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Belgium win maiden ESF European Team Championship title

Belgium made squash history at the ESF European Team Championships in Zurich on Saturday as the formidable Gilis sisters earned the nation’s first ever title.

Victories for both World No.4 Nele and No.9 Tinne sealed a 2-1 victory at the Uster Squash Arena – denying England a 41st title out of 43 championships and becoming only the fourth country to etch their name on the illustrious trophy after France in 2019, the Netherlands in 2010 and England on every other occasion since 1978.

Later, England were victors in the men’s final for a 44th time after a tension-racked final with France which they won 8-7 on games countback after the match tally finished 2-2.

Nele, who beat England’s Commonwealth Games champion Georgina Kennedy in four games in the match’s opening rubber, said after her sister’s title-clinching victory: “My phone is blowing up! Everybody is telling me we re-wrote history! I can’t take it in just yet. I’m so, so proud of the whole team.

“It’s something we always believed we would do at some point – but it feels so, so good to achieve it. I really, really do hope this is a massive boost for squash in Belgium and will inspire lots of juniors, get a lot of media attention and get more people playing.”

Apart from dropping a high-class third game on a tiebreak, Nele was calm and controlled throughout her vital 11-2 11-8 11-13 11-5 victory over the 27-year-old from London. Lucy Turmel then levelled matters with an expected 11-8 11-7 11-2 victory over Belgium’s world no.202 Marie Van Riet, so the result came down the third rubber between Tinne and Jasmine Hutton – a repeat of last year’s final match-up which Hutton had won so crucially.

World no.29 Hutton had her opportunities, but errors on attacking shots proved crucial at several key points and it was Tinne who achieved redemption with a 11-8 12-10 11-2 win.

Wales won a tight women’s bronze medal match which came down to a decider between Emily Whitlock and Enora Villard. The world no.24 from Colwyn Bay won 9-11, 11-6, 11-7, 11-7. Earlier the hugely promising Lauren Baltayan beat Lowri Roberts in three and Tesni Murphy beat Marie Stephan in four.

The men’s final started with an eventful 102-minute five-setter between Sebastien Bonmalais and Curtis Malik which the French No.3 took 11-8, 12-10, 4-11, 10-12, 11-4. He needed a 15-minute timeout at the start of the fourth following a nasty collision, after which he had to be helped off court by the physio. Malik took that game on a tiebreak, but the decider slipped away from the Englishman.

England No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy beat a disconsolate Victor Crouin in straight games, including a bagel in the third. When 34-year-old Gregoire Marche achieved a 11-7, 12-10, 11-6 win over Tom Walsh, who is making his senior debut at this event, France led 2-1 and 6-5 in games heading into the final rubber between Marwan ElShorbagy and Baptiste Masotti.

It was a tension-filled epic. When Masotti took the first game, he knew he needed only one more for France to win on games countback. ElShorbagy took the next, but Masotti was 8-4 up in the third and on the brink of earning France victory, only to lose it 11-8. Amidst a bear pit atmosphere and a flurry of refereeing decisions, ElShorbagy took the fourth on 12-10 after a distraught Masotti tinned two drop shots in succession.

“I love it!” said Marwan afterwards. “I’ve played close, tense deciders before and I love those moments. I’m so buzzing. I didn’t want to lose my first Europeans. I love this country, they have done so much for me so this was the least I could do.

“I messaged each one of my team-mates this morning and said, ‘Let’s fight for each other.’ I can’t feel my body – I don’t know how many minutes I’ve played this week. My body was numb this morning but honestly, I wasn’t going to lose today, that’s for sure.”

Switzerland won the men’s bronze medal match 2-1 against Wales – repeating their performance of last year in Helsinki and at the WSF Men’s World Team Championship in Tauranga, New Zealand last December.

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