DAY FOUR Evening
John Murray reporting from Melbourne
England v Australia for men's singles final
England and Australia will do battle in the final of the men’s singles at
the Commonwealth Games after David Palmer ended Lee Beachill’s challenge on
The top seed will face off against Peter Nicol, who
eliminated teammate Nick Matthew in the afternoon session.
No. 8 seed Beachill was aiming to make it the first
all-England final in Games history, having already claimed one Australian
scalp when he knocked out Stewart Boswell in the quarter-finals.
However, Palmer had too much power, too much precision and
too many answers for his English counterpart, in the end winning comfortably
9-0, 9-4, 9-4.
If current form was anything to go by, there was little to
split the international rivals going into their semi-final clash.
Palmer, who had a heavily strapped right knee and carried an
illness into the tournament, had not enjoyed the smoothest progress to the
In contrast, Beachill had shown blistering form, not losing a
game on his way to the last four.
That soon changed when Palmer blitzed the first game 9-0,
showing no sign of any problems with his knee.
In fact, the biggest fight Beachill put up in the first game
was with the referee after Palmer was controversially awarded a point. But,
just as in that game, he didn’t get anywhere.
The hometown crowd didn’t know what to make of it. Yes,
Australians are as patriotic as the come, but they want to see a contest.
There was a strangely subdued atmosphere around the Show
Court. It was only when the cleaners came on to the court at the start of
the second game to the tune of the John Farnham classic ‘Sadie The Cleaning
Lady” that the crowd began to get into the swing of things.
And Beachill started to fire up too, immediately after both
players requested a change of ball. He claimed his first point to take the
game to 1-1 and then showed great resilience to fight his way back into the
For an age, the score was locked at 3-3, as Beachill
displayed some magnificent defence to hang on in several rallies.
Unfortunately, it couldn’t last. Playing a succession of deft
drop shots, Palmer broke free of the Beachill shackles and won the game 9-4.
The Australian carried that form into the third game which,
despite Beachill’s best efforts, he dominated. After another close start,
the inevitable happened when Palmer pulled off several points in a row to
seal the game 9-4 – and the match in 55 minutes.
While Beachill faces a bronze medal play-off against Nick
Matthew, Palmer will hope to break English hearts again in his match against
Speaking after his victory over Matthew, Nicol said he was
feeling good about his game.
“I am very confident and I can’t wait for the next match,” he
“The game is getting quicker and tougher, as I am getting
older, but it means a lot to me because we have such a good team spirit.
“I want to face someone from my own team. I want one of us to
get a gold medal.”
He may not have got his wish to play Beachill, but the whole
of England will be praying the veteran can conjure a fairytale end to his
Commonwealth Games career.
In the second women’s semi-final, Rachael Grinham ensured the
gold medal match would be a family affair when she steamrolled New Zealand’s
Shelley Kitchen. The No. 2 seed booked her place in the final against sister
Natalie with a 10-8, 9-4, 9-2 win in the battle of the Tasman.
Kitchen, who had stunned higher ranked English pair Jenny
Duncalf and Vicky Botwright in the previous rounds, could not reproduce her
Some of the crowd hadn’t even settled into their seats at the
Show Court by the time Grinham had thundered to a 6-0 lead in the opening
A whitewash looked on the cards, but then the No.9 seed, who
dwarfs her opponent in size, began to produce the big shots and fantastic
court coverage that have served her so well in this tournament.
Suddenly, 6-0 became 6-5. Shortly after, the pair were locked
at 7-7. And before Grinham knew what was happening, Kitchen held two game
balls at 8-7.
Both were squandered – and so, realistically, were her
chances for the match.
Grinham regained her composure to take the game 10-8 and
then, once again, surged into a 6-0 lead in the second game. This time,
there would be no comeback from Kitchen. The New Zealander made a flurry of
errors and went down 9-4.
Now in total control, Grinham quickly finished a
disappointingly one-sided affair 9-2 in the third game.
Such was the ease of Grinham’s victory – it took just 37
minutes – the large Australian crowd rarely had a chance to exercise their
That will come on Monday when the Grinham sisters do battle
for the first time in international competition.
“We can relax now because one of us will win a gold medal,”
she said immediately after her win.
“Before the game, we’ll follow our usual routine by having
breakfast together. We couldn’t have had a better result.”
Meanwhile, Kitchen must pick herself up for the bronze medal
clash with Nicol David, something she is looking forward to.
“I’m really happy to have got through to this stage,” she
“I will just go out there and do my best.”
DAY FOUR Afternoon
John Murray reporting from Melbourne
Peter Nicol on Course
for 2nd Singles Games Gold
Peter Nicol is just one step away from winning an historic second
Commonwealth Games singles gold medal after defeating fellow countryman Nick
Matthew in the semi-finals.
The 1998 gold medallist lost the first game but fought back
to land a convincing 3-9, 9-5, 9-4, 9-5 win. The result means that Nicol
will take part in his third consecutive Commonwealth Games gold medal match.
For the defeated Matthew, there is the consolation of the
bronze medal match against either David Palmer or Lee Beachill on Monday.
Although both players were flying the English flag, in
appearance they could hardly have been more different as they walked onto
the Show Court at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre.
The right-handed Matthew wore a red-and-white collared shirt;
the left-handed Nicol a plain white T-shirt. Matthew’s shoes were white;
Nicol’s predominantly black.
Matthew had ENGLAND written on the back of his shirt, while
his opponent opted for P NICOL ENG. By rights, it should have been Matthew
who let everyone know his name.
While the entire crowd was familiar with Nicol and his long
list of achievements, they seemed less sure about the man who had stunned
No. 2 seed James Willstrop on Saturday.
However, it was Matthew who drew first blood in the opening
game. After a marathon first point that eventually ended in a let, he
established an early lead before closing out the first game 9-3.
Yet anyone thinking Nicol would tamely bow out without a
fight in what is surely his last Commonwealth Games was sorely mistaken.
He quickly found his feet in the second game and, often
leaving his shot selection to the last possible moment, was soon back on
level terms. The veteran led 7-2 before holding off a Matthew-fightback to
win the game 9-5.
That pattern continued in the crucial third game. Nicol burst
into a 7-1 lead over his shell-shocked opponent. Once again, Matthew clawed
his way back, but the margin was too great.
After a clinical drop shot clinched the third 9-4, Nicol
clenched his fist, no doubt realising he was just one game away from a tilt
With the victory line in sight, Nicol unleashed some
exquisite shots to canter into a 4-0 lead. And, for the third time in the
match, Matthew refused to roll over and reduced the deficit to 4-3.
But, unlike the previous day when he came back from the dead
against Willstrop, there was no Houdini stunt this time. Following some more
closely fought rallies, Nicol broke away to lead 8-4 and, on his third match
ball, sealed the win.
Earlier in the afternoon, Natalie Grinham pulled off one of
the shocks of the tournament when she knocked out top seed and world No. 1
The Australian delighted the home fans, edging a terrific
tussle on the Show Court 9-10, 9-7, 4-9, 9-6, 9-3 to progress to the gold
Not only was David battling an inspired opponent, but also a
raucous home crowd.
Every point won by Grinham was greeted by rapturous applause;
every point lost met with groans of disappointment, plus a couple of lone
Malaysian flags waving in the grandstand.
Each time David moved ahead, Grinham pegged her back.
The top seed took the first game, Grinham the second. The
Malaysian claimed the third, the Australian the fourth. But it was the home
favourite who took control of the deciding game.
Grinham opened up a 4-0 lead before David responded by
winning the next three points. They would be her last.
Just a like a racehorse that doesn’t know when it’s beaten,
Grinham surged again. While her opponent battled with cramp, the Australian
outsider cruised to the finish line, closing out the match 9-3.
Unable to control her frustration, David hurled her racquet
across court at the end before congratulating Grinham with a hug.
“I did my best and I tried to take control of the game, but
she took advantage of everything,” David admitted after the match.
Grinham revealed the home crowd played a huge part in her
“That’s my game and the crowd helped. Everyone’s cheering and
that really, really helped me a lot, so thanks to everyone,” she said.
John Murray reporting from Melbourne
Nick Matthew has an astonishing comeback to beat James
Willstrop in Quarter Final clash
Nick Matthew pulled off an astonishing
comeback to beat James Willstrop and set up an all-England semi-final with
Trailing 8-2 in the must-win fourth game,
Matthew somehow fought back to take the match into a deciding game before
eventually winning 9-3, 3-9, 8-10, 10-8, 9-5.
By contrast, Nicol enjoyed a far easier path
into the last four of the men’s singles, eliminating Canadian Graham Ryding
in three games.
And Lee Beachill ensured England would field
three of the four semi-finalists after a convincing defeat of Australia’s
However, it was a different story in the
women’s draw, where England’s three representatives crashed out at the
quarter-final stage. Vicky Botwright suffered a shock loss to Shelley
Kitchen, while Tania Bailey and Linda Elriani bowed out after valiant
efforts against top-seeded duo Nicol David and Rachael Grinham.
It will be a long time before any of the
crowd at the Show Court in the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre forgets
the pulsating clash between Willstrop and Matthew.
Sporting a red-and-white top, Matthew started
the brighter against Willstrop, who was kitted out in an all-white shirt
with his, by now, obligatory headband. The British national champion took
the first game 9-3, before his doubles partner responded by taking the
second by the same score.
The sparring over, now it was time for the
No. 2 seed Willstrop produced some exquisite
stroke-play to take control of the crucial third game, but the tenacious
Matthew would not lie down and kept fighting back in rallies he had no right
to win. Little did we realise this was a mere precursor to what was to
Eventually, Willstrop prevailed 10-8 thanks
to a delightful drop volley and, evidently buoyed by that triumph, raced
into a commanding lead in the fourth game.
Matthew finally came to his senses when
facing an 8-2 deficit. His medal hopes seemingly in tatters, he scrapped,
sprinted and sweated for every point. Time and again, he denied Willstrop
when victory was in his grasp. And, ever so slowly, he clawed his way back
into the match.
As Matthew’s Lazarus-esque miracle gradually
took shape, the largely hometown crowd began to sense something special was
Soon, we heard the first Lleyton Hewitt-style
“C’mon” from one particularly vocal Australian. Within seconds, “C’mon,
Nick” echoed from all four grandstands.
On no less than six occasions, Willstrop held
match ball. But to no avail. By the time, Matthew had squared the game at
8-8, there was no stopping him. A minute later, it was 10-8, and a fifth
game would be required.
With Willstrop visibly affected by the
turnaround, Matthew carved out a 5-1 lead in the decider. But still, there
would be one more twist.
Willstrop drew on all the energy he had left
to come back to 5-5, at one point flinging himself across the court in a
desperate bid to keep a point alive.
But the comeback kid would not be denied.
Matthew re-established control and closed out the match 9-5 at the first
time of asking.
The victor raised his arms to the skies,
scarcely able to believe what he had achieved. Willstrop cut a contrasting
figure, slumped motionless against the wall.
Speaking after the match, Matthew was
delighted with the result.
“It’s fantastic. I’m in with a medal chance
and I think anyone who gets through to the semis has a good chance of
winning,” he said.
Understandably, Willstrop found the loss hard
“I’ve done so much work, but every time it’s
different and there will never be a perfect preparation,” he said.
“I spilt blood out there and that’s what I
came to do. I didn’t win and I’m absolutely devastated.”
Matthew’s victory guaranteed there would be
an English representative in the men’s gold medal match after Peter Nicol
had booked his semi-final spot earlier in the day.
The veteran continued his impressive showing
in the tournament with a 9-5, 9-1, 9-3 defeat of Graham Ryding. Now only
Matthew stands in his way of reaching a third consecutive Commonwealth Games
While the Matthew-Willstrop clash lasted 75
minutes, Nicol was back the dressing room within 44 minutes.
Nevertheless, he admitted Ryding made him
work hard for the win.
“It was a long, hard game. It was close, even
though the scores don’t reflect that,” Nicol said.
“I’m winning, so I’m happy.”
A sentiment shared by Lee Beachill,
presumably. The No. 5 seed has arguably been the most impressive of all the
competitors in the men’s draw.
He was rarely troubled in his quarter-final
match against Australian Stewart Boswell, who looked a shadow of the player
that stunned Anthony Ricketts in the previous round.
After slipping to a 4-1 deficit at the start
of the match, Beachill quickly found his feet and didn’t lose another point
in the first game.
It was a similar story in the second. In
fact, the only disruption to Beachill’s progress was when the cleaners came
on court after a Boswell tumble. He took the second game 9-3 and, not too
long after, rounded out the match 9-4, 9-3, 9-3.
Beachill is yet to drop a game this
tournament and has only conceded 23 points in his three matches to date.
However, he will face a far tougher task in the semi-final when he takes on
No. 1 seed David Palmer, who saw off Scotland’s John White 2-9, 10-8, 9-6,
The English women will have to focus their
attention on the doubles after all three remaining competitors failed to
progress to the semi-finals.
Linda Elriani looked poised to cause an upset
when she burst out of the blocks against Rachael Grinham. The veteran stole
the first game 9-1, silencing the home crowd in the progress.
However, it wasn’t long before the familiar
“oi, oi, oi” chants resurfaced around the Show Court, as Grinham responded
by taking the second game 9-5.
From there, it was fairly plain sailing for
the No. 2 seed, who closed out the match 1-9, 9-5, 9-5, 9-3.
Grinham’s semi-final opponent will be New
Zealand’s Shelley Kitchen, who scored a major upset win over Vicky Botwright.
After dominating for long periods of the first game, Botwright squandered a
strong position to lose 10-8. That clearly encouraged her opponent, who
raced into an 8-0 lead in the next game.
Following a brief Botwright comeback, Kitchen
closed out that game before racing away with the third to win 10-8, 9-5, 9-1
in just 39 minutes. It was her second English scalp in two days after
Friday’s victory over Jenny Duncalf.
Tania Bailey was the third English woman to
fall on Saturday, although she can be proud of her effort against world No.
1 Nicol David. The Malaysian star advanced to the semis with a 9-6, 10-9,
9-3 win, but it was often a closely fought encounter, particularly in the
second game where Bailey had several game balls.
“Obviously, I was disappointed to lose the
second game,” Bailey reflected after the match.
“It was really frustrating that I couldn’t
finish off those game points. She makes me work so hard.”
David will now play
Australian Natalie Grinham, who beat Northern Ireland’s Madeline Perry in