Report by David Keating
What a way to celebrate your fourteenth birthday. Play your second professional squash match against a number two seed and walk away with a 3-0 victory, your first pro win.
USA’s No. 1 junior, Marina Stefanoni, did just that Wednesday night. She exhibited a maturity beyond her years in defeating world No. 95 Sadia Gul of Pakistan in the round of sixteen at the Bitar Cosmetics – Play Squash PSA Women’s Open 2016 at the McLean Racquet and Health Club in Virginia.
“I was playing like a normal match, ” said Stefanoni, an eighth grader from Darien, CT. “I wasn’t trying to think that it was anything bigger, so I wouldn’t get nervous.” She certainly didn’t look nervous.
Gul opened the match with a quick 2-0 lead, and spectators wondered if the young American could keep up with her skill and pace. But Stefanoni immediately countered with four straight points. It was a pattern that would often repeat during the match, where each player would reel off a streak of points.
Gul built an 8-5 edge in game one, and then Stefanoni turned the tables. She played two masterful lob shots to Gul’s forehand to win points seven and nine. The junior tied the game up at eight all with a forehand smash that nicked off the back wall. In all, she he reeled off six straight points to close out the first game 11-8. “I’ve been practicing [my lobs] recently, ” said Stefanoni. “If you hit them high enough, you can play it as an attacking shot.” It worked.
At the beginning of game two, the pair traded points to 3-3 before Gul built a 7-3 lead. Stefanoni then took eight straight points to win game two, 11-7.
In the third game, Stefanoni built an 8-3 lead and victory seemed assured. But then Gul brought a higher level of urgency to her game. She surged back to 8-9 before Stefanoni hit a perfectly executed boast to bring it to match ball. Gul still managed to tie things up at 10-10, before Stefanoni closed out the game and match with a 13–11 win in the final game.
Stefanoni takes on South African Elani Landman, world #165, in the quarters Thursday.
Marina Stefanoni (USA) bt Sandia Gul (PAK) 11-8, 11-7, 13-11, (32 minutes)