The FISU 2018 World University Squash Championship staged, on its third day at the University of Birmingham, the Semi-Finals of the men’s and women’s individual competitions.
And while this afternoon’s Finals will feature the top two seeds for the men’s crown, the women’s event will feature two players who have defied the seeding script to battle it out for gold.
Those two are home candidate and third seed, Lily Taylor and Alexa Pienaar (8), South African conqueror at the Quarter-Final stage of the UK’s other original hope, Grace Gear (1) – who, incidentally, and as part of her consolation quest to secure fifth place, blew away Shehana Vithana (4) from Australia for the total loss of a paltry six points inside 16 brutal minutes.
But let us return our eyes to the main prize – for which Pienaar was first on court yesterday, and Malaysia’s Zoe Foo (6) stood in the way. A combination of well-executed drops and volleys secured the first game for the Art Design & Architecture student from Johannesburg University, who, despite then conceding the second, recovered her consistency in the next two to prevail 3-1 (11-7, 7-11, 11-5, 11-6).
A delighted Pienaar described her win as: “Fantastic… a really tough match. She (Foo) is mentally so strong that if you give her even a small gap, she takes it, so I’m very happy to have won.
Taylor also faced a Malaysian opponent – albeit a higher-seeded one in Aika Azman (2). Not that this initially appeared to faze the home player, whose dominance in the first game was such that she cruised through at the cost of just a single point, and who was similarly emphatic in winning the third with just two points dropped.
Either side of the latter game, unforced errors cost her the second, while Asman secured the fourth with the tightest of drives – before a more cautious decider went the way of Taylor for victory by the odd game in five (11-1, 7-11, 11-2, 7-11, 11-8).
“It was a very up and down match,” said Taylor afterwards.
“I wasn’t sure going into it, as obviously she (Azman) is a top seed, but I just wanted to keep playing strong and not make any mistakes.”
Taylor’s success in reaching her Final was matched by fellow student from the University of the West of England, Josh Masters (2), in the men’s event.
Masters, a beaten Semi-Finalist in the last Championship two years previously in Kuala Lumpur, went at least one better on this occasion by seeing off the challenge of Mohd Syafiq Kamal (3) from Malaysia in straight games dominated by hard-driven rallies (11-3, 11-7, 13-11).
“I’m very happy to get into the Final,” he said.
“Two years ago I lost in the Semis, so I’m really pleased to have made it one step further this year. It’s going to be a tough match whoever I play, but I’m looking forward to getting back on there.”
And tough it will no doubt be – for Masters will need to overcome World No 25 and reigning Champion Yip Tsz Fung (1), from the City University of Hong Kong, if he is to claim the title.
Yip, who, like Masters, has not dropped a game throughout the Championship, faced Addeen Idrakie (4) – the remaining representative of a Malaysian Semi-Final quartet across both individual competitions.
In the event, Malaysia was to miss out on a Final berth of any description, as Idrakie, despite competing with passion and pace, was ultimately undone by the range of shots in the armoury of Yip, who once again prevailed 3-0 (11-4, 11-6, 11-9).
“It was wonderful to get into the Final,” enthused Yip, “and I’m delighted with the way I played.”
Today’s Finals will take place at 4:00pm (women’s) and at 4:45pm (men’s).