By RYAN MCCRACKEN on December 2, 2019.
Daniel Mekbib felt at home on Sunday afternoon at the Downtown YMCA.
The 27-year-old Czech squash player rallied to clinch the Medicine Hat Open championship by defeating England’s Nick Wall in five gruelling sets (9-11, 11-9, 11-6, 4-11, 11-5). While he accomplished the feat nearly 10,000 kilometres from his own country, Mekbib says he couldn’t help but feel some hometown vibes in the Gas City.
“I come from a small town in Czech Republic so this is really familiar to me,” said Mekbib, who was 102nd in the Professional Squash Association’s world rankings entering Sunday’s final. “This will get me even higher. I’m just glad I’m back where I belong, I think.”
Mekbib entered the tournament as the top seed, but says he knew he would be in tough against sixth-seeded Wall – a 19-year-old Englishman ranked 153rd, but with plenty of potential to grow.
“I know him from England, we’ve played on the same team and he’s a really good up-and-coming player,” said Mekbib. “He was second at the British Junior Open under-19, which is a big thing. And he’s a lefty. Whenever you play another lefty – I’m lefty also – it’s kind of trickier than playing somebody right-handed. I just had to be careful about his volleys.”
Wall managed to get the best of Mekbib in the opening set, then stormed back with a dominant fourth to force a tiebreaker before Mekbib pulled away with the title.
“I just had to go the basics,” said Mekbib. “Just play to the back, wait for opportunities on the volleys and then play to the front. That was something I should have done from the beginning. The games I won, I think I did it. The games I lost I was kind of all over the place.”
The back-and-forth battle had both players fighting the frustrations throughout. In such a tightly-matched game, Mekbib says staying on top of those emotions can often make the difference.
“I think I got carried away a little bit sometimes. It’s obviously something I need to keep working on,” he said. “Sometimes the emotions get the best of me, but I think at the end I showed I had the cooler head and more experience.”
Mekbib will head home for a few weeks before getting back into tournament play, but says he’d be happy to return to the Gas City to defend his title next year.
“It was super nice, the facilities are nice, so I’m really grateful and if there’s one next year I’d be happy to come again,” he said. “The people were amazing. Everybody was really nice, such a Canadian thing.”
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