Curtis Malik and Satomi Watanabe are Kent Open champions
Curtis Malik and Satomi Watanabe triumphed in the Colin Payne Kent Open, sponsored by 501 Entertainment, after two entertaining finals at Tunbridge Wells Squash Club.
Malik kept the family flag flying high by beating Yorkshire’s James Peach after his sister Torrie lost in the women’s final to Watanabe. Top seed Torrie mounted a battling comeback after losing the first two games.
Watanabe, 24, began in positive fashion, driving the ball with pace and precision to take
advantage of a nervous start by the 17-year-old Sussex player. She won the opening two games by an 11-7 scoreline as Malik struggled to get the ball past her into the back corners.
Malik responded aggressively in the third, finding her targets and dictating the play for large
parts of the game to win 11-8. Her accuracy slipped a little in the fourth game as Roehampton University student Watanabe regained control with her solid driving forcing errors from her opponent.
However, from 9-5 down Malik won three points in a row as the packed gallery roared their
encouragement. There were some intense, physical rallies but it was Watanabe who moved to match ball at 10-8. Malik clawed back another point but the stylish Japanese player unleashed a squeal of delight as she clinched victory and the title.
In the men’s final, family honour was restored as Curtis Malik outplayed James Peach to win 3-1.
Malik is playing with immense confidence after a recent run of outstanding form has taken him to five finals since August and this was his third triumph.
He moves the ball around court intelligently, has an impressive flat forehand kill, and is never afraid of crashing the ball into either nick whenever the opportunity arises. Peach is a meticulous, methodical player with superb touch at the front of the court but Malik managed to keep the ball out of the danger zones for most of the match.
In the first game, Malik powered into a 7-3 lead and was clearly in a zone of confidence
created by several months of outstanding form culminating in five finals. After an even start to the second game, he made the decisive move from 4-4 to 8-4 and saw out the game to lead by two games to love.
Peach responded in the third and produced spells of outstanding quality as the score seesawed throughout. He led 6-2 only for Malik to draw level, and from then on Peach managed to keep his nose in front to squeeze home 11-9.
Malik recovered his focus, length and control to dominate the fourth game. Peach was still
doing some incredible retrieving but he clipped the tin a few times and hit the ball out once as Malik stepped up the pressure to win 11-4.
The finalists were joined on court for the presentations by former Tunbridge Wells captain Colin Payne’s father Malcolm and daughters Alice and Charlotte.
Day Three : Semi-Finals
SUSSEX SIBLINGS REACH KENT OPEN FINALS
By ALAN THATCHER
Sussex siblings Curtis and Torrie Malik lived up to their top seed billing by reaching the finals of the Colin Payne Kent Open, sponsored by 501 Entertainment, at Tunbridge Wells Squash Club.
Both won in straight games and will be fired up to complete a family double against James Peach and Satomi Watanabe.
Torrie weathered a fierce fightback from No.3 seed Rana Ismail in the third game of her semi-final.The 19-year-old Egyptian, a student at Roehampton University, struggled to make much impression in the first two games as Malik dominated with her crisp, precise hitting.
Malik quickly established a dominant position by winning the first six points and it was only at 10-1 down that Ismail was able to add to her score. The second game provided the reverse, with Ismail hanging on at 3-5 down before Malik produced another run of six consecutive points.
Ismail worked her way into the match in the third game with a more attacking policy, aided by a sudden flurry of mistakes by her opponent. Ismail was ahead throughout and reached game ball at 10-9, but Malik fought back strongly, saved another game ball at 10-11, and, after a few nervous moments, clinched the game and the match with a 14-12 scoreline.
In the final she faces another Roehampton student, Japan’s Watanabe, who took less than 16 minutes to see off No.2 seed Kace Bartley.
Like the men’s No.2 seed, Josh Masters, who was beaten by James Peach in the quarters, Londoner Bartley blamed the workload of coaching for affecting her match fitness.
She revealed: “Like most players, there was no money coming in during lockdown and when clubs reopened I managed to get some coaching work at a number of places, but it’s very tiring. I haven’t been able to do any proper training for four months because I have been so busy coaching, but I am planning to get back into it properly next season. To do that I need to start training in the New Year.”
In the first men’s semi-final James Peach ended the impressive run of 17-year-old Finnlay Withington with a straight-games triumph.
Withington gathered some early points to lead 4-3 in the first game but Peach imposed himself on proceedings by winning seven points in a row. In the second, Withington constructed a 5-2 lead but Peach once again enjoyed a dominant phase with five consecutive points. Withington levelled at 7-7 but another four-point combination gave Peach the game.
Withington’s challenge evaporated in the third as Peach powered his way to victory with some accurate placement and phenomenal recoveries to deny his opponent any success with some ambitious shots.
Owain Taylor was unable to mount a sustained challenge against top seed Curtis Malik, who looked strong and confident throughout. A six-point burst from 3-2 down in the first game established a clear pattern of control by Malik. Taylor rallied with three more points but Malik comfortably contained matters with a five-point winning margin.
In the second, Malik quickly built a 4-0 lead and pushed through to take it 11-4. Malik raced to a 7-1 lead in the third and there was no way back for the Welshman as Malik wrapped it up with another 11-4 win.
Day Two, Quarter-Finals
MALIKS MOTOR THROUGH TO KENT OPEN SEMI-FINALS AS SEEDS ARE SCATTERED
BY ALAN THATCHER
Brother and sister top seeds Curtis and Torrie Malik powered through to the semi-finals of the Colin Payne Kent Open, sponsored by 501 Entertainment, on the day when home hopes were halted.
More favourites fell by the wayside as Kent’s No.2 seed Josh Masters and No.8 seed Jack Mitterer both crashed out of the men’s competition after holding dominant positions. Masters squandered a match ball against No.7 seed James Peach before losing in the fifth and Mitterer will be kicking himself for losing control against 17-year-old Finnlay Withington.
The world has changed gears since Masters last reached the Kent Open final after being awarded the wild card in 2017, finishing runner-up to Joel Makin on that occasion. Then he was in the rising star category; now he is an experienced pro and at 26 the oldest player in the whole competition.
He has also had to undergo two hip operations after issues affecting his mobility and in Tunbridge Wells he was up against a fast and fit opponent who knows his game inside out. The two shared an apartment for two years at the University of the West of England in Bristol and Peach, 22, is still based there as he hones his career options with Hadrian Stiff’s Elite Squash Academy.
Peach finished strongly to win the opening game and led 5-2 in the second, but Masters hit back to lead 8-6. Peach reeled of four points to hold game ball at 10-8 but Masters hit some outrageous winners to take the game 12-10.
From 5-4 down in the third, Masters pulled ahead to hold game ball at 10-6 and weathered a flurry of points from Peach to take it 11-9.
The fourth game was neck and neck all the way through until Masters held match ball at 10-9 and then again at 12-11, but Peach refused to bow down and clawed his way back to take it 15-13.
Peach led 6-3 in the fifth and although Masters pulled back to 6-6, Peach pulled away to win 11-7 and book his place in the semi-finals against the fearless Withington.
Masters said: “I had spent five hours coaching at Park Langley before driving down to play and I was feeling pretty tired. I felt I was moving OK but I know my hip will be sore tomorrow.
“In some ways it’s not too damaging to play two days on the trot but if I had gone all the way through and played four days in a row then the hip would definitely be feeling the strain. I have had two lots of surgery and will certainly need more.”
Masters recently won the Wild Card Challenge at Canary Wharf and will be training as hard as he can to make the most of the opportunity in March.
He added: “I will definitely try to cut down the coaching to give my body a chance but I’m looking forward to the best of three format there.”
Mitterer looked in control against Withington as he took the opening game 11-5 but the boy from Bury hit back to lead 8-5 in the second. Mitterer drew level and the pair traded points until Mitterer held ball at 13-12 and again at 14-13, but he failed to convert them and Withington took three points in a row to take the game 16-14.
Withington’s confidence grew and he led throughout to win the third game. In the fourth he pulled away from 5-4 ahead in the fourth to win the final six points in a row.
Owain Taylor overcame No.4 seed Perry Malik 3-0 and the Welshman will now face top seed Curtis Malik for a place in the tournament final.
Taylor and Perry had crafted a 96-minute marathon in Scotland the previous week but the Welshman maintained control of proceedings in similar fashion in each of the three games.
From the scores being level around the mid-point of each game, Taylor pulled away to claim a run of points to open up a commanding and decisive lead.
Taylor now faces big brother Curtis, who enjoyed a straight-games win over the great entertainer Aaron Allpress, who conjured up some extraordinary Mizuki volleys as the points piled up against him.
Allpress began strongly and led 8-4 in the first game but that was the only time he held any semblance of control.
It was a day when the top four women’s seeds entered the fray after enjoying a rest day when Covid withdrawals decimated yesterday’s first round.
Bartley faces a tough time in the semi-finals against the dazzlingly effective Satomi Watanabe, who took just 15 minutes to ease past Polly Clark.
Top seed Torrie Malik, playing remarkably mature squash for a 17-year-old, had too much for the enthusiastic Lara Newton, one year her junior.
She now faces the Egyptian No.3 seed Rana Ismail, who looked comfortably in control throughout her match against Sofia Aveiro Pita from Portugal.
Four magnificent semi-finals now lie in wait.
Mixed fortunes for local hopes on day one of the Kent Open
By ALAN THATCHER
Royal Tunbridge Wells sits on the border of Kent and East Sussex, and players from both counties took centre stage on day one of the Colin Payne Kent Open, sponsored by 501 Entertainment.
The scoreline of 11-8, 8-11, 11-9, 11-8 shows how close each game was between the two Sussex players. Meredith performed well, and a packed gallery roared him on throughout the match, but he was up against an in-form opponent whose recent run of success (winning 12 of his last 15 PSA matches) has clearly given him a massive air of confidence.
Malik meets Aaron Allpress in the quarter-finals after the Colchester player ousted No.5 seed Hasnaat Farooqi from London in a ding-dong battle, winning an entertaining encounter 11-3 in the fifth.
Malik’s younger brother Perry is also playing well at the moment and his straight-games win over Jordan Warne landed him a quarter-final showdown with Owain Taylor a week after the two played a 96-minute marathon in the Lockerbie Challenge in Scotland.
Welshman Taylor won that 18-16 in the fifth but enjoyed a much quicker win at Tunbridge Wells, beating Nick Ratnarajah 11-4, 14-12, 11-3 in 27 minute
Kent’s Jack Mitterer played some superb squash to beat Josh Attwell in four games and he meets Manchester’s 17-year-old Finnlay Withington, who celebrated his first Tour match win when he upset #3 seed Anthony Rogal from London.
Kent’s No.2 seed Josh Masters, runner-up to Joel Makin in the last edition of the tournament played at The Mote Squash Club in Maidstone, finished proceedings with a 19-minute win over veteran campaigner Phil Nightingale, who spent many years playing Kent League squash before becoming a vicar in Northamptonshire.
Masters meets James Peach, who achieved a straight-games win over Alvaro Martin from Spain.
The day began with some off-court drama as four players were forced to withdraw from the women’s competition. One of them tested positive for Covid … and three more had to pull out because they all share the same apartment at the University of Birmingham – the end results being the top four seeds being given byes.
When play began there was plenty of drama on court. The standout match of the day featured two 17-year-olds, with Yorkshire’s Amy Royle fighting back from two games down to beat Kent’s No.8 seed Isabel McCullough 9-11, 3-11, 11-5, 11-9, 16-14 after saving three match balls in the fifth.
Despite spending two hours stuck in a traffic jam on top of the QE2 Bridge over the River Thames on her journey down from Essex, Lara Newton looked fresh as she beat No.7 seed Catherine Holland, who had taken an even longer journey down from Scotland.
Portugal’s No.6 seed Sofia Aveiro Pita was also delayed by the same snarl-up which caused tailbacks on the M25 on her journey down from Cambridge. She too looked fresh as she beat Bermuda’s Emma Keane, based in Guildford, in four games.
The four top seeds, Torrie Malik, Kace Bartley, Rana Ismail (Egypt) and Satomi Watanabe (Japan) join the fray today after enjoying a rest day because of the Covid issues.
Torrie, however, was kept busy, along with her two brothers, as the BBC South East filmed interviews which will be broadcast during Friday’s evening news bulletin.
KENT OPEN HIT BY COVID WITHDRAWALS
Four women withdrew from the Kent Open this morning after one of them tested positive for Covid … and three more players had to pull out because they all share the same apartment at the University of Birmingham.
The players who withdrew are Katie Cox (England), Kiera Marshall (England), Chloe Foster (Wales) and Megan van Drongelen (Netherlands).
The PSA immediately arranged a redraw which resulted in the top four seeds, Torrie Malik (England), Kace Bartley (England), Rana Ismail (Egypt) and Satomi Watanabe (Japan) all receiving a bye.
That means no women’s matches this afternoon with the four first round ties starting at 6pm this evening:
BROTHER AND SISTER CURTIS AND TORRIE MALIK ARE TOP SEEDS AS KENT OPEN RETURNS TO TUNBRIDGE WELLS
By ALAN THATCHER
Sussex brother and sister Curtis and Torrie Malik are the top seeds in this week’s Colin Payne Kent Open, sponsored by 501 Entertainment, which takes place at Tunbridge Wells Squash Club from December 15-18.
This PSA Challenger event was postponed last year because of the coronavirus pandemic but is now back with a new look.
A women’s competition has been added for the first time and the two events will each have equal prize money of $3,000 (£2,250) spread among the 32 players competing at the popular Kent club.
The tournament is dedicated to former Tunbridge Wells No.1 Colin Payne, a former professional player and England Masters national champion who died in tragic circumstances in 2016.
The Kent Open is sponsored by Tunbridge Wells first teamer Jonny Powell, whose 501 Entertainment company is transforming the hospitality industry by using technology to update traditional pub games like darts and shuffleboard in a fast-growing sector known as competitive socialising.
Jonny awarded the men’s wild card to Tunbridge Wells team-mate Noah Meredith, who has been handed the toughest possible task by being drawn against top seed Curtis in the first round on December 15.
Curtis and sister Torrie are both in excellent form and many squash lovers are wondering if they are the first brother and sister to enter a tournament as top seeds since former world champions Rodney and Michelle Martin from Australia in the 1980s and 90s.
Curtis, 22, won a PSA Challenger event at The Grange Club in Edinburgh 10 days ago. All four semi-finalists were from Sussex, including younger brother Perry, who beat top seed Sam Todd from Yorkshire in the quarter-finals.
In the semis, Perry lost to Chichester-born Miles Jenkins, while Curtis overcame Tom Walsh, from Hove. Curtis fought back from two games down to beat Jenkins 8-11, 3-11, 11-2, 14-12, 11-8, saving five match balls in a gruelling final lasting 72 minutes.
Curtis and Perry remained in Scotland to compete at the $6k Lockerbie Challenge, with Curtis finishing runner-up to Yorkshire’s top seed Nick Wall with Perry involved in a marathon match against Owain Taylor in the second round. The Welshman triumphed 18-16 in the fifth game after 96 minutes on court.
Curtis, 22, also won the recent Prestbury Open in Macclesfield and was a semi-finalist in the Scottish Open. He is now at 108 in the PSA World Tour rankings.
Torrie, 17, is a recent winner of the England Under-19 Championship held in Nottingham. She also reached the semi-finals of the Scottish Open, beating the No.2 seed Rachael Chadwick and No.7 seed Alicia Mead along the way.
She is currently ranked 99 in the world, having broken into the top 100 in the latest PSA rankings for December.
Curtis and Torrie are part of a large squash-loving family from Warninglid, near Haywards Heath. Brother Perry, aged 20, is ranked 186 in the world and is also competing in the Kent Open. He is seeded to meet Curtis in the semi-finals.
Younger brothers Bailey and Heston will be 16 in January and both are climbing the England junior rankings.
The squash world united to help the family when Bailey and Heston’s triplet brother Sumner was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour known as DIPG. Large sums of money were raised to provide desperately needed treatment and Sumner bravely fought the illness for as long as possible before passing away in August 2018.
Since then, the family have organised several charity events to raise money to further research into the cause and treatment of DIPG.
REMEMBERING COLIN PAYNE
Former Tunbridge Wells number one Colin Payne was a professional player who reached the world top 50 and appeared for Kent on more than 100 occasions. He died in a domestic incident in Dartford in 2016.
He was county champion five times, won the Kent over-35 title on ten occasions and, during the year of his death, he won the British Over-50s Championship.
Payne owned the Ripples chain of bathroom stores in Tunbridge Wells, Reigate and Brighton.
Title: The Colin Payne Kent Open sponsored by 501 Entertainment
Dates: December 15-18th, 2021.
Venue: Tunbridge Wells Squash Club, London Road, 39A Tunbridge Wells, TN1 1DL.
Format: PSA World Tour event featuring men’s and women’s competitions with $3,000 prize money in prize money in each. We are delighted to have the Kent Open back on the calendar after being forced to postpone last year’s event because of lockdown.