11:18 pm
13 Jun 2024

England Target Another European Team Double

4 May 2024

Today's climax to the 2024 ESF European Team Championships in Zurich will be a repeat of last year with England taking on France and Belgium respectively in the men's and women's finals.

England's men sealed their place in the final for the 48th time out of 49 in the history of these championships by beating hosts Switzerland 3/0 in front of a loud, partisan crowd.

The first match was a cracker, with Marwan ElShorbagy going the full distance against world no.27 Dimitri Steinmann before closing out an absolute thriller 11-4 7-11 12-10 9-11 11-9 in 73 minutes.

There was less drama in the second rubber as Mohamed ElShorbagy extended his unbeaten career record against Swiss legend Nicolas Mueller with a clinical 11-9 11-3 11-4 triumph. That gave 24-year-old Curtis Malik the chance to complete the win which he took gleefully, beating Yannick Wilhelmi 15-13 11-7 11-9.

"I played a couple of pool matches in last year's European Championships but I was itching to play in big matches like the semis and finals, so to get this win over the line here is one of the best feelings of my career," said Malik, whose PSA ranking is currently a career-high 38.

France lie in wait for England in the men's final at the Squash Arena in Uster. They overcame Wales 3/1 in Friday's evening session. Baptiste Masotti beat Emyr Evans in quick fashion, but Joel Makin gave the Welsh hope by defeating Victor Crouin - just as he did in December's World Team Championship in New Zealand.

But when Sebastien Bonmalais saw off the challenge of Elliott Morris Devred in three, the match was over with France unassailably ahead in games. Gregoire Marche decided to play the dead rubber against Rhys Evans anyway and won it 2/0.

In women's Division 1, Belgium will get a second chance to beat England after their desperately narrow defeat to the 40-time champions last year in Helsinki.

The women's running order meant the no.3's went on first and France's gutsy 16-year-old Lauren Baltayan drew first blood with a 11-9 14-12 5-11 11-3 win over fellow teenager Chloe Crabbe. However, Belgium's stellar Gilis sisters then took control. World no.4 Nele beat Marie Stephan, then world no.9 Tinne completed the comeback, both in straight games.

"It's an amazing feeling," said Tinne. "It's a team event but of course winning the deciding match always feels a bit special.

"It would mean everything to win this title. We've been wanting this for so, so long. We were so close last year and I was the one who lost the deciding match. The defeat was one of the hardest to get over - worse than losing in any PSA event. It motivates me to push even harder this year. Whatever happens, we won't step off court without giving it everything."

Belgium will once again have to overcome England in order to win that precious first ever European title. The defending champions beat Wales 2-0 in the day's opening session via confident straight-games wins for Jasmine Hutton and Georgina Kennedy over Lowri Roberts and Tesni Murphy respectively.

Kennedy said the first game against Murphy, which she won 11-9, was critical. "I really wanted to send an early message," said the Commonwealth Games gold medallist. "Tesni has had some brutal matches this week and some really good wins, so the first game was going to be crucial to break her confidence a little bit."

On a prospective battle with Nele Gilis in Saturday's showpiece, Kennedy said: "Me and Nele are building a great rivalry because we've played each other so many times this season. Our matches are always so fair and long battles. If I do play Nele, it's going to be a hard slog."

In Division 2, Scotland and Hungary's men achieved promotion back to Europe's top table next year (both were relegated last year) by reaching the men's final. The Scots beat Israel 3/0 while Hungary beat Belgium 3/1.

Finland and Germany seized promotion to Division 1 in the women's draw. The Finns beat Poland 2/0 while Germany were 3/0 victors against Denmark. They will play off for the trophy.