After the third day of qualifying action in the CGG WSF Women’s World Team Squash Championship in China, France, New Zealand, Canada and Hong Kong China secured the remaining four places in the quarter-finals of the biennial World Squash Federation championship being staged in the seaport city of Dalian.
Following the safe passage through to the last eight by the top four seeds Egypt, England, USA and Malaysia the previous day, it was the turn of the 5-8 seeds to prevail today – and all did so, albeit in contrasting styles.
Canada were the first to achieve their goal – but the No.8 seeds had to do so after fighting back from a match down against Pool A rivals Australia, the ninth seeds. World No.17 Donna Lobban put Australia ahead with a straight games defeat of Canadian Samantha Cornett, ranked 15 places lower.
But Canada drew level after a courageous performance by second string Hollie Naughton (pictured below) which saw the left-hander beat Sarah Cardwell 11-7, 11-7, 11-9. In the decider, Danielle Letourneau clinched victory for Canada after beating Christine Nunn in four games, squandering two match-balls in the final game before converting the third in an 11-8, 5-11, 11-8, 13-11 scoreline.
The win guarantees Canada a top eight finish for the first time since 2000 – a fact which Graeme Williams found difficult to grasp minutes afterwards: “It’s not really quite sunk in yet – it was a little bit stressful – but Danielle did a fantastic job to bring the team home,” said the Canadian coach. “And we mustn’t forget Hollie – from 1/0 down, she came up with a really solid display to turn things round. And that sort of performance this gives the rest of the team a great deal of confidence. That was a great – and then Danielle brought us home. It was a little bit nervy but she held it together at the end.
“The top eight has been the target for the last two world teams. Being seeded eight adds a little bit of pressure because we’re expected to do that. We haven’t done it for an awfully long time. In the past we’ve been seeded outside the top eight so it’s a different kind of pressure to be favoured to get there.
“It still feels amazing to have got the job done – and now it’s just a matter of how high can we finish!”
The Pool B tie between New Zealand and Japan also went the full distance before seventh seeds New Zealand emerged triumphant 2/1. Originally seeded eight, the Kiwis were elevated to 7th position following a re-seeding after the withdrawal of India’s two leading players as a result of injury. World No.4 Joelle King put NZ ahead after an 11-7, 11-8, 11-6 dismissal of Japan’s top string Satomi Watanabe.
But the 10th seeds fought back when Risa Sugimoto beat 17-year-old New Zealander Kaitlyn Watts in four games. With the prospect of a first-ever top eight finish for her country, Japan’s Misaki Kobayashi battled back from a game down to level the decider against Amanda Landers-Murphy(both pictured below).
But the higher-ranked Kiwi ultimately prevailed, winning 11-4, 10-12, 11-5, 11-8 after 32 minutes to ensure a top eight finish for New Zealand for the second time in a row.
“That was a very big match for us,” admitted NZ team manager Kylie Lindsay. “We knew it was going to be tough. It was good having Joelle on first to get us off to a good start. We had our young junior on second – I thought she played really well but just couldn’t quite get us over the line.
“I really backed Amanda to beat Misaki – Misaki is tricky because she goes for it and sometimes produces some outrageous winners. I thought Amanda held her nerve really well. I definitely thought she’d pull through.
“Four years ago we had Joelle missing through injury and we came tenth. Top eight was our first goal here, but we knew it would be tricky. When the seeding changed it was a little bit better for us – but we knew Japan were going to be tricky. The girls had to play well – and they did.
“It’s good to get that first battle out of the way. I know we’ll have Egypt now in the quarters. I’m looking forward to the girls having a good run tomorrow – then we’ll see what happens!”
After the disappointment of losing to USA yesterday, sixth seeds France secured second place in Pool C – and a place in the quarter-final knockout stage – after beating 11th seeds India 3/0 following straight games wins by Camille Serme, Enora Villard and Coline Aumard.
“It’s the first target, to get in the top eight,” said French coach Philippe Signoret succinctly afterwards. “The second is to be on the podium!
“Yesterday we lost against the USA so we knew today we had to get in the top eight. We know that India are not the team they might have been – but it was not easy.
“I am sure we have a good chance tomorrow.”
After losing out to Asian rivals Malaysia on day two in Pool D, fifth seeds Hong Kong China made sure of their anticipated place in the last eight with a 3/0 win over South Africa.
The top four seeds also duly posted convincing wins on day three – favourites Egypt beating Germany in style before team coach Amr Shabana, the four-time world champion from Cairo, was called upon to meet local media (see above).
Third seeds USA beat hosts China 3/0, while Malaysia defeated Switzerland/ by the same margin.
Former champions England overcame Finland 3/0 – with second string Alison Waters making no allowances for the birthday celebrations of her opponent Emilia Korhonen. Despite mid-game advice from seasoned Finnish coach Ari Pelkonen, 23-year-old Korhonen (both pictured below) went down 11-1, 11-6, 11-4 to the world No.10 from London.
 EGYPT v  NEW ZEALAND
 USA v  HONG KONG CHINA
 MALAYSIA v  FRANCE
 CANADA v  ENGLAND
9th – 16th place play-offs:
 AUSTRALIA v [13/16] FINLAND
 INDIA v [13/16] SWITZERLAND
 SOUTH AFRICA v [13/16] CHINA
 JAPAN v [13/16] GERMANY