Last weekend, I participated in the French League Play-offs for Team Valence in the city of Aix-En-Provence.
The first match was the semi final against a strong oppostion Mulhouse, which had James Willstrop (Eng), Daryl Selby (Eng), Mark Krajcsak (Hun) and Johan Lezaud (Fra). My team, Squash Valence consisted of Nicolas Mueller (Sui), Gregoire Marche (Fra), Raphael Kandra (Ger) and myself.
Due to the warm conditions there in Aix-En-Provence the courts were very warm and was the sort of squash where outright winners were hard to come by and rallies were long.
Steve FINITSIS (3-1) Johan LEZAUD – 11/6, 10/12, 12-10, 11-8.
These conditions certainly suited Lezaud well as he is fast and a good retreiver of the ball. I managed to weather that and take the first game. Both the 2nd and 3rd games went the full distance with both of sharing a 12-10 scoreline. Lezaud never stopped fighting but I used my experience to dig in, attacked when I go the chance and thought I played the big points well to take the match 3-1.
Nicolas MUELLER (1-3) James WILLSTROP – 12/14, 8/11, 13/11, 4/11.
This match saw lots of shot playing from Mueller and a clinical tight display from Willstrop, with a very entertaining match for the crowd. Mueller did what he could to break James’ rhythm to almost take it to 5 games but eventually going down 3-1.
Gregoire MARCHE (2-3) Daryl SELBY – 11/8, 11/6, 6/11, 3/11, 5/11.
Marche came firing out of the blocks in the first 2 games suprising Selby, who wasn’t finding his usual form. That soon all changed as Selby who is renowned for come backs slowed the pace, breaking Marche’s rhythm physically and mentally where Selby prevailed 3-2.
Raphael KANDRA (0-3) Mark KRAJCSAK – 6/11, 9/11, 8/11.
Both players being very good movers around the court were testing each other with a lot of variations and flicks, where Krajcsak was having the final say in most of the exchanges taking the first 2 games. Midway during the third, Krajscak was really struggling with the conditions and slowing in his movement. Kandra came very close in taking the third, but wasn’t to be as Krajscak gave a last big push to secure his team in the finals.
So for team Valence, we went down 3-1 in matches and now looked to the 3/4th play-off against the home team Aix-En-Provence, led by the talented Frenchman Gregory Gaultier. The rest of the Aix team consisted of Jan Koukal (Cze), Fabian Verseille (Fra) and Geoffrey Demont (Fra).
Steve FINITSIS (3-1) Geoffrey DEMONT – 11/8, 11/8, 10/12, 11/5.
I felt I was in control with most of the rallies, with playing relaxed hitting some nicks/ outright winners. Demont dug in well to take the third game 12-10. In the 4th I could see he was very tired and took advantage of it to take the 4th 11-5.
Nicolas MUELLER (0-3) Gregory GAULTIER – 5/11, 7/11, 7/11.
This match saw Gaultier dictating the play from the beginning. Although Mueller was moving the ball around well and playing his shots, Gaultier always had the final say, taking the match 3-0.
Gregoire MARCHE (1-3) Jan KOUKAL – 11/4, 9/11, 6/11, 4/11.
Marche played a strong confident game and a half, but then showed signs of mental/physical tiredness from his match yesterday. Koukal was then able to take advantage of this and was able to find his rhythm and pace, playing error free squash, to have Marche playing forced/unforced errors for Koukal to take the match 3-1.
Raphael KANDRA (2-1) Fabian VERSAILLE – 6/11, 11/9, 11/1.
It came down to this match for Versaille to take a game for his Aix team for the win. So during the first there were unforced/forced errors and winners from both players, knowing what was at stake. It was Versaille in the end that gave a big push and chanced his hand on a few rallies to take the game 11/6 and the win for his team. So the match was played best of 3 games where Kandra wore down Versaille in a high tempo, taking the 2nd 11/9 and the 3rd 11/1 with a very tired looking Versaille but relieved to put everything in the first game.
So it was 4th place overall for the Valence team, with some very close matches not falling our way this time. All in all it’s a team I’m proud to be a part of with a great bunch of guys.
Also a big thanks to the support crew of team Valence for cheering and supporting us over the weekend. The atmosphere there is always great to play in front of.
So until next season for the French league….Au revoir.