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Whitlock's Controlled Game Gives he Win over Impatient Blatchford
July 24, 2011, by Ron Beck, Editor © 2011 SquashTalk.com , Independent News; SquashTalk LLC


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(updated 24-jul-11 9:12  

Sobhy, El Tayeb, and El Shourbini All Advance in Straight Games [DRAW]

Today, the diminutive English number one, Emily Whitlock, shut down the fired-up American Olivia Blatchford in three tense games on the Harvard University Glass Court, to crash into the Women's World Junior semi finals. This leaves second-seeded Amanda Sobhy as the sole American in the draw, while two Egyptian players round out the semi final field.

While Nour El Tayeb (number one seed) was the class of the field on quarter-final Saturday, it was Whitlock who provided the strongest tactical performance, and starred in the most interesting match of the evening. An evening in which none of the four contests extended beyond three games.

In front of a home crowd of roughly 125 fans, fellow players and coaches, Blatchford came out all fired up, as she customarily does, for the anticipated contest between two players who are neck and neck in the women's junior pecking order, with Blatchford holding the higher seeding for this event.

LIV FIRED UP
Being overly fired up is not necessarily an advantage in this sort of high pressure situation, especially against an opponent like Whitlock who makes few mistakes and can change the direction and speed of the ball in the blink of an eye. It wasn't tonight.

Blatchford showed her nervousness from the start, overhitting some balls that flew out to the middle of the court, especially on the left hand side. She made two early errors, and fell behind immediately. Emily Whitlock, though, wasn't immune from the pressure of the occasion and made some mistakes of her own, allowing Blatchford some glimmer of hope early on.

This match reached much higher levels than the two that preceded it, with the court itself (and it's slow play and visibility challenges) not being a major factor. Whitlock, though, did take better advantage of the play of the court than Blatchford. The first game was marked by duels down the left side of the court. Whitlock made just that better use of length than Blatchford, with the low bounce in the very back corner surprising Olivia too many times for a player of that experience. This gave Whitlock a few more winners in the back than Blatchford. Blatchford tantilizingly pulled within one point five times during the first game, only to have Whitlock's patience pay off for the Englishwoman on each such occasion.

Blatchford's aggression on each of these crucial occasions was punished by the unforgiving nature of the slow court, which gave Whitlock clear openings on any slight mis-hit by Blatchford. Whitlock didn't miss too many of those chances, punishing Blatchford several times in the front right. Nothing flashy about Whitlock's well-timed placement plays, they just were slighlty too good for Blatchford to reach.

And at the end of both the first and second games, Whitlock produced a locked-in focus, concentration and effort that ultimated produced the final two points from a 9-8 advantage.

A SWITCH IN TACTICS
In the second game, Blatchford was determined to change the pattern, and did at the outset, signalling more of an interest to switch the game to the right side of the court and winning two quick points with low and hard ferocious drives.

Whether due to Whitlock's control of the tempo or to Blatchford's inability to sustain the starting intensity, the second game then quickly devolved into a pattern of play similar to the first, in which a slightly diminished pace played to Whitlock's strenghts. Blatchford knew this, and tried to force the pace, with the consequence of producing several slighly open shots, each of which Whitlock pounce on immediately, forcing Blatchford into the now familiar front right corner.

However at this juncture Blatchford's lost her tactical plan, and began trying to shoot to the front, a disastrous tactic against the speedy and skillful Whitlock, who counterpunched successfully on most of those attempts.

THE CRUCIAL THIRD
Blatchford now desperately needed the third game to keep her hopes alive. She again came out focused and determined in the third, but again after a dozen strong points, her emotions got the better of her, and with Emily Whitlock masterfully staying within her game, and taking advantage of each intemperate point from Blatchford, she built a strong third game margin, and we finally saw just a touch of emotion from Whitlock, finally, at the tail end of the third. It was Whitlock's game and match. A clearly important win for the English team and the ebulliant Whitlock, and deflating for the Americans who have high hopes of finishing a best ever second at least in the tournament.

SHORT STROKES
The Harvard glass court is a difficult one to play on, and the two matches that proceeded Whitlock-Blatchford showcased the court's challenges.

In the evening's first quarter, the game and spirited Nouran El Torky, never did figure out the slow play of the court, letting it get into her head. Again and again, the wily El Sherbini parlayed an unexpected and very aggresive short and angle game into point after point. El Torky appeared stymied by the court's reflectivity and slowness, as the normally speedy player was slow off the mark on almost every short shot and almost every angle shot on the left side.

The taller and older Nour El Sherbini, who was not in a charitable mood, sensed El Torky's tentativeness and took full advantage of it, especially off of any of El Torky's inadvised boasts. It was a short and one sided contest, with El Torky only showing some rare flashes of her potential brilliance.

SOBHY MARCHES TO SHOWDOWN WITH SHERBINI
It was a different scenario but ultimately similar result as Amanda Sobhy made short work of Miriam Ibrahim Metwally. The stylish and potentially explosive Metwally was largely held at bay by the heady, controlled and tough play by Sobhy. With her quiet intensity very evident in her eyes and her nascent power, Sobhy started cautiously, as Metwally and her traded points and explored the court in the first game. Metwally took an early lead in the first, and then stayed close. Had she been able to steal the first game things might have been different, but she couldn't and didn't as Sobhy upped the pace and the court movement.

After that cautious first, Sobhy had the court and her opponent fully figure out, and the rest was never in doubt, as Amanda increasingly took advantage of the shotmaking power of the court to place in winning drives and drops seemingly at her own choice and will.

EGYPTIAN YIN AND YANG
The final contest of the evening was a contrast in Egyptian styles and personalities.

And it was a fascinating one.

Though the scoreline says that El Tayeb, the Egyptian first seed and highest ranking WISPA player in the draw, had a strong and three game win, Salma Hany put up a terrific battle that forced El Tayeb to fully show her stuff, and gave the audience flashes of both player's strengths.

El Tayeb is tall, wispy and fluid. Hany is shorter and more enigmatic. Between the two of them, they can produce some engrossing squash points, demonstrating tactical and shotmaking variety.

The same can not be said for the refereeing of this match, which played a larger role than it should have, and once the players discovered that the referees were not going to have the courage to call the stroke on clear obstructions, both players frustratingly played to the let, almost daring the referee to call the stroke that never came.

This was more to Hany's detriment than El Tayeb. But nonetheless we saw some wonderful squash.

The first game was very close, and really could have gone either way. This was really the only match of the night where one felt that the court itself played no role whatsover, and it was simply going to be up to the talents of the players. Both players have a bright future in the game of squash, no matter how they choose to pursue it.

the second game was a different story. Hany lost her concentration for a short time just at the beginning of the game, and mishit two service returns giving El Tayeb a quick 2-0 lead. And this gave El Tayeb the space and the confidence to just let her fluid game and talents flow, and she brilliantly outplayed Hany to take the second 11-0.

In the third game, Hany was determined to show the crowd and herself more. She did. The third was a nip and tuck contest. Ultimately, it was El Tayeb's remarkable speed, flexibility and instincts to attack that proved the distance. El Tayeb produced a few crucial winners off of difficult placements by Hany that surprised both Hany and the crowd and fully demonstrated her capabilities.

There was one play that El Tayeb made, midway through the second game, that showed to me her upside potential in the women's game. Hany hit an angle shot in the front right corner that El Tayeb completely anticipated and instinctively responded to. El Tayeb move fluidly into position, began her swing and her body motion, and seemed to wait momentarily in mid-air as Hany cleared herself from the ball. The instant Hany was out of the way, El Tayeb completed the shot, guiding the ball with pinpoint accuracy into the front corner, while Hany helplessly continued here momentum toward the back of the court.

While Hany herself showed also some great attacking shots, instinctiveness, and power and is a great personality and presence on the court, it was El Tayeb's night. Or maybe, more accurately, Egypt's night. El Sherbini, Hany and El Tayeb all shined, such that it is hard to imagine any team besting Egypt in the upcoming team event next week.

Quarter-finals:
[1] Nour El Tayeb (EGY) bt [9/16] Salma Hany (EGY) 11-8, 11-0, 11-4 (30m)
[5/8] Emily Whitlock (ENG) bt [3/4] Olivia Blatchford (USA) 11-8, 11-8, 11-7 (33m)
[3/4] Nour El Sherbini (EGY) bt [5/8] Nouran El Torky (EGY) 11-8, 11-3, 11-4 (25m)
[2] Amanda Sobhy (USA) bt Mariam Ibrahim Metwally (EGY) 11-6, 11-3, 11-5 (24m)


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