Power, Sarah clinch squash titles

IF squash provided the very best field in Manchester, featuring 13 of the world's top 15 men and eight of the top 10 women, table tennis, which originated in England in the 1880s, made its debut in the Games with a huge participation.

Jonathon Power (left) and Peter Nicol in action in the men's squash final.-AP

Table tennis used to be held as a single sport Commonwealth championship since 1971 with Singapore hosting it last in 2000. Expectedly there were ups and downs, aspirations gained and lost but overall there were enough surprise moments.

Another racquet sport - badminton - attracted entries from 20 nations and even if the event was further endorsement of Asian supremacy, challenge from Europe and Oceania did provide a dent unlike last time in Malaysia when the host country virtually swept the stakes, particularly in the men's section.

In the women's section, Australia's Sarah Fitz-Gerald bagged the one big title that had eluded her thus far when she defeated Carol Owens in the final.-

With world number one and World squash champion Peter Nicol in the fray along with the in-form World number two Jonathon Power the sport could not have asked for more in terms of class. Similarly the women's section had Australia's powerful Sarah Fitz-Gerald, the World number one and four-times World champion, heading the field and only keen to win her first Commonwealth title. The story of their conquests formed the theme of the squash event at the National Squash Centre.

The progress of Nicol, the defending champion, and Power formed a subject of keen interest. Both had different routes to the quarter-finals. Nicol faced a minor resistance from Anthony Ricketts of Australia, fighting from a 5-8 deficit in the third game, while Power dismissed Pakistan's Mansoor Zaman in 24 minutes to signal his top form. In the semi-finals, Nicol brushed aside the spirited challenge of Canada's Graham Ryding in a match that was replete with thrilling rallies. Ryding had earlier accounted for the world number eight Oon Beng Hee of Malaysia after an opening game loss to register a major upset in the tournament.

Power, however, needed to dig into his experience to suppress the lively English player Lee Beachill. The Canadian lost the first game and then his cool, getting into a heated discussion with the referee. He came back strongly though without being very popular with the referee to take his place in the last four round.

Li Li of Singapore cannot hide her joy after winning the women's badminton gold.-AFP

The Aberdeen-born 29-year-old Nicol, who competed as a Scot in Malaysia, represented England this time and perhaps the change augured well. For, in the semi-finals, he beat Australia's David Palmer to avenge an earlier defeat. Palmer, the World number three, is no pushover in contemporary squash but the southpaw Nicol had his measure this time in straight games to set up a title clash with Power. No organiser would have asked for more. Power, earlier, had a touch and go affair with Australian Stewart Boswell, who took the contest to the distance. Power lost the first game and then his cool against the let calls. But the Canadian realised soon the need for composure against the fighter that the World number four was. The stifling heat did not make things easy but Boswell tired faster. From 2-2, Power ensured his victory thereby denying Boswell a birthday gift (the Welshman had turned 24 the previous day).

Pre-match estimations came true in the final when Power, riding true to his current form, beat Nicol for the title in a four-game thriller. Unlike as in earlier matches, Power was on song initially but Nicol put the brakes and the tussle rose to dizzy levels with both players sharing two games. Power, however, showed his full repertoire of tricks to wriggle out of Nicol's ploy of strangulating him off his movements. Controlling the pace to his liking, Power finished off on a spectacular note. A pumped up Power, who added the Commonwealth title to his earlier successes in the British Open and the U.S. Open, said, "I felt like I controlled the ball well right from the first game. That was a deciding factor." Nicol admitted that Power played better even though he was disappointed that he could not repeat the gold-medal winning performance of four years ago in Malaysia.

India's Aparna Popat took the bronze.-RAJEEV BHATT

In the women's section, Australia's Sarah Fitz-Gerald was over the moon when she clinched the one big title that had eluded her thus far. The World champion who was runner-up last time was only too keen to put it across Carol Owens, another Australian who turned out for New Zealand this time. Sarah meant business right from the start and it did not help her opponent Carol any bit when she began to lose her composure by disputing the referee's calls. After losing two games, Carol bounced back to take the third. Then, when she rose from 1-4 down to level the scores in the fourth game, the contest provided some exciting rallies. The scores read 9-9 when Sarah, with a superb shot, clinched the last point to nip Carol's aspirations. "I'm pleased and relieved to win," said Sarah after the hectic encounter, while Carol confessed that Sarah's pace made her panic and rush.

Carol had earlier got past Cassie Jackman of England in the semi-finals while Sarah accounted for Rachael Grinham. If that was in keeping with form and ratings then some of the stirring shows came much earlier. Rachael, in fact, caused a major upset when she demolished New Zealand's Leilani Rorani, the fourth seed. Returning after a phase of injuries, Rorani had earlier ended the hopes of Malaysia's best bet, the plucky 18-year-old Nicol David in four games. Another Malaysian, Sharon Wee had become easy meat for Sarah in the pre-quarter finals. To that extent Malaysia had to face a big disappointment after promising much.

Malaysia's Hafiz Muhammad Hashim is delighted after defeating compatriot Lee Tsuen Seng in the men's final.-AFP

The two bronze medallists in both sections were Boswell and Palmer in the men's and Rachael and Cassie in the women's sections. For both Peter Nicol and Carol Owens some consolation came later in the doubles event. Nicol made for his singles loss by winning the gold in the company of Lee Beachill in a pulsating final against Australians Stewart Boswell and Anthony Ricketts. Equally fortunate was Carol Owens, who teamed with Leilani Rorani to clinch the women's doubles at the expense of England's Tania Bailey and Cassie Jackman in another close encounter. The mixed doubles title went to Leilani Rorani and Glen Wilson of New Zealand. From India's point of view the participation was restricted to Ritwik Bhattacharya, the national champion and ranked in the 90s. Ritwik did not go beyond two rounds.

The results: (all finals): Men: Jonathon Power (Canada) beat Peter Nicol (England) 9-4, 4-9, 9-3, 9-0; Women: Sarah Fitz-Gerald (Australia) beat Carol Owens (New Zealand) 9-5, 9-0, 2-9, 10-9; Men's doubles: Peter Nicol and Lee Beachill (England) beat Stewart Boswell and Anthony Ricketts (Australia) 15-11, 15-12; Women's doubles: Carol Owens and Leilani Rorani (New Zealand) beat Tania Bailey and Cassie Jackman (England) 15-11, 5-15, 15-13; Mixed doubles: Rorani and Glen Wilson (New Zealand) beat Ong Beng Hee and Nicol David (Malaysia) 15-11, 15-9.

Medals tally: (Read under team, gold, silver, bronze, total) New Zealand 2-1-0-3; England 1-2-4-7; Australia 1-1-6-8; Canada 1-0-0-1; Malaysia 0-1-0-1.

Nigeria's Segun Moses Toriola the men's champion in table tennis.-AP

One of the shock results of the badminton event was the exit of Malaysia without a medal in the team event. That this Asian giant is a force in international badminton was reflected in the open events but England, the top seed, put paid to its ambition in the quarter-final stage in a close tie. With mixed doubles included as part of the best of five tie, it was always difficult to predict an outcome. Malaysia, for instance, has such wealth of talent on the men's side that coach Park Joo-Bong, a former Korean doubles specialist, could choose from Wong Choong Hann, Lee Tsuen Seng and Hashim Muhammad Hafiz (all ranked within the World's top 13) for the singles event.

Expectedly it was the doubles that let Malaysia down in the crucial tie against England. Even though defending champion Wong Choong Hann and Wong Mew Choo in the women's section won their respective singles to put Malaysia ahead briefly, England's heroics came from the doubles pair of Gail Emms and Jo Goode, who won the crucial fifth and deciding match. Emms had earlier partnered Nathan Robertson to put England ahead after the opening mixed doubles match. It was an inspired win by Robertson and Anthony Clark over Choong Tan Fook and Chan Chong Ming in four sets, and with the home crowd cheering, England tasted success. In hindsight, that win virtually put England on course for the gold. England first had the measure of Scotland 3-0 to meet Singapore, which accounted for New Zealand 3-1 earlier in the semi-finals.

New Zealand's Chunli Li, the women's champion.-AP

The title-tie hardly rose to expectations with England sweeping surprise package Singapore with a 3-0 win. The mixed doubles pair of N. Robertson and G. Emms put England ahead. C. Haughton then consolidated England's position when he beat R. Susilo in five games. Tracey Hallam then completed the rout for England with her win over Li Li in four games. Scotland and New Zealand settled for the bronze medals. Incidentally, New Zealand had prevailed over India in the quarter-finals after P. Gopi Chand and Aparna Popat had kept their country's hopes alive with their singles victories. But the doubles and mixed doubles events helped New Zealand surge ahead.

The open events started with India's Aparna Popat creating a flutter by ousting the top-seeded Lenny Permana of Australia. Then, as the contests warmed up, seventh seeded Colin Haughton of England went down to the 12th seeded Indian, Abhinn Shyam Gupta, known for his tight defence, in four games.

When the last four stage was reached, Malaysia had picked up three berths - Wong Choong Hann, Lee Tsueng Seng and Muhammad Hashim. Wong's quarter-final victim was India's Gopi Chand, the former All England champion, who failed to provide his expected fight. With Gopi's fall India's hopes of a medal in the men's section vanished. But Aparna Popat repeated what she did four years ago by storming into the semifinals at the expense of Denyse Julien of Canada, conceding just one point and making sure of a medal. As it happened, Aparna fell to the ultimate runner-up Tracey Hallam of England to settle for a bronze.

India's Mohammad Ali Qamar (blue) won India's first boxing gold at the Commonwealth Games.-AP

The men's final became an all-Malaysian affair with Lee Tsueng Seng, who accounted for Welshman Richard Vaughan, taking on Muhammad Hashim, who beat compatriot and defending champion Wong Choong Hann in five games. The women's competition promised variety with Singapore's Li Li setting up the clash with England's Hallam. Interestingly, the two Malaysian men had never met before in an international competition. Even though Lee, the second seed, had an advantage over third seed Hashim in club matches, this final was different as Hashim proved later. In a five-game thriller Hashim emerged winner and the 19-year-old's first appearance at the Commonwealth Games could not have been more memorable. The final score read 7-3, 7-1, 3-7, 7-8, 7-4.

In the women's section Li Li did a coup of sorts by downing the local favourite Hallam in a battle of wits that stretched to four games. Both had their chances but where Li played carefree, Hallam was tense. That Li swept the fourth game without conceding a point mirrored the Singapore player's gritty display. Li won 7-5, 5-7, 8-7, 7-0.

India's Som Bahadur Pun (left) lost to Pakistan's Ali Haider in the 57 kg class and had to settle for silver.-AP

Malaysia's second gold came in the women's doubles when Lim Pek Siah and Ang Li Peng beat New Zealand's Sara Runesten-Petersen and Nicole Gordon. The men's doubles was also won by Malaysia when Chew Choon Eng and Chan Chong Ming beat team-mates and world number two pair of Chang Kim Wai and Choong Tan Fook. Malaysia's grand sweep was denied by England's Olympic bronze medallists Simon Archer and Jo Goode, who bagged the mixed doubles gold beating Chew Choon Eng and Chin Eeei Hui.

Medals tally: Malaysia 3-3-3-9; England 2-1-4-7; Singapore 1-1-0-2; New Zealand 0-1-2-3; India 0-0-1-1; Scotland 0-0-1-1; Wales 0-0-1-1.

Jamie Arthur of Wales celebrates his victory over D. Zimba in the 60 kg category.

With China and Japan, two strong forces in table tennis not in the fray, the focus was on England and Nigeria in the men's section. Even if in the end these two were there to fight it out for the yellow metal, the unexpected came in the women's section where Singapore bagged its first ever table tennis gold in the Games beating surprise finalist Australia 3-0. Leading Singapore's path to glory was World number nine, Jia Wei Li, who outclassed the error-filled Australian Jian Fang Lay in just 13 minutes. Australia's number one player Miao Miao came up with a frustrating display to lose to Jun Hong Jing. It was then left to Xue Ling Zhang to fire her country to victory with an awesome display against Tammy Gough. Canada and New Zealand settled for the bronze.

Veteran Mathew Syed set the ball rolling for England in the men's final when he beat Nigeria's Monday Merotohun with his highly spun serves. Gareth Herbert then stunned the African champion Segun Toriola. Thereafter, birthday boy Alex Perry thrilled his countrymen by knocking out Nosiru Kazeem. Nigeria, thus, was pushed to silver medal standing while Singapore and India earned the bronze.

Justin Kane (left) of Australia is declared winner even as his opponent Andrew Singh Kooner of Canada sinks to his knees after their 54 kg final.

Earlier, in the path to the semi-finals, England was made to sweat by Australia before emerging winner over five games to set up a semi-final clash with India, which nudged out Canada. England then beat India 3-1 to avenge the defeat against the latter in New Delhi in the Commonwealth championship. Nigeria, on the other hand, beat Singapore 3-0. In the women's section, Singapore defeated New Zealand while Australia accounted for Canada both by an identical 3-2 margin.

Surprises continued in the open events with Nigeria's Segun Moses Toriola grabbing the men's singles gold with an upset win over Canada's Johnny Huang for his first triumph in the Games. The women's title went to Li Chunli who brought New Zealand its first table tennis gold when she toppled the number one seed and triple Commonwealth championship holder Li Jiu Wei of Singapore. The Nigerian fought a close match before a virus affected Huang turned tentative in the later stages. Toriola made the most of the situation. Chunli, who was once member of the Chinese mixed doubles team, made her opponent, nearly 20 years younger to her, to move around a lot and then showed the control to win points.

The men's doubles title went to Andrew Baggaley and Gareth Herbert while the women's doubles was won by Jun Hong Jing and Jia Wei Li of Singapore. Jia Wei Li, then teamed with Yung Jun Duan to bring Singapore another gold in mixed doubles. In the open wheel chair singles, Sue Gilroy of England beat South Africa's Alette Moll in the final.

Medals tally: Singapore 3-1-7-11; England 3-0-1-4; New Zealand 1-1-2-4; Nigeria 1-1-0-2; Australia 0-2-2-4; Canada 0-1-1-2; South Africa 0-1-0-1; Wales 0-1-0-1; India 0-0-3-3.

Canada's Jean Thenistor Pascal (red) and England's Paul Smith fight it out in the 71 kg bout. Pascal took the gold medal.

Much was expected of the African boxers but it was a surprise that only two gold medals came their way. Host England also bagged two golds apart from a silver and a bronze to garner seven medals in all, which was just about what it had set out to achieve. But the country which overtook all was Australia with three gold medals to top the medals tally in the 11-category competition. This was an event which saw India strike the competition's first gold in the light fly event where M. A. Qamar outpointed England's D. Langley. Later S. Bahadur Pun added a silver to India's tally, from the feather weight competition. Bahadur lost on points to the Pakistani H. Ali. For sheer grit J. Arthur of Wales took full marks. Receiving a cut above the right eye quite early, the Welsh boxer fought his way to earn a 37-35 point verdict over the Zambian D. Zimba in the light weight category and bring the first boxing gold in 44 years for his country. Equally noteworthy was the way P. Smith tried to restrict Canadian Pascal, though in the end, a two point difference helped the latter to take the light middle gold.

Boxing and controversy are never far from each other and the Manchester Evening News arena was witness to quite a few dubious decisions. The most startling was a battered Paul Smith's win over Thomas Awimbono of Ghana in light middle weight which surprised even the winner. Malaysia's Adnan Jusoh also had a raw deal against a Wales boxer in the light weight section. The International Amateur Boxing Federation suspended an Ugandan judge, David Agong, and issued warning to nine others.

Following are the final results: light fly: M. A. Qamar (India) beat D. Langley (Eng); bronze for Zamzai Mohammed (Mal) and Tooreed Ajagbe (Nig); Fly: K. Kanyanta (Zambia) beat L. Luza (Botswana); bronze: N. Msutu (S. Africa) and S. Gauthier (Can); Bantam: J. Kane (Aus) beat A. S. Kooner (Can); bronze: Mark Moran (Eng), Ezekiel Letuka (Lesotho); Feather: H. Ali (Pak) beat S. Bahadur Pun (India); bronze: V. Josua (Namibia), B. Galadet (Can); Lightweight: J. Arthur (Wales) beat D. Zimba (Zambia); bronze: D. Mwale (Zam) and D. Emenogu (Nig); Light Welter: D. Barker (Eng) beat M. Kayongo (Uganda); bronze: Andrew Morris (Eng), Gilbert Khunwane (Botswana); Welter: D. Geale (Aus) beat K. Zulu (S. Africa); bronze: Daniel Codling (NZ) and Ali Nuumbembe (Nam); Light Middle: J. T. Pascal (Can) beat P. Smith (Eng); bronze: S. S. Greenidge (Barbados) and C. McEwan (Scot); Middle: P. Miller (Aus) beat S. Birch (Eng); bronze: Jitender Kumar (India) and Michael Walchuk (Can); Light Heavy: J.B. Albert (Nigeria) beat J. Lubega (Uganda); bronze: B. McEachran (Aus) and D. Jan Venter (S. Africa); Heavy: J. Douglas (Can) beat K. Manswell (Trinidad and T); bronze: Andrew Young (Scot) and Shane Cameron (NZ); Super heavy: D. Dolan (Eng) bet D. Cadieux (Can); bronze: G. Dijeh (Nig) and K. L. Evan (Wales).