Hilton College old boy causes major upset at squash World Series

2013-01-24 00:00

STEPHEN Coppinger (28), a Hilton College old boy, caused a major upset in the first round of the JP Morgan Tournament of Champions PSA (Professional Squash Association) World Series tournament in New York, ousting fifth-seed and world number eight Peter Barker of England.

Coppinger, based in Cape Town and ranked 15 places below Barker on the world listings, took 70 minutes to eliminate Barker 12-10, 11-6, 6-11 and 11-1 at the Grand Central Terminal.

Having lost to Barker in five previous meetings, Coppinger had nothing to lose and took control in what was described by spectators and officials as a “extremely physical encounter” as both players jostled for position and court domination.

Barker, who boasts the most consistent record in PSA World Series events over the past two years, fell two games behind before pulling back the third.

He had an opportunity for an early advantage in the first game and was 10-8 to the good, before a series of let calls saw him unable to close out matters as Coppinger prevailed.

It all fell away for the Englishman in the fourth game as Coppinger, 8-0 up, tightened his grip to earn a spot in the last 16 of the draw.

Training with former world champion David Palmer from Australia, Coppinger acknowledged a major improvement in his game over the last year, particularly his confidence.

Said Coppinger: “Last year, I was just happy to qualify for the main draw, but this time around, I have belief in my armoury. Now I feel I belong here, among this calibre of players and above all actually play with these guys, taking them on.”

And he did just that. Coppinger’s second-round opponent was another Englishman, Adrian Grant, who took care of Australian Cameron Pilley in his opening clash.

It was a 89-minute five-setter, with Grant coming from two games down to win after a slow start.

Coppinger raced into a two-game lead (11-6, 11-9) against Grant, who followed the same pattern as his opening match, clawing his way back to level matters at two-all (11-7, 11-9).

However, as he had done against Barker, Coppinger stepped on the gas to finish strongly in the deciding fifth game 11-1 and suddenly find himself in the quarter-finals, up against world No.1 James Willstrop (England).

It was a tough draw, but having got this far, Coppinger would have taken any game to see if he could cause another upset.

It was not to be though, as he went down 12-10, 11-2, 11-4.

Fighting hard in the first game, Coppinger fell victim thereafter to Willstrop’s superior racquet skills and court coverage, commentator’s describing the Englishman’s performance as “clinical, accurate and unforgiving”.

Said Willstrop: “It was important to win the first game as it establishes control and boosts confidence.

“It was a tough opening game, but once I had it in the bag, the rest fell into place and I stamped my authority on the game.”

It was all over in 43 minutes, but Coppinger had left his mark on proceedings, proving his confidence levels were overflowing and he can match the world’s top players on court.

Coppinger was at Hilton College from 1997 to 2001. Although he was born in Dublin, he plays professional squash under the South African flag.

At Hilton, he received honours for squash, was captain of the first squash team and was ranked second in South Africa in the U19 ranks in 2001.

The 2001 Hiltonian yearbook stated: “Special mention must be made of squash captain Stephen Coppinger, who not only won all major tournaments in South Africa, including the SA Nationals, but also competed in major international tournaments, including the British and Scottish Open where he finished sixth.

“He also represented KZN in the open age group in the Jarvis Cup and South Africa at the All Africa Games earlier in the year.”

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