Squash champs

simpson, best take senior titles

There were several record-setting performances as the curtain fell on the 42nd annual Barbados Olympic Association-sponsored Barbados Senior National Squash Championships at the Barbados Squash Club courts Saturday.

After reaching a record 13th men’s final in only 14 years, the consistent Shawn Simpson duly claimed his record equaling eighth national men’s squash title on the final day of competition against No. 3/4 seed Rhett Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch was not overawed by the occasion and played his first men’s final with great gusto and skill.

National Squash finalists (l-r)  Rhett Cumberbatch (runner-up), Meagan Best (winner), BOA’s Erskine Simmons, Amanda Haywood (runner-up) and Shawn Simpson (winner).
National Squash finalists (l-r) Rhett Cumberbatch (runner-up), Meagan Best (winner), BOA’s Erskine Simmons, Amanda Haywood (runner-up) and Shawn Simpson (winner).

Simpson, 32, who was seeded this year at No. 2 started slowly and made a few mistakes in the first game in which he did not establish consistent length and which his younger opponent, 28, won for the loss of five points. Simpson quickly made the necessary adjustments, hitting higher on the front wall to get the ball deeper into the backcourt and significantly reduced his own unforced error count.

Extended rallies now became the norm and as Simpson settled down he looked increasingly in control. Both players displayed an impressive ability to retrieve apparent winning shots played by their opponent, but now Simpson seemed to win most of these extended rallies and the tall left-hander never trailed in either of the next two games which he claimed for the loss of 7 and then 2 points.

At 1-2 down, the cause seemed lost for Cumberbatch but to his credit he tried to mount a comeback in the 10-minute fourth game which was the longest in the match. From 2-4 down he fought his way to 8-6 up. A fifth game seemed in the cards, but Simpson was not to be denied his chance to claim an eighth national title and to equal the record number of men’s titles jointly held by local squash legends, Rudy Goodridge and Mark Sealy.  Cumberbatch could only win one more point in the match as Simpson pulled away to win 5-11  11-7  11-2  11-9 in 34 minutes.

The ladies final that preceded this men’s final was arguably even more exciting as two evenly matched junior competitors faced off in a national final for the second time in three weeks. Both the No. 2 seed Amanda Haywood (16), who is the 2015 Caribbean Under-17 squash champion, and the No. 3/4 seed Meagan Best, the 2015 Caribbean Under-15 squash champion, who is less than three weeks away from her 14th birthday, were playing in their first senior ladies final but both appeared up for the contest which was the most competitive ladies final in 16 years, such had been the dominance of the previous 15-time champion Karen Meakins, who had to withdraw this year under doctor’s orders.

In the first game it was nip and tuck between these rivals: 7-all, 8-all, 9-all, 10-all, before the diminutive Haywood won the last two rallies to clinch the first game 12-10.  Best was determined, however, and used her powerful drives to pin Haywood in the backcourt, while volleying as much as possible to take time away from her opponent. She also ran down most of Haywood’s drop shots like a girl possessed, showing impressive stamina and poise. The next two games were close but unlike what used to happen in previous years, Haywood simply could not keep her younger opponent under the sustained pressure needed to make her doubt herself.

Best was cool and calm throughout and played like the champion she is and claimed the next two games at 7 and 8.  At 2-1 up Best was not to be denied. The long hours of training at home and abroad paid dividends as she confidently upped the tempo further. Winners now flowed like water from her racket in the frontcourt and back and she easily claimed the fourth and final game with a shriek of joy for the loss of only four points to win 10-12, 11-7, 11-8, 11-4 in 37 minutes. Such was the quality of this contest that both players received a standing ovation from the spectators who could not remember an occasion when a ladies national final had lasted longer than the men’s equivalent. Meagan Best, at 13 years, 11 months, now also becomes the youngest ever Ladies champion in Barbados’ squash history.

 In other matches played, 14 -year-old Khamal Cumberbatch finished fifth by defeating Stewart St. John in a brilliant five-game match that ebbed and flowed throughout. Khamal won the first two and despite being almost dead on his feet St. John pulled back to 2-all before Khamal powered away in the fifth game with his opponent completely spent. This meant that for the first time ever the Cumberbatch brothers finished second (Rhett), third (Bryant), fourth (Gavin) and fifth (Khamal).

In the consolation plate final Tony Mackenzie was defeated by the talented Zaki Williams 3-0 in a one-sided contest, while in the men’s saucer competition little Alex Stewart defeated Kemar Lord 3-2 in an exciting contest. On the ladies side, Jada Smith-Padmore finished fifth by defeating Sumairaa Suleman 3-2 in another nail-biting affair, while in the ladies saucer Chelsie Samuel eased past Jada’s twin sister, Jodi Smith-Padmore in three straight games. 

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