Event Report




Official British Open site ...CHRIS WALKER'S astonishing bid to win the British Open title ended today when Australian David Palmer produced a phenomenal comeback from two games down to win the final at Birmingham's National Indoor Arena.

Walker, the world number 33 from Colchester, was in explosive form as he won the first two games, playing disciplined, intelligent squash to force a succession of errors from his opponent. Number three seed Palmer had begun nervously, but once he cut out the mistakes he turned the tables in dramatic style to win 12-15, 13-15, 15-2, 15-9, 15-5 in 85 minutes.

Walker, who was forced to qualify for the event after taking a sabbatical from the game, had clearly not expected to reach the final. He had booked a flight to Connecticut to coach an American junior player, and was forced to switch the flight to tomorrow, (Monday) his 34th birthday.

Walker attacked from the start and hit dazzling winners from every corner of the court but his journey to the final clearly took its toll as he allowed the third game to slip away from him in just minutes. 

He is still one of the fittest and mobile players in the game but after playing seven gruelling matches in a week he was on the verge of exhaustion and decided he needed to rest. Palmer reduced his error ratio to virtually nil as he dominated the fourth and fifth games. In the final game he collected 12 points in a row to put the result beyond doubt.

Palmer's triumph made him the first Australian men's winner since the legendary Geoff Hunt, an eight-times winner, beat Pakistani maestro Jahangir Khan at Bromley in 1981.

Jahangir was guest of honour in Birmingham yesterday to present a delighted Palmer with his trophy. Palmer said: "This is a great feeling. It is every player's dream to win this trophy and I never expected to do it at the age of 24. "Chris played a great match and he did really well to get to the final after having a break from the game."

The women's final was an all-Australian affair, with No3 seed Sarah Fitz-Gerald beating her great rival Carol Owens, the current world champion, 10-9, 9-0, 9-2 in 52 minutes of high-quality squash.

Fitz-Gerald, 31, almost let the first game slip away after holding an early lead but she powered through the next two games in convincing style to collect the title for the first time in a long career.

She has won three World Open titles but lost all her British finals to her Aussie team-mate Michelle Martin. She started the final as clear favourite after an unbeaten run spanning seven months and especially after enjoying a sensational comeback from two games down to beat reigning champion Leilani Joyce in an epic semi-final.

Sarah took control from the start and won the first four points before Carol had time to settle. She advanced to 6-3 but Owens hit back with a succession of attractive winners to lead 7-6.  Had the big-match nerves got to Sarah again? It was an ominous sign but she countered to reach game ball at 8-7.  However, Carol continued to frustrate her again and they traded winners and mistakes, with Sarah holding three game balls and Carol two before Fitz-Gerald finally took the game after 30 minutes.

Considering that most of Sarah's matches this year have been over in well under that time frame, it was a clear indication of the quality of her opposition. Carol is a class act, and conjure up winners from a variety of angles wherever she is on court.

However, Sarah raced through the next game in five minutes, winning 9-0 with a powerful display of solid drives and spectacular volleys.

The 9-2 scoreline in the third game disguises the fact that Carol served 13 times, but it seemed that every moment of magic that produced a stunning winner was followed by a careless mistake that gave the serve back to Sarah.

Fitz-Gerald was not to be denied and maintained the pace, precision and pressure to take the title in style. 


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24 June 2001

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