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This weekend’s squash tournament was called the CSA Team Championships, but it was the individual squash landscape that changed most drastically.
And the chief beneficiary of the shake-up was sophomore Will Broadbent.
Broadbent—who entered the weekend ranked No. 5—and No. 7 Siddharth Suchde, a freshman, were the only two of the top eight intercollegiate players to have perfect individual weekends.
For Broadbent, that included dispatching of two of the top three players in college squash on consecutive days, No. 2 Julian Illingworth of Yale—whom Broadbent beat in five games in Harvard’s 8-1 semifinals win on Saturday—and No. 3 Bernardo Samper of Trinity, who fell 9-1, 9-2, 9-2 to Broadbent in Trinity’s paper-thin 5-4 win in Sunday’s final.
The weekend represented a significant breakthrough for Broadbent, who had been firmly entrenched in the upper echelon of college squash since he first took the court for Harvard, but had never before really threatened to reside in the very top of that group.
The transition that allowed Broadbent to make that jump was largely a conscious decision to change his game.
“I have a lot of confidence in my racket skills, in my racket ability,” Broadbent said. “I feel like I was limiting myself by just playing a very straightforward, down-the-line game instead of hitting a lot of crosscourts and opening the court up.
“I was so used to playing in juniors such a basic game and I don’t really maximize my ability by playing that game,” he added. “I can’t really use all my weapons.”
Co-captain Ziggy Whitman was impressed by Broadbent’s success in translating that thinking into improved play on the court.
“When he says I’m going to the beat that guy, I’m going to hit these shots, and I’m going to play this way, better than anyone else, he really turns that mental determination into physical performance,” Whitman said. “He’s got a gift between his ears that makes it possible.”
Saturday, Broadbent continued his bitter rivalry with Illingworth. The pair’s history dates back to high school play, and there is very little love lost between them.
That continued Saturday, when Illingworth told Broadbent to “shut up” after one point.
“It always seems like we have some sort of exchange on court in every match we play,” Broadbent said.
Broadbent jumped ahead early, winning the first game 9-6 and controlling the front court to pull ahead 8-3 in the second as Illingworth became increasingly frustrated, spiking his racket even before he tinned at the end of a long point.
But Illingworth stormed back with seven consecutive points to even the match and then pulled ahead with a 9-2 win in the third game.
When Illingworth took the first point of the fourth game, Broadbent—playing an opponent he hadn’t beaten during his college career, on Illingworth’s home court, in front of a hostile crowd—could easily have folded.
Instead, he turned things around and ran the table to win the fourth game 9-1.
Then, in the fifth game, Broadbent dropped the first three points but recovered to take a 5-3 lead. After falling behind 6-5, Broadbent regained the serve by barely grazing the front wall as Illingworth prepared for a deep shot and ran the score to 8-5. Illingworth won a handout, but then lost the next point, throwing his racket and discrediting whispers in the crowd that he didn’t care about the outcome of the match because Harvard had already locked up the victory in the process.
“You don’t fight back from 8-3 to 10-8 and stay in a match five games [if you don’t want to win],” co-captain James Bullock said.
The next day, with the Crimson and the Bantams even at three individual matches apiece and the title on the line, Broadbent picked apart 2002 intercollegiate champion Samper, lunging to put several points away as Samper repeatedly caught the top of the tin on others.
“I’m a big guy,” Broadbent said. “I can cover the court side to side very well. If I can just keep the ball on my racket in the middle of the court, then I’m the one in control. I’m the one dictating pace.”
That Broadbent beat Samper was in itself surprising; that he did so so handily and so convincingly was downright shocking.
“He didn’t just beat Samper,” Suchde said. “He demolished him.
“He made him look like a beginner.”
“He gave Bernardo a clinic,” junior Asher Hochberg said.
Broadbent’s weekend—combined with Illingworth’s 3-1 victory over No. 1 Yasser El-Halaby of Princeton on Sunday—leaves the top of the rankings in disarray entering this weekend’s CSA Individual Championships.
But it’s hard to imagine anyone taking more momentum into the weekend than Broadbent.
That—for Whitman, anyway—is enough.
“I always bet on Will,” he said.
—ALAN G. GINSBERG
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