the best are back in brooklyn: carol weymuller open 2012

fernandes vs. hawkes: Carol Weymuller Open 2012

The squash season may go on all summer for the pros, but I half-way hung up my squash shoes in favor of surfing, cycling, and hammock napping for three months. I officially woke up today to some awesome squash at the Carol Weymuller Open in Brooklyn Heights at the Heights Casino.

The scent of autumn leaves was in the air as I speed-walked down Henry Street to Montague Street where the venerable hundred year old Heights Casino club is located. I had gotten off on the wrong end of the A train (Cadman Plaza East instead of West), so I had to do a long U-ey around the Brooklyn Bridge on-ramp to get over to the Heights Casino Annex where the ladies were….not playing. My mistake. But I wasn’t the only one.

I kicked myself running over, as I had really wanted to see Kanzy El-Defrawy (EGY) play Latasha Khan (US) in one of the first qualifying matches. I had seen El-Defrawy play in the Tournament of Champions at the beginning of the year in NYC and she played out of her mind against onetime world number one Rachael Grinham (AUS). Out of her mind and all over the court, actually, as she regularly dives for many shots. But it looked like I was out of luck, as the next scheduled match was already starting on the west court of Casino: Nour El Tayeb (EGY) and Kristen Lange (USA).

And it was great to see an American on court, in addition to Amanda Sobhy. Unfortunately, Lange didn’t have the same fitness, power, or accuracy as Sobhy, or the tournament experience of Tayeb. Lange played three very admirable, solid games, but Tayeb barely looked perspired at the end of her 3-0 win, whereas Lange was flushed and glistening. She also called for some ice for her knee, so that might’ve been an issue as well.

With two matches going on at a time, on east and west courts, everyone had to pick which ones to watch. I should’ve picked Jaclyn Hawkes (NZL) and Nicolette Fernandes (GUY) on the east court from the beginning, but at least I walked up in time to see the end of the fourth and the entire exciting fifth game. Fernandes had slipped far in the rankings to 64th, due to a knee injury and long rehabilitation, but she looked seriously fit, fast, and ferocious from where I was sitting in the stands.

Donna Urquhart vs. Coline Aunard

There sometimes seems to be two types of female squash players—the long legged model that you see in the likes of Joelle King, Donna Urquhart, and Jaclyn Hawkes, and then the compact competitor represented by Nicol David, Nour El Tayeb, and Coline Aunard. Both body types have their pros and cons. Fernades’ pro was that her light weight but strong muscles let her move like a rabbit, springing from corner to corner. Whereas Hawkes, while graceful, had to bend her long body much more. It appeared harder for her to react as fast at Fernades, who seemed as if she were a human rubber band. Or made up of a bunch of them.

Their game styles were also quite different. Hawkes is a much more patient player, either waiting for her opponent to make the fatal error, or pushing her opponent back so that she can attack with more certainty. Fernandes seemed to attack, and attack, and attack, whether certain or not. She was relentless, cutting off everything that she possibly could and going for drops again and again. Sometimes they worked, sometime they didn’t, and I could almost feel Hawkes hoping that enough of them wouldn’t, as long as she herself stayed steady.

That was basically the bet I took toward the end of that last game. A friend leaned over and challenged “which way is it going to go?”

“Hawkes, I guess,” I answered rather weakly. She at least seemed to be keeping her calm. While Fernandes was alternately on fire and then flaming out. She had let out an actual howl after tinning a shot mid game.

My friend disagreed. His money was on Fernandes. And given her guts, I hoped he was right.

At 8-7, Hawkes was awarded a stroke, to Fernandes’ verbal dismay. But she was gifted the same two points later. In between, she had dived for a ball, gotten up, and went on to win the point. A little DeFrawy move perhaps to lessen my disappointment. But she then tinned off a backhand, to bring it to the first match point at 10-8 for Hawkes.

The end of the game was stressful and contentious. After losing the next two points to bring it to a tie at 10-10, Hawkes had to push through Fernandes to get to a mid-court forehand. I’m guessing that Fernandes expected Hawkes to ask for a let; it would’ve been quickly granted. But when Fernandes relaxed a little in that millisecond, Hawkes wrapped her racquet around and flicked a low cross court for a winning shot. But the ref wouldn’t give it to her; she had pushed Fernandes out of the way, so the ref awarded a let. This was one of those times I’m sure a player wishes they could ask for a replay. A man at the ToC can. A woman at the Carol Weymuller cannot. So game on. And Hawkes won the game, match, and my bet at 12-10.

Misaki Kobayashi vs. Amanda Sobhy

After a match like that, it’s hard to focus, especially with a gaze that is just getting readjusted to watching squash again. Fortunately, the next two qualifying matches on that court weren’t too taxing on my eyes or on the winning players. Donna Urquhart (AUS) pretty much said ‘c’est la vie’ to Coline Aunard (FRA) in three quick games. And then American phenom Amanda Sobhy (USA) overpowered and overran Japan’s Misaki Kobayashi (JPN) also 3-0.

I was sure the evening had come to a fitting close, but just as I was about to return to the streets of Brooklyn, I heard clapping from the west court. I peeked in and who should I see but my favorite flyer, El-Defrawy! For some reason (I don’t know of), she and Latasha hadn’t played their match at their earlier scheduled time and I had lucked into seeing the fifth game.

I am happy to say that I was rewarded with many slides and leaps, including a wonderful double dive in which DeFrawy bounced back up to return the ball both times. There was much mopping up of the court, and the game was fairly close, but Khan used her almost two decades of additional experience to calmly return everything DeFrawy threw her and made up for DeFrawy’s exuberance with her own accuracy. The last point seemed almost staged, as DeFrawy flung herself across the court for a backhand and ended her (first?) Weymuller on the floor. I was quite sad to think I wouldn’t see more of her entertaining acrobatics for the rest of the week. But it’s also great to see someone closer to my age showing the girls that she’s still got it, and then some.

So that’s just the start of the Carol Weymuller Open 2012. Check out http://www.squashsite.co.uk/2009/weymuller2012.htm for results and streaming live matches. Eight top ten WSA players are playing, and even more in the top twenty. New York may be the city that never sleeps, but I’d rather stay awake in Brooklyn this week, watching the best female squash players on the planet.

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