Dutch hopes stay alive in Dutch quarters
Dutch favourites Vanessa Atkinson and Laurens Jan Anjema were both sorely tested in Rotterdam before taking their expected places in the semi-finals, on a day which saw one major upset at the Victoria Club.
LJ stems Ashour
You pretty much know what you're going to get with Hisham Ashour - outrageous winners from anywhere on the court, coupled with patches of determined 'traditional' play, and if you're lucky a few tins thrown in for good measure. Whether all the Victoria crowd realized what they were in for is hard to tell, but Laurens Jan Anjema certainly knew, and he, and they, duly got it all. A few too many tins from Hisham in the first, a few too many winners from LJ's point of view in the second. The Egyptian's concentration went in the third and LJ took advantage. The fourth was a humdinger. An early lead for LJ, a comeback from Hisham to earn two game balls at 10/8, plenty of discussions with the refs, a final momentum switch as LJ finally, finally put the nerves of the crowd to rest.
"I'm happy and relieved to get through that one for sure," said LJ. Hisham is a really difficult player to play, you have to adapt to it and not play your usual game. "The fact that my family and friends are here in the gallery gives you an extra two or three percent, the support is great and I needed all of that today!"
Anjema's opponent in the semi-finals will be Australian fourth seed Stewart Boswell, who started well enough against Simon Rosner, but found himself level after a fight back from the German. The comeback floundered in the third though, as Rosner berated himself for a number of unforced errors, and Boswell needed no second invitation as he powered through to claim a spot in the last four.
Ryder shocks Walker
"That's more pleasing than beating him last time in Alexandria," said a delighted Chris Ryder after beating third seed Alister Walker in a marathon quarter-final to open proceedings. "It was long," added Ryder, "but it wasn't fast paced, I couldn't beat him at that type of game, he's a better athlete than me." Ryder made a good enough start, although it took a while for him to establish a 7/2 lead as the rallies were long, the opportunities rare. Walker fought back but still Ryder reached 10/7, but he couldn't finish it, at least not until extra points, with two short kills at the end of long rallies from 12-all, with 29 minutes on the clock. Walker came out fast, more aggressive in the next two games, took early leads and closed them out, both 11/5. Ryder regrouped though, and led throughout the final two games, never by much, but he never allowed Walker to get back on level terms, and let out a delighted "Yes" as he put the final ball deep into the back corner with Walker stranded at the front.
"He was more prepared for what I had to offer this time," admitted Ryder, "and he played very well in the second and third, he got good starts which are hard to catch up on this court. Joel [Hinds] was telling me to go back to basics, but to be a little more aggressive too - I was trying to win through tactics, but you have to add a bit of physicality too, and that's what I did in the fourth and fifth."
"Every little helps," quipped second seed Cameron Pilley after being told that he'd spent two minutes less on court than his semi-final opponent. Another marathon match, this time between two big, hard-hitting, Dutch-based Aussies, and to say it could have gone either way is an understatement. Pilley took three points in row at the end of the first, then saved two game balls in the process of doing the same in the second - 15 and 22 minutes, those games took. The third and fourth were shorter, 11 and 13 minutes, as Steve Finitsis, in Pilley's words, "opened his shoulders and started going for some ridiculous winners, and getting most of them!"
Cue the fifth, a 22-minute game that was almost like a match in its own right. Finitsis took the first point, and stayed one or two ahead as the scoreboard inched its way to 7/5. Steve was still going for his winners, but they weren't coming off as well now, and he had to resort to a full-length dive or three to stop some of Cameron's attempts. Cameron put in a tight drop and was awarded a stroke to level, then we had six long rallies and six lets, how on earth would it ever end? Two loose shots and two quick strokes to Cameron proved the deal breaker, an dying length and a final short kill that Steve thought about diving for but didn't, and we had our first semi-final pairing.
"Oh my God ... it was just one of those games," said Pilley. "It wasn't a push to win the first two, but it was tough. I'm not playing very well, and I had a tough three games yesterday and five tough ones today. I'm not really sure how I won that in the end. After he took the third and fourth I just had to try and contain him in the fifth, which in the end I did. Sometimes it takes something like that to get you into gear, let's hope so!"
Atkinson firmly tested
The crowd were out in force to see Vanessa Atkinson set out on the next leg of her quest to claim a second Dutch Open title in her final outing in the event [she won in 2002]. It started off well for the home favourite, well in control a first game in which Sarah Kippax was struggling to get a foothold. That foothold was all but given to her as Atkinson made a series of unforced errors at the start off the second, and soon Kippax led 7/1. Winning the longest rally of the match seemed to cure Atkinson of her tin-itis, but it she was too far behind and soon enough we were level.
If Kippax had received a helping hand in the second, she needed none in the third as she played her best squash, stayed with Atkinson all the way and from 9-all took the lead with a lovely crosscourt flick and a stroke with Atkinson trapped at the front. It was all to do for the Dutch star, and she came out in the fourth showing every sign of intending to do it, leading 7/1, then 10/4. The crowd, and Vanessa herself, were getting nervous as Sarah pulled back point by point. Two delicate drops from midcourt brought her to within a point, but a third attempt was picked up and despatched by Vanessa, to the relief of most. There was less anxiety about the fifth, 6/2, 10/4 and finished on the second attempt ... phew.
"I felt quite tired at the start of the match," admitted the winner, "I was setting a high pace and the nervous energy from the support got to me a bit I think. But it was working, I stepped back a bit in the second, I should have kept going, that gave her some confidence and made a bit of a momentum shift. The third was close all the way, but I played a good fourth and knew the fifth would be tough as I was starting to feel it physically then. Fortunately I got a few quick points at the start. It's great having everyone here, and a relief too as I normally lose when my parents come to watch!"
Top three through with ease
Madeline Perry came through her all-Irish clash with Aisling Blake relatively unscathed. The second seed looked comfortable in the first game, but Blake regrouped and offered sterner resistance thereafter, but leads of 9/6 in the second and 6/5 in the third couldn't be converted as Perry powered through.
Top seed Rachael Grinham had Manuela Manetta running around in circles in the middle part of their match. The Italian ran willingly, as she always does, but the Australian's range of drops, lobs and flicks proved too much for her, as they do to many an opponent.
Rachael's younger sister Natalie Grinham, playing under the Dutch flag, showed 6-month-old Kieran that her comeback is gathering strength as she won the all-Dutch battle with Orla Noom, who couldn't repeat her heroics of yesterday but still gave the former world number two a good workout.