By Matt Schoch
The Motor City Open
Bloomfield Hills, Mich. – In the first 19 years of the Motor City Open presented by the Suburban Collection, no U.S. player had ever made the main draw of the pro squash tourney.
Now, after just one day of the 20th annual event, two have victories.
Americans Chris Hanson and Todd Harrity cruised to three-game wins to move on to Wednesday’s second round at the Birmingham Athletic Club.
“The U.S. hasn’t been a dominant force on the pro singles squash tour ever,” said Harrity, the top-ranked American in the world at #48. “Guys like Chris and me – and there’s a bunch of good young players coming up as well – are really working hard to try to change that. When I think about these things, it’s really exciting to think about the future of squash in this country.”
Hanson, ranked #63 in the world, agreed, adding : “The state of U.S. squash is getting better. At a tournament like this, where guys in the top 10 or 20 are playing, we’re not quite there yet, but with some wins like this, we’ll make it known that the Americans are making a push.”
Hanson and Harrity moved on to the Round of 16 along with six other winners Tuesday night. Waiting for them are the eight seeded foes, who each received byes through Round 1.
Harrity, from Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, topped Vikram Malhotra of India, 11-4, 11-4, 11-7. Hanson topped Campbell Grayson of New Zealand, 11-5, 11-7, 11-6. The New York native said his play lately has been better than his world ranking.
“I thought I was playing at a really good pace,” Hanson said. “Even when the games were close, I felt like I could pick it up just a little more and a little more.”
Hanson will have a rematch with seventh-seed Omar Mossad of Egypt on Wednesday. The pair met last week in the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions in New York with Mossad winning in three games.
Hannity said the goal at events like the MCO is to win one match, which makes it easier to relax. He’ll meet third-seed Mohamed Abouelghar of Egypt on Wednesday.
“The first match is the toughest in a lot of ways,” Harrity said. “The court, the crowd, the environment, it’s been awhile since your last competition. So you’re always just a bit edgy.”
While the Americans had relatively smooth sailing, the most entertaining Round 1 match was the opener. Spain’s Iker Pajares Bernabeu battled back twice from a game down, outlasting Chris Simpson of England in 95-minutes, 8-11, 11-9, 7-11, 11-7, 11-9.
“I’m over the moon with my win,” Pajares Bernabeu said. “I’m very happy with my performance this month, and I think I’m playing very sharp, very consistent, very hard.”
In the deciding fifth game, Pajares Bernabeu trailed Simpson 7-2, but won nine of the last 11 points. Simpson had four unforced errors during Pajares Bernabeu’s closing run.
Tuesday was likely the final MCO match for 2007 champion Olli Tuominen of Finland, a crowd favorite.
After Tuominen lost to Mathieu Castagnet of France in three hard-fought games, the Birmingham Athletic Club crowd recognized his history at the MCO, chanting “Olli! Ollii! Olli!” for the 39-year-old. Tuominen said this is his final year on the Professional Squash Association World Tour.
“It’s always good to be here,” said Olli, who said his run to the 2004 MCO finals was also a major triumph in his career. “I’m still playing quite well, that’s why the (retirement) decision is really hard to make. Because the level I’m actually playing is still quite good, but my ranking (#61) has gone down quite a bit.”
Tuominen has been playing league matches throughout Europe and also said he will focus on his duties as player/coach of the Finnish national team.
“I think touring or traveling as much as I would have to do to play the professional matches, I think it’s time to let that go,” Tuominen said.
The MCO is the second-longest running pro squash tourney in the U.S. In addition to his take of the $75,000 total purse, the champion will take home a Longines watch from Greenstone’s Jewelers.
A charity auction will be held in conjunction with the MCO with proceeds to benefit Racquet Up Detroit, a youth development program that combines squash, mentoring, and community service. Racquet Up juniors will be among those participating in the MCO’s Junior Clinic where tourney pros coach young players from the greater-Detroit area and Windsor.
Cesar Salazar (Mexico) def. Peter Creed (Wales), 11-7, 7-11, 10-12, 11-8, 11-2
Iker Pajares Bernabeu (Spain) def. Chris Simpson (England), 8-11, 11-9, 7-11, 11-7, 11-9
Chris Hanson (United States) def. Campbell Grayson (New Zealand), 11-5, 11-7, 11-6
Mazen Hesham (Egypt) def. Richie Fallows (England), 11-8, 11-8, 11-3
Zahed Salem (Egypt) def. Mohamed Reda (Egypt), 11-7, 11-9, 11-7
Mathieu Castagnet (France) def. Olli Tuominen (Finland), 11-7, 11-6, 11-5
Adrian Waller (England) def. Mahesh Mangaonkar (India), 11-6, 12-10, 11-9
Todd Harrity (United States) def. Vikram Malhotra (India), 11-4, 11-4, 11-7
Thursday’s round of 16
1. Marwan El Shorbagy (Egypt) vs. Mazen Hesham (Egypt), 5 p.m., Court 3
7. Omar Mossad (Egypt) vs. Chris Hanson (United States), 5 p.m., Court 2
5. Ryan Cuskelly (Australia) vs. Iker Pajares Bernabeu (Spain), 6 p.m., Court 3
4. Diego Elias (Peru) vs. Cesar Salazar (Mexico), 6 p.m., Court 2
3. Mohamed Abouelghar (Egypt) vs. Todd Harrity (United States), 7 p.m., Court 3
6. Raphael Kandra (Germany) vs. Adrian Waller (England), 7 p.m., Court 2
8. Nicolas Mueller (Switzerland) vs. Zahed Salem (Egypt), 8 p.m., Court 2
2. Miguel Rodriguez (Colombia) vs. Mathieu Castagnet (France), 8 p.m., Court 3
Second Round: Wednesday, Jan. 30, 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Quarter Finals: Thursday, Jan. 31, 6:30 p.m. – 7.30 p.m.
Semi-Finals: Friday, Feb. 1, 6:30 p.m. – 7.30 p.m.
Finals: Saturday, Feb. 2, 6:30 p.m.
Birmingham Athletic Club
4033 W. Maple Road, Bloomfield Hills, MI
FOR TICKETS AND INFORMATION CONTACT: Julian Wellings, MCO Squash Director, 248.646.5050, email@example.com