South Australia’s Mike Corren drew on a wealth of experience to overcome rising Scottish player Greg Lobban in four games to reach the main draw of the Hi-Tec Australian Open in Canberra.
On a day when three Australians came through the qualifying finals of the PSA World Tour International 70 event, 38-year-old Corren came back from losing the first game in a tie-break to wear down the Scot 13-15, 11-7, 11-9, 12-10 in an hour of tense and entertaining squash, setting up a first round clash with Czech number one Jan Koukal on the all-glass court in Canberra’s Royal Theatre.
The winner of 41 tournaments on the PSA World Tour in a career spanning two decades, Corren has a new lease of since joining the Australian Institute of Sport this year and looked in great shape against a player 18 years his junior.
But he said he couldn’t relax during the match when so much depended on its outcome. “It was like a final in a tournament, the same kind of pressure,” he said. “You play these big ones and the massive difference is whoever loses gets no prize money and no hotel, so these young guys are desperate, I remember what that was like.
“That felt like a final, only I was more nervous than in a final. It was only in the crisis points that I actually relaxed,” he added. “Even when I was down in the last game I was thinking, ‘I’m okay’. That was my experience showing.”
Corren was joined in the final by fellow South Australian Justin Beard, who was too strong for Saturday’s surprise packet Sunil Seth.
Beard barely made an error throughout and took full advantage as compatriot Seth became increasingly frustrated, winning 11-4, 11-4, 11-5, to book a first round clash with New Zealander Martin Knight.
“I watched him play yesterday and so I expected a tough match today,” he said. “I’ve played Sunil a few times and they’ve always been tough, so I’m pretty happy to win in three.
“I was up all night thinking about the match, stressing about it. I came in with a game plan and today it paid off.”
Beard said reaching the Australian Open main draw for the first time since 2009 had big implications for his career. “Getting into the main draw I might actually make my career-best ranking (127), which happened about three or four years ago,” he said.
“It’s going to be good playing on the glass court. I’ve been here the past two years and seen the set-up at the Royal Theatre, but I didn’t think I’d get to play on it.”
The Tasmanian stepped away from the tour because of persistent knee problems but was in great touch against the former Australian junior player.
“It was a bit tougher than yesterday because Josh played a bit faster, I could tell he was trying to make it a physical game where he was trying to play a faster game and get the intensity early,” Frankcomb said.
“Fortunately I was able to control that and contain it and play at a pace where I felt comfortable and could dictate the rallies.
“I’m definitely more relaxed (than when I was on the tour), I’m definitely not as fit but I’m probably playing a bit smarter.”
Two New Zealanders also reached the main draw, with 2008 runner-up Kashif Shuja beating Queensland’s Nathan Stevenson 11-9, 9-11, 11-8, 11-5 and Evan Williams also beating a Queenslander, Jamie McErvale, 11-8, 11-5, 11-8.
They were joined in the first round by Hong Kong’s Dick Lau, Argentina’s Gonzalo Miranda and Austria’s Aqeel Rehman.
Shuja is a regular and popular visitor to Australian shores has a good record at the Open. “The Australian Open is my favourite tournament on the calendar and I love coming back here year after year,” he said.
“I’m pleased to be a part of the main draw once again and look forward to playing on the glass court. He had nothing to lose and I had everything to lose, so I panicked a bit at the start when he was playing so well.”
Lau had to battle hard to overcome a third New Zealander, Paul Coll, eventually subduing the young Kiwi in five games 11-9, 7-11, 6-11, 11-8, 11-6.
“I’ve not played much in the last few months so I’m lacking match-fitness,” Lau conceded. “I panicked when I was 2/1 down. I played him at the World Team Championships last year and he’s improved a lot since then.
“The first game I really focussed and I spent too much energy coming from behind to win it and in the second and third games he controlled the ball really well and kept me at the back and kept me on the defensive.
“At the start of the fourth I tried to attack more and get my rhythm back and I think I started to play better.”
Lau will play Englishman Olivier Pett in the main draw.
Miranda opened brilliantly against Scotland’s Kevin Moran then held off a resurgence to win 11-1, 11-9, 11-9.
“The best game that I played was the first and the other two he played better, but I tried to be consistent, and I won,” Miranda said.
“This is my fourth tournament in Australia. I arrived here in June and I go home after this one. I thought I could make the main draw here, but I knew it would be very difficult, and it was, but I’m very happy.”
Miranda takes on Malaysia’s Mohd Nafiizwan Adnan, while Rehman is up against Hong Kong’s Leo Au.
Dick Lau (HKG) bt Paul Coll (NZL) 11-9, 7-11, 6-11, 11-8, 11-6 (66m)
Aqeel Rehman (AUT) bt Mahesh Mangaonkar (IND) 9-11, 3-11, 11-5, 11-8, 11-7 (77m)
Gonzalo Miranda (ARG) bt Kevin Moran (SCO) 11-1, 11-9, 11-9 (38m)
Aaron Frankcomb (AUS) bt Joshua Larkin (AUS) 11-5, 11-3, 11-4 (31m)
Kashif Shuja (NZL) bt Nathan Stevenson (AUS) 11-9, 9-11, 11-8, 11-5 (52m)
Justin Beard (AUS) bt Sunil Seth (AUS) 11-4, 11-4, 11-5 (29m)
Evan Williams (NZL) bt Jamie McErvale (AUS) 11-8, 11-5, 11-8 (31m)
Mike Corren (AUS) bt Greg Lobban (SCO) 13-15, 11-7, 11-9, 12-10 (60m)
Updated 1st round line-up:
1 Ramy Ashour (EGY) v [Q] Kashif Shuja (NZL)
Olivier Pett (ENG) v [Q] Dick Lau (HKG)
Leo Au (HKG) v [Q] Aqeel Rehman (AUT)
6 Nicolas Mueller (SUI) v [Q] Aaron Frankcomb (AUS)
8 Mohd Nafiizwan Adnan (MAS) v [Q] Gonzalo Miranda (ARG)
Omar Abdel Aziz (EGY) v Campbell Grayson (NZL)
Zac Alexander (AUS) v Rex Hedrick (AUS)
4 Cameron Pilley (AUS) v Matthew Karwalski (AUS)
3 Tom Richards (ENG) v Kamran Khan (MAS)
Ryan Cuskelly (AUS) v Muhd Asyraf Azan (MAS)
Martin Knight (NZL) v [Q] Justin Beard (AUS)
7 Alan Clyne (SCO) v Siddharth Suchde (IND)
5 Ong Beng Hee (MAS) v Ivan Yuen (MAS)
Amr Khaled Khalifa (EGY) v [Q] Evan Williams (NZL)
Jan Koukal (CZE) v [Q] Mike Corren (AUS)
2 Omar Mosaad (EGY) v Max Lee (HKG)