Defeats Coppinger in tight, 112-minute marathon; Historic win for Columbian
By James Hawkins
Bloomfield Hills, Mich. — After a week filled with stunning upsets, dramatic comebacks, and five-game thrillers, it seemed only fitting Tuesday’s final at the 16th Motor City Open presented by The Suburban Collection would end with another five-game epic.
In front of a standing-room only crowd at the Birmingham Athletic Club, World #8 Miguel Angel Rodriguez won his first-ever PSA International 70 event after rallying from a game down to beat World #22 Stephen Coppinger in a grueling, 112-minute championship match: 9-11, 11-7, 8-11, 11-7, 11-3.
The victory came on the heels of Rodriguez’s semifinal run in last week’s Tournament of Champions in New York when he downed World #2 Greg Gaultier and #6 Peter Barker.
“This is like a dream come true. This is one of my favorite International 70 tournaments not only for the prizes, but for the squash community here. We always stay and they take care of us very well,” Rodriguez said. “I’m really happy because this is one of my best months in my entire career. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
“I worked so hard to win this tournament,” the 29-year old Colombian continued. “My goal of being Top 5 . . . is going be complete next month.”
In addition to the title, Rodriguez took home a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust II watch — courtesy of Greenstone’s Jewelers — and $11,732 in earnings. He became the first South American player to hoist the MCO trophy and cement his name on the championship banner alongside such greats as David Palmer, Jonathon Power, Gregory Gaultier, Karim Darwish, Amr Shabana and Mohamed Elshorbagy.
“I’m making history now not only in Colombia but in South America being the first Latin American to reach the Top 10,” Rodriguez said. “Winning this game and seeing my name on that wall with all those champions and former No. 1s, I’m speechless. It’s a dream I always wanted to achieve as a kid and it’s happening right now.”
In the first game, Coppinger dictated the pace and kept the Colombian retrieving in the back corners. Neither player was able to build much of a lead until Coppinger pulled away late for an 11-8 win with two winners and an unforced Rodriguez error.
The second game was just as close as Coppinger continued to pin Rodriquez in the back court, denying him the opportunity to utilize his front game and speed up the pace.
“We’ve seen what he can do when it’s a fast-paced, frantic match,” Coppinger said. “The whole world knows how spectacular his movement is, so I was trying to control as much as I could and wait until I got a real opening before I attacked.”
But Rodriguez eventually made a late run, breaking a 7-all tie with four straight points on a pair of tins by Coppinger and two winners to even the match, 1-1.
In the third game Rodriguez appeared poised to take a 2-1 match lead after leading 8-5, but Coppinger stormed back with six straight points to steal the game and the momentum.
But the tide turned again in Rodriguez’s favor midway through the fourth. Down 3-5, Rodriguez went back on top after Coppinger nicked the tin twice and was called for a stroke. The Colombian speedster never trailed again, sealing the game with a nifty drop shot.
Game Five was all Rodriguez as he raced out to a 7-1 lead on a combination of irretrievable rail shots, masterful drop shots and more unforced errors. At 10-3 match ball, Coppinger fired a shot into the tin and Rodriguez collapsed in celebration.
“I think that at 5-3 down in fourth game I handled it well. I was patient in that game and he made a lot of mistakes. I was pushing and retrieving all of the balls, and had some excellent winners in the fourth,” Rodriguez said. “In the fifth, I had to start pushing again and building that lead. Once I was up 7-2 I didn’t want to leave it like that. I had to push again and push again because Coppinger is playing very well right now and he will be Top 10 soon.”
Indeed, in a week that Coppinger beat three higher-ranked opponents – World #14 Marwan Elshorbagy, World #6 Peter Barker, and World #16 Max Lee – the 30-year old South African had nothing to hang his head about.
“What a week. How close was I to going home with my tail between my legs after the first match?” said Coppinger, who earned $8,027 in prize money. “Having the three match balls down in Round One, what a difference it is to make the final. I’m thrilled with the big picture for sure.”
The match was the biggest PSA Tour final in both men’s careers, marking the first time either had reached the championship match of an International 70 event.
 Miguel Angel Rodriguez (COL) def. Stephen Coppinger (RSA) 9-11, 11-7, 8-11, 11-7, 11-3 (112m)