By Geoff Robinson
Bloomfield Hills, Mich. – For the second day in a row Pakistan’s Nasir Iqbal did his best Houdini impression – surviving a five-game marathon to advance to the Main Draw of the 2016 Motor City Open presented by the Suburban Collection. He will be joined there by Olli Tuominen, Diego Elias, and Leo Au who also made it through the qualifying round.
The 21-year-old Iqbal’s victory was a measure of revenge over his countryman, Farhan Zaman, who had beaten him 3-2 last month in the Pakistani National Championship. But Iqbal, Pakistan’s top-ranked squash pro, took advantage of early mistakes from Zaman, cruising to an easy 11-3 win in Game One. The tables flipped in game two, with Zaman taking advantage of a slow start by Iqbal and building a 4-1 advantage. Iqbal found his footing again, but Zaman hung on, 11-9.
The third game was full of back-and-forth action, as the Pakistanis were neck and neck throughout. At 7-7, Iqbal finally foundseparation, earning himself a match point at 10-7. A clever drop shot on his second game point earned him a 2-1 lead.
The next two games had the crowd on edge, as Iqbal and Zaman traded kills in the middle of game 4. Zaman couldn’t put Iqbal away on his first two game points, but he caught a break on the third as Iqbal hit the tin on an attempted kill. Game Three to Zaman:13-11.
Despite signs of exhaustion from both players, the quality of play continued to rise in Game Five. The two continued to trade jabs over long rallies before Zaman earned his first match point at 9-6. Iqbal fought back, though, and he eventually won the final game, 12-10, after Zaman struck the tin attempting a drop shot. Both players received a standing ovation from the capacity crowd.
“It was a really good match,” Iqbal said. “He’s so aggressive. In the fifth game I was down, but I was able to concentrate and get the game.”
While Iqbal and Zaman provided the only five-gamer of the day, it was hardly the only entertaining match at host Birmingham Athletic Club.
2007 MCO Champion Olli Tuominen (Finland), playing in his 450th career PSA World Tour match, outlasted American Christopher Gordon in the highest quality game of the day. Gordon fought off six match points before earning his own at 16-15 after Tuominen hit the tin with a backhand. The 46th-ranked Finn got his own game point two rallies later with a beautiful drop shot that sent Gordon sprawling to the floor, ending the 18-16 marathon.
“It was quite brutal,” Tuominen said. “I was a bit nervous, but I’m happy that I managed to get it back and win the first game.”
Losing the lengthy game took its toll on Gordon, as Tuominen took the next two: 11-8, 11-7.
On court 2, Peru’s Diego Elias fought back from a game down against Maylasia’s Nafizwan Adnan, winning in four games: 3-11, 11-7, 11-4, 11-6.
After lengthy rallies in the first game gave the advantage to Adnan, Elias was able to control the pace over the final three, moving Adnan around at will. Elias took a spill early in the fourth game, coming up gingerly holding his knee. He continued to fight off Adnan, who put Elias’s knee to the test by spraying the ball around the court.
“It was the first time I played him,” Elias said. “I didn’t know his game. He’s very good in the back. I started attacking more and putting the ball in front.”
Hong Kong’s Au was able to duplicate Elias’ feat, coming back from a game down to take out the tourney’s remaining American, Todd Harrity. Harrity got off to a hot start, showcasing a nice mix of power and touch to take Game One: 11-7.
Au changed things up, however, moving the bigger Harrity around the court with ease over the final three games. Harrity miraculously chased down balls – sometimes diving for shots – but he was worn down by the world #31. Au took the final three games, 11-6, 11-5, 11-8.
Olli Tuominen (Finland) def. Christopher Gordon (USA) 18-16, 11-8, 11-7
Diego Elias (Peru) def. Naflizwan Adnan (Malaysia) 3-11, 11-7, 11-4, 11-6
Nasir Iqbal (Pakistan) def. Farhan Zaman (Pakistan) 11-3,9-11,11-8,11-13,12-10
Leo Au (Hong Kong) def. Todd Harrity (USA) 7-11,11-6,11-5,11-8
FRIDAY MATCHES, MAIN DRAW FIRST ROUND
Leo Au vs. Max Lee
Olli Tuominen vs. Mathieu Castagnet
Ryan Cuskelly vs. Nasir Iqbal
Diego Elias vs. Ali Farag