St. Louis MPM Open
Squash TournamentFinal Match
Karim Darwish (Egypt) d Joseph Kneipp (Australia) 3-1
(6), 4, 8, 5 (46 Minutes)
After a lighthearted doubles game between Mark Chaloner, Alex Gough, Simon Parke and Graham Ryding, the crowd enjoyed a serious battle as Karim Darwish overcame Joe Kniepp to take the 2004 St. Louis MPM Open Title.
The final match of the St. Louis MPM Open pitted a gifted shot-maker (Darwish) against a more traditional opponent (Kneipp). The first game started slowly, with both players straining to get comfortable. Three early errors by Darwish coupled with Kneipp playing stellar, patient, textbook squash gave Kneipp an early edge. Darwish began sweating about half way through the game, indicating that his two previous five game wins may have taken their toll. Darwish's movement was a bit languid; he seemed a little late in reaching Kneipp's expertly placed drops. However, Darwish tried to claw his way back into game one, and emerged on the winning side of some colossal rallies. A distinct difference in the two players' approaches to the game began to emerge. Kneipp seemed to use the drop shot to maneuver his opponent out of position, while Darwish's drops were intended to end the rally. Thus, Darwish's game both lives and dies by the drop. He hit an untimely tin at 9-5 to give Kneipp game ball. Kneipp, looking fresh and determined, won the following point with ease. It appeared as if Darwish's sore and tired legs might not be up for the challenge of a fresher and patient Kneipp.
In game two, Darwish began to take every shot short. Kneipp played into Darwish's hands, and started attempting outlandish winners as well. The points were short, but the shots were spectacular. Kneipp's length was a little loose, resulting in Darwish being awarded three strokes in the first half of the game. With Darwish leading 7-4, Joe Kneipp (ever the sportsman) called a down ball on himself to give Darwish a nearly insurmountable lead. Darwish used his momentum to reel off some quick winners to take the game 11-4.
Darwish walked onto the court with renewed confidence in the third game. It was obvious by his refusal to get caught up in long rallies that he did not want to have another five game marathon like his semifinal match with Jonathon Power. Darwish was in the zone and began to play flawless squash. However, at 3-3, Kneipp countered a Darwish smash with a delicate boast that barely grazed the front wall for a brilliant winner. Kneipp's cat-like reflex boast was arguably the most unorthodox shot of the tournament, but it swung the momentum his way temporarily. The end of the game was characterized by both players invading the other's space, and the points being determined by the referee. Darwish took the game 11-8 with his famous whip-like forehand kill shot.
It was all Darwish in game four. Simply put, Darwish possessed more weapons in his shot arsenal today than Kneipp. Darwish broke away from Kneipp with three nicks from awkward back court positions. At this point, Darwish had succeeded in turning the match into a shot-making exhibition. At 3-10 down, Kneipp refused to quit and won the next two points by returning everything Darwish could throw at him. Unfortunately for Kneipp, the writing was on the wall, and Darwish clinched the tournament with his signature forehand counter drop. Darwish flashed a quick smile to the crowd, and was all business as he exited the court, one step closer in his quest to become the best squash player in the world.
A packed house was treated to another exciting night of squash as Darwish and Kneipp advanced to the final.
Karim Darwish (Egypt) d Jonathon Power (Canada) 3-2
6, (9), (10-11 ((0-2))), 6, 6
The first match of the evening was an epic battle, reminiscent of the Jonathon Power and Simon Parke first-round encounter a couple of nights earlier. Darwish started beautifully, fully utilizing his lethal arsenal of blistering drives and punishing drops. Darwish was aided by some uncharacteristically bad shots off of Power's racquet to take game one. Incredibly, Darwish won 7 of his 11 points on dead nicks.
Power settled down in game two and showed that he was able to handle Darwish's deftly placed shots. There were multiple rallies where Darwish had to hit about three of four winning caliber shots in order to work Power enough out of position to win the rally. Both players traded points till 9 all. Power went on to win the game, but not without some controversy on the point that tipped the momentum in his favor. Court one at the Missouri Athletic Club uses tins that loudly beep and flash when struck. However, the electronic sensors cannot be relied upon to detect a delicate touch on the top edge. Darwish hit a nice backhand drop, and Power rushed in to play the counter drop. Power's ball did not trigger the tin's flashing lights, but may have touched the tin. The ball was ruled good, to the dismay of Darwish.
With the games tied at one apiece, both players believed that the match was theirs to win. Consequently, both shot maestros tried to dictate the pace. This resulted in a complete lack of rhythm and short rallies punctuated by frequent drop shots. Darwish began to shoot off of serves, and Power would drop him right back. At 6-5, Power pushed Darwish out of his path and threw his horizontally stretched body to the ball, just to show the referee that he could return the shot. At 8-8, Darwish and Power dueled over who could hit the better drop; the rally was eventually won by Darwish 14 drop shots later! It was clear that the match would be determined by shot making finesse rather than fitness. Darwish brilliantly disguised a forehand crosscourt to wrong foot Power at 9-9. Power relinquished the next point on an errant drop that landed 4 inches below the tin. However, Power managed to take the game by extending the points and waiting for Darwish to make the mistakes.
The momentum shifted as soon as the players stepped on the court in game four. Darwish was in the zone and cruised by Power with error-free squash.
Game five was characterized by extremely tight rails and out-of-this-world retrieving. Darwish shot out to a quick lead with early winners. However, as long as Power has a racquet, he is in the match. Power struggled valiantly to level the score, but Darwish's early lead in the fifth was too much for Power to overcome. The last point was a classic, 55-shot stunner, producing various looks of awe among the capacity crowd. It was fitting that the last shot was a Darwish kill shot about a millimeter above the tin.
Karim Darwish will face Joseph Kneipp of Australia on Sunday in the Final at the Missouri Athletic Club.
Joseph Kneipp (Australia) d Amr Shabana (Egypt) 3-1
(8), 2, 2, 4
The second semifinal of the evening could not have been more different from the first. Both players started nervously. Loose shots flew equally off of both players' racquets, resulting in numerous strokes. The very tricky Shabana found his rhythm first but played fairly uninspired squash, in stark contrast to his brilliant and energetic performance in his semifinal victory over fellow countryman Mohammed Abbas. Although Shabana was not playing his best, he dictated play in winning the first game and seemed assured to win the match unless Kneipp could raise his game.
And raise his game was exactly what Kneipp did in the second game. The first rally was the best point of the tournament, and it looked like another five gamer was under way. Kneipp dug all of Shabana's shots out of the front corners and began to hit some brilliant winners of his own. Kneipp built his lead to 7-2 with consistent play, at which point Shabana surrendered. Shabana lost the next four points in about 30 seconds.
Games three and four were all Kneipp. Kneipp opened both games by building early leads to discourage Shabana's thoughts of a comeback. Shabana's concentration escaped him, and he began heaving his racquet at the various corners of the court. Referee Jonathon Power said it all when he remarked to Shabana: “next time you throw your racquet, try to throw it away from the camera” (which was positioned in the front left corner of the court). Enough said.
Jonathon Power (Canada) d Anthony Ricketts (Australia) 3-1
9, 7, (6), 2
At times this match appeared to be more of a wrestling match than a squash match. Power and Ricketts bumped and battled one another through out. At one point they went to the floor on top of one another. Ricketts complained to referee Simon Parke that Power was bumping him excessively, to which Parke replied "I know, I played him last night" "Play on" said Parke.
Game one was close through out with Power prevailing at 11- 9.
The second game was the most physical of the match with both players requesting lets and seeking appeals from any one that would listen. In this, the longest game of the match, Power maintained his composure in spite of the physical play to win the game 11-7.
Power became frustrated with his own shot making in game 3 and appeared to almost deliberately bury several balls into the tin mid way through the game. Clearly his head was not in game 3 and he surrendered it 11-6.
Power proved why he is a champion in game 4, totally dominating the play and advancing to the Semifinals with a game 4 score of 11-2
Karim Darwish (Egypt) d Graham Ryding (Canada) 3-2
6, (4), (8), 8, 5
Darwish and Ryding gave the fans a treat with a very stylized match featuring a broad array of shots. Several drop rallies and boasts for winners showed of the tremendous touch of these two players and their willingness to play an extremely aggressive game.
Darwish and Ryding traded games in a very even contest to send the match to a decisive game 5. But in the end Darwish controlled the tempo of game 5 and applied pressure to Ryding in a game that featured multiple let calls. Finally, an unforced error from Ryding at 9-5 put Darwish in position to close out the game 11-5 and move into the semifinal.
Joseph Kneipp (Australia) d Greg Gaultier (France) 3-
7, 5, 2
This match was almost over before it started. Joseph Kneipp dispatched of France's Gaultier in 30 minutes.
Gaultier put up a strong opening game but the match was never really close, with Kneipp playing at his best. Kneipp totally controlled the pace and at 6-2 in the 3rd game it became clear that Gaultier wanted off of the court. The final points lasted only a couple of minutes and Kneipp eased into the semis
Amr Shabana (Egypt) d Mohammed Abbas (Egypt) 3-2
8, (9), 4, (10-11 ((1-3))), 5
A great match featuring fellow Egyptians truly captured the crowd. This match was either player's to win all the way to the end. No one was the clear dominator as the game four 11-11 tie suggests. However, Shabana ran to an early lead in the 5th and deciding game and never looked back. Shabana took game five by a score of 11-5 by virtue of some incredibly athletic diving gets and lightning quick changes of direction, and earned a spot in the Semifinals against Australian Joseph Kneipp.