Jackman Edges Owens In Thrilling Five-Game Weymuller U. S. Open Final 
By Rob Dinerman

Dateline October 17, 2003
---Just two points from defeat against the No. 1 player in the world and defending champion in the fourth game of the Weymuller U. S. Open final, England’s Cassie Jackman rallied to a 9-5 5-9 4-9 9-7 9-5 victory over Carol Owens in a wonderfully-played 90-minute thriller that, however, unfortunately ended on a distinctly sour note when referee Mike Riley, his better judgment momentarily yielding to anger and wounded pride, bypassed the warning that is usually issued first and nailed Owens with a conduct stroke that pretty much doomed her gritty attempt at an eleventh-hour comeback from the deficit she faced late in the fifth and deciding game.

    Riley has distinguished himself as a superior referee over the years, but his performance this time was sub-par all evening, including nearly a half-dozen questionable decisions, nearly all of which seemed to go against Owens. The last of these occurred with Owens serving at 5-7 when he denied her request for a let on a ball near the left wall that seemed well within her reach. Riley’s ruling drew loud murmurs of disapproval from the packed Heights Casino gallery, as well as the expected and understandable outraged disbelief from Owens, whereupon Riley compounded his error by issuing his conduct stroke edict. This meant that, instead of Owens serving at 5-7, as would have been the case had the let been properly awarded, Jackman was now serving at 8-5, match-ball!

    Even Jackman, the statistical beneficiary of this turn of events, was clearly unhappy with the situation, her “you can’t be serious” look through the glass back wall at Riley betraying both her discomfort with being advanced to championship-point in this fashion and her justifiable concern that her impending victory over Owens (who was staring blue-eyed daggers at Riley’s chest) would be somewhat tainted by Riley’s ruling.

     Eventually play resumed, but only for one more point, which ended on a Jackman forehand cross court that died at the back wall despite Owens’s desperate and anger-fueled attempt to extricate it back into play. In the trophy presentation that followed, the tournament honoree Carol Weymuller (who along with her husband Fred did so much for the host club while establishing such a storied junior program there in the 1970’s before the couple decamped for Rochester two decades ago) bravely delivered her speech, and the players and tournament officials said all the right things. But a pall unmistakably hung over the proceedings due to what had transpired on the match’s penultimate point.

     The controversial conclusion aside, it is a sign of how far Jackman has come since undergoing a pair of back operations in recent years that she hadn’t even been able to play in the 2002 Weymuller event, the first of its 28 editions that was also accorded “U. S. Open” status by vote of the USSRA Board Of Directors, since she was sidelined all last autumn while recovering from her second procedure the previous summer. Even as recently as the Tournament Of Champions last February, Jackman’s second tournament back on tour after an enforced seven-month hiatus, her back stiffened up to a degree that virtually immobilized her in a semi-final blow-out loss to Natalie Grainger.

   But in the interceding months the former (1992) World Junior champion has won four tournaments, and her win over Grainger in the semi-finals of the British Open earlier this month demonstrated the degree to which she has returned to the elite form that brought her to the World Open championship in Seattle in 1999 after a pair of runner-up finishes in the same event in the mid-1990’s. This week her play had been superb, especially in quarter- and semi-final wins over Rachael Grinham (her conqueror in their one-week-old British Open final) and fifth seed Vanessa Atkinson.

   Notwithstanding all that, she entered last night’s final as a definite underdog to the top-seeded Owens, who had won last year’s inaugural Weymuller U. S. Open without losing a single game and had dropped just 17 combined points in her trio of straight-set pre-final wins over Jenny Trainfield, Rebecca Chiu and eighth seed Natalie Grinham. Ironically the very ease of Owens early-week progression may have worked to the New Zealander’s disadvantage last night by leaving her less than fully prepared for the resistance she would encounter from Jackman in the final.

   This latter element presented itself right in the opening game, when Jackman surged out of an early 0-3 hole and started to take command of the court with the severity of her backhand drives and cross courts. The left wall usually is Owens’s domain, but for much of this match she was spraying her backhand rails, which normally cling so tight to the wall, and giving Jackman plenty of open balls to attack. The British star was also wrong-footing Owens (something no prior opponent had been able to do), especially from the front right portion of the court, where she alternated straight drops with ground-hugging cross courts or roll corners that Owens was frequently mis-reading.

   After capturing that opening game 9-5, Jackman diminished her intensity just a tad, and Owens seized the opening and controlled the middle pair of games. She was getting better feel for her volley drop shots, which she has the happy faculty of being able to guide accurately even when her footwork is a little off or when the ball is drifting across her body, and her fleetness afoot enables her to get to balls that practically none of her WISPA counterparts are able to track down. By the end of the third game, Jackman seemed a little frustrated by her opponent’s ubiquity, and she contributed several tins to Owens’s cause, seemingly more out of impatience than from any technical imperfection in her stroke.

   By mid-game in the fourth, Owens seemed well on her way to a successful defense of her Weymuller U. S. Open crown. Jackman appeared to be tiring, especially after a series of long, attritional exchanges that landed in the Owens ledger and brought her to a 7-5 lead over an opponent against whom she had gone undefeated in their six matches since a five-game quarter-final win for Jackman en route to her 1999 U. S. Open crown. It was at this stage that Jackman dug down and relentlessly salvaged that game with a four-point run in two hands. Her anticipation, even when Owens putatively had control of the point, was such that on several occasions both in this game and the subsequent fifth she reflex-volleyed winners that went whizzing past a nonplussed Owens or darting into nicks almost before the latter had completed her swing.

    This late-game reversal of fortunes brought a palpable tentativeness into Owens’s game that was exacerbated by the aggressiveness that by this time characterized Jackman’s fearless salvos and a scoreboard that eventually read 7-3 in Jackman’s favor. Determined not to go down without a fight, and perhaps mindful of her immediately prior New York appearance, when from two games to love down in the Tournament Of Champions final she had boot-strapped her way to an emotional victory over Grainger, Owens grimly cut into Jackman’s lead, point by tortuous, all-court point, until at 5-7, with the prospect of a successful comeback now a legitimate possibility, she was denied her let request and then assessed the conduct stroke that brought Jackman to match-ball and preceded her winning cross court.

    Jackman’s 25th career WISPA World Tour title culminated a display on both her and Owens’s part of athleticism, courage and shot making acumen that “captured the imagination,” to quote USSRA CEO Palmer Page, who also noted the inspirational role that the current level of international women’s squash has played in the team gold medal the United States won in the Pan American Games this past summer. The entertainment value of this undulating battle of wills and skills by the two remarkable finalists was extraordinary as well, which is why it is such a shame that many of the spectators exited the Casino still shaking their heads at the conduct stroke call that, like a misspelled word in the last line of a cherished book, reared its head right near the very end.


Cassie Jackman (6) d Carol Owens (1), 9-5 5-9 4-9 9-7 9-5.


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