Megan Craig claims senior crown

PETER JONES
Last updated 11:44 25/08/2014
Megan Craig
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RISING STAR: Megan Craig, shown in action at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, won her first NZ senior single's title on Friday.

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Marlborough's rising squash star Megan Craig claimed her first senior New Zealand women's title on Friday - albeit in unfortunate circumstances when her opponent was forced to retire through injury.

The 21-year-old won her way through to the final of the 2014 National Championships at North Shore Squash Club on Friday, against world number four Joelle King from Waikato.

Craig and King had a torrid battle in the first set, King eventually prevailing 11-9. Craig led 3-1 in the second when King suffered an achilles tendon tear, collapsing to the court in obvious agony. After a lengthy delay she was assisted from the court and taken home to Cambridge. She will see a surgeon this week, and it is as yet unclear how long she will be sidelined for.

It was certainly not the manner in which Craig, world ranked 41, wanted to claim her first national title.

"We were having a really good game, I didn't feel like I was outclassed," explained Craig. "I felt good . . . I felt that I could have even got a couple of sets. I was right in it, feeling confident."

Ironically, a change in playing strategy, prompted by her father Grant Craig from courtside, indirectly led to the injury. "[Joelle] was going short and I was hitting long returns off that. Dad said to me ‘bring in the counter drop', which means go short off her short one. So I hit this beautiful counter drop at 3-1 and she went back, then went forward for the counter drop and that's when [her achilles] snapped. She initially thought I had kicked her - but I was actually in front of her."

Craig's realisation that she had won her first national title was naturally tempered by the injury. "I definitely didn't do a fist pump, that's for sure. It wasn't a nice feeling at all. I was more gutted that we couldn't carry on playing to be honest, I was really enjoying the game. I didn't feel like I had truly earned it.

"Obviously I was gutted for Joelle. She's been doing really well after Commonwealths and she was meant to go to Hong Kong that night to play in a tournament there.

"She's also been really good for me and the other girls to look up to.

"She has been training with us and it will hurt our worlds team for the end of the year, because she's not going to be back for that.

"It affects a lot of people, but it's her career and I feel really sorry for her."

Although she won the title in such sad circumstances, Craig certainly earned her place in the decider, making her way there without dropping a set.

She was in commanding form in her semifinal against world No 51 Kylie Lindsay, her doubles partner in Glasgow, and closed it out 11-4, 11-4, 12-10 in 24 minutes. Craig had downed Danielle Fourie, Sue King and Vanessa Larsen in straight sets in earlier rounds.

In the other women's semifinal, King comfortably accounted for Amanda Landers-Murphy, ranked world No 59, also in straight sets 11-4, 11-7, 11-3.

Although feeling she hadn't truly earned the trophy, Craig picked up the silverware at the presentation evening on Saturday, where she was heartened by comments from men's singles winner Martin Knight. "He said I deserved to be in the final, since I had won all my games 3-0 . . . He reminded me that what happened on the court was nothing to do with me, so I deserved to be the winner. His speech made me feel better.

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"This was my best performance [at the nationals] - I had never made it to the final before."

The men's title was a lengthy and torrid affair between Knight and Campbell Grayson, lasting 101 minutes. Knight took the first two sets by relatively comfortable scorelines, before Grayson edged back in the third set, taking it 11-9. The fourth was fiercely contested and see-sawed throughout.

Knight brought up a pair of match balls at 10-8, but saw his lead crumble beneath him as Grayson clawed back to a 10-10 tiebreaker.

Another winner from Knight gave him a third match ball, which he duly converted to notch up a third career national title.

- The Marlborough Express

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