Chris Gordon Captures Oliver NY Metro Open As Shaun le Roux Quits While Trailing 2-1, 10-6 In Final

April 19, 2013 - 8:55am
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In what turned out to be a morbidly fascinating battle of nicks and nerves with a memorable-for-all-the-wrong-reasons culmination, reigning U. S. National Champion Christopher Gordon, earned his first career PSA title in his native New York (and third overall) Thursday evening with a victory over Shaun le Roux in the final round of the $15,000 Oliver NY Metro Open in a match whose 10-12 11-9 11-3 10-6, retired stat line doesn’t begin to convey the degree to which le Roux self-destructed in the last few games.

Each player was faced with adversity at one time or another, but only one proved able to handle it. Gordon weathered the potentially-deflating loss of the opening game, in which he let a 9-6 advantage lip away and committed two game-ending tins, the second on a serve-return, by returning to the fray with renewed commitment, while le Roux, who at 1-0, 9-all, was only two points from attaining a two games to love lead, instead ended each of the last three games in progressive unappealing fashion: after a serve-return tin cost him the second game, he smashed his racquet over his knee as he exited the court; after losing seven straight points to fall behind 8-3 in the third, he blatantly tanked the final three points (hitting the final two serves into the floor); and trailing 9-6 in the close-out fourth game, having just been assessed his second conduct stroke in two minutes just seconds earlier, he tinned the subsequent serve-return and stomped off the court at quadruple-match-ball against him, determined, it appeared, to deprive Gordon of the satisfaction of having won the match-ball point.

Both players are in their mid-20’s, both are ranked in the PSA 50’s and both had notched impressive five-game semifinal wins over higher-seeded opponents; Gordon had surmounted a two games to love deficit against top seed Ryan Cuskelly while le Roux, a quarterfinal winner over second seed Julian Illingworth, had then out-lasted Matt Karwalski. The similarities extend to their playing styles as well, as Gordon and le Roux, training partners in England (where le Roux is still based) during their mid-teens and indeed teammates more recently for the Yorkshire team entry in England’s county league, both favor long, attritional all-court points, which, abetted by their familiarity with each other’s games and the hot-court conditions that prevailed (necessitating several play stoppages to have the floor toweled off), resulted in each of the first two closely-contested games – throughout which neither player led by more than a few points as each game seesawed to 9-all --- lasting well over 20 minutes. There were a number of lets as well, especially along the left wall; le Roux sometimes is slow clearing on balls down that side, while Gordon’s use of his height and wing span can cause mid-court obstruction problems as well. Both men’s retrieving skills exceed their ability to finish the point with a front-court winner, leading to a situation in which many exchanges lasted more than 50 hits.

After regaining his composure (and being given a second conduct warning) following the racquet-smashing incident, le Roux actually began the third game on a good note, gaining a 3-1 lead on several accurate backhand drop shots from the back wall – though his temper had simmered several times during the first two games, no one could at that juncture have foreseen the implosion that would soon follow. But then a few le Roux tins were followed by a couple of close calls --- not WRONG calls, but CLOSE ones, i.e. calls that could have gone either way --- after which Gordon, now emboldened by his growing lead, successfully went for front-court nicks, and suddenly he had a substantial lead and was on his way to a 10-0 game-finishing run.

The fourth game featured excellent play through the first 10 evenly divided points, but when Gordon moved out to 7-5 on a stroke call against le Roux, the latter burst into a stream of such invective that the head referee Brad Burke, who to that point had demonstrated far more patience and restraint than le Roux’s noisy outbursts had merited, finally assessed a long-overdue conduct stroke to make it 8-5. A nick-finding le Roux winner (6-8) preceded a near-winner on a drop shot that Burke initially called “down,” believing that Gordon had not retrieved it. He immediately (and properly) corrected himself, realizing that Gordon had in fact scooped the ball back before the second bounce, after which le Roux went off on yet another tirade, leading to another conduct stroke call. As noted, he then tinned the ensuing serve-return, putting him behind 10-6, and, refusing to play another point, angrily opened the back door and left, having by then long since quit cold on the match on every other front before doing so officially through his walk-off. Making his conduct all the more inexcusable was the match’s venue, the S. L. Green StreetSquash Center in Harlem, the home base of StreetSquash, the inner-city youth-enrichment charity which had invested several thousand dollars to have four nights’ worth of matches this past week to provide a learning experience for its teenage student-athletes, many of whom were in attendance that night anticipating role-model behavior on the part of the players. What they endured instead was a searing object lesson in how NOT to behave when confronted with one of life’s challenges, as le Roux’s boorish conduct soured the experience for everyone present as StreetSquash’s administrators watched in silent disgust. If courage can be defined as “grace under pressure,” le Roux’s display was one of the most cowardly in the recent history of squash in New York, which has had a terrific season of tournaments and big squash events leading up to the prestigious season-ending Hyder Trophy in early May.

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