Hyder Trophy Semis Report: Ryan Cuskelly and Hisham Ashour Earn Spots In Final

May 5, 2013 - 4:09am
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Fourth seed Ryan Cuskelly and second seed Hisham Ashour won entertaining though starkly different semifinal matches this evening at Sports Club/LA in midtown Manhattan, thereby earning the right to meet Sunday afternoon in the final round of the 45th annual Quentin Hyder Cup, the longest continually running softball-singles tournament in North America. Though unable to convert a third-game double-match-ball opportunity, Cuskelly nevertheless forged out an 11-5 11-9 10-12 11-5 victory over Jamie Haycocks, following which Ashour, trailing 9-6 and then 10-9 in his opening game won three straight points and never looked back in his 12-10 11-3 11-5 win over the defending but distracted 2012 Hyder Cup champion, third seed Wael El Hindi.

The two matches could not have been more contrasting in turns of style and tone. The match between Haycocks, who had rallying wins the prior two rounds over first Lewis Walters and then the top-seeded top-15 PSA ranked 2011 Hyder Cup champ Alister Walker, and Cuskelly was a grinding dogfight with every inch of the court strenuously contested and a string of nearly uninterrupted lengthy all-court points featuring constant attacks and remarkable retrievals, while the later battle between the two charismatic Egyptian stars was much more free-lance, much more animated and much more spectacular in terms of the shot-making and amazingly creative shot selection. It will be fascinating to see which of those two styles prevails when the two survivors face off in the tomorrow’s final.

After Cuskelly’s impressive first game, during which Haycocks looked to be still possibly feeling the effects of his five-game breakthrough win against Walker at the Harvard Club of New York, the second and third games were both terrific, with Cuskelly always holding small leads, never able to break away from Haycocks, who was, however, constantly playing from behind. He crept to 9-10 in the second game, only to be frozen on a Cuskelly shallow overhead drive that Haycocks didn’t react to, probably because he was expecting something deeper. Similarly in the third, Cuskelly spent the entire game one or two points ahead, finally getting to 10-8 on a baby drop that dribbled to the floor for a clear winner. However, Haycocks’s confidence has seemed to grow from one round to the next, and he fought his way into a tiebreaker on a mis-direction shot and a Cuskelly tin, then got a stroke call in his favor and took the game when Cuskelly rashly tried a drop shot from the back wall and tinned it.

It had to be a deflating series of events for Cuskelly, who to his credit closed out the match with a 9-1 run after initially trailing 4-2 in the fourth game. There were a couple of points in there that really doomed Haycocks’s cause, perhaps most prominent of which came when at 4-6, after a tumultuous point highlighted by several desperation gets, Haycocks had an easy forehand drop shot with Cuskelly totally out of position, needing only to clear the tin but failing to do so, hence 4-7 instead of 5-6, a major swing from which he would never recover. Then at 9-5, Haycocks lashed a forehand drive that Cuskelly could only dive for, getting just enough of his racquet on the ball for it to slide to the front for a fluke winner that put him at 10-5, match-ball, which he promptly converted on a forehand cross drop. Despite this outcome, a great tournament for Haycocks to build upon as he continues to rise up the rankings.

As mentioned, the Ashour-El Hindi match was permeated by the thunderbolts that both men carry in their racquets, tough there was also some blocking, some head games and plenty of repartee, not all of it friendly, with each other and the officials. El Hindi usually thrives in this environment and has shown a knack in past Hyder Cup matches, including his triumphant finals, both times at Shahier Razik’s expense, in 2007 (11-9 in the fifth) and 2012 (saving four fourth-game match-balls against him), for winning the close games. When that didn’t happen in his first game with Ashour, a jolted El Hindi began the second on a sour note, contributing three errors to Ashour’s swift 5-0 advantage, which grew to 9-2, effectively clinching that game and carrying over to the third as well. His confidence bolstered by his comfortable cushions on the scoreboard in each of those games and by his increasingly flustered opponent’s tinning ways, Ashour was able to unleash some devastating blows, whether stemming from his heavy ground strokes or his darts off both flanks into the far nick, or even some wondrous look-away drop shots struck with such grace that they seemed to nearly melt on the front wall. He closed out the match with a flourish and now looks to avenge his last match with Cuskelly, four years ago in the 2009 Canadian Open, which Ashour led 2-0, 8-4 only to be overtaken when Cuskelly rallied from that infelicitous juncture to a five-game win.

Semis Recap:
Ryan Cuskelly d. Jamie Haycocks, 11-5 11-9 10-12 11-5
Hisham Ashour d. Wael El Hindi, 12-10 11-4 11-5