Other top seeds advance; Local hero Wellings falls
BAC Pro Julian Wellings (left) in action against Aussie Ryan Cuskelly (Birmingham Athletic Club photo)
Bloomfield Hills, Michigan — Playing in his first major Professional Squash Association tournament, 18-year-old – and World No. 229 – Aurangzeb Mehmund stunned the capacity crowd at the 2012 Motor City Open by scoring a major upset, a five-game victory over World No. 47 Jan Koukal.
The Pakistani’s epic, five-game victory (11-9, 9-11, 12-10, 4-11, 11-7) was the highlight of an otherwise routine first round of qualifying. Presented by The Suburban Collection, the MCO is in its 13th year at the Birmingham Athletic Club (BAC).
In other matches, Aussie Ryan Cuskelly dashed local favorite and BAC pro Julian Wellings’ hopes in three games. Frenchman Mathieu Castagnet, Hong Kong’s Max Lee, Indian Siddhartha Suchde, Frenchman Gregoire Marche, Aussie Zac Alexander, and Egyptian Mohammed Abbas also advanced into the second – and final – round of qualifying to be played Thursday.
“I’m very happy,” Mehmund said after his win over Koukal, a veteran of the MCO. “First time is very big upset, first time is very big tournament.”
Fred Reid of Canada lunges to retreive a drive from Zac Alexander (Birmingham Athletic Club photo)
Mehmund countered Koukal’s strong backhand attack throughout, playing longer shots and forcing the Czech to his forehand. But Koukal was clearly frustrated by Mehmund’s blocking off the ball. Mehmund often positioned himself in the ball’s trajectory, making retrieval difficult for the Czech. Midway through the decisive game, a visibly distraught Koukal nearly tackled Mehmund while returning a volley – resulting in a conduct stroke against Koukal.
“The referee, he can get the guy in line, and he wasn’t doing that,” Koukal said later. “He was the one blocking and I was getting punished for it, even getting a conduct point which is ridiculous. It should happen to the guy blocking.
“There’s nothing you can do,” continued the Czech veteran. “You try to get to the ball, try to get no lets, and it’s obvious what the guy is trying to do, and he’s just doing it well so he’s not letting you go to the ball. So he hits a bad shot – it’s a let; he hits a good shot – it’s a no let. It’s a win-win situation for him.”
There was no win-win for World # 124 Scott Arnold of Australia. Against Indian Siddharth Suchde, World # 48, the Aussie fell in three games (12-10, 11-9, 11-8). He admitted afterward he lacked mental focus.
“I don’t know where my head was,” Arnold said. “I only got the call up last night to come and play. I was in Toronto, ended up driving this morning, blew a tire halfway and got stuck for two hours. I got stuck at the border for an hour, and literally drove in to the minute at the start of my match.”
“Considering that I started pretty well, but I think I was just mentally exhausted,” he added.
Suchde, playing the MCO for the first time, played a patient first game, allowing himself time to adjust and adapt his style to the fast club courts.
“The first round is always tricky because you play so many events and the courts are different,” Suchde said. “These are particularly fast. And it was quite difficult to control the ball when it’s flying around everywhere and Scott gives it a good punch. What you do is elongate the rallies and get a little more comfortable. That was the game plan. After the second game, I started to calm down a bit.”
The final qualifying round begins at 6 p.m. Thursday, January 27.
NOTES: Sadly, the MCO crowds won’t get a look at the world’s top-ranked American player, Julian Illingworth. The World #28 was a last minute scratch due to injury. Young Egyptian – and World #15 – Omar Mosaad will also miss the tourney due to travel complications.
RESULTS, Qualifying Day 1:
- Aurangzeb Mehmund def. Jan Koukal, 11-9, 9-11, 12-10, 4-11, 11-7
- Siddharth Suchde def. Scott Arnold, 12-10, 11-9, 11-8
- Zac Alexander def. Fred Reid 11-7, 11-9, 11-6
- Gregoire Marche def. Keith Pritchard 11-1, 11-4, 11-3
- Max Lee def. Wade Johnstone 13-11, 11-6, 10-12, 6-11, 11-5
- Ryan Cuskelly def. Julian Wellings 11-6, 11-6, 11-7
- Mathieu Castagnet def. Matthew Kawalski 6-11, 11-2, 12-10, 11-5
- Mohammed Abbas advanced on a bye
Scedule, Qualifying Round 2, January 26:
-  Alexander v.  Marche
- Suchde v.  Lee
-  Cuskelly v.  Castagnet
- Mehmund v.  Abbas