Nicol crushes Dipika

Mohd. Azlan's straight-game semifinal win over Saurav Ghosal placed him a match away from defending his title at the Asian squash championships on Monday.

Top-seeded Azlan will compete for the prize against Pakistan's mercurial shot-maker Aamir Atlas Khan, who got the better of compatriot Yasir Ali Butt in the other semifinal.

The women's final will be contested between World No. 1 Nicol David, gunning for her seventh straight Asian crown, and Hong Kong's Rebecca Chiu, who prevailed over countrywoman Joey Chan in five strenuous games.

Steep gradient

The Azlan-Saurav match offered a clear illustration of the steep gradient that exists as one approaches the upper end of the rankings. Azlan, ranked 18 and possessed of greater endurance and reach, was streets ahead of Saurav, ranked 27, for the most part of their 44-minute encounter.

The three games followed an eerily similar pattern, with the Malaysian hurrying to a lead of 9-5 in each of them, giving Saurav scarcely a chance of making a comeback.

Whatever the Indian player threw Azlan's way was either returned with interest — usually a backhand whiplash — or transformed into a tantalising, angular drop. Two pairs of quick legs on court ensured the production of long rallies, which usually ended in favour of the visiting participant.

Saurav's exit signalled the end of India's presence in the individual event as it came on the heels of Dipika Palikal's smothering at the hands of Nicol. The women's defending champion crushed the Chennai girl, spending 24 minutes on court for an 11-5, 11-5, 11-2 win.

“Dipika has shown great improvement in a short time. When I saw her coming up and involving me in a few rallies, I decided to not give her any space to manoeuvre around the court,” Nicol said.

Entertaining fare

The remaining two semifinals, all-Pakistan and all-Hong Kong affairs, were studies in contrast. In the women's event, Chiu sprang to a 2-0 lead against Joey Chan, only to lose focus in the third. Chan took the match into a decider by winning the fourth game 17-15, converting her fifth gameball, after Chiu had squandered two points for the match at 14-13 and 15-14.

Chiu, however, regained her touch in time, finding the corners once again to take the fifth game 11-4.

Entertaining fare was also dished out by Aamir and Yasir in the other men's last-four fixture. A head shorter to Yasir, Aamir belied his compact frame to blast winners to the vacant court. He went two games up in quick time and then obliterated Yasir in the third, winning 11-0 on the strength of a deceptive forehand that obeyed him like a good soldier does his captain.

The results (semifinals):

Men: Aamir Atlas Khan (Pak) bt Yasir Ali Butt (Pak) 11-6, 11-7, 11-0; Mohd. Azlan (Mas) bt Saurav Ghosal (Ind) 11-5, 11-6, 11-5.

Women: Rebecca Chiu (HKG) bt Joey Chan (HKG) 11-7, 11-9, 5-11, 15-17, 11-4; Nicol David (Mas) bt Dipika Pallikal (Ind) 11-5, 11-5, 11-2.

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