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Berkshire Open 2012
10-15 Apr, Williamstown, Usa, $35k

15-Apr, Final:
Alister Walker bt Tom Richards 11/8, 11/7, 11/7 (44m)

Walker takes Berkshire title

The completed draw for the 2012 True North Berkshire Open in the foyer of the Williams College Chandler Athletic Center was filled in this afternoon as it was scripted, with the name of the top seed, Alister Walker, stenciled in on the line farthest to the right.

In front of an appreciative, mid-afternoon gallery, he performed brilliantly in taking the eighth running of this tourney and its fourth on the glass tour court, in three hard-fought, but rather routinely scored games; 11-8, 11-7, 11-7 in 44 minutes.

For those in the audience who had watched Alister survive the two hour and eleven minute bloodbath that was his semi-final the night before against Borja Golan, not one (not even Alister’s most ardent supporters) would have predicted that he would’ve been able to revive himself less than 24 hours later to play at this level for even one game, let alone three. And then, if you had heard—after the match for some, here for others—that Alister’s post-match therapy the night before included an ice bath causing a full body seizure (aka extreme, sometimes critical dehydration), you might not have been surprised if he had been unable to play at all.

Tom Richards played just fine, but what he did not realize at the time was that he was the foil in a drama whose script was already predetermined. He is a consummate professional—a skilled and dedicated craftsman in the art of squash. His game plan was solid: keep the rallies long; when in doubt send the ball deep; attack only when necessary, and then without risk of error. After all, it was “obvious” that the longer Alister was forced to play at this tempo, the better his odds were to totally exhaust him and drain whatever resources he had left—embark on a war of attrition and wait for it to work. There was just no way that Alister could sustain the effort required to deal with a relatively fresh (remember the last two games of Tom’s semi the night before where perfunctory affairs, with Julian Illingworth injured and unable to generate a physically demanding level of play), fully invested and seasoned competitor of Tom’s level.

Except that turned out not to be the case. Not by a long shot.

After hundreds of millions of practice hours, billions of rails, a ga-billion court sprints, there is—in truth—that perfect zone: where true exhaustion dulls the decision-making of fear and anxiety; where muscle memory responds inexplicably and without the often flawed and interfering process of decision-making to hinder; to a physical challenge with strength and endurance stored somewhere accessible only through a counter-intuitive process of total relaxation and absence of decision-making; where strategic choices are governed, not by untrustworthy decision-making, but by instinct and feel; and, where the brain and the body are both so tired that not an ounce of expectation or fear-of-losing retards the competitive, decision-making process. It is quite literally, an athletic phenomenon—on the scale and frequency of the arrival of Hayley’s Comet—that can only be described as “auto-pilot.”

So, the result, but more than that, Alister’s play, could not have been predicted. Tom Richards was part of a drama in which he had no role except as bystander. Alister’s play was just at too high and uncompromising a level: no errors, fluid movement and recovery of position, unerring shot selection, nerveless execution of feathery drops, accuracy down both walls that left nothing loose, kill shots that found the nick or laid low into the side-wall crease, and the unfolding reality that each point would be a replay of the one before—that there would be no deterioration in quality, no matter what the length of the rally or the elapsed time of the match.

In a professional lifetime of 10 years, maybe this happens once, maybe twice—maybe never. And, if it does happen, it can’t ever be predicted, reproduced or saved for a later date: the serendipitous combination of circumstances and considerations mixed together in a nuanced web of perfection are way too random to ever predict, forecast or anticipate. Literally and figuratively, one in a million.

But, if the squash forces combine, as they did for Alister Walker this afternoon, the outcome will have been a magical mystery ride for the winner and a no-hope death march for an opponent.

“After last night’s brutal match with Borja, my body was really struggling and I didn’t expect much against Tom in the final – which probably worked in my favour because I was very relaxed!

“Tom has been playing well and I am happy to see he has been picked for England and I am sure my old team mates will defend their European title. I wish them the best of luck.

“For me it is a real privilege to get Botswana its third PSA title – and I am hoping the results will help in our association’s attempts to re-energise the sport at home. In turn hopefully we can send a national team to the World Team Championships in France next year.”


Thanks to Zafi Levy for bringing the glass court and these remarkable players to Williamstown; thanks to Dalit Lederman for decorating a basketball court so that it looks better as a squash venue; and thanks to Rob Able at True North (and, at least one other guardian angel whose name I’m not allowed to mention) for his continued and unwavering support. Let’s hope all of this comes together again next year.

Berkshire Open 2012
10-15 Apr, Williamstown, Usa, $35k
Round One
11/12 Apr
13 Apr
14 Apr
15 Apr
[1] Alister Walker (Bot)
 13-11, 11-9, 6-11, 11-5 (74m)
Chris Simpson (Eng)
[1] Alister Walker
12-10, 11-8, 11-6 (38m)
[Q] Qlvier Pett
[1] Alister Walker

12-10, 4-11, 7-11, 12-10, 12-10 (131m)

[3] Borja Golan

[1] Alister Walker

11-8, 11-7, 11-7 (44m)

[2] Tom Richards

Nafiizwan Adnan (Mas)
11-7, 11-9, 12-10 (50m)
[Q] Qlvier Pett (Eng)
Shawn Delierre (Can)
11-6, 11-6, 11-13, 11-9 (82m)
[Q] Scott Arnold (Aus)
Shawn Delierre
 11-1, 11-4, 11-6 (27m)
[3] Borja Golan
[3] Borja Golan (Esp)
11-5, 11-1, 11-4 (24m)
[Q] Charles Sharpes (Eng)
Julian Illingworth (Usa)
 8-11, 13-11, 11-6, 11-6 (7m)
[4] Steve Coppinger (Rsa)
Julian Illingworth
2-11, 11-9, 11-8, 11-7 (41m)
Yasir Butt
Julian Illingworth

8-11, 12-10, 11-7, 11-5 (55m)

[2] Tom Richards

Yasir Butt (Pak)
9-11, 11-9, 9-11, 11-3, 11-9 (56m)
Arturo Salazar (Mex)
[Q] Chris Gordon (Usa)
11-7, 12-10, 11-7 (44m)
Miguel Angel Rodriguez (Col)
Miguel Angel Rodriguez
11-8, 11-8, 11-7 (40m)
[2] Tom Richards
Siddarth Suchde (Ind)
7-11, 11-4, 11-8, 12-10 (65m)
[2] Tom Richards (Eng)
10-Apr, Qualifying Finals:

Olivier Pett bt Peter Creed                 3-0 (11-9, 11-9, 11-1) 39min
Scott Arnold bt Eddie Charlton            3-1 (11-6, 11-5, 5-11, 11-2) 55min
Charles Sharpes bt Ben Coleman       3-1 (11-7, 6-11 , 11-8, 11-8) 66min
Chris Gordon bt Jamie Haycocks        3-0 (11-9, 11-4, 11-3) 44min

09-Apr, Qualifying Round One:

Scott Arnold bt Dan Sharp                   3-1 (11-2, 11-5, 3-11,11-9) 38min
Peter Creed bt Tyler Hamilton              3-0 (11-5, 11-8, 11-9) 44min
Eddie Carlton bt Cardwell                    3-0 (12-10, 11-4, 11-2) 41min
Oliver Pett bt Adrian Dudzick                3-1 (11-9,11-4, 10-12, 11-2) 39min
Charles Sharpes bt Thomas Brinkman   3-1 (11-7, 6-11 11-7, 11-8) 44min
Chris Gordon bt Clinton Lewis               3-1 (11-4, 16-14, 2-11, 11-3) 64min
Jamie Haycoks bt Fred Reid                 3-0 (11-6, 11-9, 11-4) 24min
Ben Colman bt Wade Johnston             3-0 (11-8, 11-8, 11-7) 51min

2011 Event  |  2010 Event  |  2009 Event
Top seeds reach Berkshire final
Zafi Levy reports

At the end of tonight’s play, with both semi-final matches settled, the results reflected the seedings: top seed Alister Walker will play second seed Tom Richards tomorrow at 2pm for the 2012 True North Berkshire Open title. But, the story of how each of them arrived in the finals

Walker survives marathon

On paper, the night’s opener between Walker and Spaniard Borja Golan promised squash at its best to a packed house behind the glass court. Both players are at or near the top of their games—superbly conditioned, good ball strikers, up-tempo strategists and fight-to-the-finish competitors. It was billed as a toss-up. And, two hours and eleven minutes later (yes, you’ve read it courrectly—2 hrs 11 mins—and during this time, some amazing squash was actually played! ) it maybe should’ve been declared a draw.

The following adjectives all apply to this match: enthralling, embarrassing, boring, dramatic, silly, scary, disappointing, exhilarating, dramatic, comedic. But, if records were kept for number of lets called, surely this match would’ve threatened the all-time mark. Its hard to pinpoint exactly when the lawyering, blocking, bickering, gesturing and general histrionics began, but the match began without a hint of what was to unfold. The pace was intense, featuring hard-hitting, full court coverage, pinpoint accuracy (especially up and down the left wall) and daring shotmaking.

Surprisingly enough though, the deterioration in traditionally expected, “gentlemanly,” on-court behavior did not lessen the quality of the play itself. Both players were literally hurling themselves around the court, chasing that final retrieve to save a point. The fact they were also moving directly through their opponent (or sometimes over?) led to endless litigating with Referee Brad Burke, who did his best to keep control of the situation, and an insufferable number of replays, redo’s and restarts, aka lets.

At the end, with Alister emerging the victor at 12-10 in the fifth (surprisingly given that the final two games went to extra point, Borja never had a match ball), the two protagonists turned to each other with a handshake and a few quiet, respectful words in front of the glass door. Their body language and facial expression indicated a genuine and sincere respect for one another and their shared experience, despite the emotional nature of the moment. For those in the crowd who had listened to the introduction at 5pm and were now stretching their legs for the first time at 730pm, there was only relief.

Richards ends home hopes

The advanced billing for the evening’s second match between second seed Richards and U.S. born Julian Illingworth, despite the nearly twenty ranking spots that separate them, predicted another you-pick-em contest. And, the opening of the match promised just that as both players set an unbelievably fast pace, playing low to the tin and looking to squeeze hard hit balls into the side-wall nick for impossible to scrape winners.

Julian had the better of the play, taking the first game 11-9 and holding two games ball at 10-8 up in the second. At that point a lengthy, between-point stretch against the glass side wall suggested that something might be up. Losing four straight points and then taking extra time between games confirmed that Julian’s back, which had so miraculously healed itself in the middle of his quarter final match with Yasir Butt, would now be a key factor in the outcome of the match.

And, it was. While Julian refused to acknowledge anything but his opponent’s fine play in his after-match comments, it was clear to those who know his game well that his play went off just that smallest amount from full speed ahead. He was still able to hang in the points and deliver high quality hits if given the time, but he was no longer able to generate his up-tempo, fast break offense or make that do-or-die dig out of the corners that is the difference at this level in a competitive loss or an upset win. The margins are razor-thin narrow in this rarefied air of upper-echelon pro squash, and even a one percent drop in athletic performance will mark the difference between winning or losing.

So, the question for tomorrow afternoon’s match is whether or not Alister will have enough gas in the tank to mount a charge against the comparative fresh Tom Richards. With only one spot differentiating them on the ranking list, and with all other factors being equal, it should be quite a tussle. See you at 2pm to find out!

in Williamstown
Zafi Levy reports

Tonight’s quarter finals at the True North Berkshire Open?

Just when one might expect results to open up into lengthy matches and dramatic story lines, particularly after the excitement of Thursday night’s play, the glass court offered up only predictable results and routine scores.

Just one of the four matches on tonight’s card went more than the three-game minimum, and seeding form held from top to bottom. Of course, “routine” does not compromise or diminish the amazingly high quality of play these squash performers presented.

Are there fitter, more athletically skilled competitors in any other professional sport?

There where rumors that Julian Illingworth had hurt his back at the end of his match the night before against Steve Coppinger, and it certainly looked as if that was the case as the first game went quickly to Yasir Butt (without opposition) and at the same minimum level of resistance to put Julian down 9-2 to Yasir in the second. And then—suddenly and without warning—Julian came alive and won the next 14 points in a row! The transformation was exhilarating to witness. His back loosened? Or, maybe he secretly popped open a can of spinach?

Whatever the cause, the shift was as instantaneous and as dramatic as a lightning bolt. While Yasir recovered some momentum to make the fourth game competitive again, it was too little, too late. Though the points and intensity lengthened, from 7-7, Julian ran it out by controlling the backhand rail both long and short.

Quiet please! Dr. Golan was in surgery tonight: quick, economical, dispassionate. Despite his usual high energy, tireless work ethic and shot-making wizardry, Shawn Delierre was never in the match: 7-0 in the first, turned quickly into 11-1; 8-1 in the second into 11-4; and then finally, 7-4 in the third into 11-6.

So then, just like that, 24 minutes later the match was over. Shawn’s every move was blunted by the depth, accuracy and weight of Borja’s drives—he left hardly one loose ball for Shawn to work with. It is actually fair to say that Shawn was not a factor in the match—Borja was that good.

On paper it looked like a match-up that had to go five. It featured contrasting styles and talents: the tortoise and the hare. But, as it turned out: the patient, methodical, ever-willing-to-start-the-point-over determination of Tom Richards just wore Miguel Rodriquez down—sucked the life out of him.

Tom neutralized Miguel’s unbelievable quickness by sending the ball down the glass—over, and over—and over. Richards left him no room to maneuver, unless you want to count the three inches off the side wall his rails occasionally wandered or the inches off the back wall the ball rebounded. It was like watching a vise being slowly and surely tightened around its victim—slow, but steady suffocation. No hope.

Once again, top seed Alister Walker got off to a slow start and probably should’ve lost the first game, but he recovered just in time - Olivier Pett was up 10-8—and from then on, the die was cast, as a routine take-down in the second and third ended the match after 38 minutes. Alister’s movement is too fluid, and once he focuses in on cutting out his unforced errors, his command of the court is impenetrable.

He moves easily and comfortably from defense to offense, and back, with good decision-making and clean ball-striking. At this point of the tournament, he looks to still have another gear to shift into before reaching top speed.

(Correction: in the write-up of the crucial fourth game of the first round match between Siddharth Suchde and Tom Richards, it was erroneously reported that Suchde had failed to convert four game balls. The correct number was two, both at 10-8 up.)

Bottom half in Williamstown
Zafi Levy reports

Tonight’s play can only be described as a squash fan’s heaven: contrasting styles, clean-as-a-whistle ball strikers, effortless movers, close matches, electric rallies, wonderful sportsmanship—nothing but truly great entertainment. And, with each of the four matches averaging one hour each, there was no shortage of exposure (or ticket value) either!

Watching Chris Gordon battle one of the most dynamic and electric players on tour, Miguel Rodriguez, it was hard to believe that his world ranking is only #81. While the 3-0 game scores suggests otherwise, the length of the match at 44 minutes tells the true story.

He contested with unqualified hustle, solid shot selection and total responsibility to his talent, playing within himself and affecting total commitment to . But, in Rodriguez he faced a whirlwind of energy and racquet work; his quickness, strength over the ball and shot-selection creativity makes him a force to be reckoned with: 11-7, 12-10, 11-7 in 44 minutes.

Julian Illingworth continues to show improvement, and his control of the court and the points evidences the professionalism of his dedication to his craft. No longer the talented US kid who is giving a run at the game after an Ivy education, Julian is now a hardened pro with serious world-class credentials and a steadily improving ranking to go with them.

While his four gamer over Steve Coppinger, the tourney’s #4 seed, was an upset on paper, Julian’s level of play was a touch higher than Steve’s in every category, although if Steve had converted one of his game-ball opportunities at 10-7 in the second (or later that same game at 11-10) to secure a 2-0 lead, the outcome might have been different. Always a rangy mover with the elasticity of Spider Man, Julian’s improved ball striking—cleaner, more consistently weighted hits—now allows him to control his position and build his points rather than just chase down every ball (although he still does that too!)

The evening’s second match paired another human dynamo, Arturo Salazar, against tall, lanky, smooth striker Yasir Butt in a battle of shot-making extraordinaire. Both players were finding the nick, making for short points and runs of points that determined the outcome of games—five points from 9-6 down in the first for Arturo; five straight to start the second for Yasir; four straight for Arturo to close out the third from 9-7 down; a throwaway for Yasir in the fourth.

Finally, the match itself turned on point-play streaks, when in the fifth Yasir went from 2-6 down to 10-6 up, before holding on while Arturo made his own run to 9-10 down before tinning out on an exceedingly high-risk cross-court cut shot on his second swing of the last point.

The last match of the night kept the aficionados in their seats until well past 9:30pm as Siddharth Suchde and Tom Richards (last year’s finalist) battled to as close to a draw as you can come and still have a winner in four games (extra points to finish). Siddharth tireless work-ethic and serious wingspan made for one amazing retrieval after another, forcing the more precision-oriented Richards to maintain his positional composure and restart points which he had seemingly already one.

Tom seemed surprising unconcerned after dropping the first game in relatively uninspiring fashion, and it seemed to some that he might be underestimating the obvious ambition and rising ranking of this former Harvard #1 whose present world ranking of #45 (his high-water mark to date) does not yet reflect his top 20 (top 10?) potential. However, Tom quickly gained control of the match with his solid control of the “T” and kept patiently pushing the ball to the corners until openings became available.

Then, just when it seemed that Tom had effectively ended the Siddharth challenge, the fourth game went tooth-and-nail into extra points, and if Siddharth had forced a fifth with one of his four game balls, it would have been tempting to predict that the match would have been his.

And, tomorrow night’s match card promises more great squash, with each pairing offering contrasting styles and temperaments. See you there!

Top half in Williamstown
Zafi Levy reports

Play in the eighth running of the Berkshire Open kicked off this evening on the newly-floored glass tour court installed for the fourth year running on the Chandler Gymnasium at Williams College, tucked away in hotbed of junior squash in the northwest corner of Massachusetts.

Results for the four matches in the top half of the draw went according to form, with one major exception, although top seed, Alister Walker struggled more than expected in downing world ranked #38 Chris Simpson 3-1 in 74 minutes: 13-11, 11-9, 6-11, 11-5. Simpson had two game balls in the first, stayed even in the second then won the third before finally running out of gas in the fourth.

Third seed, Borja Golan was considerably more efficient in dispatching qualifier, Charles Sharpes, in a very routine three: 11-5, 11-1, 11-4 in 27 minutes.

Olivier Pett survived two rounds of qualifying and then upset world-ranked #34, Nafiizwan Adnan, whose beautiful movement but emotionally passive play allowed a more determined Pett to out-work and out-position Adnan in a lengthy three-gamer: 11-7, 11-9, 12-10 in 50 minutes.

The most entertaining match of the evening paired Shawn Delierre against qualifier Scott Arnold, and as usual when Shawn plays, there were lots of lets and lots of litigating. Shawn’s opponents tend to take his on-court behavior personally, which is understandable, but the truth is that he just happens to bring his own personality on court just like everyone else. The truth is that he has a great racquet and wonderful anticipation, and if you leave loose balls for him to work with, he is remarkably efficient in out maneuvering his opponents as he did tonight: 11-6, 11-6, 11-13, 11-9 in 82 minutes.

Tomorrow night’s four match card features two former Ivy #1’s: Yalie Julian Illingworth faces off against #3 seed, Steve Coppinger, and Crimsonite Siddarth Suchde takes on the #2 seed (and last year’s finalist), Tom Richards. American Chris Gordon will also be in action after surviving the qualifying wars and plays Miguel Rodriguez for a spot in the quarters.

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