By Morissa Lindsay
As this country celebrates its 54th year of independence today, 18-year-old Barbadians – Khamal Cumberbatch and Jada Smith- Padmore – wrote their names among several greats as first-time individual men’s and women’s Senior National Squash champions.
From babies running around the squash court to owning the coveted senior national title for the first time is a part of their careers that both Cumberbatch and Smith-Padmore will forever cherish.
Playing at the Barbados Squash Club in Marine Gardens, Christ Church yesterday afternoon, number two seed Cumberbatch and Smith-Padmore at number one for the ladies won their respective championship finals in straight sets. The energic Cumberbatch prevailed 11-2, 11-3, 11-5 in the best of five sets contest against former eight-time national champion Mark Sealy.
It was an interesting twist since Sealy last played the senior national final in 2002 when Cumberbatch was just a newborn baby.
Meanwhile, Smith-Padmore emerged victorious 11-8, 11-9, 11-6 against Sumairaa Suleman in the women’s final.
Cumberbatch and Smith-Padmore delivered a memorable performance before the packed room that included Barbados Olympic Association vice-president Cameron Burke and Barbados Squash Association president Kim Jebodhsingh.
Speaking during the post-match interview, Cumberbatch said the win was something he has been dreaming about for as long as he could remember and was happy it finally came through. “…this is something I have been dreaming about my entire life. Watching all of my brothers play. I have been here since I was two months old. I have been at this club (Barbados Squash Club) watching this tournament all my life. This means a lot,” Cumberbatch said.
Meanwhile, the new queen Smith-Padmore was also elated about coming out on top and more impressively winning her first senior national championship. She said, “… When I heard that I was in the final against Sumaara, I was like oh my gosh because I haven’t played Sumaara in such a long time and I knew it was going to be a tough match. But coming out of the match (final) I was like I won a senior title at 18, I was just impressed.”
Cumberbatch, the reigning Under-19 Caribbean Area Squash Champion, was put on the defence early as Sealy went ahead 2-0 at the start of the match which was refereed by Marlon White. But that did not phase the prodigy who responded commendably well and showed from early he too means business on the court against the ever experienced Sealy.
With 11-time national record holder and number one seed Shawn Simpson unable to defend his title this year because of injury, Cumberbatch who was runners-up last year no doubt was the favourite.
Cumberbatch kept the ball moving all angles of the court as the 59-year-old Sealy tried his best to keep up with the pace and intensity of his young rival. Sealy, the reigning Caribbean Over-50 men’s champion and the United States Open silver medalist in the Over-55 category tried agonisingly to keep up but was unable to get there at times.
Following in the footsteps of his father Monty Cumberbatch, brothers Gavin, Rhett and Bryant, the youngest of the clan played some lovely legal hard smashes that Sealy was unable to reach often in the front or backcourt.
At 10-3 in the second set, Cumberbatch finished spectacularly with a wonderful backhand volley that all Sealy could have done was applaud. Such a good shot it was that Cumberbatch even jumped and spun in satisfaction. With a comfortable 2-0 lead heading into the third set, Cumberbatch looked like he hardly broke a sweat and moments later he celebrated the inevitable.
In the women’s final the results were as expected as Smith-Padmore came out on top despite some resistance shown by her 16-year-old opponent Suleman. The women’s section also had an opening for this year’s tournament as Barbados top two female players did not feature this year. Former Caribbean champion Meagan Best was unable to make it back to Barbados in time for the competition and another favourite Amanda Haywood is pursuing studies at the University of Virginia.
Smith-Padmore kept it basic on the court and with the support of her twin sister Jodi Smith-Padmore who she played in the semifinals had good support behind her including her mother Allison Smith- Padmore, former president of the Barbados Squash Association.