By Geoff Robinson
Bloomfield Hills, Michigan—Wednesday’s final Qualifying round at the Motor City Open presented by the Suburban Collection provided dramatic, edge of your seat squash that lasted well into the night at the Birmingham Athletic Club.
Two back-to-back, five-game marathons on Court 2 kept butts in seats for well over three hours. In the end England’s Richie Fallows and Mexico’s Arturo Salazar survived to move into the main draw bracket Thursday at the BAC.
They’ll be joined there by Nathan Lake of England and New Zealand’s Campbell Grayson, both survivors of four-game matches on Court 3 to clinch the other two qualifier spots in the Main Draw.
Fallows’ battle with top-seeded qualifier Abdulla Mohd Al Tamimi of Qatar will be a tough act to follow for Thursday’s Main Draw features. The two put on a show that had everyone at the BAC crammed into the sight lines of Court 2 trying to catch a glimpse of the action.
After Fallows and Al Tamimi split the first two games, the intensity ratcheted up a notch as they fought tooth-and-nail in Game 3. Al Tamimi ultimately took the 2-1 advantage with a 12-10 triumph.
Then Fallows bounced back 11-6 in the fourth to set up the decisive fifth.
The Englishman and World #60 sprinted out to a 7-1 advantage in the final game, looking as if in cruise control. But 37th-ranked Al Tamimi wasn’t about to go quietly, charging back to take eight of the next nine points. He forced Fallows to the brink at 10-9, and that’s when controversy reared its ugly head.
Fallows appeared to step into Al Tamimi’s backswing on match point, and while Al Tamimi thought that called for a match-ending stroke, the official disagreed and called for a let. Fallows won the next point when Al Tamimi tinned – then followed that up with consecutive winners to take the match 9-11, 11-9, 10-12, 11-6, 12-10.
After the 93-minute match, Fallows expressed his excitement, while Al Tamimi expressed his frustration.
“It means everything, more than anything,” Fallows said. “I played some good squash to get (up 7-1), so I was sort of expecting him to fizzle out. When he didn’t, I just had to make sure I stayed on it to get the win.”
“It was a good fight,” Al Tamimi said. “I never talk about the refs, but at match ball he wasn’t strong enough to give no lets or strokes. It was a match ball, so that’s why he didn’t give it. I didn’t play that well, but I fought back and got a match ball. I just didn’t take it.”
Fallows draws World #27 and eighth-seeded Nicolas Mueller in the Main Draw First Round Thursday at 6 pm.
Next up on Court 2 was World #44 Salazar and World #58 Peter Creed in a duel providing the type of drama that their close rankings would suggest.
Creed got out in front after a back and forth first game, finally finishing off Salazar 15-13.
Salazar dominated the next two games 11-7 and 11-5, and looked as if he had his Welsh opponent on the ropes when he went up 6-3 in the fourth. Creed fought back to make it 8-8, but moments later found himself facing two match balls. He was up to the challenge, reeling off four consecutive points to take the fourth 12-10.
“These things happen in this sport,” Salazar said. “I should have showed more concentration with two match balls, but he played very well.”
Salazar was able to right the ship in the fifth as his opponent looked like he’d given all he had to come back in the fourth. After the decisive rubber started 4-4, Salazar ripped off seven straight points to dispose of Creed.
“I’m happy to be in the main draw,” Salazar said after the 86-minute epic. “Tomorrow will be very difficult. I’ll try to eat a good dinner, take a cold shower and get myself ready.”
Salazar’s Main Draw reward is a meeting with top-seed and World #5 Marwan ElShorbagy at 8 pm.
You can watch all of Court 3’s main draw action at themotorcityopen.com.
(5) Richie Fallows (England) def (1) Abdulla Mohd Al Tamimi (Qatar) 9-11, 11-9, 10-12, 11-6, 12-10
(3) Arturo Salazar (Mexico) def (6) Peter Creed (Wales) 13-15, 11-7, 11-5, 10-12, 11-4
(4) Nathan Lake (England) def Ramit Tandon (India) 8-11, 11-6, 11-8, 11-2
(2) Campbell Grayson (New Zealand) def (8) Christopher Binnie (Jamaica) 11-7, 15-13, 8-11, 11-5
Thursday’s Main Draw round of 16
(2) Paul Coll (New Zealand) vs. Nathan Lake (England) 6 pm–Court 3
(5) Ryan Cuskelly (Australia) vs. Gregoire Marche (France) 5 pm–Court 3
(8) Nicolas Mueller (Switzerland) vs. Richie Fallows (England) 6 pm–Court 2
(4) Diego Elias (Peru) vs. Campbell Grayson (New Zealand) 7 pm–Court 3
(3) Mohamed Abouelghar (Egypt) vs. Alan Clyne (Scotland) 5 pm–Court 2
(6) Cesar Salazar vs. Miguel Angel Rodriguez (Columbia) 7 pm–Court 2
(7) Leo Au (Hong Kong) vs. Mazen Hesham (Egypt) 8 pm–Court 2
(1) Marwan ElShorbagy (Egypt) vs. Arturo Salazar (Mexico) 8 pm–Court 3