Newcastle tame the Lions

The Geordies rocket up to 2nd in the league as they make it two wins from two with an emphatic 4-1 win against the Birmingham Lions.

The success of Fiona Moverley (HWR22) , Rob Downer (WR127), Alex Fuller (WR43) and Mazen Hesham (WR19) confirms Newcastle as a formidable challenge for any opposition.

Upcoming junior sensation Katie Malliff had the potential to cause Moverley problems but the 2017 Nantes Open Champion had other ideas.

A rip-roaring tempo in the first game set the tone for the rest of the match. At 4-4, Malliff's flicks and tricks looked promising but Moverley dampened any hope of an upset, marching to an 8-4 lead and comfortably closing out the first game 11-4.

Although Moverley began the second game in the same manner, Malliff took up more of a position on the T and was able to utilise her agility to counteract her opponent's attacking play.

However, the former England International continued to pile the pressure on the U19 European Junior finalist, her raw power and aggressive volleying gave her a comfortable advantage. It became one shot too many for the 16 year-old as Moverley claimed the first victory for Newcastle in convincing fashion.

Moverley's thoughts on her performance:

"I saw that she beat Coline Aumard (WR38) in PSL, so I knew I had to be ready to go as soon as the first point started. "
"I wanted to exert my dominance, I like to be up and volleying and being on the T. I didn't want her to settle."
"I kept it up throughout, I didn't let her back in but I had to work to make it look easy. It's definitely not comfortable although the score made it look like it was."

Newcastle's Rob Downer is no stranger to a big occasion after having represented them last season. In front of him lay Birmingham based Miles Jenkins.

Downer's first shot of the match was slammed straight into the front backhand nick, a sign of his intent to play aggressive, fast-paced squash.

He demolished any loose play by Jenkins with battering drives to the back of the court giving him a healthy 7-3 lead. The first game was wrapped up in no time at all.

However the Lions's no.3 responded confidently. Trying to keep a lid on Downer, Jenkins began to assert his authority on the T, stringing together some lengthy rallies which left Downer out of position. Jenkins pulled away to 8-4.

A controversial decision against Downer motivated him and fuelled the fightback, as he charged through to 10-8 matchball.

However Jenkins was equal to the task. Increasing the ferociousness of his hitting saw him salvage the two point deficit and take the game to a tie-break.

The Home favourite was not having any of it. The home straight just in sight, Downer found some energy to hold off Jenkins and give Newcastle a very advantageous 2-0 lead.

"We're good friends and train a bit together regularly as we are both from the South Coast, now he lives in Birmingham and me Nottingham. "
"He found a very good rhythm in the 3rd, the bad decision helped me sharpen up. The ref's decision makes me frustrated and recently I've been able to play better."
"I call it the 'Underworld' that dark place where you've got to dig deep because if you go 1-1 you don't know what's going to happen."

Fuller took to the court knowing a win against Alicia Mead would give her team an early victory.

Fuller Immediately set her stool out, utilising her trademark backhand volley boast to great effect. Mead took advantage of a few errors, but with both players not quite taking the game with both hands, the scoreline levelled at 7-7.

The South-African pulled out a couple of stunning attacks to take her to 10-7 and only needed one opportunity to take the first game.

The second followed a similar pattern to the first, both players exchanging points but Mead stretched ahead to 6-3. Mead pushed Fuller further back in the court to open up consecutive quick-fire volleys. This gave her steady control of the match as she built a 9-4 lead and walked off court with the second, giving Birmingham a glimmer of hope.

The third saw Fuller get back to what she does best and make the most of her attacking variation. Storming to 6-1 lead was enough to ward off a comeback by Mead and she wrapped up the win 2-1, guaranteeing Newcastle the match victory.

Fuller's reaction:

"The court was really hot and bouncy. I stuck with what I needed to do in the first and found a good length."
"The second I went a bit walk-about and she took full advantage. "
"In the third I knew I just needed to focus and make sure I hit better lengths than her to open the court up first."
"I'm glad I managed to close the fixture out for Newcastle in the end!"

Team captain Piedro Schweertman took to the stage and faced Jan Van Den Herrewegen. The match fixture was sealed but nevertheless Schweertman always leaves his heart on the court.

Dynamic, attacking yet grueling opening rallies set a tone for the rest of the match. Tussling for the T, the game was balanced at 7-7 where a monumental rally went in favour of Schweertman. A combination of despairing defensive play and ruthless attacking squash left both players well within reach of taking the game.

It was Herrewegen who took the game by the scruff of the neck and established a 10-8 lead. Schweertman's tenaciousness goes without saying, saving game balls to take it to a tie-break. Herrewegen found a way, somehow, to pull through and take the all-important first game.

Schweertman responded by gaining more control across the T. He outmanoeuvred the Belgian allowing him to dominant at 9-4. With his opponent showing signs of fatigue, Schweertman seized the opportunity to take the second.

The effects of the previous two games were taking its toll on Herrewegen. The three times Dutch National Champion looked in a better physical state yet Herrewegen managed to dig deep to establish an 8-4 lead. Herrewegen maximised on the few chances that came his way to clench a win for Birmingham.

Van Den Herrewegen's summary of the match:

"Winning the first was crucial and I was breathing heavy after that. At least I could have a little breather in the second"
"We always used to play in the Belgian leagues a few dozen times. So we are very familiar with each other's games."
"He's more physical and plays at a higher pace and I tried to play more tactically and managed to place the ball a bit better."

The 'Black Falcon' Mazen Hesham returned to the top 20 for the first time in 3 years after a hip injury in 2016. He had the arduous task of overcoming the 'Golden Tiger' Joel Makin, a Commonwealth Games Semi-finalist in 2018.

Hesham did not hold back. A combination of daring cross-court nicks, audacious three-wall boasts and an art of true deception, the Egyptian unveiled his flamboyant attacking squash.

At 8-4 the game looked like it was Hesham's. The 'Golden Tiger', renowned for his unparalleled athleticism on the PSA World Tour, fought his way back to 8-8. The Black Falcon produced his trickery to leave Makin sunk on his heels as he advanced to 10-8. A mishap from Makin on return of serve, due to sweat on the ball, left a bewildered Hesham and crowd confused. The World no.12 conceded the point and was appreciated by the crowd for his sportsmanship.

A first game deficit would in no way deter Makin. Starting strongly with a gritty determination, he produced a brilliant display of patient squash to take him to 4-0.

However the maverick Mazen did help Makin along the way with some tactical errors. The Welshman continued to toy Hesham into costly errors which allowed him to advance to 10-1. Makin lapped up the second game and was well and truly on the prowl.

A couple of disputable decisions in the early stages left Hesham hungry for justice. A surge in intensity and a couple of uncharacteristic errors by Makin saw Hesham stretch a lead out to 5-1.

It's no surprise that the Nantes Open finalist clawed the lead back to within one point. An energy sapping, lung bursting rally went in favour of Hesham, although you couldn't help but feel it played into Makin's hands.

Numerous lobs were utilised by Makin, teasing Hesham but he remained disciplined (by his standards) to resist the urge. An 8-5 gulf opened up, Hesham able to control the match on his terms and produce unorthodox yet brilliant attacking finesse.

At 9-6 a tremendous backhand cross-court drop slotted straight into the nick left the crowd egging Hesham on to achieve a remarkable scalp. And most certainly he did, a breathtaking final rally. Epitomising the explosive hitting and phenomenal racket-work of Hesham, the crowd leapt to their feet to applaud another sublime and thoroughly entertaining evening of squash.

Mazen's thoughts on his performance:

"I enjoyed my debut for the Newcastle team, it was fun."
"Joel is one of the most difficult players to play against. He's such a grinder, he keeps going and going and watching him climb up the rankings in the past few years shows he's improved massively and he's one of the top players now."
"Every week I feel I am I'm finding my game and my shots more. I think I have been doing really well since the beginning of the season and of course I want more results, I expect more of myself. It's a good thing to be here and competing again. I really enjoy it now."
"I have been very patient lately, now I am trying to get back the sharpness. Of course I will go for my shots but before it used to be crazy and now I have a balance. At 9-6 I hit that shot from the back, so sometimes you have to take risks. Calculated risks."

Joel's thoughts:

"I really enjoyed it, I've heard that there was a great atmosphere at Newcastle and there certainly was. I think that's what we need, the crowd getting involved, cheering, wearing wigs and drinking, it was a good laugh."
"I hadn't played Mazen before and knew it would be difficult in the best of three."
"He saved himself completely in the second after winning the first so it was always going to be tight in the third, and he hit some ridiculous shots to win it.
"It was a good quality match for me before I go to the World Championships"

Summary of the results:

Mazen Hesham 2-1 Joel Makin 11-8, 1-11, 11-7

Piedro Schweertman 1-2 Jan Van Den Herrewegen 10-12, 11-7, 5-11

Rob Downer 2-0 Miles Jenkins 11-6, 13-11

Alex Fuller 2-1 Alicia Mead 11-7, 5-11, 11-5

Fiona Moverley 2-0 Katie Malliff 11-4, 11-3

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