Heaton coach Chris Bentley kept his undefeated record in the latest of our series of exhibition racketball matches, but once again it was a close fought encounter. This time Chris’s opponent was Chapel Allerton’s Premier Yorkshire Division squash player Matty Powell. In the first game Chris pulled out an early fairly comfortable lead as it took a while for Matty to adjust to the pace of the game and the court before he closing the gap. Right from the start it became clear this was going to be an attritional match that would require patience and the elimination of errors. Chris won the first game comfortably 11-7 but with Matty improving all the time having treated the crowd to a couple of showboat skid boasts and one full length dive when he was wrong footed by one of Chris’s trademark boasts from mid court.
By now both players knew they had a battle on their hands and the rallies got increasingly lengthy as the second game progressed. There was little between them until until 7 all when Matty made three unforced errors all from the back of the court. Chris’s dynamic volleying game had kept Matty behind him for a great deal of the time and although Matty’s movement and retrieving were excellent he found it difficult to gain the initiative. Chris has an intense dislike for letting any shot get past and moving him from the T and so takes the ball early and volleys at every opportunity. At times Matty appeared to lose patience and play high risk long range drops and boasts, but he couldn’t prevent Chris taking a 10 – 6 lead and earning 4 game balls. The rallies had been very long, at times brutal, and both players were beginning to look tired, perhaps Chris a little more than Matty, but he seemed to have the second game under control. Matty, however, regained his composure and began to cut out the errors. Now it was Chris’s turn to become error prone, going for winners as his fatigue increased. Inexorably Matty pulled him back and with ever mounting tension levelled the scores at 10 each – two clear points required. Matty won the next rally and served for the game. It is in these circumstances that Chris seems to bring out his best play,.something we are getting used to seeing. Unrelenting patience and control and a determination not to give anything away saw him take the next 3 points and the second game. It was a masterclass in dogged determination. Two games to nil up.
The third game turned out to be the last and was not without its moments of drama and controversy. Once again, stroke for stroke, rally for rally, point for point, there was nothing to separate our two protagonists. Although this was only the third game the match had already taken nearly 40 minutes and both players were showing evidence of increasing tiredness. Chris in particular took more time between serves and Matty took to looking up to the marker and tapping his watch as if to say tell him to get on with it. He did this in good humour with a smile on his face but no doubt also an element of seriousness as Chris did by now seem to be the more tired and Matty had to win this game to stay in the match. After getting to 8 all, after two more very long rallies Chris managed to get to 10 – 8 and serve for the match. During the following long rally Matty slightly mishit a volley from the T which came back down the middle of the court. Chris seemed well positioned to play the ball but, possibly for safety reasons, didn’t play it, turning to the marker, Peter, for a decision. The crowd, experts to a man, women and child, immediately offered their advice! The crowd were split, some wanting a stroke awarded so that Chris would win the game and match, some wanting the very entertaining match to continue and so calling for a let. After a suitable pause for dramatic effect, a let was given, greeted by a mixture of jeering and cheering. In fact everyone was pleased to see the battle continue. All this took quite a while and gave the players a welcome rest. Matty won the replayed point to draw level at 10 all and then the next rally to get a game point 11-10. This was Matty’s last chance to win the game and stay in the match as Chris, requiring two more match balls to do so, ran out the winner 14 – 10 to take the match 3 games to nil. Chris seems to have the ability, even when fatigued, to regroup and play a tighter more controlled game when he needs to. His weighted lengths were more accurate, several crucial points coming directly or indirectly from dying balls in the back corners. His movement and ability to retrieve almost anything puts enormous pressure on his opponents attacking shots. Matty made more errors and at times seemed to misjudge the behaviour of the ball. It is likely that he doesn’t play racketball that often but if this match is anything to go by a rematch is an enticing prospect and who would bet against Matty getting the very few points he needed to swing the outcome? It was another enthralling match with both players taking full credit for making the evening such a great success. Chris was the winner but Matty gained a devoted fan club of the junior players who had loved every minute of it and all gave him a high five when he came off the court.
The video below is the final match point and is typical of many throughout the game – two and a half minutes and 74 strokes of cat and mouse ending in a ftinned boast by Matty from the back of the court.