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Coppinger captures career-best tournament result in Doha

Coppinger of South Africa and Ong of Malaysia compete in their men's singles squash match during the 2014 JP Morgan Tournament of Champions in New York

By Mark Etheridge

Veteran squash campaigner Steve Coppinger recently racked up his best career performance to date when he reached the quarter-finals of the men’s world championships in Doha, Qatar.
The 30-year-old made SA squash history last year by becoming the first SA player in the world’s top 20 rankings since the 70’s.
Currently ranked 24th after a high of 16th last year, the Cape Town based player knocked over two top 20 players on his way to the quarters.
He took time away from the heated glass confines to tell Road to Rio 2016 of his great run.
‘It was high drama from start to finish as Ramy Ashour (Egypt) regained the title in a repeat final of 2012. Few if any could have predicted his performance, given his recent history of injury and lack of tournament play but he seemed to learn and improve every round and and unambiguously declared himself the most remarkable player the sport has ever seen. It was a privilege to witness one of the defining matches of the modern era from court side.’
And the humble Coppinger, who represented Team South Africa at the World Games in Taiwan five years ago, played his own part in making it a great tournament. ‘I was able to claim two of my biggest scalps to date with wins over England’s Daryl Selby and Egypt’s Tarek Momen (ranked 11th and ninth respectively) en route to the quarters. Along with a trick second round victory over Malaysian Ong Beng Hee, it was my career-best tournament so far and especially satisfying, given the manner of my victories and how close I was to bombing out in the first round.

Coppinger takes readers through his three most memorable matches at the Championship.

First round (v Selby)
‘Going into the match never having recorded a victory against Daryl in three attempts, including last year’s edition of the same tournament, was indeed a little daunting as I had thrown everything I had at him and yet he was still able to emerge on top. This time however, I was armed with a subtle change of strategy and a belief instilled in me by coach, David Palmer. I played two and a half perfect games to reach 2-0 and 8-5 ahead, three points from upsetting the eight seed, before it all came crumbling down and I got steamrolled, only winning three of the next 20 points for him to level at two games all. It took stern words from David urging me to refocus and start the fifth fresh during the interval to get me back on track. The fifth was a fantastic turn around for me as I was able once again to control the coveted ‘T’ position and pounce whenever opportunities presented themselves. Aided by a lucky bounce on the final point of the match I secured my place in the last 32 and one of my best wins.’

Last 16 (v Momen)
Tarek Momen is one of the speediest in the business with incredible touch and dexterity at the front of the court. This match was a rematch from the first round of the Qatar World Open 2012 where Tarek beat me in a closely fought five-setter. Before that match I had worked hard with David on a drill specifically aimed at countering Tarek’s strengths, so despite his recent assault on the top players my game plan remained the same and I was quick to lock into it this time around. The first three games we were joined at the hip with only two points separating the victor each game. I was encouraged to win the third game in a draining tie break to give me a 2-1 advantage and put me within striking distance of the finish line. It felt like everything was falling into place too perfectly as I raced to a lead of 8-2, again within three points of victory and a shock quarterfinal place. Once again I watched my lead evaporate and within minutes we were starting the fifth all square. Having escaped the huge momentum shift in my first round I tried to focus everything I had once again on quality squash rather than ruing my missed chances of the previous game.  Another pointed message from David helped me to a good start in the fifth before Tarek took the initiative to take a 7-4 lead. A few more frantic rallies and loose cross courts from his racquet enabled me to claw back and eke ahead to find myself with two match balls. I felt as if I played at least five winning shots in that rally alone only to see Tarek absolutely flying around the court desperate to keep the ball in play, it ended in a let and a chance to refocus once more. A cautious rally followed from both, unwilling to give away position or take unnecessary risks before finally and much to my relief Tarek found the tin on a volley drop and the match was mine.’

Quarter-final (v El Shorbagy)
‘The next day I was proud of my performance against the current world No1 Mohamed El Shorbagy as I made him work for every point and never backed down as you so often see after someone has had a great result. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to convert that form into games this time but I hope to be able to use the next couple of months to train hard and give myself a chance at winning matches against players like himself at the top of our sport.’

Next up, Coppinger heads west to the United States.
‘My next outing is the Tournament of Champions in the iconic Grand Central Terminal in New York where I have good memories to call upon having also made the quarter-finals there two years ago.
‘Doha was a great way to finish the year but it only really counts if I can build on that result and mount serious challenges in the New Year. Bring on 2015!’

Picture: Reuters


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