Updated: Oct 5, 2019
What promised to be a hotly contested first PSL match of the season certainly didn't disappoint. The team consisting of Baptiste Masotti, Tom Ford, Owain Taylor, Alex Fuller and Fiona Moverley battled against Nottingham's Nick Matthew, Richie Fallows, Kyle Finch, Mari Taylor and Grace Clarke. A night of thoroughly entertaining squash with Fiona, Alex and Owain claiming the wins. The first victory of the season, here's to many more.
Owain was first to grace the court, facing recent scholar Kyle. Owain kicked off proceedings with a furious tempo, hunting the volley across the T and opening up the court with pinpoint attacks. However it was Kyle, whose relentless retrieving from the start, had the potential to cause a problem. Point for point stuff all the way to 7-7, until Kyle rattled off 3 quick successive points to give himself 3 game balls, one of which just clipped the tin with a backhand volley drop. Owain remaining cool, calm and collected fought his way back to 11-10. Much to the despair of the crowd, Kyle squeezed a stroke to put him game ball up. Capitalising on a weak return with a thunderous drive to the back, Kyle marched off court with a fist pump to the crowd and the first game under his belt.
The second followed suit, with a series of long rallies to start, until 5-5 when Kyle made a few costly errors that gave Owain enough of a margin to go for some winners and claim the 2nd game. Owain raced to a 5-1 lead, his attacking and aggressive hitting paying dividends, opening up gulfs of space on the court. A mastery display of clinical drop shots and boasts gave Owain 5 match balls. A couple of points pegged back didn't faze him as he sealed the match 2-1. 1-0 Newcastle. Revenge looking sweet.
I caught up with Owain after the match to reflect on his performance:
"I think the home crowd definitely helped, as it always does, I knew I had to make the first game tough. I wasn't too worried about losing the first as I knew I'd made him do a lot of work. I think that showed in the 2nd and 3rd."
"It was 7-7 and I made a few errors, the next few points I focussed on not making mistakes, playing into the corners a bit tighter which seemed to work but unfortunately I couldn't close the game out in the tiebreak."
"Kyle's a very tricky player into the front corners, he's got nice variation of shots so I really tried to keep him behind me."
"I knew I had a margin in the last game, so I could afford to go for a few shots, and the next couple rallies I worked my margin higher and higher, tried to stop making errors and moving him round the court and luckily I was able to close it out."
Fiona was next on against another University scholar Grace Clarke. Fiona hit the ground running with numerous attacking volleys and pouncing on any weak returns, quickly progressing to a 5-2 lead. Her early volleys and court craft gave her a hefty margin in which she won the game 11-2.
Fiona picked up exactly where she left off gaining an early 3-1 lead. However, Grace started to find her feet and produced some crisp length hitting to grasp a 5-4 advantage. Fiona responded with a persistent tempo, pushing the pace all the time taking her to 9-5. A backhand volley drop zipped in to the corner giving her 5 match balls to play with. Fiona only needed one of which to close the match out 2-0 and gave Newcastle a crucial 2-0 lead. A special mention to Grace however, only 18 years old and also making her PSL debut, a fine feat indeed.
Fiona's post match thoughts :
"I knew it wouldn't be an easy game as they're all hungry to win and obviously take down us oldies!"
"I was expecting her to come at me, it's nice to see she's not afraid to have a go. Sometimes the younger players give you too much respect but it's nice to see that she got stuck in. She really put me under some pressure at times, especially in the 2nd when she stepped it up a little bit."
"I really enjoyed the match and she'll definitely keep improving I'm sure in the years to come."
Old foes Tom and Richie were destined to have a contentious affair, with previous history going way back to their junior days. Some lengthy rallies to open up the game and Tom implementing a strong pace with aggressive line hitting, pulling away early on. A few disputed decisions by Richie which brought the crowd chanting "Come on Tom!!" each time he tried to get a word in. Of course Richie appreciating the rowdy Geordie crowd. His tactical play, mixing up the angles and paces coupled with the stoppages disrupted Tom's rhythm. Richie capitalised on his chances with arrowed kills to take the game 11-7.
Both players playing in similar fashion to the first, a long drawn out opening, both looking to gain momentum. A surge in intensity from Tom, his last bite at the cherry causing him to step on to the ball earlier, making Richie stretch into the corners. Although, it was Richie who was able to convert his chances and responded better to the breaks in play despite the adulation from the crowd on Tom's behalf. Some nice volley finishes put away by Richie, reasserting his dominance and forcing Tom to scurry from corner to corner. A 9-5 advantage and Richie in prime position. A clinical backhand drop sealed the match. Richie pulling one back (2-0) to keep Nottingham's hopes alive.
I caught up with both players to see what they had to say post-match:
Tom: "I know what to expect, I know how Richie plays. I felt like it was a difficult game because there was no momentum at all, the moment I started to gain momentum, Richie was very clever at stopping that, so I felt I was constantly having to reset."
"My goal was to keep the ball as far away from the middle so that he couldn't run into me and take his space, I just didn't do that well enough."
" I wanted to stay positive and use my short game and I guess if someone is always following up your shot it puts pressure on you to try to execute."
"Because the game was so patchy I felt we were playing Richie's game as opposed to mine. Richie is better at Richie's game than I am!"
Richie: "It's been a while since I've played Tom, we used to play in the juniors a lot and he used to get the better of me."
"Against certain opponents some let you in more than others mentally, sometimes I can take it too far but tonight it helped me relax into the match."
"We've always had that bit of banter with the home fans. It was fitting and I enjoyed it."
The penultimate match was to take place between Alex and Mari Taylor. Alex kicked off the match convincingly, rattling points off with an air of serenity about her. Marching into a 6-3 lead and utilising her audacious volley boasts that proved troublesome, Alex's creative style coupled with her quick movement put her in a strong position to close the game out 11-5. Mari responded strongly at the start of the 2nd working her way to a 5-2 lead. However Alex was able to regain her structured and aggressive play to pull it back to 8-8. A couple of glimpses of trickery and once again her strong movement piled the pressure on Mari, pouncing on the last return with a hard cross court drive to take the win 2-0. A rapturous applause by the home crowd, Newcastle were guaranteed the victory.
Alex's post-match thoughts:
"One of my strengths is to play attacking, fast and play short when I can too. So the first game was definitely my game and the 2nd I had to dig in a little bit deeper."
"My boasts started to go into the tin in the second, so after the 3rd one - I take a while to learn my lesson! I thought maybe I should stop doing that as after most short balls she was counter-attacking. I thought I put in a couple hard rallies at 5-7 down to make my way back to 7-7."
"This is my first season of a proper off-season training programme so I can certainly see the difference with the extra strength and power in my legs allowing me to jump onto a loose ball."
The finale to the evening was our very own Baptiste against the mighty 'Wolf' Nick Matthew. In typical Matthew fashion the first rallies were attritional, with both players jockeying for position on the backhand side. The rallies of the highest quality, Baptiste's strong and explosive french movement keeping him in contention but it was Nick's domineering presence on the T that controlled proceedings and forced Baptiste into a few mistakes. Nick 1-0 up.
The 2nd started in the same vein as the first, long spells of up and down the backhand side but Baptiste was getting more joy on his forehand kill. A ferocious rally at 5-5 including a trademark 'tweener' from Baptiste had the juniors on the front row 'oohing and aahing'. Baptiste 7-5 up and the fans really got behind him, desperate to see this go to a 3rd game. As ever, Nick responded. Upping the tempo with his extensive wingspan, he forced Baptiste into a couple errors. A controversial decision at 9-8 where Baptiste laid in a tight drop, Nick scraping the ball off the wall spraying the ball in front of the short line.....'Stroke to Newcastle'. Proceeded by another long rally where Baptiste gradually moved Nick out of position. Whipping an extra wide cross court past the outstretched reach of Nick. Baptiste lets out a war cry as the crowd combusts with delight, cheers synonymous with football fans at St James' Park. 9-9 the climax awaits, both players rejuvenated. However it was Nick who played the big points fractionally better. Pulling out his best shot of the match, an-inch perfect backhand drop off a clinging straight drive, to present himself a single match ball. On the first time of asking, Nick closes out the match 2-0 and draws an evening of high octane squash to a close.
Nick's thoughts on the evening:
"I respect that they treated last season’s match like Newcastle were in the final of the Champions League, however unlikely that actually is. If I play in front of nobody and there's no atmosphere, I'd rather be home with my family."
"It's fun to play new players, I've seen Baptiste's results but we’ve never been on court together. These guys are improving so it's not going to be long that I still get on top, but it's fun while I can."
"Neither of us wanted to go to the forehand, everytime I did, he'd hit a winner. Everytime he did, I'd hit a winner. At the start of the 2nd I got a bit frustrated because I wasn't patient enough, I was going cross-court too much and I think that opened up his strength. Hopefully the crowd weren't bored because we were only playing on one side of the court. "
"If he got that 2nd game the 3rd could've been interesting, I would've had to use my experience as there was some good tough rallies there."
"Last season I said this was the best crowd we'd played in front of and I'd definitely stick with that. I think they're brilliant. I almost signed over to here this summer, I'd love to play in front of that crowd on your side."
A highly successful night for our team, each player leaving everything on the court. A deserved 3-2 win. Bring on the Birmingham Lions.