AT LAST, THE shadow boxing ended and the heavyweights bit on their gumshields and went at it. The Men’s Open Singles served off yesterday in CityWest and, despite some exciting contests, the results were as expected – all the seeds live to fight again today.
As expected, reigning champion Paul Brady advanced to the last 16 against New York’s Cesar Sala, albeit after a bizarre start to the match.
NYPD police officer Sala clearly left his watch back on his beat as he took to the court eight minutes late – tournament rules dictated that Brady would thus begin the match 8-0 ahead and he admitted that the unusual turn of events threw him off his game to an extent.
“I was happy with the second game but not the first,” said the 33-year-old.
“I wasn’t comfortable taking the eight-point advantage in the first game but there was nothing I could do, and it did throw me off. In the second, I got into my stride and I was happy with how I played, but I know I need a lot of improvement before the next round.”
Brady won 21-9, 21-1 in the end but faced a sterner test this morning against precocious Cork teenager Killian Carroll, the current Irish and American Under 19 champion who is seen by many as the heir apparent to the Breffni maestro.
The pair had never met before but the teenager, who laid down a marker with a convincing victory over Texan Aaron Garner yesterday, played well in today’s opener, going down 21-9, 21-9. Carroll led 5-0 in game two and rallied well but Brady was just too strong and his power and smarts in the front court saw him wear down the 18-year-old.
Meanwhile, Tyrone’s Ruairi Kelly showed that his tiebreaker loss to World Series of Poker ace Sean Lenning from Seattle at the 2008 Boston Open was no fluke. The smooth right-hander again took a game from Lenning and could have won the deciding set this time, a horrible avoidable call at 9-8 not helping his chances.
There were also wins for Californian Naty Alvarado Jr over Tyrone’s Darragh Daly, Seattle’s Sean Lenning against Tyrone’s Ruairi Kelly and Florida right-hander Jon Iglesias, who saw off Mayo man Joe McCann.
In a battle of two all-out attacking powerhouses, Michael Finnegan out-blasted another Irish-American, Billy “The Bus” O’Donnell, while Mexican Luis Cordova saw off Cork man Brendan Fleming in straight games.
There was no luck, however, for Fleming’s fellow Rebel Tony Healy.
The 34-year-old, a former two-time world finalist and four-time Irish senior champ, was making a return, having stepped back two years ago due to work and family commitments and a persistent hip injury. Pitted against arguably the best young player in America, Tyree Bastidas, fans’ favourite Healy hinted beforehand that, despite a lack of preparation, he could still have enough up his sleeve to see off the 20-year-old New Yorker.
“I played him four or five years ago when he was just a young player starting out and I was more than a good bit ahead of him but he’s further down the road in his development now while I am in decline I suppose,” Healy said on Thursday, adding that he “would expect him to be a lot better than the boy I played back then so maybe we might meet in the middle.”
Unfortunately for the super-slick Healy, his ice couldn’t extinguish Bastidas’ power. The American is amazing to watch and his game plan is simple – hit every ball as low and as hard as possible.
That strategy took him to a 21-12 first game win before that pesky hip injury came back to haunt Healy and, trailing by a few points, he was forced to withdraw. Handball supporters will be hoping this isn’t the last they see of this incredible player.
There was better news for Luis Moreno, who showed that he has had no trouble adjusting to the Irish courts when he comfortably knocked off Quebec veteran Danny Bell. Moreno is in great shape and – like McCarthy, who saw off Johnny Willoughby with ease – is moving ominously well.
At this stage, Brady is still the man to beat. On all known form, only McCarthy, Moreno, Charly Shanks and Sean Lenning (a notoriously slow starter whose struggle with Kelly can be discounted) can touch the champion and even that, at this stage, seems improbable.
But this is championship handball and anything can happen. By this evening, things will be much clearer.
Men’s Open Singles Round of 32 (yesterday, Saturday)
R McCarthy (Westmeath) bt J Willoughby (Wicklow) 21-4, 21-8
N Alvarado (Los Angeles) bt D Daly (Tyrone) 21-8, 21-2
M Finnegan (Cavan) bt B O’Donnell (New York) 21-10, 21-19
L Cordova (Mexico) bt B Fleming (Cork) 21-16, 21-16
S Lenning (Seattle) bt R Kelly(Tyrone) 21-11, 19-21, 11-8
J Iglesias (New York) bt J McCann (Mayo) 21-16, 21-18
K Carroll (Cork) bt A Garner (San Antonio, Texas) 21-18, 21-12
P Brady (Cavan) bt C Sala (New York) 21-9, 21-1
B Carroll (Meath) bt D Keegan (Mayo) 21-9, 21-13
C Shanks (Armagh) bt V Klym (New York)
L Moreno (Tucson, Arizona) bt D Bell (Quebec)
M Gregan (Wicklow) bt E Hillgren (Missouri)
D Fink (Pittsburgh) bt G Coonan (Tipperary)
A Nett (Minnesota) bt A Montijo (Tucson, Arizona)
E Kennedy (Dublin) bt Colm Jordan (Cork)
Men’s Open Singles, round of 16 (today, Sunday)
Brady bt K Carroll 21-9, 21-9
Iglesias v Cordova
Lenning v Finnegan
Alvarado v Gregan
McCarthy v B Carroll
Fink v Kennedy
Moreno v Bastidas
Shanks v Nett
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