Grant ends title drought

Adrian Grant with the trophy. The Englishman had it easy in the final.-S. PATRONOBISH

The Englishman, ranked No. 13 in the world, put paid to the hopes of the giant killer, Hisham Mohammed Ashour of Egypt, winning the final in straight games. Amitabha Das Sharma reports.

The ‘Project Commonwealth Games’ is driving most sports activities in the country today. The quadrennial games, to be hosted by India next year, has spurred the Government to offer preparatory grants to sports bodies, most of which are starved of funds at a time when the economy is in the throes of a financial crunch.

The Squash Rackets Federation of India (SRFI), one of the beneficiaries of the Government’s initiative, has sought to give its players requisite international exposure through a series of PSA (Professional Squash Association) events.

The first of the events, the PSA Indian Challenger, was held recently at the more than two centuries old Calcutta Racket Club. Englishman Adrian Grant, world No. 13 and seeded No. 3 in the tournament, defeated giant killer Hisham Mohammed Ashour of Egypt in straight games in the final to win the title. Ashour had caused the biggest upset of the tournament, beating the top seed and world No. 11 Ong Beng Hee of Malaysia in the semifinals.

The draw of 16 (main draw) attracted a few big names from world squash. Apart from Beng Hee and Grant there was also world No. 12 Azlan Iskandar (Malaysia).

The Indian challenge was headed by Saurav Ghosal, ranked world No. 36 and seeded No. 6 in the tournament. Ritwik Bhattacharya, the first Indian to make it big in international squash and ranked No. 59 in the world, was also present. Naresh Kumar, a promising youngster in the National circuit, was given a wild card.

The greater part of the Indian challenge evaporated in the first round (pre-quarterfinals) itself with Kumar falling to Ghosal and Bhattacharya losing to Mohammed Abbas of Egypt (world No. 35).

Ghosal was the only Indian to reach the quarterfinals. He came within two points of upsetting Beng Hee, but failed to pull it off in the end. The Indian showed brilliant form to lead by two games to one. And in the fourth game, Ghosal was ahead of his fancied Malaysian opponent 9-7 before Beng Hee made the decisive turnaround to take the match 3-11, 11-8, 8-11, 12-10, 11-6.

Beng Hee’s luck ran out in the semifinals as he lost to Ashour in five games. Ashour, making a comeback from injury, turned the match around producing some spectacular winners just when the Malaysian looked all set to wrap up the match. Beng Hee did everything right to win the first two games comfortably and hold two match points (10-8) in the third game. But Ashour regained his touch at the right moment as he produced successive winners to make it 10-10 before winning the game 12-10. Thereafter, the Egyptian never looked back.

“This was one of the closest matches I have ever played in my career,” Ashour said. “I injured my leg playing the quarterfinal against (Mohammed) Abbas and was apprehensive about aggravating it. I hesitated in the first two games but in the third I found my leg to be okay and went all out against my opponent,” he added.

The injury came back to torment Ashour in the final which turned out to be a damp squib as Grant coasted to victory. “I could make out he (Ashour) was not fully fit, so I just kept returning while he made the mistakes,” Grant said after the final.

Grant, who had lost all the three finals he reached earlier in the season, was happy to end his title drought in Kolkata. “The win is quite reassuring especially after having lost three finals so closely in the season,” he said.

THE RESULTS (Prefix denotes seeding)

Final: 3-Adrian Grant (England) bt 4-Hisham Mohammed Ashour (Egypt) 11-8, 11-5, 11-8.

Semifinals: Hisham Ashour bt 1-Ong Beng Hee (Malaysia) 6-11, 5-11, 12-10, 11-2, 12-10; Adrian Grant bt 2-Mohammed Azlan Iskandar (Malaysia) 11-13, 11-4, 11-5, 11-5.