2:45 pm
20 Jun 2024

Champion Palmer Ends Home Hopes In British Open

6 Nov 2004

A 101-minute semi-final marathon - the longest match of the tournament - ended home hopes of success in the Harris British Open at the Albert Hall in Nottingham today when Australia's defending champion David Palmer beat England's world No1 Lee Beachill in five games to reach the final for the third time.

Palmer will meet a surprise opponent in the final after Egypt's world champion Amr Shabana beat No2 seed Thierry Lincou in straight games.

Earlier, England's last remaining survivor in the women's tournament crashed out when USA's fourth seed Natalie Grainger upset world No2 Cassie Jackman in four games to claim her first place in the final. Grainger will face defending champion Rachael Grinham in the women's final after the top seed from Australia came back from 0/2 and 2-7 down to beat Vanessa Atkinson in five.

The Anglo-Australian men's semi-final lived up to its earlier expectations. Top seed Beachill and twice champion Palmer worked each other around the court as the battle for supremacy played itself out. The 26-year-old from Pontefract in Yorkshire led twice in the opening game, but Palmer drew first blood to go one up.

Beachill never lost the advantage in the second, then took the third after a tie-break to forge a 2/1 lead.

But it was one-way traffic in the fourth game as Palmer, from Lithgow in New South Wales but now based in Antwerp in Belgium, overcame a 1-3 deficit to take the game after only one change of serve - and force the match into a fifth game decider.

From 5-6 down, Beachill won four points in a row to go 9-6 ahead - and the near-packed crowd sensed an English victory. But after winning back the serve, the Australian was awarded two strokes against Beachill - and, several lets thereafter, claimed the match 11-8 6-11 10-11 11-4 11-9.

"I thought I put two decent rallies together at 7-9 down - but the referee then virtually decided the outcome of the match by awarding two strokes against me: two points taken away from me that weren't won by David," said an angry Beachill afterwards.

"I came to this tournament expecting to win, and I've come off court feeling as if I could have won," added the England No1. "I'm disappointed to lose but not at all disappointed with the way I played."

Palmer, a win away from a hat-trick of British Open titles, conceded that the match wasn't the best he and Beachill had ever played, but felt that he always had the edge on his opponent physically. "Lee is very talented with the racket, but I just had to keep calm, and did so magnificently in the fourth game.

"I was really desperate to win that match - it's pretty close to the best I've played all year. It's fantastic to be in my third final."

England's other semi-final hope Cassie Jackman, the No2 seed, failed to live up to her expectations when she went down 9-1 9-6 1-9 9-3 in 44 minutes to fourth seed Grainger.

Less than 24 hours after collecting an MBE from HRH Prince Charles, Jackman's mind was perhaps still in Buckingham Palace rather than on the golden opportunity to reach her third British Open final.

The England No1 from Norwich led 4-0 and 6-4 in the second game but was unable to maintain the momentum which might later have given her a 2/1 lead after coasting to a 9-1 win in the third game.

A beaming Grainger, 27, from Washington DC, said later: "I feel just great - it's amazing what six months away can do for you! And I'm in my first British Open final!"

After a series of personal upsets, including the loss of her brother and the break-up of her marriage, Grainger suffered numerous illnesses - the final of which landed her in hospital in Doha, Qatar, in February this year.

"I was at breaking point - and knew I just had to get away from it all," explained the one-time world No1. "There had been so much happening in my life, and I realised that I just hadn't been able to deal with it.

"So I went straight back to my parents' home in South Africa - I literally didn't leave the house for 12 days - and ended up doing almost nothing for two and a half months," said Grainger, who was born in Manchester in England, then raised in South Africa.

After slowly beginning her comeback in May, Grainger played in two WISPA World Tour events last month in her home country - the Atlanta Masters and US Open - and won them both.

"Looking back on it, the break was probably the best thing that could ever have happened to me," said Grainger. "This event is the pinnacle of squash for us - being in the British Open final is a childhood dream!"

In the first semi-final of the evening session, it seemed certain that a new name would be inscribed on the women's trophy. Vanessa Atkinson was in blistering form, completely dominating the action against title-holder Rachael Grinham to take the first two games and a 7-1 lead in the third.

But Grinham, the world No1, was in no mood to concede. "I wasn't about to give it away," said the determined 27-year-old from Toowoomba in Queensland. Grinham gritted her teeth and kept going - saving two match-balls in the third game before going on to clinch the match 7-9 1-9 10-9 9-6 9-2 in 67 minutes.

"I can't believe I came back from that far behind," said the Cairo-based favourite afterwards. "I could see Vanessa's head was gone by the fifth, so I knew I had her - but I can't even remember what I was thinking in the third."

The men's final line-up was settled in the last match of the evening, when rejuvenated fifth-seeded Egyptian Amr Shabana outwitted Frenchman Thierry Lincou, the world No2, 11-10 11-10 11-7 in 59 minutes.

Lincou, winner of the Hong Kong Open in September, complained that he was suffering with a calf injury during the game - "I felt pain throughout the whole match and just couldn't focus on the ball," said the Frenchman. "Shabana is in good form at the moment - he's much more confident now."

Shabana, the first Egyptian to reach the men's final since Gamal Awad in 1983, was overjoyed at his triumph: "As a youngster I played in various British Junior Opens, but to reach this final is a dream for me.

"I was happy with the way I played, but when I realised Thierry was injured, I relaxed and let him back into the game," said the 25-year-old world No7 from Cairo. "I then got my concentration back and forgot about his injury. Thank God I won."

Men's semi-finals:
[3] David Palmer (AUS) bt [1] Lee Beachill (ENG) 11-8, 6-11, 10-11 (0-2), 11-4, 11-9 (101m)
[5] Amr Shabana (EGY) bt [2] Thierry Lincou (FRA) 11-10 (2-0), 11-10 (2-0), 11-7 (59m)

Women's semi-finals:
[1] Rachael Grinham (AUS) bt [3] Vanessa Atkinson (NED) 7-9, 1-9, 10-9, 9-6, 9-2 (67m)
[4] Natalie Grainger (USA) bt [2] Cassie Jackman (ENG) 9-1, 9-6, 1-9, 9-3 (44m)