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New England Open 2010
Cross Courts Club, Boston, 10-13 May

3/4 Playoff:
Wael El Hindi bt Daniel Sharplin 12-10, 11-8, 11-4 (41m)

Shahier Razik bt John White 8-11, 11-9, 11-9, 11-5 (39m)

Stormy end in New England
Sarah Cortes reports

Players breathed a collective sigh of relief and spectators wondered if they had got their money’s worth as the NE Open ended with not a single player arrested. However, conduct warnings, point penalties and stern talkings-to from the ref abounded on this, the final night of the tournament.

The 5-let rule sustained a number of the oft-mentioned “tweakings,” emerging like Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront” black, blue and bloodied but still hanging in there and capable of meatpacking or whatever it is they do on waterfronts.

Cutting a wider berth around Arizona and its new “papers, please” law which incarcerates individuals not carrying some mysterious papers who “seem” like they “might be” illegal aliens and give “probable suspicion” for such, our loyal and by now much-loved band of players navigated into the Cross Courts club well before 6:30pm and started warming up. Referee Mike Riley was seen “checking” quite a few “papers” during the night, and apparently all checked out as there were no further incarceration repercussions.

Local favorite Sharplin succumbs in 3/4 playoff

First up were Egyptian Wael el Hindi and ever-fit and really trim New Zealander Daniel Sharplin for the 3/4 playoff. Spectators were prepared with their Ray-ban sunglasses as el Hindi disrobed after the warmup, but there was no need as he limited his fashion strategy to a sleeveless but form-fitting non-fluorescent blue kit. After checking each other out with a good deal of probable suspicion, our players got underway.

It was unclear if either el Hindi or Sharplin carried “papers” during the warmup, but everyone was on the sharp lookout for anyone who “seemed” like they might be an “illegal alien.” Tonight Sharplin did not hesitate to question referee Riley’s calls as he challenged the towering el Hindi, while giving him a run for his money.

El Hindi needed 15 minutes to close out the first game, barely squeaking by Sharplin 12-10. Sharplin used up three lets and el Hindi two as the Egyptian, tonight on his best behaviour, prevailed 11-8 in the second after another 15 explosive minutes of play. The third game proved the final as el Hindi clinched the match 11-4.

Penalty strokes and warnings clutter the final

After el Hindi’s nonstop fashion assaults of the past week, Razik and White provided relief, demonstrating their similar subtle counter-fashion strategies, reminiscent of Peter Nicol’s “fished-crumpled-from-the-bottom-of the squash bag” look.

Our popular finalists got underway as tournament director Joe Mcmanus announced raffle winners in a week that has been filled with such tournament amenities, including an incomparable afternoon at the Red Sox with players, sponsors and invited guests.

It was hard to say who had more probable suspicion, and who fewer papers, but White, after zinging a winning cross-court drop at the outset, promptly called a let at 1-4 and received just as promptly a “no-let, Mr. White” decision.

“Thank you, Mr. Ref,” was White’s clever rejoinder, setting a polite initial tone. At 6-2 Razik received a stroke and White’s frustration grew. He pulled the game back and won 11-7, after 8 minutes.

In the second, the no-let rule once again leapt out of seeming acceptance into controversy, as at 3-8 for White Riley did not see a questionable Razik pickup and announced a “referee let.” How many do you get? queried a shocked Razik. White announced Riley would get five lets of his own, whereupon Razik refocused his probable suspicion onto Riley and used Indian sign language to let him know his eyes would be glued to the foreign-born ref henceforth.

Shortly thereafter with a 9-3 lead, White hypothetically queried the potential outcome of a possible let he was taking under consideration, and announced he was awarding himself a let. Shahier hit a fantastic drop which proved the turning point of the game and match, as an increasingly frustrated John White saw his 9-3 lead turn into an 11-9 loss in the second game.

White’s frustrated mutterings as he flew from the court yielded him a point penalty from referee mike Riley at the outset of game three, and later ball abuse garnered him a conduct warning. Concerned where such abuse could lead, Riley also frowned on White’s treatment of the rubber ball. White, exasperated, gave up the third game 11-9 after only 7 minutes.

In the fourth, lets were no longer an issue as Razik quickly mounted an 8-2 lead. Briefly stopping Razik’s juggernaut, White finessed a lovely drop at 10-4. However, after 39 minutes of play, White conceded the final point, 11-5 and match 3-1.


Mike Riley

Sparks fly at NE Open semis
By @Sarah Cortes
Cry "Havoc," and let slip the dogs of war.
William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

Sparks flew at Cross Courts club last night in the men’s semi-finals of the NE Open. The 5-let rule underwent its most severe trial yet and emerged still standing as Shahier Razik, Daniel Sharplin, John White and Wael el Hindi, some of the tour’s more physical players, put it to the test.

It was reported in some quarters that the World Squash Federation was to discuss five-let rule in bid to keep game 'dynamic'.

Razik defies home advantage

Against this propitious backdrop, the Canadian Razik took to the court against the remarkably fit New Zealander Sharplin in the first semi-final match. Razik, known for his staying power in 2-hour matches, parsimoniously used up only three of his 5 alloted lets in the match, a sharp increase from the single let he required against Irishman Dan Roberts the previous night. Local favorite Sharplin, for his part used all 5 of his lets, possibly a statement about his notably sharp mental fitness, in addition to his oft-remarked fine form.

The score itself seemed to take a backseat to the audience’s growing fascination with referee Mike Riley’s precisely announced let count, reminiscent of the Vietnam-era fascination in the US with newscaster Walter Cronkhite’s nightly “body count.” Razik took the first game 11-7 after many protracted and exciting points which sent both players running to all four corners. The second saw Sharplin wandering around the court a good bit between points looking for his lost wind, but otherwise continuing to look fit and in-form. The result was also similar, 11-7 to Razik, who was now up 2-0.

At this point the match tone took on a bit of an edge, with each player beginning to invoke lets. As the third game unfolded, Sharplin wasted no time calling a let at 1-0, and was awarded a stroke for his trouble. Razik, in retort, promptly called some lets of his own, and was awarded no-lets, to which he responded with stunned equanimity. Politely querying the referee’s rationale, he complimented referee Mike Riley, noting graciously, “your explanations are getting better. I can’t think of anything to argue about right now.” A brilliant save from the back court by Sharplin brought the score to 3-1 and a Razik tin saw Sharplin serve at 4-1. The crowd went wild as the Sharplin comeback materialized point after point.

Razik grew suspicious and after Sharplin announced he was “not ready” for a serve Razik had flashed his way, demanding triumphantly of Riley to know if that was not a LET? The audience promptly sorted itself into pro- and anti- let camps and shouted suitable suggestions at the referee. Sharplin offered helpfully that his hair had been in his eyes, and a little girl provided a pony-tail holder to get his hair situation back under control. But Riley introduced the concept of a “do-over” and play proceeded let-less. Sharplin took the third game 14-12.

In the fourth, the super-fit New Zealander seemed to have lost a contact lens, for he was often to be found crawling around the court on his hands and knees between points, staring blankly at the floor and breathing heavily. Razik took the fourth game 11-8 and the match 3-1after 56 grueling minutes, and but 4 lets overall. Querying Razik about his 34 tour finals, 20 titles, and 4 times as Canadian national champ, an exhuberant Razik declared to the historically-inclined tournament director Joe McManus, “All that doesn’t matter, I’ve just beaten Daniel Sharplin on his home court!”

In a post-match interview, Razik conceded sensibly, “I’m trying to cut down on those 2-hour matches.”

White & El Hindi test five lets to the limit

The most contentious match of the night soon got underway, with Wael el Hindi facing off against John White. Revealing his aggressively physical fashion strategy, Wael unzipped a powder blue warmup outfit to reveal another blindingly bright fluorescent blue and green kit. Unfortunately the impact seemed lost on the towering John White; Wael possibly needs to take greater care to select shorter opponents who are forced to stare directly into the blinding rays of his stunning colors.

The match provided 70 minutes of nonstop action, to say the least, anyone who missed this match should be kicking themselves. At 2-1 in the first game, el Hindi flicked a remarkable forehand cross-court drop which found White wrong-footed. At 9-10 el Hindi served and then used up the first of his lets. In seemingly pointless fashion quickly ran through 3 marginal lets which were quickly overruled by Riley. An exchange of lackadaisical left-sidewall lob drives left the crowd in stitches, and ended with a flick of Whitey’s wristy shot to win the first game11-9 for the Franklin & Marshall coach.

In the second, el Hindi tried to lengthen the rallies. At 4-2 Riley awarded a stroke to el Hindi, who eventually took the second game 11-4.

In the third game at 7-all, White used up his first let of the tournament. Showing a bit of impatience at 9-8, he flicked the ball into the tin. “Greedy as a pig!” scolded el Hindi sensibly, who had by this time used up all of his own lets. After White drove a winner down the sidewall from directly in front of the tin, el Hindi, seeking a stroke, looked pleadingly at the ref, inquiring, “in this let rule, is there an option to call a friend?” Stroke-less and luck-less, el Hindi managed to take the third game 12-10 and led 2 games to 1.

Remarkably, el Hindi managed to let that lead slip away when White took the fourth 11-8. White quickly invoked the rest of his lets at the outset of the fifth game and the players soon found themselves in the exact situation everyone had been wondering about- what happens when both players are out of lets? We found out that hand-wringing did not work, and White eventually took the fourth and fifth games, 11-8 and 12-10.

Some on-court tussling reminded the crowd that there are still a few kinks to work out in the “5-let” rule, but it emerged relatively unscathed at the end of the night.

Quarter-Finals let rip in Boston
Sarah Cortes reports

Unseasonably chilly weather did not deter lilacs from blooming all over New England this week, nor did it deter the Boston crowd from packing the Cross Courts club for the New England Open tonight.

Quarterfinal action continued after extremely in-form local pro and US #1 Daniel Sharplin, formerly World #76 and New Zealand national champion, had prevailed in the first quarterfinal Monday night. Lilacs and spring flowers may have been blooming, but “let” calls were withering inside the club as the new and mysterious “5-let” rule worked its magic on the event.

First up of the evening: Shahier Razik from Canada vs. Dan Roberts from Ireland. Roberts, originally from Belfast, is currently a local teaching pro. The former Northen Ireland National Champion and Ireland #3 also played for Nottingham when at university. Razik, currently world #26 and who has reached as high as #20, introduced his charming wife at the club at last year’s tournament. Razik and Roberts used up matching single lets each of the paltry 5 lets now allowed under the new enigmatically-named “5-let” rule. Mutterings of pre-game collusion regarding the symmetric pair of lets rumbled through the crowd. Nothing could be proven, however, and so after 23 minutes Razik concluded 3 winning games, with Roberts taking a respectable 17 points overall.

As spectators loudly puzzled over whether the new rule should be called “10-lets” or “5-apiece,” John White and Vijay Chitnis took to the court. White, former British National champion, shocked the audience by declining even a single let, much less a stroke, throughout the match. Chitnis, the Rhode Island Champion and former US Squash uber-mensch, did not hesitate to teach White the error of his ways by invoking his entire allocation of 5 lets in the first 3 minutes of the match. Despite this aggressive display on Chitnis’s part, White managed to recover from the stress and prevail in 17 grueling minutes, 14 of which were entirely free from the anxiety, boredom and inherent fairness of “let” calls.

With the audience left to ponder the possibility that the new rule was more aptly named “5 lets and an unlimited number of strokes, no-lets, and withering glances,” Scott Arnold and Wael el Hindi lost no time scrambling onto the sweat-drenched court. El Hindi, a charming if rather tall Egyptian and currently world-ranked #12 player, immediately attempted to blind his opponent with a startlingly bright yellow kit. This gave rise to rumors of an impending “5-yellow” kit rule. Arnold hails originally from Sydney, Australia and has risen to the world #61 position. He has recently taken up residence in Rye, Connecticut, to study the “5-let” rule proposal in its native habitat.

Fortunately, Arnold was too tall to stare directly into el Hindi’s blinding yellow kit, and so play proceeded. El Hindi, who has always been a bit timid about lets to begin with, employed instead a strategy of amazing drops from the far back of the court, including one at 10-7 which wrapped up the first game. Arnold answered with his own high backhand drop in the second but, alas, was facing the audience and the back wall at the time and the tin rang out, prematurely ending the second game at 11-7 as well.

World certified referee Mike Riley sternly reminded the players they had used up a let apiece as they entered the third game. The crowd was treated to an excellent display of length to all four corners and many more breathtaking drop shots by both players, but Arnold eventually “let” el Hindi wrap up the match at 11-9 after 32 minutes.

12-May, Semi-Finals:

John White
11-9, 11-4, 12-10, 11-8, 12-10 70m
 Wael El Hindi

Shahier Razik
11-7, 11-7, 12-14, 11-8 57m
Dan Sharplin


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