The men’s and women’s individual Finals on the fourth day of the FISU 2018 World University Squash Championship produced a magnificent double for the host country.
Victories for Josh Masters and Lily Taylor in their respective competitions at the University of Birmingham were not only a cause for celebration for the United Kingdom on home territory, but also by the University of the West of England where they both study.
Masters recovered from a game down to overcome the men’s top seed Yip Tsz Fung 3-1 (8-11, 11-8, 11-2, 11-5), while Taylor avoided the fate of two other top-six-seeded women by seeing off the South African Alexa Pienaar in straight games (11-7, 11-8, 11-6).
With neither reigning champion Yip nor second seed Masters having dropped a game throughout the tournament, something had to give – although with 28 World Ranking places between Yip (25th) and Masters (53rd), the pre-Final odds were stacked in favour of the 24-year-old Management Sciences student from the City University of Hong Kong.
Their first game, indeed, went that way – with Yip prevailing 11-8 after an 11-minute tussle that culminated in a stroke for the 2016 gold medallist. But the six feet four inches Masters used his height and reach to great effect before prevailing in the second by the same score.
And from that stage, the Mathematician, who at 21 two years earlier had been a beaten Semi-Finalist, truly executed his a-game – blitzing Yip 11-2 in the third, and then claiming a closer fourth, as well as the title, with a stroke that was upheld following video review.
What the victory meant to Masters left little room for doubt, when he described it as “probably the best moment of my career so far.”
He added: ‘I’ve really enjoyed playing on this (glass-back) court all week as it suits my game, and I’m really, really happy with the result.
‘I had a bit of a sloppy start losing the first three points, but my coach was telling me to keep playing it straight, and volley short and straight, so that’s what I was trying to do.’
Yip was generous in defeat, commenting: ‘I think Josh played very well today, he deserves it! I’m going to try and recover for tomorrow, and I hope for the win in the team event.’
Masters’ fellow UWE student Taylor, who reads Business with Accounting & Finance, had become the sole British hope in the women’s event after the Quarter-Final stage, which had seen her top-seeded compatriot Grace Gear knocked out in straight games by eighth seed Pienaar.
The 24-year-old Johannesburg University student subsequently reached the Final after seeing off in the last four another higher-ranked opponent, Zoe Foo, seeded six. But there was to be no hat-trick of such upsets, as third seed Taylor – three years Pienaar’s junior – started strongly in each of their three games, and proceeded for the most part to stay in front before clinching gold.
‘I’m absolutely thrilled,’ enthused Lily afterwards. ‘I can’t believe it really as I was just focusing on the match, it’s pretty special.
‘(Alexa) is very strong, and has beaten a lot of good players – so I knew I had to give it my all. I just wanted to stay in the rallies as long as possible.’
Pienaar said: ‘I’m a bit sad, I came close but I’m still happy with silver – and I was very happy to make it into the Final. I’ll now rest and chill with my team in preparation for the team event.’
Great Britain coach Josh Taylor hailed it as a ‘Fantastic day for Team GB!’
He added: ‘They were both very tough contests as we headed into them. Lily got us off with a bang, she got the game-plan spot on and executed well against a strong opponent under pressure.
‘Josh on paper had a mountain to climb, with 28 places between them in the rankings. His first game started slowly, and he then delivered a fantastic performance from there on in!
‘I’m so proud of the two. And there is great team spirit in the camp this week, as we now head into the team event – where we have got to put a statement down for the rest of the field!’