Colin Payne Kent Open, sponsored by 501 Entertainment, at Tunbridge Wells Squash Club, Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England.
(4) Satomi Watanabe (JAP) beat (1) Torrie Malik (ENG) 11-7, 11-7, 8-11, 11-9 (31m)
(1) Curtis Malik (ENG) beat (7) James Peach (ENG) 11-7, 11-6, 9-11, 11-4 (41m)
The Colin Payne Kent Open, sponsored by 501 Entertainment and staged at Tunbridge Wells Squash Club, was a massive success with the added bonus of a special TV feature on BBC South East.
Two entertaining finals were won by Curtis Malik and Japan’s Satomi Watanabe, a student at Roehampton University with a former world ranking of 44.
Malik, from Sussex, beat Yorkshire’s James Peach in the men’s final with younger sister Torrie Malik, top seed in the women’s event at the age of 17, losing to Watanabe despite a battling comeback after surrendering the first two games.
In the last tournament of the year in the UK, Peach beat Kent’s No.2 seed Josh Masters in the men’s quarter-finals but could not stop the in-form Malik from claiming his third title in his fifth final on the PSA Challenger Tour in recent months.
Curtis is setting his sights on a rise up the rankings in 2022. He was pleased with his performances throughout the week and said: “Overall it was a really positive week for me, winning my third PSA Title and second this month. I’m happy with the quality of squash I produced throughout the week.
“The final went even better than I expected. I had a clear game plan in mind and made sure I stuck to it as much as possible, which ended up being enough to seal the win 3-1. James is extremely skilful with the racket so I had to make sure I didn’t give him the angles but to also be positive going in short myself.
“Being back competing since lockdown has been tough but rewarding. It was a rough start back but I eventually found the form I was looking for. This should move me up safely in to the top 100 next year and I then hope to reach the World Series events as soon as possible after that.
“I want to be competing against those top 50 guys regularly and continue moving on up the rankings to play those Egyptians!”
Royal Tunbridge Wells sits on the border of Kent and East Sussex, and players from both counties took centre stage in the first round.
Men’s top seed Curtis Malik was fully tested by wild card Noah Meredith, who plays number one for host club Tunbridge Wells.
The scoreline of 11-8, 8-11, 11-9, 11-8 shows how close each game was between the two Sussex team-mates. Meredith performed well, and a packed gallery roared him on throughout the match, but he was up against an in-form opponent whose recent run of success has clearly given him a massive air of confidence.
Meredith hit some outstanding winners but on many occasions he found Malik anticipating his shots and moving into position before his opponent had struck the ball.
Kent’s Jack Mitterer played some superb squash to beat Josh Attwell in four games, using his height and reach to dominate the middle of the court and finding success with some decisive volleys.
No.2 seed Josh Masters, runner-up to Joel Makin in the 2017 final played at The Mote Squash Club in Maidstone, finished day one with a 19-minute win over veteran campaigner Phil Nightingale, who spent many years playing Kent League squash before becoming a vicar in Northamptonshire.
On day two, Masters and Mitterer both crashed out of the men’s competition after holding dominant positions in their quarter-final ties. Masters squandered a match ball against No.7 seed James Peach before losing in the fifth and Mitterer will be kicking himself for losing control against 17-year-old Finnlay Withington.
The world has changed gears since Masters last reached the Kent Open final after being awarded the wild card in 2017, finishing runner-up to Joel Makin on that occasion. Then he was in the rising star category; now he is an experienced pro and at 26 the oldest player in the whole competition.
He has also had to undergo two hip operations after issues affecting his mobility and in Tunbridge Wells he was up against a fast and fit opponent who knows his game inside out. The two shared an apartment for two years at the University of the West of England and Peach, 24, is still based in Bristol.
Peach finished strongly to win the opening game and led 5-2 in the second, but Masters hit back to lead 8-6. Peach reeled off four points to hold game ball at 10-8 but Masters hit some outrageous winners to take the game 12-10.
From 5-4 down in the third, Masters pulled ahead to hold game ball at 10-6 and weathered a flurry of points from Peach to take it 11-9.
The fourth game was neck and neck all the way through until Masters held match ball at 10-9 and then again at 12-11, but Peach refused to bow down and clawed his way back to take it 15-13.
Peach led 6-3 in the fifth and although Masters hit back to 6-6, Peach pulled away to win 11-7 and book his place in the semi-finals against the fearless Finnlay Withington.
Masters said: “I had spent five hours coaching at Park Langley before driving down to play and I was feeling pretty tired. I felt I was moving OK but I know my hip will be sore tomorrow.
“In some ways it’s not too damaging to play two days on the trot but if I had gone all the way through and played four days in a row then the hip would definitely be feeling the strain. I have had two lots of surgery and will certainly need more.”
Masters recently won the Wild Card Challenge at Canary Wharf and will be training as hard as he can to make the most of the opportunity when London’s favourite tournament returns to its traditional dates in March 2022.
He added: “I will definitely try to cut down the coaching to give my body a chance but I’m looking forward to the best of three format at Canary Wharf.”
Mitterer looked in control against Withington as he took the opening game 11-5 but the boy from Bury hit back to lead 8-5 in the second. Mitterer drew level and the pair traded points until Mitterer held ball at 13-12 and again at 14-13, but he failed to convert them and Withington took three points in a row to take the game 16-14.
Withington’s confidence grew and he led throughout to win the third game. In the fourth he pulled away from 5-4 ahead to win the final six points in a row.
Kent’s Isabel McCullough was initially awarded the women’s wild card but ended up getting into the main draw on merit as No.8 seed.
The 17-year-old featured in one of the outstanding matches of the week as Yorkshire’s Amy Royle, also 17, fought back from two games down to beat Isabel 9-11, 3-11, 11-5, 11-9, 16-14 after saving three match balls in the fifth.
Isabel was disappointed at missing some match-winning opportunities, but can take many positives from the experience.
She has a solid all-round game and when she plays more PSA events she will gain valuable experience of match management and dealing with different opponents with contrasting styles.
It was a pleasure to see her back at the club supporting the event on finals day, and teaming up with Noah Meredith to smack some incredible winners from all parts of the court in their doubles challenge against tournament sponsor Jonny Powell and referee Dean Newberry.
The Kent Open led to some fantastic TV coverage produced by BBC Sports Reporter Juliette Parkin, whose interviews led to a valuable three-minute segment on the regional news programme BBC South East Today.
The tournament was organised by former Kent SRA chairman and president Alan Thatcher, founder of World Squash Day, joint founder of the Canary Wharf Classic and the editor and publisher of the Squash Mad website.
Alan founded the event when he revived the old Maidstone Open more than 20 years ago and down the years the tournament has attracted many famous names including Nick Matthew, Martin Heath, Rodney Durbach, Nick Taylor, Pete Genever, Tim and Ben Garner, plus leading Kent players Adrian Grant, John Russell, Ben Ford, James Robbins, Toby Mortimer and, of course, the much-missed Colin Payne.
Payne was a former PSA professional and a former England Masters national champion. The finalists were joined on court for the presentations by Payne’s father Malcolm and daughters Alice and Charlotte.
Alan is working with Kent Open sponsor Jonny Powell, owner of 501 Entertainment, on designing rackets clubs of the future.
He said: “Jonny has been a loyal sponsor of the Kent Open for more than 10 years and he is now a leading player in transforming the hospitality industry with his amazing fun games sparking a new sector called competitive socialising.
“Our plans are to ally a major social destination with racket sports. Investors love the concept and we aim to open our first club next year.”
The Colin Payne Kent Open Sponsored by 501 Entertainment at Tunbridge Wells Squash Club.
 Curtis Malik (ENG) bt  James Peach (ENG) 3-1: 11-7, 11-6, 9-11, 11-4 (41m)
 Satomi Watanabe (JPN) bt  Torrie Malik (ENG) 3-1: 11-7, 11-7, 8-11, 11-9 (31m)
 Curtis Malik (ENG) bt  Owain Taylor (WAL) 3-0: 11-6, 11-4, 11-4 (33m)
 James Peach (ENG) bt Finally Withington (ENG) 3-0: 11-6, 11-7, 11-2 (28m)
 Torrie Malik (ENG) bt  Rana Ismail (EGY) 3-0: 11-3, 11-3, 14-12 (25m)
 Satomi Watanabe (JPN) bt  Kace Bartley (ENG) 3-0: 11-3, 11-4, 11-6 (15m)
Men’s Quarter Finals
 Curtis Malik (ENG) bt Aaron Allpress (ENG) 3-0: 11-9, 11-5, 11-6 (26m)
 Owain Taylor (WAL) bt  Perry Malik (ENG) 3-0: 11-6, 11-7, 11-7 (37m)
Finally Withington (ENG) bt  Jack Mitterer (ENG) 3-1: 5-11, 16-14, 11-5, 11-4 (42m)
 James Peach (ENG) bt  Joshua Masters (ENG) 3-2: 11-8, 10-12, 9-11, 15-13, 11-7 (48m)
Women’s Quarter Finals
 Torrie Malik (ENG) bt Lara Newton (ENG) 3-0: 11-3, 11-5, 11-3 (22m)
 Rana Ismail (EGY) bt  Sofia Aveiro Pita (POR) 3-0: 11-4, 11-3, 11-5 (17m)
 Satomi Watanabe (JPN) bt  Polly Clark (ENG) 3-0: 11-1, 11-5, 11-3 (15m)
 Kace Bartley (ENG) bt Amy Royle (ENG) 3-1: 11-9, 7-11, 11-5, 11-6 (25m)
Men’s Round One
 Curtis Malik (ENG) bt [WC] Noah Meredith (ENG) 3-1: 11-8, 8-11, 11-9, 11-8 (41m)
Aaron Allpress (ENG) bt  Hasnaat Farooqi (ENG) 3-2: 6-11, 11-3, 11-7, 7-11, 11-3 (56m)
 Owain Taylor (WAL) bt Nick Ratnarajah (ENG) 3-0: 11-4, 14-12, 11-3 (27m)
 Perry Malik (ENG) bt Jordan Warne (ENG) 3-0: 11-4, 11-7, 11-7 (29m)
Finally Withington (ENG) bt  Anthony Royal (ENG) 3-1: 6-11, 11-4, 11-7, 11-7 (36m)
 Jack Mitterer (ENG) bt Josh Attwell (ENG) 3-1: 11-9, 9-11, 11-4, 11-6 (39m)
 James Peach (ENG) bt Alvaro Martin (ESP) 3-0: 11-5, 11-5, 11-6 (28m)
 Joshua Masters (ENG) bt Phil Nightingale (ENG) 3-0: 11-6, 11-6, 11-3 (19m)
Women’s Round One
Lara Newton (ENG) bt  Catherine Holland (SCO) 3-1: 11-2, 7-11, 11-5, 11-4 (25m)
 Sofia Aveiro Pita (POR) bt Emma Keane (BER) 3-1: 11-5, 9-11, 11-3, 11-4 (26m)
 Polly Clark (ENG) bt Olivia Besant (RUS) 3-0: 11-7, 11-6, 11-7 (21m)
Amy Royle (ENG) bt  Isabel McCullough (ENG) 3-2: 9-11, 3-11, 11-5, 11-9, 16-14 (46m)
Further information from Alan Thatcher.
Tel: 07971 639 829