Nicol powers to victory
Short of local favourite Derek Ryan upsetting the seeding and making it to the final the organisers of the Nivea for Men Millennium Irish Open got precisely the pairing they wanted - Peter Nicol and Jonathan Power - for the climax of the first world ranking squash tournament to take place in Ireland.
And even if yesterday's final never quite reached the standards of some of the Scot and Canadian's many epic encounters it still provided a rare and welcome glimpse of the world top two in action against each other on Irish soil.
It proved to be a straightforward enough 49 minutes' work for Nicol, for which he received a cheque for $5,500, seeing off his long-time rival 15-12 15-12 15-9 to stretch his lead over Power at the top of the world ranking list.
Nicol said he knew he would win even before he took to the court. Power said he knew he was finished after six points of the first game, but while Nicol rarely lost control of the match the inevitability of the outcome, at least in the early stages, wasn't quite so obvious to the crowd.
Having trailed by 8-5 and later 10-7 in the first game Power fought back to 12-12, finishing off three rallies with delightful backhand drop-shots, but a crucial call from referee Jack Allen went against him and Power lost his way, with Nicol clinically closing out the set 15-12.
"You cannot be serious," screamed Power after a stroke was called against him . . . and he wonders why everyone compares him to you know who. "Why are you being such a hard ass," he enquired of Allen on another occasion; "that's ABSURD," he said of another call, before being threatened with a warning when he said "whenever I get close you decide to cheat me, eh?"
Meanwhile Nicol just quietly went about his business, taking an 8-2 and then an 11-6 lead in the second game, but again Power fought back, levelling at 11-11 with some stunning strokes. But, just as in the first game, Nicol stepped up a gear again and had an increasingly exhausted Power scampering around the court. By then Power was in no condition to make a dramatic comeback, and Nicol closed out the match, taking the third set 15-9.
"It was comfortable in the end," said Nicol after the match. "He played well to start with but I think he expected to blow me away like he's blown everyone else away this week. When he realised that wasn't going to happen he started to fade out. Physically he's not fit enough so he had to try and play a few more winners, take a few risks, and that was never going to work. I knew if I kept him under pressure he would never last the game."
"We have totally different styles but are very close in standards that it often comes down to who wants it the most."
"I knew before I went out what was going to happen because I felt just right, felt very confident. It wasn't my best ever performance but it was close to it." Power, naturally, wasn't quite so upbeat. "I definitely didn't play even close to the way I wanted to play, so yeah, I'm disappointed. A few things were missing today. I've had a few injuries and haven't been training much, but I've kind of lost the fire as well." he said.
"I resigned myself to losing at about 4-2 in the first game, I knew then the calls weren't going to go my way," he said, in reference to the refereeing decisions. "But half the time I'm just getting mad because I'm suppose to," he laughed, in reference to that McEnroe comparison. "Na, I'm just kidding, it's not in my contract. Maybe when I play the seniors' tour like McEnroe but right now I'm still competitive enough to get upset, really upset."
Power paid tribute to the organisers of the tournament and expressed the wish that it will become an annual event.
Irish Open (at Fitzwilliam LTC) - Semi-finals: P Nicol (Scot) bt D Palmer (Aus) 15-8, 1714, 15-10; J Power (Can) bt S Parke (Eng) 15-4, 15-10, 15-7. Final: Nicol bt Power 15-12, 15-12, 15-9.