Browne and Franklin inspiring each other
Noah Browne and Micah Franklin, Bermuda’s leading male squash players, provided a pair of eye-catching performances at the World Class Squash exhibition event at the Bermuda Squash Racquets Association last weekend.
Browne, the national champion, went down 11-7, 11-8 in his match against Zac Alexander; but both players produced some dazzling squash and Australian Alexander is no slouch, winning gold alongside David Palmer in the men’s doubles at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in April.
Meanwhile Franklin won a thriller, saving five match points in winning the last six for a 12-10, 9-11, 12-10 victory over Chris Binnie, the eight-times Caribbean champion from Jamaica.
It will not be long before Browne and Alexander renew acquaintances, as they face each other in the first round of the BTMI Barbados Open next Wednesday, with Alexander seeded third. Franklin is also making the trip and will be seeded No 8 for a competition that ends on Saturday week.
And if Browne and Alexander can produce some similar squash to what they did here, the Barbadians are in for a treat. Alexander made some literally unreturnable kill shots that had the crowd gasping.
Browne said of Alexander’s shots: “Clearly, I had never seen that before! It was really tough, he’s a great player, it’s hard to read those kinds of shots. Half the time I’m sure I know where it’s going, turns out it’s actually the exact opposite place. I nearly fell over a few of those times, so it’s really difficult. Hat’s off to Zach; I couldn’t even of thought of playing like that. It fun. It was really hard, but it was fun.”
The Australian added: “In this sort of environment, in an exhibition and stuff, that’s not how I would normally play! But a fun environment like this lends itself to doing some different angles and different shots and all that sort of stuff and you guys watch a lot better squash than the standard we’re at right now.
“I was going to ask Noah if that match counted for our match in Barbados in a couple of weeks, but that’s why I didn’t play my real squash so he still doesn’t know how I play!
“Some of those straight kills are shots that I play, but a lot of the other angles that go off one wall and on to the other wall and stuff are a bit more fun exhibition-style shots; sometimes they open up the court too much and make you do too much running, but it’s fun for us just to play squash and have fun. And people enjoy that a little bit more than real serious, trying to close down the court.”
But Alexander was not alone in getting the crowd going, as Browne produced plenty of flair himself.
“Really, I was just trying to think of ways I could beat Zach,” the Bermudian said. “He was just getting everything back and doing stuff that I wasn’t expecting with the ball, so I was really just trying to think outside the box and do anything I could to send him the wrong way and take the point.”
Alexander was impressed with his opponent before they meet again in competition.
“He’s hugely physical and unbelievable on the volley, so it’ll be something I have to watch when we play [again],” the Australian said. “A strong boy, good reach and [it’s] such a huge advantage in squash if you can move laterally across the middle and save yourself going to the back of the court, so his reach is a huge advantage.”
Alexander is not sure that last Saturday’s events will have any bearing in what happens in Barbados.
“It’s so different — the mindset, your preparation, all that sort of stuff,” he said. “It’s a bit more of a social event this week. Sometimes it works, sometimes you play worse when you try and take it more serious, so it’s just good to meet someone else. We haven’t met before, we haven’t played before. The tour’s pretty small, but he’s on his way up and I don’t play that much any more, so it’s just fun to play someone different.
“This is a huge lucky chance and a great opportunity that you take with both hands as soon as you get invited. Coming to a great place like this holiday destination, a great squash club as well, spend time with different people and have a great vacation as well. It’s a perfect scenario, really.”
Browne’s career, though, feels like it is on an upward curve after winning his first national title this year by beating Franklin in the final after a succession of defeats by his childhood friend.
“It feels like if your career is a staircase, this is just another step to take, but you can still see the stairs go higher,” Browne said. “Playing Zac and knowing he has a Commonwealth Games gold medal — that’s another stair that I’d like to reach someday.
“I knew that winning the national championship was an important step, but there are more steps to be taken.
“It’s a good motivator to know that I’m going in the right direction, so I’ve just got to keep working hard and hopefully one day Zac and I can share a gold medal!”
Meanwhile Franklin, the three-times Bermuda national champion, was delighted to bounce back from his national championships defeat by beating Binnie for the first time.
“It looks like fun and games and obviously this doesn’t mean much on paper, but it actually means a lot to me to get the chance to play against these guys, and by no means do I want to play mediocre,” Franklin said of last weekend’s event. “I was going out there to win.
“It was really great. I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy. Being 10-6 down I said: ‘I can’t let it end like this’.
“Chris hit a few in the tin, I just went for it, kind of pushed up the pace a little bit and let him know that I wasn’t ready to stop yet. That’s the first time I’ve ever beaten him, and even though it’s an exhibition, it still means something.”
And Franklin is taking the positives from his defeat by Browne.
“It was a really humbling thing,” Franklin said. “When something like that happens in your career, you kind of go back to the drawing board and question what you’re doing. I think it’s what I needed; to tell myself I needed a little bit of a change.
“I was actually really excited for Noah. He played the better game that day and I feel like he’s been in the shadow of me for a little while now and I think he deserves the limelight, so I was really happy for him and it also helped to motivate me.”
Browne said the Bermudians have not really spoken about the match and, of course, remain great pals.
“We’ve been best friends since we were little kids, so we’re still best friends,” he said, “We actually don’t really talk about it that much.
“It’s the one match we take really seriously against each other. We’re still mates and it doesn’t really affect our friendship at all; we just get very serious for about an hour and a half every year when we play each other.”