Last night I went down to Drexel to catch some of the US Open quarterfinal matches. Although I was there briefly earlier in the week, this was my first chance to really settle in and watch some matches. I’m super lucky to have this world-class tournament happening a short train ride away, in the Squash Source backyard.
The US Open actually holds a special place in the history of the Squash Source blog. I had originally planned to start the site back in 2011, but I was procrastinating. The US Open was staged in Drexel that year, and did I go down to watch any of the best players in the world? No. No I didn’t. I later felt guilty about it and used that as extra motivation to finally start up the blog for real. And LOOK AT ME NOW.
Anyway last night I missed the first match between Nour El Sherbini & Nour El Tayeb, which had started at 4:30. Tayeb pulled off a 3-1 upset of the world #1, landing in the semifinals for the second time since 2015, when she advanced all the way to the finals. Tayeb injured herself during her tournament run that year, requiring surgery and a long road to recovery. So despite reaching the finals two years ago, she was the underdog in this year’s matchup.
My playing buddy Jeremy saw the match live and he tells me that Tayeb slowed the pace down, lifting shots to the back and keeping balls tight to the wall, while also covering the court well. The normally sharp-shooting Sherbini made a number of errors, frustrated by the slower pace while also feeling the pressure from Tayeb’s court coverage and Underdog Status.
When I got down to the courts they were in between matches and presenting the annual Bob Callahan sportsmanship award. Bob was my college coach and it’s fitting that a sportsmanship award is named after him. Every season, Bob would lay out our goals for the year ahead, but they were always the same goals: win the national championship and win the team sportsmanship award, not necessarily in that order.
This year’s sportsmanship award winner was Mark Talbott, who dominated the US men’s squash scene back in the 80s, in the same sort of all-encompassing way that Nicol David dominated global women’s squash in the 2000s. I never knew this but Mark Talbott actually got my friend Jeremy into squash. Talbott was coaching the Yale women’s team, and Jeremy was getting a degree at Yale, passing the squash courts on his way to the weight room, wondering what all the fuss was about. And LOOK AT HIM NOW.
After the Callahan award, it was time to watch the Nick Matthew / Daryl Selby match. Jeremy and I were standing on the left wall, which is a strange angle to watch a squash match from, but it’s a good place to see Nick Matthew’s particular brilliance. He stands super far up the court, racket prepped incredibly early, holding EVERY shot, and works the ball all around the court. I don’t think I could last 5 points against Nick before melting into a shallow puddle in the back left corner. Daryl Selby was able to do considerably better, taking the first game to a tiebreak, but Nick snuck out the game in the end. The next two games were not as close — Nick’s relentlessness eventually seemed to wear Selby down.
To be honest I missed large parts of that match because Jeremy and I were chatting with American #1 Amanda Sobhy, who was telling us a few stories about the aftermath of her Achilles injury last year in Colombia. This is a surprisingly funny tale, and I won’t reveal all the details, you’ll just have to wait for Amanda’s memoir. If you see a chapter entitled ¡El Achilles Es Muerte!, the story will be in there.
Next up on the glass court was the Laura Massaro / Annie Au match. Au started the match off by lifting balls deep to the back of the court. With deep straight balls, deep cross-courts, and even a nice lob serve, Au pinned Massaro in the backcourt, forcing some loose balls, which Au picked off off ruthlessly. Despite a few nervy tins in the later part of the first game, Au closed it out 11-9.
In the later games, Au didn’t lift the ball as much, allowing Massaro to thump the ball to the back and put Au under pressure. Now the loose balls were coming from Au, and Massaro used her approximately 37-inch height advantage to volley more and keep the pressure on, while also working in her trademark boast more effectively. Au eventually tired out, and Massaro closed it out in 4 games.
The last match was between Mohamed El Shorbagy and Simon Rosner. This match consisted of over 10,000 perfect, tight rails. On the rare occasion that a ball was more than an inch off the wall, Rosner would feather in a beautiful drop. Shorbagy was moving well and was able to get almost every ball Rosner threw at him, chipping it back and keeping the point alive. As the match wore on, a few more shots started spraying into the middle, and Shorbagy did the better job of crushing these into the back corners. Although this match went into the record books as 3-0 for Shorbagy, it was a lot closer and more exciting than the scoreline would indicate, especially the first two games.
I’ll be back to the US Open for Thursday’s matches!