Warren Bower became the first Gqeberha-based Madibaz student to win the Madibaz Open men’s squash title when he defeated teammate Siphelele Mpini in a gruelling final at the university’s South Campus on Sunday.
The women’s crown in the annual Nelson Mandela University tournament, sponsored by SA Home Loans, was retained by South African and Crusaders player Hayley Ward. She defeated club colleague Janet Byrnes in the decider.
The 25-year-old Bower, who is studying construction management, had contested the semifinals in previous Madibaz Open events and this time was delighted to go all the way.
He follows in the footsteps of another Madibaz student, John Kuhn, who won the title in 2018, but he was based at the George campus.
There was no easy path to the top spot on the podium because Mpini, who upset top seed Dean Venter in the semis, fought all the way in their 42-minute showdown.
Bower looked to be heading for a routine 3-0 victory when he led 9-5 in the third game, but that’s when Mpini’s admirable fighting spirit shone through.
His determination to extend the rallies saw him force a few errors and he went on to win the next six points, taking the final into a fourth game.
This is where Bower managed to regroup and, maintaining a disciplined length, he, in turn, drew his opponent into a number of unforced mistakes to take the game 11-5 and with it the title.
“I always knew it would be a tough game against Sips because he has been playing well and obviously beat Dean in the semis.”
The new champion explained that he had been trying to finish the match too quickly in the third game, which allowed Mpini to start reading his game and putting him under pressure.
“In the fourth, I just tried to get my length back and to make sure there were some tough rallies for him. He was moving well but I know he was working hard too.”
Winning his club’s tournament was a special moment for Bower.
“Yes, it really is a good feeling because I have played in this tournament often but have always been up against strong opposition. This is a great memory for me in my squash career.”
Ward, who won the Wanderers PSA (Professional Squash Association) title in Johannesburg last month, was equally delighted with her success in an environment where her career developed so much during her four years as a student.
“It’s always nice to come back here and to do well,” said the 25-year-old. “I have many happy memories of playing squash for Madibaz so it was great to win the title again.”
The women’s A section was played in a round-robin format, with both Ward and Byrnes unbeaten going into the decider.
“Janet’s a very good player so I knew I had to maintain my concentration throughout the match,” said Ward.
“With her attacking abilities it was a matter of trying to play to a good length and then to go on the offensive myself when there was the opportunity.”
Tournament director Jason le Roux was pleased with the size of the field, which saw close to 50 players compete in different sections.
“It was so good to see some of our top players entering and producing some high-quality squash.”
He was also encouraged by the large number of Mandela University students who took part.
“We had quite a few players from our social leagues involved and this can only be good for the future of Madibaz squash.”