USA Team Trials: Oliner And Quick Reach Finals     By Rob Dinerman
Dateline July 18th, 2009
-- The Nos. 1 and 2 seeds, Preston Quick and Ben Oliner respectively, both won their semifinal matches at the Harvard Club of New York Friday evening (albeit in dramatically different fashion) and will face each other Saturday at 1:00 (a time change from the original 4:00 schedule) in a final that will determine which player will join Julian Illingworth, Gilly Lane and Chris Gordon on the USA squad that will participate in September in the biennial World Team Championships in Odense, Denmark.

Quick displayed too much firepower for fourth seed Richard Chin in an 11-8, 4 and 6 match that was well-played but had a pre-ordained feel to it by early in the second game, while by contrast the outcome of the 4-11 11-5 6-11 11-9 11-8 tally of the Oliner-Bassett clash was in severe doubt throughout its pulsating 80-minute duration, which made it that much more of a shame that it was fated to end on the last and (by far) worst of a number of poor referee’s decisions that marred what was otherwise a splendidly entertaining and undulating battle between two superb and motivated athletes.

The first four games of Oliner-Bassett were all decided on extended early- and/or mid-game runs: Bassett, determined to avenge his loss to Oliner in the Gold Racquets this past December, raced out to a 7-1 lead in dominating the first game, then surrendered a 6-0 Oliner run from 3-4 to 9-4 that effectively finished off the second. A 7-0 Bassett charge from 1-2 to 8-2 gave him a lock on the third game, but Oliner then broke a 5-all fourth-game deadlock with a 5-0 surge to 10-5. Bassett managed to climb all the way to 9-10, only to be victimized when a mis-hit by a diving Oliner just trickled above the tin for a gift-winner, forcing a fifth game that proved to be error-filled (the first six evenly divided points all ended with tins) and even a bit crude, but very intense and riveting. Since both players are at this point in their careers much better at covering court than they are at ending points, the exchanges were lengthy and grueling.

Oliner went from 3-4 to 9-5, benefiting from seven Bassett errors, but the latter staged an eleventh-hour last-stand 3-1 rally (helped in major measure when at 7-10 he scraped back a wall-clinging Oliner left-wall drive that just crept above the tin to make it 8-10), leading to an all-court foray at the end of which Oliner, drawn to the front-right part of the court, hit a forehand drop that was easily within the reach of Bassett, who tripped over a back-pedaling Oliner’s left foot on his way past him, thus throwing Bassett off balance and causing him to call for a let without attempting to swing at the ball. This was by all rights a no-brainer, and when referee Brad Burke instead declared “No Let,” the entire gallery reacted as one with a groan of disapproval and anger so prolonged and vociferous that Oliner, clearly aware that a let should have been granted and conflicted about the propriety of having the match end on such a sour and controversial note, initially offered to play a let, citing as he opened the back-wall door to discuss the situation his desire for the standing-room crowd clustered around the exhibition court “not to all have a bad taste in their mouth.” Burke urged him to re-consider this offer and instead abide by the referee’s call and, after several moments’ hesitation, a visibly still-reluctant and ambivalent Oliner eventually decided to do so.

Bassett’s fifth-game tin count was too high for him to have deserved to win that game, but he had also played too hard and too well throughout the match, which itself had been too engaging and riveting, for there to have been any justice in its having ended the highly dissatisfying and inappropriate way that it did. Bassett and Chin will play a third-place playoff at noon on Saturday prior to the 1:00 Quick-Oliner final.

Semis Recap:

Preston Quick d Richard Chin, 11-8, 4 and 6; Ben Oliner d Graham Bassett, 4-11 11-5 6-11 11-9 11-8.

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