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Be Personnel Loch Ness Challenger 2014
19-22 Jun, Inverness, Scotland, $15k

22-Jun, Final:
[3] Steve Finitsis (Aus) 3-1 [8] Mahesh Mangaonkar (Ind)
             11-9, 11-2, 2-11, 11-5 (61m)

Finitsis takes Inverness title

The first Loch Ness $15K Challenger came to a pulsating climax today in Inverness, as Australian Commonwealth Games team member Steve Finitsis triumphed over rising Indian star Mahesh Mangaonkar.

The tournament’s culmination before a packed Inverness Court No. 1 was a predictably feisty affair, with both men squeezing one another’s shotmaking and testing muscle recovery after some tough matches this week.

The first game saw Steve race to 6-0, driving with power and pace to put pressure on Mahesh’s forehand. Steve’s languid manner – his touch exactly as he left off in the semi – suggested he had the game in the bag at 9-3; but then Mahesh began a series of accurate drops which stretched Steve uncomfortably.

A further delicate forehand drop pulled him up to 7-9, but a couple of Mahesh errors in lengthy rallies finally yielded the game to Steve 11-9. Steve’s superior courtcraft and ability to pace the rallies by using loft and cross-court driving took him to a strong position, winning the second to make it 2-0.

But Mahesh showed magisterial flair in the third, producing repeated deep drives to take his tall opponent out of position before finishing points with drops and stunning forehand drives into the nick. 6-1 became 11-2 after a series of skilled shots – an exquisite unplayable

boast to the backhand side; a wide forehand drive down the wall which Steve, stretching, tinned; and a forehand kill which found Steve wanting at the front. 2-1 Finitsis: game on, or so it seemed.

But the resilient fox Finitsis, alternately languid between points, and then urgent in his evident desire to claim the gorgeous Quaich for the champion, upped the pace again in the fourth, and seized on balls early to wrongfoot Mahesh.

The Indian player was unhappy with some calls, but was undermined by his own error count at key moments. This time it was Steve who was able to conjure up superb forehand drops – one in particular was for the coaching manuals, when his cross-court deception in an exchange of drops drew admiring applause from the rapt and knowledgeable audience.

An increasingly frustrated Mahesh conceded a stroke to give Steve an 8-4 lead, then missed a backhand drop to make it 10-5. A final low forehand drive beyond Mahesh’s reach gave Steve the match.

Afterwards Steve commented: “I congratulate Mahesh on a great match, and look forward to his undoubted future success. I can speak on behalf of the PSA players in thanking organisers, sponsors, referees and everyone involved here in Inverness – including Nessie – for a great tournament. I hope we are able to come back and enjoy your hospitality again.”

Dave Massey of the organising committee said: “We really appreciate the pros who have given a superb exhibition. It’s been a feast of squash, and Be Personnel and our other sponsors deserve our huge thanks. We wish all the best for Glasgow 2014 to Steve and Mahesh, and all the Scots players involved.”

So the players exited the stage to an eruption of applause, soft breaths of June air wafting the scent of summer from the hills and lochs.

Mike Gregson

Draws & Results

Loch Ness Challenger 2014
18-22 Jul, Inverness, Scotland, $15k
Round One
19 Jun 
20 Jun
21 Jun
22 Jun
[1] Alan Clyne (Sco)
 11-8, 11-3, 11-5 (37m)
[Q] Youssef Abdalla (Eng)
[1] Alan Clyne
11-5, 11-8, 11-8 (50m)
  [6] Raphael Kandra
[1] Alan Clyne

11-7, 11-4, 5-11,
11-7 (59m)

[8] Mahesh Mangaonkar

[8] Mahesh Mangaonkar


11-9, 11-2, 2-11, 11-5 (61m)


[3] Steve Finitsis

[6] Raphael Kandra (Ger)
 11-9, 9-11, 11-5, 11-8 (53m)
[Q] Kevin Moran (Sco)
[8] Mahesh Mangaonkar (Ind)
 10-12, 11-6, 11-4, 7-11, 11-2 (67m)
[Q] Mike Harris (Eng)
[8] Mahesh Mangaonkar
11-13, 11-8, 3-11, 11-5, 11-6 (83m)
 [4] Jaymie Haycocks
[4] Jaymie Haycocks (Eng)
11-5, 11-5, 13-11 (48m)
Arthur Gaskin (Irl)
Todd Harrity (Usa)
11-9, 11-3, 11-3 (42m)
[3] Steve Finitsis (Aus)
[3] Steve Finitsis
11-6, 12-10, 11-13, 11-7 (73m)
[5] Zahed Mohamed
[3] Steve Finitsis

11-8, 8-11, 7-11,
11-8, 11-8 (116m)

Greg Lobban

[Q] Lewis Walters (Eng)
11-6, 11-5, 11-5  (39m)
[5] Zahed Mohamed (Egy)
[wc] Jamie Henderson (Sco)
11-8, 11-4, 11-8 (34m)
[7] Joel Hinds
[7] Joel Hinds
11-6, 11-3, 11-4 (45m)
Greg Lobban
Greg Lobban (Sco)
11-6 rtd (23m)
[2] Omar Abdel Aziz (Egy)
18-Jun, Qualifying Finals:
Mike Harris (Eng) 3-1 Joel Makin (Wal)                  11-9, 8-11, 11-5, 11-9 (84m)
Kevin Moran (Sco) 3-0 Chris Fuller (Eng)                      11-9, 11-6, 13-11 (60m)
Youssef Abdalla (Eng) 3-1 Robert Downer (Eng)    11-6, 5-11, 11-4, 11-7 (35m)  
Lewis Walters (Eng) 3-1 Reuben Phillips (Eng)       11-6, 5-11, 11-7, 11-9 (58m)

17-Jun, Qualifying Round One:

Joel Makin
(Wal) 3-1 Adil Maqbool (Pak)                    11-1, 11-5, 7-11, 11-5 (55m)
Mike Harris (Eng) 3-0 Taminder Gata-Aura (Eng)                11-9, 11-8, 11-7 (40m)
Kevin Moran (Sco) 3-0 Ewen Urquhart (Sco)                      11-8, 11-0, 11-8
Chris Fuller (Eng) 3-0 Fraser MacDonald (Sco)                   11-4, 11-7, 11-2 (40m)
Robert Downer (Eng) 3-2 Dougie Kempsell (Sco) 7-11,5-11,11-5,13-11,11-8 (79m)
Youssef Abdalla (Eng) 3-1 Jan vd Herrwergen (Bel)  12-10, 11-7, 9-11, 11-9 (60m)
Reuben Phillips (Eng) 3-0 Jamie Mackay (Sco)                  11-8, 11-3, 11-4 (40m)
Lewis Walters (Eng) 3-0 Garry McKay (Sco)                      11-6, 11-3, 11-4 (30m)

21-Jun, Semis:
Scots bow out in Inverness semis

A tumultuous evening of squash in Inverness: a packed house cheered four heroes of their sport, battling away with zeal, passion and phenomenal stamina in warm conditions.

At the end of the day, both Scots were eliminated, and we have a Steve Finitsis v Mahesh Mangaonkar final in prospect.

Despite a challenging sequence of matches, Mahesh brought a strong game to his semi-final. He varied his game well from the start, bringing a geometrical precision to his use of width and height, forcing the indefatigable Alan Clyne to constantly turn and play from

unwelcome positions on the court. Gliding into a 2-0 lead, Mahesh cut and carved, squeezing Alan’s game remorselessly. Then, increasing the pace, Alan seized the third by the scruff of the neck. His fierce attack saw him wielding his racket like a fencer with his epée, dominating the T and constricting Mahesh’s ability to manage trajectory.

The lower-ranked player eased up, yielding But the fourth saw Mahesh fighting fire with fire, matching Alan at front and back and producing a series of delightful angles to force errors. 3-1 Mangaonkar.

Against the wily dingo Finitsis, Greg Lobban attacked from the start. Playing with verve, lunging gymnastically, the Scot retrieved energetically and used his trademark forehand caress to stretch the Aussie.

But the 29-minute tight first game went Steve’s way, his painterly
backhand daubing the wall repeatedly to limit Greg’s attacking opportunities.

After Greg battled back to seize a 2-1 lead, some controversial let decisions frustrating Steve, it looked as if the younger man might claim a place in the final. But the marathon rallies and the many lunges and retrieves had taken their toll, and Greg’s tightness dipped. Steve played great length in a patient game, working Greg hard.

The performance of Greg Lobban was a revelation to many in Inverness: although he has moved on to Edinburgh and the Scottish squad, his progress through the Junior ranks is well remembered. Although he lost his composure at the end of the fourth and fifth games, this has been a successful event for Greg , who will continue to rise in the rankings on this form.

Ultimately, although the match came down to just a few points, it was Steve’s qualities, in particular his variety and distinctive, elegant overhead play, which prevailed, to take him into the first £15K Be Personnel Loch Ness Challenger final.

Steve commented afterwards: “I’ve really enjoyed the tournament. I knew today’s match would be hard, and am just pleased to have made the final.”

Inverness Squash doyen Dave Humpage agreed: “It was an epic, and both finalists have had to put plenty in to get to tomorrow’s final. It’s been a bit of a Holy Grail for us, getting this tournament off the ground. But now it’s there, we’d like to keep it going – players, PSA and sponsors permitting.”
Mike Gregson

Draws & Results

Twitter: @Squash_Ness

20-Jun, Quarters:
Top Scots through to Inverness semis

This evening the Inverness club hosted not only the Quarter-finals of the hugely successful £15K Loch Ness Challenger – with local interest burning brightly – but also an important launch for the £10K Big Lottery-funded Development project for Squash in the North of Scotland.

The Celebrate! Fund enabled a junior Hot Shots coaching and competitive event for Under-12s today – this to be followed over the coming months by a dedicated programme introducing youngsters to the sport across a wide geographical area. “We’re really excited about this programme,” said Coach Allan McKay, “and it will help the North in the long term, building a legacy on the foundations of the Glasgow
2014 Commonwealth Games.”

(1) Alan Clyne (Sco) bt (6) Raphael Kandra (Ger)

As the energetic Scot bounded around the court, it was easy to see the level of intensity and sharp athleticism he brings to every match he plays. Raphael was a calm and focussed presence, able to challenge in every aspect of the game; but Alan’s steadiness ensured a 3-0 win and a place in Saturday’s semi-finals.

(8) Mahesh Mangaonkar (Ind) bt (5) Jaymie Haycocks (Eng)

Great match, in which Mumbai’s Mahesh showed wit and guile as he sparkled to a semi-final berth. Salopian Jaymie’s line and tight straight play put pressure on Mahesh throughout, but he failed to find an answer to his opponent’s imaginative and entertaining play.

(3) Steve Finitsis (Aus) bt (6) Zahed Mohamed (Egy)

The young Egyptian showed real flair and variety in his play, testing the tall Aussie’s resolution. The two players were evenly matched, and despite rallying strongly in the middle stages, Zahed was unable to put sufficient pressure on Steve when lobbed or driven to the back. It was the Aussie’s ability to play length and lift which proved crucial.

Greg Lobban (Sco) bt (8) Joel Hinds (Eng)

Greg Lobban was in commanding form this evening, working his opponent with a combination of deft tight play and astonishing agility and reach.

“I’m pleased with the match tonight, everything seemed to go right, and I was happy to handle whatever came back at me.”

Veteran Welsh coach Phil Williams commented: “It was nice to see how well Greg is killing the ball. The Scots boys are certainly pleasing the organisers and the crowds, and the weekend will make a fitting climax to a great tournament.”

This was a great win for the Scot, who ensured both semi-finals will feature a home-grown player.

As night fell in the Highlands, a heron swooped gracefully down, plundering the riches of the fast-flowing River Ness. But only four from a rich array of talent were able to plunder a semi-final place.
Mike Gregson

Draws & Results

Twitter: @Squash_Ness

19-Jun, Round One:
Top Scots through to Inverness quarters

Round one of the Main draw in the Be Personnel Loch Ness Challenger proved a dramatic evening indeed.

A packed Inverness Tennis & Squash Club witnessed North Kessock’s Commonwealth Games hopeful Greg Lobban gain a significant victory over No. 2 seed Egypt’s Omar Abdel Aziz, after the experienced Egyptian retired with an injury.

The young Scot pressurised his higher-ranked opponent with a sustained performance of excellent squash, showing the superb fitness levels he has reached in his successful season as a top-100 pro player, climbing the rankings. Omar’s injury – which appeared lumbar - came at the end of a hard first game, and disappointed the fans who were enjoying a really competitive match on Inverness’ bright show court.

Solid performances, too, from Steven Finitsis, Zahed Mohamed and Joel Hinds, who played controlled squash to overcome gallant opposition. Joel showed real quality of touch in defeating young Jamie Henderson of Thurso, who put up a good fight against the fluent Englishman.

Zahed’s length was admired by many; and Finitsis’ controlled game, with a deceptively relaxed style, will make him a tough opponent in tomorrow’s quarter-finals. American Todd Harrity pressed Steve enough to make the experienced Australian up the pace to see him home.

Germany’s Raphael Kandra had to overcome a fierce effort by Kevin Moran of Scotland, but the left-hander’s greater variety of shot and sustained quality saw him through, even when faced by a major onslaught in the 4th,  when Kevin led 7-2 at one point.

Top seed and Scots No. 1 Alan Clyne had too much intensity and stamina for the talented Londoner Youssef Abdalla. And superior courtcraft ensured Mahesh Mangaonkar’s victory over Englishman Michael Harris, who had pulled the match back to 2-2 with a skilled and determined display.

As Tournament Manager Garry McKay commented: “We were delighted with the quality again today, and are very pleased so many players and supporters are staying and enjoying the club this week.

The quarter-finals have again set up some intriguing matches, with the excitement of the Scots’ presence and success adding to the feverish but appreciative atmosphere. The Football World Cup, though available, has mostly been second choice for a knowledgeable and enthusiastic crowd.”
Mike Gregson

Twitter: @Squash_Ness

18-Jun, Qualifying Finals:
Qualifying complete in Inverness

As Qualifying concludes in the £15k Be Personnel Loch Ness Challenger – the biggest squash tournament in Scotland for 25 years – the intensity and drama are building by the minute.

Scots players are vying with international talents for the generous prize fund, and crowds and media interest are unmatched.

Top Scots Alan Clyne and Greg Lobban, both local boys, will be eager to do well as their Commonwealth Games challenge approaches, and after a successful season in which they led the Scots team to 4th be keen to have a say in the final destiny of the trophies.

Four players made it through tough Qualifying today - Lewis Walters, Youssef Abdalla and Mike Harris (England) and Scotland’s own Kevin Moran.

Patriotic crowds were especially pleased to see Paisley’s Moran battle to a lung-bursting win in Inverness this evening. As one of the key members of the Scots Commonwealth Games team, his was a morale-boosting victory indeed.

Club Squash Coach and Manager Malcolm MacKay said, “We are delighted to be hosting this event, which is a real marker of how successful the Inverness club has become.

The Organisers and sponsors have really put the Be Personnel Loch Ness Challenger on the world squash map, and we’re really looking forward to the Main event starting on Thursday.”
Mike Gregson

Qualifying Finals:

Mike Harris (Eng) beat Joel Makin (Wal)

A long match saw Harris playing the more attacking squash with his younger opponent Makin trying to extend the rallies. Overall, Harris was the more clinical player, showing greater creativity and initiative, taking the match in four.

Harris said later: “I was happy to push through to win 3-1 – Joel was very solid and I had to play well to close out the tight fourth.”

Kevin Moran (Sco) beat Chris Fuller (Eng)

The second match of the night saw Scotland’s Kevin Moran win a high-tempo match with some incredible retrieving, resulting in a 3-0 win in a close, competitive match. Some controversial decisions upset the Englishman’s momentum when 9-5 up in the third Moran’s ability to maintain tight play and pace saw him home.

This win confirms three of Scotland’s Commonwealth Games team (Clyne, Lobban and Moran) in the Main draw for Thursday.

"Really happy to get through that, it's not easy playing Chris. We've played once before and it was a long, tough match, so I knew that going in.

He was more accurate than me tonight but I felt I moved a bit better, although I needed to retrieve an awful lot tonight.

"Looking forward to tomorrow now, need to recover well so I can have a good pop at my old rival from my junior days, Raphy Kandra!!"

Youssef Abdalla (Eng) beat Robert Downer (Eng)

Match of the day. Downer’s stubborn and skilled play proved unequal to the flair and unpredictability of Abdalla, who used cross-court and a range of incredible crowd-pleasing shots to great advantage, and forced occasional looseness and poor shot selection from his opponent.

In the event both players were feeling the effects of their previous difficult matches, and the combination of two powerful and very individual players made this match a real treat for a big crowd.

Youssef commented: “I really had to rely on my shot-making, as Robert’s punishing play, his pace, and ability to play the unexpected shot placed great demands on my fitness after yesterday’s hard match with Jan van den Herrewegen.”

Robert paid tribute to his opponent: “Not meant to be for me tonight – credit to Youssef who, like me, had a hard match yesterday but saw it through today in four. I really wanted to go to a 5th but it wasn't to be.”

Lewis Walters (Eng) beat Reuben Phillips (Eng)

The last match of the evening was a tough battle, lasting just under an hour. Both players showed a combination of power and finesse, with Walters coming out on top in four.

In the end Walters’ ability to conclude rallies took its toll on his opponent, who struggled to gain the initiative as the third and fourth games wore on.

Top Scots head home to Inverness

The $15k Be Personnel Loch Ness Challenger, taking place from 19-22 June in the heart of Inverness, sees squash stars from near and far converge on the Highland capital for what looks set to be a closely-fought competition.

Top Scots Alan Clyne and Greg Lobban, both local boys, will be eager to do well as their Commonwealth Games challenge approaches, and after a successful season in which they led the Scots team to fourth place in the European Team Championships.

Others looking to hit form pre-Glasgow 2014 include Netherlands - based Aussie Steve Finitsis and young Indian Mahesh Mangaonkar.

But we shouldn’t discount Raphael Kandra, part of the German team which achieved third in the  European Teams in Riccione. In-form Egyptian Omar Abdel Aziz, fresh from winning the Norwegian Open in Oslo, will want to maintain that good form which has seen the 30-year-old really hitting his stride.

His younger compatriot Zahed Mohamed, seeded 6, could be a dark horse, with the draw throwing up intriguing possibilities at each end. With top Irishman Arthur Gaskin and skilled UK practitioners Jaymie Haycocks and Joel Hinds plus US star Todd Harrity all in the mix, this is an intriguing tournament.

Qualifying begins on Tuesday: up-and-coming Scots Dougie Kempsell and Kevin Moran will push hard to reach the final 16.

Public and media interest is bubbling up and organisers and sponsors hope this - the biggest pro tournament to be held in Scotland in 25 years - will put the Inverness club on the squash map.
Mike Gregson

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