Top level professional squash returned to our all-glass court at David Ross Sports Village on Monday night, with the University of Nottingham Premier Squash League team taking on fellow university team Loughborough in the inaugural PSL Cup. The visitors came into the evening’s contest looking to claim their first win as new entrants to Premier Squash League competition this year, having lost their first 3 matches of the initial league format.
However, having lost their last PSL match in round 2 of the competition the University of Nottingham team were also looking to claim a bounce back win in front of a large home crowd. Making up the four player team of two female and two male players for Nottingham would be; current University of Nottingham student and squash club member Madina Zafar; current world number 13 Tinne Gilis; a former University of Nottingham student and staff member Adam Auckland; and University of Nottingham graduate and current club assistant coach Owain Taylor.
The night’s play would consist of four back-to-back matches with each player playing their correspondingly ranked player from the opposition, beginning with the women’s second players. This meant that stepping onto court first would be Madina Zafar, returning to the scene of her match winning moment at BUCS Big Wednesday for the #GreenandGold. Taking on fellow student Maia Pannell, the match would be see a re-match from the pairs duel in the BUCS Individual Championships at David Ross in December. Madina came out on top on that occasion with a 3-1 win and would be looking for a similar outcome to start the night. From the start Madina took control of the match moving 6-1 and then 9-2 ahead, before Pannell began to find some shots of her own. However, Madina would prove to be a class above in the first set as a perfect backhand volley drop gave the first set of the night to Nottingham, 11-4. Pannell would return to court with renewed energy in the second set to take a 3-1 lead but could never quite shake off the play of Nottingham’s Zafar. The set remained close with Pannell retaining a slender lead before the scores were tied up at 7 all, with Madina raising her game to pull ahead and take a 2-0 lead in the match with an 11-8 set. Sensing that her opponent was now losing confidence, the third set would see Madina look to finish the match and provide a fantastic start for her University of Nottingham team. Taking the initial lead and never looking back, Madina closed out the match with a fantastic rally and superb forehand drop shot. Speaking to us after her win, Madina told us “I had such a great time on the court. I liked how I controlled the ball and kept the pace going, so I was confident throughout the match. I had faith that I could put my shots where they needed to go.” Asked about the rest of the night, Madina added – “I’m rooting for team Nottingham!”
Following the opening success for Nottingham, Adam Auckland took to the court for his final appearance representing the University of Nottingham for the foreseeable future. Having married his partner Coline Aumard, who is the current world number 39 and also a former University of Nottingham student three days before the match, Adam came into the evening on a high. Standing in the way of a fairy-tale finish to Adam’s Nottingham career would be Mohamed El Shamy, returning to the Loughborough side having missed their previous fixture. In a relatively calm opening two games for the Nottingham man, Adam played assured and relaxed squash to take control of the match with scores of 11-3 and 11-5. With the match being Adam’s final match here in Nottingham before moving across the world, the third game provided a thrilling end to his career at the university. El Shamy refused to give in and continued to press, and with possible fatigue from the celebrations a few days earlier kicking in for Adam, the Loughborough player opened up a 9-4 lead. However, wanting to end his time here in perfect style, Auckland upped his game and fought back to 9-8, but El Shamy would also not relent - moving within one point of getting a foothold back into the match at 10-8. Auckland would reel of three consecutive points to give himself match point, before a backhand drop shot was too good for El Shay to retrieve, providing a 3-0 match win. After his victory, Adam told us about his feelings having played his last match at the University for the foreseeable future – “I’ve had a busy few days with getting married last Friday, but I felt pretty good on there tonight. I enjoyed it – it’s my last PSL match here in Nottingham as me and Coline (Adam’s wife) are moving away, so it was a bit emotional at the end. I’ve got some great memories here and I’m sure I’ll be back in Nottingham at some point.”
Knowing that her Nottingham team could not now end up on the losing side, Tinne Gilis entered the court with less pressure on her shoulders but with steely determination to maintain the sides 100% record on the evening. Her opponent would be familiar to players and spectators at the University of Nottingham, with former Nottingham representative Millie Tomlinson now turning out for Loughborough. Buoyed by the success of her team mates in the opening matches, Tinne began the match in equally confident fashion and moved 2-0, and then 4-2 ahead. Keeping Tomlinson at bay with her controlled play, Gilis continued the theme of the evening by winning the set 11-7 with a touch drop shot. Entering the second set, Gilis was into her stride and carried on where she left off – moving well around the court and placing her shots exactly where they were needed. After taking an initial 7-3 lead, Gilis soon raced to 11-4 and a 2-0 lead. Much like her team mate El Shamy in the night’s previous match, Tomlinson would not give up in the third set and kept the contest close up until 5-5. However, a contentious let call followed up by a scintillating forehand drop volley from Gilis saw the wind taken from Tomlinson’s sails, as Tinne pulled away to match point at 10-5. Tomlinson gamely continued to work, pushing Tinne to 10-7, but a backhand drive proved too good and Gilis claimed not only her match 3-0, but the overall contest for the University of Nottingham.
Last on court and looking to make it a clean sweep for the University of Nottingham would be Owain Taylor. A former student and current assistant coach to the university squash club, Owain would not have wanted to be the only member to fail to win on the evening. However, an energetic start from his opponent Simon Herbert saw the Loughborough man take the first set by a convincing 11 points to 3 with some forceful drives. Knowing he had work to do, Taylor began to find more rhythm to his game but Herbert kept his own level high resulting in a competitive second section of the contest. Needing a clear two point margin to win a set, Owain was pushed all the way by his feisty opponent but did indeed draw level with an 11-9 win of the second set. Momentum had now begun to swing to the Nottingham man, and the third set saw a comprehensive 11-5 victory, meaning that Owain and the team were now only one set away from a resounding 4-0 win on the night. Despite the swing in fortunes, Loughborough’s Herbert would remain competitive throughout the contest – including the fourth set, pushing Taylor all the way and ensuring he would be made to earn victory, and earn victory he would. Another determined fight from Herbert saw Taylor pushed to edge, but an 11-9 set win gave Taylor a 3-1 win, and the University of Nottingham a 4-0 victory in front of the home support.
Final Score: University of Nottingham 4-0 Loughborough
- Madina Zafar beat Maia Pannell 3-0 (11-4, 11-8, 11-4)
- Adam Auckland beat Mohamed El Shamy 3-0 (11-3, 11-5, 12-10)
- Tinne Gilis beat Millie Tomlinson 3-0 (11-7, 11-4, 11-7)
- Owain Taylor beat Simon Herbert 3-1 (3-11, 11-9, 11-5, 11-9)
You can watch the match back in full through our YouTube live stream, as well as view our match night programme which includes an interview with star scholar Gina Kennedy.
Next up in the PSL for the University of Nottingham is a trip to take on Crawley in the final round of matches in the league. In the other final match, the top two of Pontefract and Alba Storm go head-to-head in a match that could decide whether Nottingham end up in the final, with Nottingham currently sat 3rd in the league standings.
You can find out more about the Premier Squash League at the University of Nottingham by visiting our dedicated PSL page. You can also find out about the performance squash programme at the University of Nottingham here.
Posted on Thursday 12th May 2022