Australia, England & Canada Lead Charge Into World Masters Finals
4 Aug 2018
After 35 semi-finals in the WSF World Masters Squash Championships in Virginia, USA, it was Australia that emerged in front of the pack with a tournament-leading nine finalists, followed closely by England with eight - while Canadians won four out of six last four matches at the McArthur Squash Center in Charlottesville.
The day opened with mixed results for the host nation. Gerald Poulton, Canada's Men's O75 No.2 seed, augmented his recent winning record against North American rival John Nelson, dispatching the U.S. national title record-holder in three games to reach his second career World Masters final. Canada is guaranteed the Men's O75 title after fifth seed Howard Armitage defeated Team USA's Michael Gough in three games.
Team USA's first breakthrough came when Joyce Davenport, the fifth seed in the Women's O75 event, upset South African favourite Jean Grainger, the 2014 World O70 champion, in four games. Both players entered the match with a 3/0 record in the six-player round robin, and now Davenport just needs to defeat Slovenia's sixth seed Mariza Ohlsson to clinch what would be her second World Masters title.
"Jean was the key person to beat in the tournament," Davenport (pictured right) said after the win. "She's a good player, and adjusted pretty well during the match. If she hadn't adjusted so well I could have gotten through in three, but she got better as the match went on, improving her length and serves. I had some opportunities in the third and fourth, but I couldn't take them-including a match point. I can have one drink tonight, but probably just one."
Davenport won the O50 World Masters title in the 1992 event in Vancouver. Grainger and Davenport share a long history together, not just in squash but also tennis.
"I was actually hosted by her family in England for a few weeks when I was eighteen years old," Davenport said. "Her mother was the nicest hostess I've ever had in all my years playing squash and tennis, she was the loveliest woman. I told her that before the match. We also have both played Wimbledon and U.S. Open tennis, so we have some history and parallels."
As the day progressed, Australia, England and Canada laid down their marks. Australia's success was led by five-time World Open champion Sarah Fitz-Gerald, bidding to win a third successive Women's O45 title. The nation's further successes came from women's O50 top seed Sarah Nelson, Women's O55 favourite Susan Hillier, Men's O55 top seed Geoffrey Davenport and Men's O70 top seed Brian Cook. The Aussies produced four results that upset the seedings to reach finals, including Women's O65 No.3 seed Gaye Mitchell upsetting the second seed Faith Sinclair - and, in the Men's O55 semis, fourth seed Brett Martin upsetting top seed Willie Hosey and third seed Peter Gilbee overcoming No.2 seed Fredrik Johnson.
England are guaranteed at least two World Masters titles on finals day, with all-English finals slated for the Women's O35, featuring Lauren Briggs and Selina Sinclair, and O60, featuring Jill Campion and Karen Hume. England will also field two other top seeds including defending Men's O45 champion Nick Taylor and defending women's O70 champion Ann Manley.
The most dramatic match of the day came in the Men's O60 semis between England's No.2 seed Jeremy Goulding and unseeded Mexican Juan Mendez, a former hardball singles professional. Mendez fought off two match balls in the fifth game to win the match 12-10 in front of a roaring audience. Mendez (pictured above) is the only unseeded player in the tournament to reach a final, where he will face Australia's Davenport.
Other lone nation representatives in the finals include Botswana's Alister Walker (MO35), Dutchman Laurens Jan Anjema (MO35), Ireland's Liam Kenny (MO40), Germany's Hansi Wiens (MO50), John Macrury of the Cayman Islands (MO60) and Scotland's Ian Ross (MO70).
Team USA ended the day as it started - with mixed fortunes. Women's O50 No.3 seed Hope Prockop lost out against Canada's 15th seed Lauren Wagner, who continued her unexpected run to the finals with a three-game upset over the American. Natalie Grainger followed on court by maintaining her unbeaten World Masters record in a decisive three-game victory to reach a second consecutive final.
The last match of the day featured Team USA's Patrick Chifunda, who heads the squash program at the Country Club of Virginia in nearby Richmond. The former Zambian advanced to the men's O40 final after a three-game win against Hong Kong's surprise semi-finalist Wai Chung Wong.
"It feels very good to reach the final, I've worked really hard training for this event," Chifunda (pictured above in semi-final action) said. "When I played in South Africa two years ago I fell short in the semi-finals, so I was very disappointed. I'm thrilled to reach the finals here near Richmond and on American soil. Words can't even describe this facility, it's amazing. Playing on this glass court is a treat-a true joy-and to play in front of my home crowd makes it even better."
Chifunda and Kenny will contest the last World Masters final on the glass court Saturday in front of a full-capacity gallery.
"I'm just looking forward to having a very good, strong match against Liam tomorrow," Chifunda said. "We played each other once before on the PSA, so I'm looking forward to playing him now that we're old. I want to thank the guys at my club, Jose and Steven O'Dwyer, and most importantly my wife who has allowed me to train while taking care of our baby. I'm really excited for tomorrow."
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