by Geoff Robinson
Motor City Open
Birmingham, Michigan—The Main Draw got underway Thursday at the Motor City Open presented by the Suburban Collection, and the capacity crowd at host Birmingham Athletic Club got a little bit of everything from some of the world’s best squash players.
There was a pair of five-game matches that saw New Zealand qualifier Campbell Grayson and seventh-seeded Leo Au of Hong Kong come back from 2-0 holes. And there were two former MCO champions moving on to the quarterfinals as defending champion Ryan Cuskelly of Australia dominated and 2015 champion Miguel Angel Rodriguez of Colombia came back from a game down, much to the delight of the packed house.
World #39 Grayson was the story of the night when he took out four-seed and World #10 Diego Elias of Peru: 9-11, 9-11, 13-11, 11-4, 11-8.
Elias took the first two games, but it wasn’t easy. Grayson was pushing the 2017 MCO semifinalist to the brink from the outset. In the third game Grayson fought off a match ball to force a fourth.
It was apparent to Grayson that Elias was fighting through a injury that crept up late in the third. The 21-year-old Peruvian has been battling hamstring issues since November.
“I could sort of see him drop off a little bit towards the end of the third,” Grayson said. “With his limp and everything, that sort of spirited me up a little bit to get that game. Once I got there, I knew I was in.”
Elias’ issues shouldn’t take away from Grayson’s performance, however. The Kiwi had to gut out every point of his comeback win as his opponent continued to give a spirited effort. After cruising through the fourth, Grayson fought back from a 6-2 deficit in the fifth. He scored the match’s final four points to finally put away the Peruvian, securing the biggest upset of his career and his first Main Draw win in his fourth MCO appearance.
“It’s great, I’m so happy,” Grayson said. “I had three tournaments in a row where I was in a position to beat top 20 players and I lost them all. I’ve just had so many close matches this season, and to finally get the win feels great.”
For his efforts, Grayson draws eighth-seed Nicolas Mueller of Switzerland in the quarters.
In the nightcap, World #22 Au was able to fight off match balls and fatigue to gut out a five-game win over Egypt’s Mazen Hesham: 9-11, 7-11, 12-10, 11-7, 13-11.
Hesham controlled the action early, moving Au at will and hitting fanciful winners that delighted the crowd.
Au’s comeback was pure grit, chasing down balls and frustrating his opponent into making mistakes.
After taking the third, Au was able to get Hesham off balance late in the fourth. The Egyptian hit the tin three times late in the game before Au finished it with a beautiful drop shot.
In the fifth, the two went back and forth. Au got out to a 4-1 lead, but Hesham answered with four consecutive points of his own. At 8-8, Hesham committed consecutive unforced errors to hand Au a pair of match balls. Hesham answered with three consecutive winners. Consecutive tins, however, would be his undoing as Au claimed the match.
Au was in obvious pain afterwards and was unavailable for comment. Anything short of top form could prove a problem for Au in the quarterfinals, where he draws top seed Marwan ElShorbagy.
Earlier in the night, Rodriguez was his usual jackrabbit self on Court 2, producing spin moves and chasing down everything World #21 Cesar Salazar threw his way.
Though Salazar took the first game, 11-7, Rodriguez was a man on a mission as he handled Salazar with ease over the next three: 7-11, 11-5, 11-3, 11-9
“I couldn’t find my game in the first,” Rodriguez said. “After that, I was just trying to play my game at my pace. I was focusing on playing every ball and fighting until the end. We had some long rallies and I think that was an advantage for me.”
Cuskelly kicked off his title defense on Court 3, breezing by France’s Gregoire Marche in straight sets: 12-10, 11-7, 11-1.
For Cuskelly, the BAC is like a second home, and he hopes to make another long run.
“It’s awesome. I love coming here,” Cuskelly said. “I’ve got a lot of friends here and I always want to do well in this tournament. It’s a really good start to win three to love against a player like (Marche). “
The Australian will have his work cut out for him Friday when he takes on second-seed and World #11 Paul Coll of new Zealand.
You can watch all of Court 3’s main draw action at TheMotorCityOpen.com.
(2) Paul Coll (New Zealand) def Nathan Lake (England) 11-5, 11-5, 11-4
(5) Ryan Cuskelly (Australia) def Gregoire March (France) 12-10, 11-7, 11-1
(8) Nicolas Mueller (Switzerland) def Richie Fallows (England) 11-9, 11-8, 11-8
Campbell Grayson (New Zealand) def (4) Diego Elias 9-11, 9-11, 13-11, 11-4, 11-8
(3) Mohamed Abouelghar def Alan Clyne (Scotland) 12-10, 11-9, 13-11
Miguel Angel Rodriguez def (6) Cesar Salazar (Mexico) 7-11, 11-5, 11-3, 11-9
(7) Leo Au (Hong Kong) def Mazen Hesham (Egypt) 9-11, 7-11, 12-10, 11-7, 13-11
(1) Marwan ElShorbagy (Egypt) def Arturo Salazar 11-7, 9-11, 11-4, 12-10
(2) Coll vs. (5) Cuskelly 5:30 pm-Court 3
(8) Mueller vs. Grayson 6:30 pm-Court 3
(3) Abouelghar vs. Rodriguez 5:30-Court 2
(1) ElShorbagy vs. (7) Au-Court 2