. “The team environment is something we in South Africa love to do, and although we are not so used to a mixed format, it was a great experience.”
His sentiments were echoed by team captain Muller and Ward, who relished the opportunity to test themselves against some of the world’s best players. “It was an amazing experience – the whole setup, the court at the mall, the way they presented this sport was awesome, and other countries can surely learn from them,” Muller said. “I felt great being able to represent my country at this level, seeing great squash, and being able to play against some of the best players. “It was tough on court and the intensity was very high, but lessons were learned, and it was an experience I was privileged to go through.”
In an experimental move, games in the World Cup were decided on first to seven points, with sudden death at 6-6. It created a situation that left little room for error.
Ward felt there was a place for this format, but “that it was better suited to a team competition, not an individual event”. “It did mean that the games could be unpredictable and even if you were up against a higher-ranked player, it gave you a chance if you got off to a good start,” she said. “I think it works better in a team format and it is one way to make the game more exciting. It forces to you to fight for every point and places a big emphasis on not making mistakes.”
Brits felt the format was a good idea to use in selected events but said there could have been more matches. “It was nice to have a bit of variation and there was no room for error because it was easy to lose a game or a match,” he said. “It changes the character of the game and tactically it’s a bit different from the normal format. “Although there were still some matches that went to, say, 40 minutes, the shorter games meant it was a bit easier on the body, so we could have played more matches during the tournament. “We must say thanks to Squash South Africa for giving us this opportunity on the world stage – the team was great, and our manager Roshael Hoosen was exceptional, handling everything so professionally to make it easier for us.”
Picture credits: Picture Supplied