English trio Miles Jenkins, Ben Smith and Finnlay Withington have all come through qualifying to reach the main draw of the British National Squash Championships at Manchester’s National Squash Centre.
Under-19 European Junior Champion Withington booked his main draw place for the first time as he overcame compatriot Perry Malik in a 48-minute four-game fixture. The Manchester-based player displayed his undoubted skill and flair to take a commanding 2-0 lead and place one foot in the main draw.
Despite Malik showing good determination to take the third game and breathe more life in the match, Withington regained his composure and closed the match out 11-8 in the fourth game to reach the main draw for the first time in his career.
Withington was relieved to have won and had a message for the players in the main draw, saying:
“I thought he might come back from 2-0 which would have made it a bit horrible. Thanks to the crowd for turning up for my match.
“They main draw players just have to realise that I’m coming for them.”
World No.132 Smith booked his place in the main draw for the first time in convincing fashion as he beat both Will Salter and then Oscar Hill, both 3-0, to advance.
Against Hill, the 20-year-old looked to use his excellent wingspan to dominate the middle of the court and take time away from his Isle Of Man-born opponent. Smith was able to find the front of the court with superb accuracy and test the movement of Hill early in the match and never relinquished his hold on the match.
After securing the first two games in confident style 11-4, 11-2, Smith’s concentration seemed to waver as some errors crept into his game and Hill was able to gather some momentum. Despite this, Smith’s short game was simply too good and he converted the game 11-8 to convert the match 3-0.
“It’s a lot different [on the glass compared to the traditional court], but I’ve played on this court enough times to know how it plays, so it’s quite easy to get used to it pretty quickly,” said 20-year-old Smith.
“The season’s going well, I’ve just got to keep that consistency. I know I can play at a high level, it’s just about doing it on a regular basis.”
The final match of the day saw Jenkins, the highest-ranked player in the qualifying draw, progress through to the main draw for the second consecutive time as he beat surprise qualifying finalist Paul Broadberry in straight games.
Jenkins took a close opening game 11-9 with both players looking to find the back corners and control the middle of the court. After securing the first game, The World No.109 looked settled and started to express himself at the front of the court. He soon booked his main draw place, winning 11-3, 11-1 in 26 minutes. Jenkins now faces Scotland No.1 Greg Lobban in round one tomorrow.
“I just had to settle on the court to start with, it was quite tricky and I didn’t play on it this morning,” said Jenkins.
“To be fair to Paul, he was putting in decent straight drops and attacking me from the start. He was pretty good for the first five minutes. I’m happy with it overall.
“It’s good to be fit and my body is in okay shape. I think everyone needs a break after this so they can get ready for the next season, but I’m happy that I’m still playing pretty well at the end of the season.”
Welsh veteran Peter Creed secured his place in the main draw for the first time since 2018 as he first beat Hasnat Farooqi and then overcame England’s Connor Sheen in three games in the finals.
For his part, Sheen looked to be feeling the effects of a foot injury and struggled with his movement into the front of the court. Creed took full advantage and ran out with an 11-2, 11-2, 11-4 victory.
“I’ve been there before on PSA when someone has had a slight niggle, you change the way you’re playing and your head can go out of the window a little bit,” said Creed.
“It doesn’t get easier the older you get, so I’m just happy to get off really. I hope Connor is alright, you could see from the knock-up he was struggling. It’s prestigious and it’s a good title to win for anyone. I didn’t have much on this year, it was a bit quiet for me on the PSA World Tour. It’s a great event and it’s always a pleasure to play on the glass court.”
Action continues from the British National Championships tomorrow, with former World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy making his Nationals debut after switching allegiance from Egypt to England last week. Play starts at 12:00 (GMT+1) live on the England Squash YouTube and Facebook channels as well as SQUASHTV.