Lee upsets Mueller; Koukal survives
Borja Golan (left), in action during the 2009 MCO. (Birmingham Athletic Club photo)
Bloomfield Hills, Mich. – First round qualifying matches kicked off the 2011 Motor City Open presented by the Suburban Collection. The tournament – in its 12th year and recently designated as an “International 50” event under the World Professional Squash Association’s new tournament structure – features fifteen competitors ranked in the world’s Top 40, including two previous MCO champions, Spain’s Borja Golan and Aussie David Palmer.
The Spaniard returned to the Motor City in the unfamiliar position of having to qualify for the Main Draw. Still recovering from a torn ACL that sidelined him for seven months and dropped his ranking from world #10 to #103, Borja has climbed back to #31 and is in search of the form that won him this tourney in 2009. He showed signs of his old form in his opening match against 59th-ranked Gilley Lane of the USA. Golan cruised to a three-set victory, 12-10, 11-4, 11-8.
But it was Max Lee (world #62) of Honk Kong whose return to the Birmingham Athletic Club stole the spotlight from Golan on opening night.
Lee, who suffered a first-round exit last year to Alan Clyne, provided the night’s biggest upset by defeating World #39 Nicolas Mueller of Switzerland in four sets: 5-11, 11-9, 11-7, 11-9. Lee countered the Swiss players aggressive, fast-paced style with tight shots and quick rallies.
“I think the first game – why I lose – it was just too many errors,” Lee said. “In the following games, we keep a very good pace, and he just pick up everything. I feel like he wanted to keep a high pace and I can’t really afford his high pace, so I just keep a slow pace and just want to stay on the court as long as I can.”
“I don’t really like the bouncy court because it’s my fitness,” he continued. “I really can’t afford the long match, and the bouncy courts keep a high pace. The ball is bouncy and there’s long volleys and it’s very hard to finish the volleys.”
Just as Lee ended the night in dramatic fashion, Czech Republic’s Jan Koukal – World #54 – began the day with a come-from-behind, five-set victory over 47-ranked New Zealander Campbell Grayson. Koukal, recovering from the flu, dropped his first game 2-11 and failed to convert on several game point opportunities in the second, falling into an 0-2 hole. That’s when things started coming together.
Playing on the defensive for most of the match, Koukal started moving better – countering Grayson’s attack. The Czech swept the next three games, 11-7, 11-7, 11-7.
“He got a little tired, I started playing better and came back,” Koukal said. “I was sick last week in New York and pretty much just got out of bed on Monday. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Even though I wasn’t playing that well, I could fight it out.”
Other competitors advancing to Thursday’s final qualifier round:
- Scotland’s Alan Clyne (world #53) defeated MCO newcomer Stephane Galifi of Italy (world # 46) in three sets, 11-4, 11-5, 11-9
- England’s Adrian Waller (world #52) defeated Australia’s Zac Alexander (world #61) in straight sets, 11-5, 13-11, 12-10.
- Australia’s Ryan Cuskelly (world #42) – in the evening’s tightest match-up according to world rankings – easily defeated American Julian Illingworth in three sets, 11-5, 15-13, 11-4.
- And Christopher Gordon (world #74) of the United States defeated Canadian Keith Pritchard 11-7, 11-4, 12-10.
- Mohd. Abbas v. Adrian Waller, 6:00 PM
- Jan Koukal v. Ryan Cuskelly, 6:15
- Borja Golan v. Christopher Gordon, 7:15
- Alan Clyne v. Max Lee, 7:00