Rising English star Patrick Rooney enhanced his burgeoning reputation after coming from behind to shock third seed Edmon Lopez Moller and claim his maiden PSA title in a five-game thriller at the Madeira International Squash Tournament.
Rooney, who turns 19 next week, was competing in his first ever PSA World Tour final, but showed few signs of nerves as he twice fought back to force a decider at the Onda Revital Club in Caniço, Portugal.
A three-minute injury break for Lopez in the middle of the fifth game threatened to disrupt Rooney’s momentum, but the reigning European Junior U19 champion remained composed to prevail 6-11, 11-8, 7-11, 11-6, 11-8 at the PSA M5 event.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling and a nice early birthday present,” said a tearful Rooney, who later dedicated his victory to his aunt, who passed away last week.
“I knew it was going to be a tough and really physical battle, but I’m just glad I was able to keep the same intensity and level of concentration all the way through the match. It’s the perfect way to end the season.”
The result completes a memorable week for the Merseyside-born teenager, who knocked out top seed Shehab Essam and fellow countryman Adam Auckland on his way to the final.
Spain’s Lopez, meanwhile, was left to reflect on another missed opportunity after losing in the final of the Raanana Squash Center Festival in Israel last month.
“I saw a really good opportunity to win this week when Carlos [Cornes Ribadas] got knocked out in the first round,” admitted Lopez.
“I am happy to reach the final but it’s just a shame that I was so close to victory again. I am still young so I hope that I will get plenty more opportunities to win my first PSA title.
“Physical fitness is normally my biggest strength so it’s annoying that it let me down today. I thought I played really well but Patrick just played better than me. I have to be realistic and I can’t really make any excuses.”
The lengthy rallies in the opening exchanges ultimately proved pivotal to the outcome as the match quickly developed into a war of attrition.
Little separated the duo in the opening two games and with the scores locked at one-all, Rooney changed tactics by taking the ball short at every opportunity to counteract Lopez’s incredible court coverage.
The strategy seemed to have the reverse effect initially as Lopez capitalised on a number of tinned drops to win the third game. In a repeat of the second game, however, Rooney returned reinvigorated in the fourth and reeled off a succession of nicks to force a decider.
The back-and-forth nature of the match continued in the final game as Rooney overturned a 3-0 deficit to edge ahead 6-4.
The following point added to the drama as Lopez, who had been battling an ongoing wrist injury coming into the tournament, rolled his ankle trying to retrieve a drop shot. A three-minute injury break ensued but the stoppage only prolonged the agony for a weary-looking Lopez as Rooney moved to within a point of victory.
It seemed only fitting that the final point should end on a gruelling rally, and so it proved when Rooney converted his first championship ball after Lopez’s backhand drop clipped the tin.
Result – Final: Madeira International Squash Tournament 2016
Patrick Rooney (ENG) bt  Edmon Lopez Moller (ESP) 3-2: 6-11 11-8 7-11 11-6 11-8 (68m)
By Michael Catling