Surrey 4-1 Chichester                
Wael El Hindi 3-1 Azlan Iskandar                                 9/7, 9/4, 7/9, 9/6 (65m)
Peter Barker 3-1 Alex Gough                                       9/2, 9/5, 4/9, 9/2 (48m)
Davide Bianchetti 3-1 Tim Vail                                    9/11, 9/3, 9/3, 9/7 (64m)
Ben Ford 2-3 Peter Genever                                        11/9, 2/9, 9/4, 7/9, 6/9 (62m)
Vicky Botwright 3-0  Dominique Lloyd-Walter                9/3, 9/5, 9/4 (21m)

Gloom & Despondency? Not a Chance
The Crabtree Report                              
 Howard Harding's Roundup 



The final, as it happened ...
Steve Cubbins at Lee-on-Solent
 
Vicky in the Zone


Vicky Botwright got Surrey off to the perfect start, with a 3/0 win in 21 minutes - the match finishing moments before the first game of the men's match on the adjacent court finished. "I was in the zone," said Vicky, who played for Lee for four seasons.

Jelly Levels

Coming from 2/1down, Peter "Jelly" Genever kept Chichester in the hunt with a fine performance against Ben Ford, greeted with noisy delight by the many many Chichester fans.

Advantage Surrey for Barker

Surrey retook the lead after the top string match, Peter Barker taking a solid two-game lead, and although the wily Alex Gough pulled one back, a 7/0 deficit in the fourth was too much.

Bianchetti bags it

A great start for Chichester player/manager as he took the first game against Davide Bianchetti, who was docked a conduct stroke to make it 9-all in the first before "the Vole" went on to take it 11/9.



But Bianchetti fought back, taking a 2/1 lead to set up a tense finish. Meanwhile Wael El Hindi had taken a 2/0 lead, so the race was on to see who could finish it first for Surrey.

Bianchetti reached 8-3 match ball, but Vail held on, pulling back point by point. 8-7 Bianchetti, 7-all El Hindi ...

After several tense and raucous lets the Italian finally put in a dropshot too tight for Vail and the place erupted ... seconds later Iskandar pulled a game back but it was too late.

Wael wrapped it up in the fourth and the celebrations began again ...

Surrey Health Win Maiden
Premier League Title

Howard Harding reports

At the end of only their third season in the competition, PCL Whitehall Security Surrey Health & Racquets Club clinched the Premier Squash League (PSL) title for the first time after beating PNH Properties Chichester 4/1 in Tuesday's final of the established England Squash league sponsored by Towergate tlc.

With both teams supported by determined and vociferous fans, it was clear that a great evening of squash was about to be unleashed on the two adjacent glass-backed courts at Lee on Solent Squash Club.

Surrey H&RC, from Croydon, took an early lead when England international Vicky Botwright, the world No10 from Manchester, beat compatriot Dominique Lloyd-Walter 9-3, 9-5, 9-4 in 21 minutes.

The end of this match coincided with the completion of the first game on the adjacent court - where Surrey's Ben Ford finally clinched the early lead against Peter Genever after the Chichester part-timer had saved two game-balls.

Both teams knew the importance of this particular clash - the pair's first meeting - and both sets of supporters did their best to outdo each other in the decibel stakes!

Genever, a veteran of all 12 of Chichester's PSL campaigns, levelled the match in the second game - and when world No93 Ford took the third, Chichester's former tour player again evened the score.

But when Genever led 7-2 in the decider - then stemmed a fight back by Ford to clinch the match 9-11, 9-2, 4-9, 9-7, 9-6 after 62 minutes - the Chichester followers almost raised the roof!

By now, Surrey were again leading in the second string battle between England international Peter Barker and Chichester's Welsh international Alex Gough - both of whom were playing in their second PSL final, and both of whom had achieved their seedings in last week's Dunlop British Open in Liverpool.

Barker, a rising star, took the first two games, but veteran Gough, a 37-year-old former British O35 Open champion, pegged one back.  It was to no avail, however, as the 24-year-old world No12 secured the fourth to put Surrey back in the lead.

However, it was more than an hour and a half later - with the final two matches playing side by side and fortunes wavering from one team to the other - before Davide Bianchetti, the world No30 from Italy, finally curbed the brave and determined efforts of Chichester's second part-timer Tim Vail 9-11, 9-3, 9-3, 9-7 in 64 minutes, and Surrey H&RC fans cheered their team's maiden PSL triumph.

The top string encounter was an all-overseas affair - but both players have clearly established loyal followings from their teams' fans.  The crowd were mesmerised by the talents of Surrey's Wael El Hindi, the world No9 from Egypt, and Chichester's Mohd Azlan Iskandar, the world No13 from Malaysia who produced last week's biggest British Open shock when he upset second seed Ramy Ashour, also from Egypt.

But it was the Egyptian who ultimately prevailed to win 9-7, 9-4, 7-9, 9-6 in 65 minutes to earn the Croydon club a 4/1 victory.

"I thought it would be a close affair," said Surrey H&RC team manager Pete Smith.  "But I was confident we would win and am delighted that we did.  Tonight has been a fantastic night.

"Participation in the PSL for the past three seasons has been a very positive thing for us - it has helped with our junior development and has increased our squash membership, leading to more squash being played at the club. 

"And the team spirit has been fantastic," added Smith.  "Not just the players who have played tonight, but the whole squad who have helped us to get this far - players like British Junior champion Adrian Waller and Tim Garner."


Peter Cullen
, representing club sponsors PCL Whitehall Security, added:  "There's been a cracking atmosphere tonight.  Now that we've won it, we want to retain it next year!"

Chichester, who were playing in the final for the first time despite having reached the semi-finals seven times since 1996, were proud of their achievement - particularly since two members of their team, Peter Genever and Tim Vail, have not played full-time squash for many years, yet have both represented the Sussex club with distinction in all ten ties this season.

"I knew I had to win tonight's match if we were to have a chance of winning the title," said Genever, a former world No23 who is now a highly-respected elite coach. 

"A night like tonight is good for the game, where you have a neutral venue with two strong sets of supporters providing a fantastic atmosphere. 

"I've represented Chichester for over 25 years now, from when I was a junior. Most of our supporters here are my friends, people I grew up with. Playing for Chichester in the PSL gets me motivated," concluded the 34-year-old England No21.

Egypt's Wael El Hindi acknowledged that he'd never before experienced anything like the atmosphere during the PSL final.  "Most of my countrymen don't play leagues - they like to stay at home.  But I play all over Europe," said the charismatic world No9 who divides his time between Cairo and Glastonbury in England, where he trains with British squash legend Jonah Barrington.

"But I have never experienced anything like this before.  It has been fantastic - an unbelievable evening," said the beaming Egyptian







GLOOM AND DESPONDENCY? NOT A CHANCE
Peter Crabtree reports


So, the moment of truth came and went, and absent a moment of the Hargrave jinx striking, it was always likely to be the outcome. It was a good evening of hard fought squash played out in an almost gladiatorial atmosphere with crowd interaction like I have never seen before in a squash match – and it was good to see. One of the best parts of it was that the players tried to keep their own games moving whilst there was some unbelievable noise coming from the adjacent court. Mind you, the refs and players had some problems communicating – no change there then!

Firstly, thanks to Lee on Solent for hosting the match. OK, so they took a few bob at the bar, but they are a traditional squash club, albeit with a tennis section, and their approach to this match was everything it should have been – excellent hospitality and a welcoming atmosphere for both sets of supporters as well as their own members. Thanks to Nutters and Alison (I will never reveal the truth Alison!) for organising the evening and co-ordinating the many strands that go to making up a successful event. To “the voice of squash” Alan Thatcher for his contribution, including the invaluable skill of knowing when to keep quiet, again thanks. Also to Howard and Steve for the recording for posterity of the evening’s events.

So, to the real interest – a callypygous (sorry for the missing “Y” in the programme) treat to kick off the evening. To be honest, it was a bit disappointing, and I am sure Dom feels she didn’t do herself justice, but when all is said and done, the rankings told the truth, as they did in most of the matches, and a far better (on the night) player won the opening match.

Meanwhile, Jelly was rolling back the years with a vintage display of squash against the evergreen Ben Ford. The first game was still going when the girls finished, and after staving off 2 game balls, Jelly just lost it 9-11 in a little over 20 minutes. The hot courts and very warm evening played a part in prolonging the games, but even so, there was no shortage of attacking shots, and our Jelly actually twatted a straight nick to a tumultuous roar. The match went the way of each player in turn, and eventually, the travelling Chichester massive raised the roof when Pete ran, or rather stumbled, out a 3-2 winner after a little over an hour. The sentiment afterwards was that if we had to lose 4-1, then it was absolutely appropriate that our longest serving player who has featured in the team since our very first match (against Chris Tomlinson if I remember rightly) should get the win. It was good to see the Bromley number 1 from that match James Robbins spectating – still playing good stuff as well it seems (or so he said).

So, honours even, and the seemingly ageless Alex Gough taking on the much younger Peter Barker on the main court. The nipper rather cheekily ran into a 2-0 lead dropping only 7 points in the process and it did seem that it was going to be all over rather quickly. A bit of a spring appeared in the Welshman’s legs to take the 3rd, but Barker cruised through the next to put Croydon on the edge of a maiden PSL title. During the match, we were treated to some exquisite shot-making from both players, and some movement around the court that defied belief, especially from the old boy. But this then took us into the 2 strings that we thought really held out some hope.

Vole has a habit (well several actually) of chopping higher ranked players off the court, but the aforementioned conditions were not going to be in his favour, and it seemed that the plan of nicking Bianchetti out of the match was going to be a tough ask. Hence, those Vole pins were scampering like nobody’s business, and he managed to reverse Jelly’s opening game scoreline to achieve an 11-9 win, and maybe a scent of victory. Contrary to everyone (from Chichester)’s anticipation, this was to be the second longest match of the night, and after an hour and four minutes, the Croydon player went berserk as he finally ran out a 3-1 winner to secure the match and the title for Croydon. Poor Vole could hardly move at the end, and my guess is it will take more than a couple of sessions of physio for him to recover!

The number one strings were always going to be a titanic battle, and this was a contest that was never going to be for the faint-hearted. One of them has a bit of a reputation for blocking and barging, and the other for excessive levels of charity on court, and both upheld their images extremely well. Being a referee is never easy at the top level, because as we saw, these guys are incredible athletes, and at the end we were to witness once again Azzy doing the full splits in a vain attempt to pick up a drop shot. But, and there always is one, the referee should have jumped on the less savoury aspects of what was going on right at the outset, which would almost certainly have prevented some of the nonsense that followed.

But, it was a match that included some of the finest squash, both shots and movement, that I have seen in some 30 years of watching top class squash, and both players deserve the credit for it, especially given their determination to keep play going despite the huge amounts of noise coming from Vole’s court. There was some sumptuous racket skill from Wail (and he did!) and wonderful athleticism from Azzy, but the culmination of the match next door and the winning of the title seemed to relax El Hindi, and he just played good squash to edge the match against a by now seemingly demoralised Azlan – pity it wasn’t like that all the way through, the squash not the demoralisation.

So, a deserved win for Pete Smith and his team – I just wish I hadn’t done such a good job of selling him the idea of playing in PSL 4 years ago! Thanks again to Lee for hosting the match, and to the spectators (or the vast majority of them!!) for creating a wonderful atmosphere which will long be remembered. “The best final I’ve seen” said Nutters – nearly right Chris!


 

FINAL:  Tue 13th May,
Lee-on-Solent


Surrey Health & Chichester
inMaiden PSL title bids
...

 

PNH Properties Chichester and PCL Whitehall Security Surrey Health & Racquets Club will meet in Tuesday's final of the Premier Squash League (PSL) at Lee-on-Solent Squash Club - both clubs bidding to win their first title in the established England Squash league sponsored by Towergate tlc.

 

In the first final for six years between two southern clubs, Chichester will be led by Mohd Azlan Iskandar - the Malaysian who claimed an unexpected berth in the quarter-finals of this week's Dunlop British Open after upsetting second seed Ramy Ashour - while their Croydon-based opponents will be led by Egyptian Wael El Hindi, the world No9.

 

Chichester beat defending champions Benz-Bavarian Duffield to make the final for the first time in eight attempts, and Surrey Health defeated University Sport Birmingham in the other semi.

 

"It is going to be fantastic final, with all of the matches difficult to call, and nice to see the south breaking the north’s stranglehold," said Surrey H&RC spokesman Tim Garner.  "We may have the slight edge in terms of rankings but the massive Chichester supporter group that will travel along the south coast are sure to inspire their players.

 

"To counter this, our club is hiring a coach to take our own army of fans down the M3 and so it is likely to be an electric atmosphere on the night.

 

"We are confident that we recruited the right players this year and it was a great achievement for the club to make the final in only our third season.  But second place is not an option," added Garner.

 

The final will be staged in Lee-on-Solent where the host club is celebrating its centenary this year.

 

"This year sees Lee-on-the-Solent celebrate the centenary of its foundation back in 1908," said club spokesman Chris Raleigh.  "To mark this milestone in the Club's history we have many highpoints planned throughout the year.  On 31st May we have our grand Tennis open day with Pat Cash as our special celebrity guest; on Friday 16th May we are hosts for the "lost for words" event featuring Lee Beachill and James Willstrop - this being followed by some live entertainment from the dynamic duo. On 14th June we will be holding our Grand Summer Foundation Ball at the Club.

 

"In addition to the above we have lots of mini events going on.  To be invited to host the Premier Squash League Final on Tuesday 13th May just prior to our own "Lost for Words" evening will make the mid week in May a fantastic week to remember for Squash down at Lee-on-the-Solent, where we have a long and established association with top quality tournaments and some principal players."

 

THE FINAL:
Surrey v Chichester

Wael El Hindi v Azlan Iskandar
Peter Barker v Alex Gough
Davide Bianchetti v Tim Vail
Ben Ford v Peter Genever
Vicky Botwright v Dominique Lloyd-Walter

  
 
CRYSTAL BALL ...

On rankings you'd be mad to bet against Surrey ... so we won't.