European Team Championships 2008  

EuroTeams Roundup                               Howard Harding reports

Day FOUR:
England Celebrate European Championships Double In Amsterdam

It took well over four hours in just three matches for England to beat long-time rivals France 3/0 in today's (Saturday) men's final of the European Team Squash Championships after the England women's team also defeated Netherlands 3/0 in the other final at Frans Otten Stadion in Amsterdam to record the double for the 16th successive year.

 

Hosts Netherlands made up for the disappointment of losing to France in yesterday's men's semi-finals to beat Germany in the bronze medal play-off, while the women's bronze medal went to France who beat Ireland 2/1.

 

With France now boasting two players in the men's top five, the stage was set for a dramatic men's final which would go to the wire.  Both countries' national coaches had acknowledged on the eve of the final that France - runners-up for eight of the past nine years - had a good chance to win the title for the first time after building up a two-match lead by their world top five stars.

 

But powerful and focussed performances by England players meant that the script failed to materialise.  First on were the second strings - with England left-hander Peter Barker facing Thierry Lincou, the former worlds champion from Marseille whom he had never before beaten.

 

Barker, ranked 12 in the world, earned a game ball in the first game - but his experienced opponent, the world No5, came back to take the game and the expected lead.  But Barker was in defiant mood - and after 90 gruelling minutes battled to an 8-10, 9-7, 9-1, 10-8 victory to put England in the lead.

 

James Willstrop led England's next attack - the world number three taking on long-time rival Gregory Gaultier, ranked one place higher.  It was another high-octane encounter in which the Englishman's opening game lead was cut back when Gaultier, the reigning British Open champion, took the next two. 

 

Midway through the fourth, Gaultier collapsed with cramp in his left leg.  After treatment by the team's physio, the 25-year-old limped back onto court only to throw away the game shortly thereafter.

 

Despite cutting back a 5-1 lead by Willstrop in the decider, Gaultier was clearly hampered by his injury and Willstrop went on to claim a 9-7, 2-9, 7-9, 9-1, 9-3 win after the 101-minute marathon.

 

It was left to fourth string Adrian Grant to clinch overall victory for England when he beat Julien Balbo 9-1, 9-2, 9-6 in 65 minutes in his first ever meeting with the Frenchman.

 

"I think the results speak for themselves," said team captain Lee Beachill, the squad number three whose match against Frenchman Renan Lavigne was not played.  "The performances by Peter and James were just outstanding - and, although we were all ready to perform when we needed to, those guys really pulled out something special and thoroughly deserved the wins they achieved.

 

"It just proves what a great team spirit we've got - no-one wanting to let anybody down and everybody so focussed.

 

"It was also a great debut for Joey (Barrington) who has really made himself a strong member of the team and, although he's only just joined us for the first time, he's fitted in as if he's been with us for years," added Beachill, the former world No1 appearing in his ninth European Championships."

 

Netherlands team manager Peter Berden was delighted with his squad's performance in taking the men's bronze medal.  "I am very happy - especially as ours is a young squad.  Our fifth player Piedro Schweertman was 8-2 down in the fourth game of his match, and fought back to win it and then take a 5-0 lead in the decider.

 

"It was also an emotional occasion for us as it was Sjef van der Heijden's last appearance as our National coach.  A podium finish was what he wanted and it was good that we achieved that for him."

 

Despite losing to the Netherlands, fourth place marked Germany's best finish since 1996.  But notable too was the outcome for Switzerland, who lost to Wales in the play-off for fifth place - but secured their first time in the top six since 1990.

 

Luxembourg recorded the highest finish by a non-seeded country by finishing in 18th place.  Serbia, in their maiden appearance in the event, finished an impressive 23rd.

 

The England women's team extended their remarkable record to 31 titles since the inaugural women's event in the Netherlands in 1978.  The top seeds - in their sixth successive final against Netherlands - showed their determination in the first match when third string Alison Waters, ranked 11 in the world, despatched Dutch opponent Karen Kronemeyer 9-0, 9-5, 9-0 in just 24 minutes.

 

The second match featured Vanessa Atkinson, a ten-time Dutch national champion, ranked nine in the world, and Vicky Botwright, the England number one ranked one place lower and also trailing 3-8 in the pair's head-to-head tally.

 

Putting behind her a rare England defeat in the earlier qualifiers, Botwright took the first game for just a single point, then maintained her composure to clinch the second after a late comeback by Atkinson.

 

Botwright continued to pile on the pressure - and disappoint the partisan local crowd - and finally beat Atkinson 9-1, 10-8, 9-3 after 36 minutes to win the match - and secure the title for England.

 

Squad number three Jenny Duncalf made it maximum points for England when she beat Annelize Naude 9-4, 9-1 in the best-of-three dead rubber.

 

"What really pleased me was that the coaches had faith to pick me - and that gave me extra confidence," said a jubilant Vicky Botwright, the England captain, after her triumph.  "This week's been a bit of a turnaround for me - as I haven't been playing that well recently.

 

"And I wanted to do my best to win, to take the pressure off the others.  If Vanessa had got a game, it could have turned things around."

 

When asked about the pressure of maintaining England's supremacy in the event, Botwright explained:  "We don't take anything for granted - we don't underestimate anyone.  Yesterday's semi-final against France was a good example.  That could have been a tricky tie, but we were very professional and did what we had to do."

 

Botwright's smiles were even wider as she revealed that she was now engaged to Australian international Stewart Boswell.  "We were out for a walk on a lovely sunny Sunday some weeks ago when I noticed that Stewart was rummaging around in his coat - and I wondered what he was doing.  To my complete surprise, he asked me to marry him!  We're hoping to find a date next May, if there is suitable gap in both of our squash commitments!"

 

In the play-off for third place, seventh seeds France beat Ireland 2/1 to win the bronze medal for only the second time - and Germany defeated Denmark 2/1 to take fifth place.

 

But perhaps the most notable achievement in the lower order was recorded by Wales, the eight seeds who beat Belgium 2/0 in the play-off for seventh place to record their highest finish of all-time. 

 

Day THREE:
Champions England Cruise Into European Championship Finals

 Top seeds and defending champions England cruised into both the men's and women's finals of the European Team Squash Championships after comfortable semi-finals wins at Frans Otten Stadion in Amsterdam.

 

The men's squad, led by the new world No3 James Willstrop, defeated surprise opponents Germany - the fifth seeds making their first appearance in the semi-finals for 12 years - and will now face long-time championship rivals France in Sunday's final.

 

France, seeded three after losing to Netherlands at the same stage last year, avenged their defeat by beating the hosts 4/0.

 

Much to the delight of the local crowd, Netherlands battled to a 3/0 win over Ireland in the women's semi-finals to claim a place in the final for the sixth year in a row.  And, for the sixth year in a row, the second seeds will face favourites England - and will be looking for their maiden win over the period!

 

England extended their remarkable record of reaching the final each year since the inaugural women's competition in 1978 - also in the Netherlands - by beating France 3/0.

 

After a significant upset over fourth seeds Wales to claim their surprise appearance in the men's semis, Germany met their match in England.   But German number one Simon Rosner, ranked 60 in the world, took the opening game against James Willstrop

 

However, the England number one quickly regained the upper hand and beat the former European Junior champion 3-9, 9-1, 9-3, 9-5.  Team-mates Adrian Grant, Lee Beachill and Joey Barrington went on to record straight games wins to set up England's eighth final meeting in the past nine years with France.

 

France, led by Gregory Gaultier - the world number two and highest-ranked player in the event - were looking to make amends for their absence from the final in 2007, and gain revenge over Netherlands. 

 

But, in the opening match of the tie on the three-sided-glass showcourt at the impressive 21-court centre, Dutch number one Laurens Jan Anjema took the opening game, spurred on by the packed partisan crowd. 

 

When the Frenchman fought back to take the next two games, it seemed that the end was nigh for the local hero.  But, despite being ranked 15 places lower in the world, Anjema battled back to force the match into a fifth game - and in the decider again saved numerous match-balls from 8-1 down before Gaultier finally established the 4-9, 9-3, 9-3, 7-9, 9-5 victory after 87 minutes which put the French team ahead.

 

France maintained the pressure on the hosts as Renan Lavigne, Thierry Lincou and Julien Balbo beat Tom Hoevenaars, Dylan Bennett and Lucas Buit, respectively, to record their 4/0 tie win.

 

"We were really disappointed to lose at the same stage last year," said French national coach Andre Delhoste, whose team has never before won the title.  "But the good thing is that we're not favourites tomorrow - and also the draw is to our advantage for the first time, which could be very significant."

 

The playing order for the final - all matches of which will be played on the centrecourt - will be 2-1-4-3. 

 

"So if our two top players (Gaultier and Lincou, ranked 2 and 5, respectively, in the world) win 3/0 or 3/1, we have a chance - and the pressure will be on England for the first time to fight back," explained Delhoste.  "If we do it, it will be a fantastic achievement."

 

All eyes in the women's semi-final between hosts Netherlands and surprise opponents Ireland were on the top string match featuring former world champion Vanessa Atkinson, the ten-time Dutch champion, and Madeline Perry, the nine times Irish champion. 

 

Atkinson took the first game and led in the second - but Perry fought back to nine-all, poised to level the match.  However Atkinson clinched the game and went on to take the match 9-2, 10-9, 9-3 to ensure the team's place in the final.

 

England were in commanding form in the other semi, as Laura Lengthorn-Massaro and Vicky Botwright secured straight games wins over their French opponents and Alison Waters recovered from a game down against Camille Serme to beat the record three-time European Junior champion 7-9, 9-0, 9-2, 9-4.
  

 
 

Day TWO:
Rosner leads German breakthrough

 

Former European Junior champion Simon Rosner led Germany through to the semi-finals of the European Team Squash Championships for the first time in 12 years after the fifth seeds forced a draw with fourth seeds Wales in the final men's qualifying round at Frans Otten Stadion in Amsterdam.

 

The teams faced the clash having both beaten Italy and Finland in the first day of qualifying in Pool D - but Germany boasted a superior 'matches won' rating and therefore only required a draw against their higher-seeded opponents.

 

While Rosner, ranked 63 in the world, was battling with Gough - ranked more than 40 places higher - his team-mate Stefan Leifels put the country ahead with a 7-9, 9-4, 9-1, 9-7 win over Welshman Jethro Binns.

 

Rosner, just 20, built up a 2/0 lead over Gough on the three-sided-glass showcourt at the impressive 21-court centre. But, belying his 37 years, former world No5 Gough fought back to force the match into a fifth game decider.

 

Rosner dug deep and, after 97 minutes, celebrated a magnificent 9-5, 10-8, 6-9, 2-9, 9-2 victory - which not only avenged his straight games loss to Gough in the same championships 12 months ago, but also brought cheers of jubilation from his team-mates!

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"That's a big win for me," said Rosner. "I've played Alex twice before and only taken one game off him, so to beat a player of his stature and experience in this event is just great.

 

"In the third he was just better than me - I made a couple of mistakes in the middle of the game and that gave him the impetus to win it.  When he went 6-1 up in the fourth, I let it go to concentrate on the fifth.

 

"I'm happy to win for myself, but more for the team - to give us a chance to make the semi-finals for the first time in a long time."

 

Gough, a veteran of numerous European Championships, was hugely disappointed with the outcome: "I was half asleep in the first two games and was really negative. But I thought I'd got him after the fourth - he seemed really tired.

 

"But all credit to him for coming back in the fifth."

 

Hosts Netherlands - seeded two in both the men's and women's championships - continued their winning ways after a sound start on day one. The Dutch men crushed seventh seeds Sweden 4/0 - though third and fourth strings Dylan Bennett and Rene Mijs both had to come back from behind to beat experienced Swedes Christian Drakenberg and Anders Thoren, respectively, in five games to ensure their country's third successive 4/0 win in Pool B.

 

The day marked a notable milestone for Dutch National Coach Sjef van der Heijden who celebrated his 400th appearance for the hosts since taking up his role in September 1994. 

 

"The whole team wanted to make sure it was another 4/0 win today - especially for Sjef," said team manager Peter Berden. "It was another great performance from the team and we're now looking forward to tomorrow's semi-finals."

 

Vanessa Atkinson led the Dutch women's team through to the semi-finals for the sixth year in a row. The former world champion beat Line Hansen 9-6, 9-6, 9-4 to ensure a 3/0 win over Denmark, the third seeds.

 

England, the favourites and defending champions in both events, also comfortably reached the semi-finals. The men's squad beat British rivals Scotland 4/0 and will now go on to face Germany in the semi-finals, while England's women defeated Germany 3/0 to set up a surprise semi against France.

 

After finishing in seventh place last year, France confirmed their place in the last four after beating sixth seeds Switzerland 3/0.

 

But Ireland also upset the form book by clinching an unexpected place in the women's semi-finals. Led by world number 15 Madeline Perry, fifth seeds Ireland despatched Spain 3/0 and will now meet last year's runners-up Netherlands for a place in the women's final.
  

Day ONE: Happy Day for Hosts

 

Hosts Netherlands enjoyed a highly successful opening day today in the European Team Squash Championships at Frans Otten Stadion in Amsterdam.

 

After Dutch Squash Bond President Frits de Leeuw declared the championships open after striking the first ball on the 21-court centre's spectacular three-sided-glass showcourt with the Netherlands number one Laurens Jan Anjema, world number No19 Anjema led the hosts' men's team to a convincing 4/0 victory over tenth seeds Switzerland.

 

Lucas Buit, the squad's No4 who announced his decision to retire from international squash on the eve of his record 20th successive appearance in the championships, scored an impressive 9-6, 9-1, 9-5 win over Swiss opponent Marcel Straub.

 

Later, second seeds Netherlands beat Hungary, the 15th seeds - again 4/0 and again winning all matches in straight games - to finish the day at the top of Pool B.

 

"It was a terrific start, especially winning both our ties 4/0 - so we're on our way!" said men's team manager Peter Berden. "And, as we speak, Switzerland and Sweden are killing each other on nearby courts - which is good!"

 

Indeed, the final tie of the day in Pool B produced a 2/2 draw - leaving the hosts needing to beat seventh seeds Sweden in Thursday's final qualifying tie.

 

Defending men's champions England, the top seeds, also scored two resounding 4/0 wins - against Denmark and Belgium to head the Pool A standings.  Joey Barrington, son of the former British legend Jonah Barrington, made a successful international debut with straight games wins in both ties.

 

The first upset in the men's event took place in Pool C where 11th seeds Spain beat Ireland, the sixth seeds, 3/1. Irish number one Liam Kenny - who earlier surprisingly lost to top Austrian Aqeel Rehman - was beaten in straight games by Spanish number one Borja Golan.  Later in the tie, Irish veteran Derek Ryan, who made his European Championships' debut in 1988, was unable to hold onto a two-game advantage, going down 5-9, 3-9, 9-4, 9-1, 9-2 to Spaniard Alejandro Garbi Caro.

 

Perhaps the most surprising men's result of the day came from veteran Italian Jose Facchini in his opening match against Alex Gough, the number one of fourth seeds Wales.  Gough, currently ranked 22 in the world - but a former world No5 - took the opening game against Facchini. But, despite being ranked more than 340 places lower, the 36-year-old Italian romped to a 1-9, 9-3, 9-6, 9-3 upset.  Gough's team-mates went on to reverse the trend - ultimately forging a 3/1 win for Wales.

 

There were some notable upsets in the women's event - with both of the top two seeded teams suffering surprising losses.

 

Hosts Netherlands - runners-up for the past six years - first beat Switzerland 3/0. But in the later tie against seventh seeds France, team No1 Vanessa Atkinson went down 3-9 10-9 1-9 9-0 9-3 to French No1 Isabelle Stoehr.

 

Favourites England also dropped a rare match in the tournament in their opening tie against Ireland, the fifth seeds. Vicky Botwright, the world no8, twice led Madeline Perry. But the  Irish star fought back to win 2-9 9-3 3-9 9-2 9-5 .

 

"The old Madeline's back!" exclaimed Perry, who has been fighting back to full fitness after sustaining a serious head injury last year.  "I've had a few 3/2s with Vicky over the years so it's great to come out on top in that one.

 

"I've got a lot sharper and I'm volleying more, it's getting better each tournament I play. My squash is back to where it was, I just need to work on my concentration now, that's still a bit up and down like it was today - hopefully I'll get lots of practice with all the matches this week!"
  

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