A dramatic slate of thirty-five semifinals saw Australia emerge in front of the pack with a tournament-leading nine finalists and England close behind with eight, while Canadians won four out of six semifinals Friday at the McArthur Squash Center in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Friday opened with mixed results for the host nation during the 9am slot of matches. Gerry Poulton, Canada’s 75+ two seed, augmented his recent winning record against U.S. national title record-holder Jay Nelson, dispatching Nelson in three games to reach his second career World Masters final. Canada is guaranteed the Men’s 75+ title after five seed Howard Armitage defeated Team USA’s Michael Gough in three games.
Team USA’s first break-through came in the form of 75+ five seed Joyce Davenport upsetting South Africa’s top seed Jean Grainger in four games. Both players entered the match with a 3-0 record in the six-player round robin, and now Davenport just needs to defeat Slovenia’s six seed Mariza Ohlsson to clinch what would be her second World Masters title–something she is cautiously confident of.
“Jean was the key person to beat in the tournament,” Davenport said after the win. “She’s a good player, and adjusted pretty well during the match. If she hadn’t of adjusted so well I could have gotten through in three, but she got better as the match went on, improving her length and serves. I had some opportunities in the third and fourth, but I couldn’t take them—including a match point. I can have one drink tonight, but probably just one.”
Davenport won the 50+ World Masters title in the 1992 tournament hosted by Vancouver. Grainger and Davenport share a long history together in not just squash, but also tennis.
“I was actually hosted by her family in England for a few weeks when I was eighteen years old,” Davenport said. “Her mother was the nicest hostess I’ve ever had in all my years playing squash and tennis, she was the loveliest woman. I told her that before the match. We also have both played Wimbledon and U.S. Open tennis, so we have some history and parallels.”
As the day progressed, Australia, England and Canada laid down their marks. Australia emerged with a tournament-leading nine finalists, including women’s 45+ defending champion Sarah Fitz-Gerald, women’s 50+ top seed Sarah Nelson, women’s 55+ top seed Susan Hillier, men’s 55+ top seed Geoffrey Davenport and Men’s 70+ top seed Brian Cook. The Aussies produced four results that upset the seedings to reach finals, including women’s 65+ three seed Gaye Mitchell upsetting the two seed Faith Sinclair, four seed Brett Martin upsetting top seed Willie Hosey and men’s 55+ three seed Peter Gilbee upsetting two seed Fredrik Johnson.
England are guaranteed at least two World Masters titles on finals day, with all-English finals slated for the Women’s 35+, featuring Lauren Briggs and Selina Sinclair, and 60+, featuring Jill Campion and Karen Hume. England will also field two other top seeds including defending Men’s 45+ champion Nick Taylor and defending women’s 70+ champion Ann Manley.
The most dramatic match of the day came in the Men’s 55+ division between England’s two seed Jeremy Goulding and unseeded Mexican Juan Mendez, a former hardball singles professional. Mendez fought off two match balls in the fifth game to win the match 12-10 in front of a roaring audience. Mendez is the only unseeded player in the tournament to reach a final, where he will face Australia’s Davenport.
Other lone nation representatives in the finals include Botswana’s Alister Walker (M35+), the Netherland’s Laurens Jan Anjema (M35+), Ireland’s Liam Kenny (M40+), Germany’s Hansi Wiens (M50+), Cayman Island’s John Macrury (M60+) and Scotland’s Ian Ross (M70+).
Team USA ended the day as it started—with mixed fortunes. Women’s 50+ three seed Hope Prockop lost out against Canada’s fifteen seed Lauren Wagner, who continued her unexpected run to the finals with a three-game upset over the American. Natalie Grainger followed on court by maintaining her unbeaten World Masters record in a decisive three-game victory to reach a second consecutive final.
The last match of the day featured Team USA’s Patrick Chifunda, who heads the squash program at the Country Club of Virginia in nearby Richmond. Chifunda advanced to the men’s 40+ final after a three-game win against Hong Kong’s surprise semifinalist Wai Chung Wong.
“It feels very good to reach the final, I’ve worked really hard training for this event,” Chifunda said. “When I played in South Africa two years ago I fell short in the semifinals, so I was very disappointed. I’m thrilled to reach the finals here near Richmond and on American soil. Words can’t even describe this facility, it’s amazing. Playing on this glass court is a treat—a true joy—and to play in front of my home crowd makes it even better.”
Chifunda and Kenny will contest the last World Masters final on the glass court Saturday in front of a full-capacity gallery.
“I’m just looking forward to having a very good, strong match against Liam tomorrow,” Chifunda said. “We played each other once before on the PSA, so I’m looking forward to playing him now that we’re old. I want to thank the guys at my club, Jose and Steven O’Dwyer, and most importantly my wife who has allowed me to train while taking care of our baby. I’m really excited for tomorrow.”
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