30 December 2011

LOOKING BACK AND FORTH II: THE UP-AND-COMING PLAYERS OF 2011

In our previous post we had a look how the top 10 has done in 2011. Now it's time to give some well deserved credit to the most impressive up-and-coming players of the year:

#20 TAREK MOMEN (born 1988, last year-end PSA ranking: 27): very few people discuss that the little man from Cairo is a genius. In 2006 as an 18 year old teenager he beats players of the calibre of Daryl Selby, in 2008 he beats then world #2 Gregory Gaultier (who hardly ever looses to anyone outside the top8), in 2009 he beats David Palmer (again, very few people can pretend that) and in the meantime he is frequenting the Faculty of Engineering at the University in Cairo!!! 2010 was poor for his standards (well, still, wins against Iskandar, Boswell, Mohamed El Shorbagy and Pilley!) but now he has concluded his studies and it starts to show. In Qatar he beat world #1 Nick Matthew 3:0, and Matthew admitted after the match that the result (11:9,12:10,11:8, 44m) was even flattering for him. Beating Matthew is a feat in itself, but let's add that next to Momen only Ramy Ashour has beaten Matthew 3:0 in the last few years. The only question mark is Tarek's determination. He has proven that on a one-day basis he can beat anybody. He is also probably the quickest man on the circuit with Miguel Angel Rodriguez; he's got the cheekiest backhand drop-shot on earth that he is capable of executing any time, anywhere. If you play short on his backhand side he'll counter-drop 8 times out of 10 and he'll still clear the ball each time (there are sooo many 'Lets' normally with other players in this situation...) But his concentration and determination can let him down at times. He's got something of a school lad, that makes him extra nice, but am not sure if that helps to become world #1, notwithstanding all the talent he's got to get there - even if he's the only pro player who basically omits the existence of the lob!

#21 TOM RICHARDS (born 1986, last year-end PSA ranking: 31): he might not be the kind of genius that Momen is, but he's showing constant improvements. This year he had very good wins over Laurens Jan Anjema, Hisham Ashour (twice), Ong Beng Hee and Tarek Momen, even if the last two have then avenged the loss. Someone as terminator-solid as Darwish (even though on slight decline now) still beats him 3,4 and 6 in 37 minutes. But I see him humble, and humbleness is one of the best secret weapons in long term.

#23 NICOLAS MUELLER (born 1989, last year-end PSA ranking: 37): he has shown qualities from the very first moment he stepped on court on the pro tour. This year has demonstrated also that he has serious intentions, not only style- and technique-wise, but also ranking-wise, he definitely wants to be in the top5 in the future. This year he's got the scalps of Adrian Grant (twice), Borja Golan, Iskandar and most eminently of all: Amr Shabana (even if we know Shabs is lacking inspiration in last few months). He's shown also some exceptional squash against some other greats even if he ended up losing: first game 11:2 in 5 minutes in Qatar against Darwish!? Anyone ever heard anything similar? He also gave a good run of four games to James Willstrop, who hardly lost any other game in his last 15 other matches of the year.

#24 SIMON ROSNER (born 1987, last year-end PSA ranking: 33): a few years back, Rosner looked really bad. Strange technique, no results. He now looks good, really good. It's still not textbook technique (that ultra high elbow at his backswing, funnily only him - the tallest guy - and Aamir Atlas Khan - the smallest guy on the tour - employ this technique that does not favour deception. But he still kills the ball second to none in the front and shows also delicate touch notwithstanding appearance; he's got really quick feet and very good movement for someone as tall as him; and he's not afraid of anybody. He's beaten Adrian Grant, Aamir Atlas Khan, he's had matchball against Karim Darwish in Sweden (okay, Karim coming back from serious injury, but still!), brought Ramy to 5 quality games in Paderborn and got his heart-warming share of win against Shabana (in similar fashion as Mueller, but still!) He is also keen, and when a German is keen, well, anything can happen.

#33 ALAN CLYNE (born 1986, last year-end PSA ranking: 51): some of you might be surprised that I include him in the list, but I think he deserves to be mentioned based on this year's performance, even if he has had a bad end of year with four first round losses at the last four main events (still gave David Palmer a good 5 game run in Rotterdam). But beforehand he was impressing with his mixture of strange technique, huge stamina and a great heart. He might be not the most beautiful to watch, but he is efficient and a tough nut to crack. Ask Hisham Ashour or the promising young Egyptian Karim Abdel Gawad who both have twice as many shots in the pocket but still lost to him.

#45 MARWAN EL SHORBAGY (born 1993, last year-end PSA ranking: 174): Ramy-like stellar rise, almost 130 places within one year with the scalps of Daryl Selby and Omar Mosaad (both top20 and not friendly at all when it comes to battle...). Marwan is junior world champion and obviously extreamly promising: we know his pedigree with his older (still very young) brother already in the top10 and excellent coaching background by Jonah Barrington around Bristol/UK alternated with training camps in Cairo. Some say technically he's got even more potential than his brother. To be seen remains if he's also as tough and determined as Mohamed. Anyway, if the Ashour brother's don't make both the top10 within one family (due to Hisham not being capable of making a regime longer than five weeks;) then the Shorbagy brothers could well fulfil this highly respectable and funny historical feat.


27 December 2011

LOOKING BACK AND FORTH I.: THE TOP TEN IN 2011

Apologies, exceptionally no video, just text. A brief analysis of the main tendencies within the top10 in the 2011 PSA Squash season :

#1 NICK MATTHEW: continues to amaze. We have to remind ourselves that Matthew has never been ranked better than #4 before 2010, and he was already 30 years old by then. This year not only he occupied the #1 spot throughout the year, but he visibly continues to progress and improve technically, as that is probably the least developed part of his game. It's been a great year for Matthew, even if he beat Ramy Ashour only once and lost 4 times to him (with the 0:3 loss at the World Team Championships included), and even if, due to end-season injuries, he will lose his #1 ranking in January 2012. But be assured, he'll be eager to fight back. Will he also be able to fight the age factor for another season?

#2 JAMES WILLSTROP: his year started as it ended in the previous one. Plays beautifully, beats anybody, but loses to Ramy Ashour and Nick Matthew. At the end of the year, not only Ramy and Nick got both injured, but Willstrop seemed to raise his already outstanding technical and tactical level to an even further level and won three World Series events in a row and as a result, he'll be ranked for the first time world #1 in the 2012 January rankings. He must be extremely happy, but I guess there are things left to prove: is he by now really better or equal with Ramy and Nick? If all three of them will be healthy in 2012, expect a hell of a season, with a lots of pride on stake!

#3 GREGORY GAULTIER: the tragic figure of the tour is back! After a long hiatus he finally won again a major title and made a few more finals. You never know with Gregory. Will he be disappointed that notwithstanding the good form and great results, he is pretty far away ranking-points-wise from the top spot? Or is he ready to dig in and improve his only weak factor (the mental side) as Matthew does continuously with his (the technical side)? If he is not willing to understand that he must improve this part of his game, there is little chance that he can add to the sole month he has been ranked world #1 in November 2009. If he can take this hurdle, then he could still have the best times in front of him.

#4 RAMY ASHOUR: whilst he was healthy, he seemed to be unbeatable (except for a 5 game loss to Matthew early in the year, but this has been revenged with 4 wins). It has been said often, Ramy is the best thing that could ever happen to squash, but unless he (and his team, does he have one?) start to find a solution to his injury issues, we might risk to see the best thing struggling and leaving the circuit prematurely. Then the best thing could turn into the greatest shame that could ever happen to squash. Therefore, let's just hope he comes back (and remains) healthy in 2012, it would make just such a difference for us, spectators. 

#5 KARIM DARWISH: I have a lots of respect for Darwish, having analysed his strengths in a number of posts. In 2009 he was world #1, in 2010 he was the only man to beat both Ramy and Matthew. However, in 2011 he hardly had any noticeable win (except maybe against James Willstrop to conclude the final for Egypt at the World Team Championships). He still beats mostly comfortably the lower ranked players (however not anymore always that terminator-like as beforehand), but he struggles with the equal ones. It might be due to the rather serious ankle injuries he has suffered in the last 18 months, he is not that balanced anymore on the stretch, not that lethal anymore in the front. The world's best forehand drop shot was working 10% less efficient as beforehand, and this is enough to lose that edge that made him so redoubtable in 2009-2010.

#6 AMR SHABANA: Like Darwish, Shabana went down this year. But not in the same way. Whilst Darwish has been very consistent (when not injured) Shabana was extremely fluctuating. He was off for personel reasons for almost 6 months, then came back and won nonchalantly the US Open, beating everybody, world #1 Nick Matthew included (never seen anybody taking a win of a major title that indifferently). Then again Shab lost interest, but still flew off to the events, just to see the young up-and-coming lads (Nicolas Mueller and Simon Rosner) beating him both times in half an hour. Nevertheless, it is still to his name that we can link probably the best match of the season. Shabana is a god, and we all now, gods are moody.

#7 PETER BARKER: Barker is not a god, but he gets, as wine, better with time. It has been pointed out that you can get in the top10 by being solid, but there is no way to make the top5 if you are not inventive, and don't owe a real short game. Barker has made a big step forward in this regard and we are very curious to see if he can finally not only push, but also beat the guys in front of him on a constant basis. It shouldn't be impossible, Barker disposes of such a harmonic footwork and fluid racket preparation when it comes to hit the basic shots, to adapt this to his short game is only a matter of liberating a mental barrage (through explicit short-game drills a few hours day-in day-out at training).

#8 MOHAMED EL SHORBAGY: two World Series semi-finals (including beating Darwish) at the end of the year indicate that he is now ready, really ready. I personally expect big things from him in 2012. From a certain point of view, he will substitute Darwish, he is less fleshy than Ramy or Shabana, but still capable of doing anything with the racket. On the top of it, just like Darwish, he's got the patience and is rock solid on the technical-physical front. An intriguing affair could be to see how he will deal with his younger brother, Marwan; the battle between the two brothers could make some headlines should the current world junior champion make it as well to the top10 (what only few would exclude by now I guess).

#9 DAVID PALMER: the great 'marine' has signed off in style: at the age of 35, he still finishes in the top10, even without playing the last few big events. He will be missed and not easily substituted. Such a dense blend of discipline and determination is damn tough to achieve I guess. As a good-bye present to the whole squash community he immortalised himself also with an exquisite shot, probably the shot of the century. Another great Australian player, Stewart Boswell also signed off just before the end of the year. Australian squash now will be eager to produce some new talents, as the sole representative in the top20 is Cameron Pilley, who, notwithstanding excelling in some aspects of the game, is not very likely to achieve anything close to these two greats.

#10 MOHD AZLAN ISKANDAR: to be honest, 2011 is not even Azlan's best season, notwithstanding reaching the top10 for the first time in his carrier. But he's been consistent, loosing rarely to lower ranked players. Azlan has always been a great talent - he had carrier wins against almost all the top-top players - but he probably is just not the character to take anything too seriously. To be world #10 without being super serious is pretty much an achievement. Now that he moved back to Malaysia, and managed to convince his coach Peter Genever to follow him there, will he be keen to raise his determination to his tactical and technical level?

In our next post we are going to have a look at the most promising players outside the top10. Of course feel free to add your comments or discuss our points. 


21 December 2011

TECHNICALLY GREAT, BUT TACTICALLY? GRAHAM RYDING vs. ANTHONY RICKETTS

Graham Ryding is not an all-time great, but still a former top-ten player and sparing partner of all-time-great Jonathon Power. For us he is a very interesting example, as technically very sound, even virtuoso with the ankle (watch those behind-the-body defensive shots at 0:06, 0:08 and 0:10), however he had the problem typical of racket-wise very talented players: they don't always chose the right (probably more boring) shot instead of the funky one and go for conclusion when constructivism would be more appropriate. In this rally he did so many things right, except the very last decision; he turned defence into offence first at 0:20 with a good hidden cross-court flick followed by a greatly held and ponded almost-dying straight drive at 0:23 and a good volley-drop at 0:26; another extreme wrist flick at 0:33 made his opponent Anthony Ricketts run even more, then at 0:37 he plays a wise long drop shot faded into the mid-court sidewall, but after a tight exchange of a few counter-drops he goes in the wrong moment for another flick with the wrist, and notwithstanding he tried to deceive by turning his head towards the cross-court, Ricketts easily intercepted the straight pass that lacked tightness, pace and/or heights. In fact, this rally terribly resembles another one where Ryding played David Palmer and where he lost the point in the same corner in a very similar fashion

19 December 2011

THOSE TIMES WHEN SHABANA WAS STILL FULL OF MOTIVATION: 2007 BEAR STEARNS TOC

Time goes by, and even though some champions are still there with their body, they are not really present anymore with their heart. Whilst I had the feeling that David Palmer was, and Thierry Lincou still is giving their all on the court, Amr Shabana looked this year somewhat half-hearted, a bit even at the US Open where he nevertheless beat everybody, Nick Matthew, the world #1 included. If you watch this rally against Ramy Ashour from 2007, you see a Shabana bouncing like a ball, split-stepping like thunder and even arguing passionately to receive a 'Stroke'. He was a lot less energetic most of 2011, and mostly the last few tournaments. I know, at this stage of your carrier, you must have a few redundant pains/injuries that make life not easier (this might be also Karim Darwish's case, another Egyptian monster on noticeable decline this year). Concerning the below rally: beyond creativity and energy, the other key word is sportsmanship; first Ramy playing a great cross volley instead of stopping for a 'Stroke' at 0:32, then the friendly handshake between the two after the 'Let' decision even though Shabana was after a 'Stroke' - I think even rightly, as Ramy's shot was pretty loose at that stage, but the referee might have considered Ramy's fair-play attitude at 0:32, where Shabana's ball was probably even more loose. If you consider only the shot, it could have been a 'Stroke', but I think it's the right refereeing philosophy taking into account the whole rally/game when deciding about borderline situations. Anyway, Shabana, after having skipped the Punj Lloyd PSA Masters last week, could still come back strong in London in a few weaks at the ATCO PSA World Series Finals, he seemed to enjoy himself there very much last year, probably also due to the shorter best-of-three games structure.

17 December 2011

WEEKEND BAGATELLE XIII: RAMY ASHOUR AND THE CHOCOLATE

At the current 2011 Punj Lloyd Open, Ramy Ashour made another failed comeback from his hamstring injury. He seemed to dominate Peter Barker when suddenly a wrong step made the injury reappear. On top of that, as a really bad habit, Ramy kept on playing instead of withdrawing, risking therefore further damage. On one side the heart breaks to see probably the most intriguing player of all times willing and struggling to play, but on the other hand one might also wonder how come he is not capable of judging realistically the state/degree of his recovery process. Anyway, the great thing about Ramy is that beyond being the most spectacular player of all times, he is also such a lovely dude outside the court. We had recently the example of the coffee cup, or further back his singings, and now the fun impressions and emotions around a simple present of a children's chocolate. Great little 'bagatelle' footage, thanks to the I-love-squash team and the German organizers of the 2011 World Team Championships in Paderborn.

14 December 2011

2011-2012 ATCO PSA WORLD SERIES FINALS AT THE QUEENS CLUB

2012 will be a big year for Squash in London. Canary Wharf Classic in March, British Open in May (yes, in the O2 arena!) and most closely the ATCO World Series Finals between 4-8 January 2012 at the historical Queens Club. Last year's event was probably the best ever set up squash tournament in terms of event management, court/colours/lighting settings. Unfortunately the tent that hosted the event lost pressure just the night before the finals should have been played between Nick Matthew and Amr Shabana (shown here below at one of their recent battles at the ROWE British Grand Prix 2011). The good news are: there will be no tent this year, however the great dark/pink court/colour/lighting settings will be maintained, if not even further improved. The eight best male players (those who gathered the most points in the World Series events throughout 2011) will be playing in a best-of-three games format (instead of the traditional best-of-five). This format encourages attacking squash, and combined with the both cool and dramatic visual settings, players seemed to be very inspired last year to go for some extra solutions. On top of all, this year will be a combined men's and women's event with the eight best women players joining the show. For further information visit the official World Series Website, or buy your tickets with ticketmaster.co.uk.

08 December 2011

ONE RALLY, FOUR CORNERS, FIFTEEN LOBS: NICK MATTHEW vs. RAMY ASHOUR

Ramy Ashour and Nick Matthew can produce some heavy metal squash as we could see it in earlier examples. But there is no way to be the best players in the world if you are not good in mixing it up; squash is not a straight line but a streaming thing. In this rally the most outstanding tactical element is obviously the lob. Not necessarily the one that you play in the front out of necessity, but rather the one from mid- or back-court, chosing it instead of a drive. Observe the one at 0:16, Ramy's length was very good, hence the most common solution would have been to reply with a tight drive, but Matthew chose to make an ultra high cross-court lob that almost stuck in the backwall nick and created him a great opening. Then at 0:28, a Ramy special, the cross-court volley lob instead of the more conventional straight long volley. And again, it forced an opening as Matthew could only keep the rally going with a high loose boast. The good thing in the lob is that it is a low percentage shot, even if it is not perfect, you at least gain time to get back to the 'T' without rush (of course if you completely fail it it gives a total opening to your opponent, but that's true for every type of shot). Another note can be made on Matthew's drop shots at 0:21 and 1:00. He went in both cases for the low-risk version by playing them high over the tin, faded into the sidewall. Being the most skillful player in the world, Ramy managed to scrap them off decently, but if you hit them as accurately as Nick did, your opponent will rather end up hitting the ball back to himself or, on lower club levels, even break his racket ;) If I were James Willstrop's coach, I would show him every morning this rally in order to demonstrate how to try to play against Nick. You don't beat Nick Matthew with heavy metal squash, do you?  

05 December 2011

THE EGYPTIAN WAY OF LIFE: RAMY ASHOUR AND A BUNCH OF YOUNG LADS

I had the pleasure last week to meet some young up-and-coming Egyptian players at the 2011 London Open. To be precise, four of them. Farah Abdel Meguid (19 years of age, world #65) who finished runner up in the ladies event, Karim Abdel Gawad (20, #44) who made the semi finals, Andrew Wagih Shoukry (21, #74) quarter finalist and Mohamed Abouelghar (18, #84), the runner-up to Marwan El Shorbagy at the last Junior World Championships. I had a few pleasant chats with them about how the pro squash scene is structured in Cairo; I might probably write about it more in detail in the near future, but if you want just a quick and very expressive picture of the Egyptian way of living and playing squash, just watch the below video. Watch the little chap who plays soccer with the squash ball; watch Ramy Ashour in jeans, hitting a corkscrew lob and making sure that the ball - after hitting five different planes of the space -  ends in a coffee cup outside the court; watch the smiles and listen to the joyful, Mediterranean noises in and around the court. This is one of the secrets of Egypt's squash: world #1 and world #120, the seasoned pro and the 8 year old chap, all together in one place, working and having fun day in, day out. Last note: after having shown this clip to my wife, she suggested Ramy could switch to golf, he could easily become a millionaire...

01 December 2011

HEAVY METAL STUFF III.: NICK MATTHEW vs. JAMES WILLSTROP

James Willstrop has won 2 World Series events in a row, first in Hong Kong then in Kuwait. In those 10 matches he's lost one only game in a tie-break to Karim Darwish in the Kuwait final (Darwish was the opponent also in the Hong Kong final). Both times, Willstrop beat convincingly a form-and-confindence regaining Gregory Gaultier in the semi-finals. In Hong Kong one could have thought that Gaultier had too heavy legs from his 90 minute quarter final match against Nick Matthew, but in Kuwait it was just clear that on such a cold court James is the better player (as I think on a hot court Greg is the stronger one). Willstrop's deaf touch is second to none and this coupled with the right discipline of steadiness (accurate length and width) and patience (right shot-selection) makes him almost impossible to beat when Ramy is not around on such a cold court as the one in Kuwait. I even presume that for the first time after uncountable beatings, in Kuwait, Willstrop could have fancied good chances against his nemesis Nick Matthew. Now that Nick has awful lot of points to save from last December, the battle for the year-end #1 spot will be decided in India, at the Punj Lloyd Masters in warmer conditions. The below rally demonstrates perfectly why Nick is such hard nut to crack for Willstrop, and even more so on hot courts. Let's consider also that for Matthew, this is just a normal rally, if required, he can go on like this for 90 minutes, whereas Willstrop can't cope with him in this rhythm for five games, at least he hasn't been capable to demonstrate the opposite in the last two-three years. This is an awesome rally, even if I think that at the winning volley drop Nick has blocked James in the same way as Ramy has blocked Nick in another famous rally in a very similar situation. Apparently the refs consider that the previous shot in both cases was loose, but I still think that this does not justify to clear into the genuine path of your opponent.

28 November 2011

FROM NOW ON THERE WILL BE A BIT LESS CLASS AND ACCURACY

They often say: "He's been a great artist, but a horrible person..." Well, Stewart Boswell has been an outstanding pro squash player and one of the finest souls I have ever met. And now, after losing in the quarter finals of the 2011 World Series event Kuwait Cup, he announced his retirement to the amazement of the whole squash community; he recently looked so fresh and strong, giving age-defying lessons to the up-and-coming players and beating old time rivals David Palmer and Thierry Lincou for example. Of course, Bozza must know better his own reasons, nevertheless he - as much his person as his squash - will be very much missed on the PSA tour. Boswell broke into the world top30 as a junior and a few years later he was already world #4. Very few exclude that he would have been a strong contender of the top spot of the rankings hadn't he undergone that terrible back injury that forced him to quit the circuit for almost two years. He however came back in style, winning the first seven (!) tournaments he entered and reasserted himself for a brief period again even in the top10. Ever since, he has been one of the most consistent players on the tour, hardly ever loosing to lower ranked players. His consistency is due to the extreme high degree of discipline in his game. Tactically he hardly ever choses a wrong shot, technically he is impeccable: movement fluid, racket-technique academic. He's not that quick on the feet, however he's earlier on the ball as many of the quicker players, due to his phenomenal perception and understanding of the game. He's been also widely considered as one of the fairest players ever to play the game on such high levels. If I were to be a coach, he'd be one of my first choices to demonstrate to the youngsters how to do things on the court. In tennis, when Edberg retired, the governing body, the ATP, has introduced the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award. If I were the PSA, my first thing now would be creating a similar award with the name of Stewart Boswell on it. 

27 November 2011

WEEKEND BAGATELLE XII.: YES LET OR NO LET? RAMY ASHOUR vs. AMR SHABANA

This time I am saying nothing, it's up to you to let me know whether the ref was right or not in according a 'Let' to Shabana. You will probably consider three factors. 1) Did Shabana take a genuine way towards the ball 2) Was it or not a minimal interference? 3) How good was Ramy's shot? Was the ball dying at second bounce before the backwall? In any case, Ramy contested, the referee reacted with a charming and clever 'thank you', which generated a lovely little smile onto Ramy's face. Whether the decision was right or not, it was dealt with great professionalism from both sides.  




23 November 2011

HOW (NOT) TO START A MATCH: RAMY ASHOUR vs. GREGORY GAULTIER

You probably remember that post which shows Ramy Ashour finishing off a match with a boast into the nick off the serve against Gregory Gaultier; a pretty stylish way to win a match, but a part from Ramy who else would have the guts (and the talent) of risking it? If he hadn't found the nick, Gaultier could have easily counter-dropped or killed the ball and who knows if you get a second chance? Anyway, if there is a moment where I would expected even less this kind of a shot is the very first point of a match. It is pretty common even for shot-makers to have a steady mentality at the beginning of matches, keeping the ball flowing, observing the other guy's weaknesses instead of initiating precipitately. Even historical greats like Jansher Kahn were famous of playing long long rallies in the first half of the first games, even against way weaker players, in order to get their legs a bit shaky before going short. But Ramy, we know, is different: he has been having hours of one-man training sessions all his life, and he has tried to find the nick from any point of the court in those sessions. He obviously remembers now which are those geometrical constallation from where he has a good chance to make the ball roll out off the nick. And apparently this situation, when the opponent hits a good serve that stacks close to the backwall, but not that close to the sidewall, is one of those geometrical points. The other thing to note in this rally is Ramy's second shot: he miscalculated Gaultier's semi-lob and had to turn in order to hit the ball which again stack close to the backwall. So many players stop in this situation, whereas if the only shot that you are realistically likely to be able to hit is a boast you must play that shot as your opponent is not in your way even if he covers the frontwall. Many players in a similar situation pretend they could have played the frontwall, but Ramy respects the quality of his opponent's shot and goes for the high boast in order to allow himself to get back to the 'T'. Then comes that famous flick-of-the-wrist-backhand-cross-court-length-kill and to conclude the cross-volley-drop into the nick. All this, within the first few seconds of a match. Do not try this at home!

20 November 2011

WEEKEND BAGATELLE XI.: MAD MAX IN ACTION AGAIN

It's a bit unjust towards Anthony Ricketts, but what can I do of these are the videos that pop up in Youtube with him. Well, he was an animal, both in the good and bad sense of the term. He ran like crazy (or even more crazy here) and was famous for difficultly determinable oral-verbal expressions and body-language. It must have been no fun to get on the same court with him, unless you were Ramy Ashour, and you knew how to make fun of him. In this case he's hitting his 'good old friend' Jonathon Power deliberately with the ball, and the best is that the ball - in opposition of the referees assertion - was not going towards the front wall. Power then returned the favor, but in that case nobody was contesting that Ricketts was standing in his way. Joey Barrington recently suggested that this rule shall be somehow revisited by the PSA... it's not easy though, as the rule shall also encourage players to clear the ball sufficently in order to allow the opponent to hit a cross court. But then again, if you feel your opponent covers the frontwall, stop and ask for a Let to get a Stroke. This might be a solution, admitted refereeing (video refereeing included) evolves to a point where such occurrences can be easily verified in case of an appeal.

18 November 2011

THE FADED KILL II.: by MIGUEL ANGEL RODRIGUEZ

For once nothing extreme - except that little horizontal clearing at 0:03 - from the lovely Miguel Angel Rodriguez, just some very smart squash. First a good, wide, greatly pounded backhand cross-court at 0:14 that bounced off hardly from the backwall, forcing the loose length from Lincou. Secondly, a perfect faded kill into the sidewall. The faded kill is a subtle weapon. I for example have not seen, not understood the existence of it until Professor Marcus Berrett has once pointed it out to me. This shot has been one of the main weapons of Jonathon Power, he has been initiating a large part of his attacks with this shot. What's the point? What's the difference compared to the 'real' kill? You hit it less hard (70-80%), slightly higher, less riskier over the tin, with emphasising the slice, and instead of looking for a quick second bounce you want to make sure that the ball fades into the sidewall with not leaving your opponent a chance to take the ball before it bounces on the wall (as the ball is still too quick for it) or to hit it after the bounce off the sidewall (as the ball is already on a down-course close to the floor). This shot does not have to be a straight winner, the goal is rather to make your opponent scrap off the ball the sidewall loosely. Well, JP or Rodriguez might both be magicians, but they employ also less fancy stuff in order to create situations where they can exploit their creativity. This is squash: a subtle mixture of intellectual engineering and instinctive magic.

12 November 2011

NOSTALGIA I.: PETER NICOL vs. JONATHON POWER, LET or NO LET?

I've reposted a few days ago probably the greatest rally ever, featuring Peter Nicol and Gregory Gaultier. This here is another famous rally with Peter Nicol, this time against Jonathon Power.
However, I am not aware of the squash community's position in regard of the 'No Let!' decision that generated Power's extremely furious reactions. I might cause some discussion, but in my eyes this one was an excellent decision. Let me tell you why: 
1) Nicol hit a loose but deep straight forehand volley. It was not a great volley, but with the deception sufficiently good to make sure that Power could not have volleyed the ball.
2) JP was anticipating and going in the wrong way, he moved forward, expecting probably a volley drop. 
3) realizing he had to change direction, JP slipped and instead of making any effort to go towards the ball, he just opened his racket to demonstrate he was ready to hit the ball (the volley that he had wished, hadn't he gone the wrong way and hadn't he slipped), but in reality the ball has already passed him at that moment and he was not making a single step backwards to prove that he could have gotten to the ball after its rebounce off the backwall. 
4) JP has created the interference himself by going the wrong way and was not originally obstructed by his opponent. He didn't make any effort to show he could have still made it. Opening the racket in this situation was rather a desperate act of 'fishing' (even though understandable - from a fan point of view - in the heat of the situation).
These are my points why I would have come to the same No Let! decision as the referee. 
I can of course understand Power's reaction, it was a crucial rally and he was dominating it mostly. However, these are unfortunately not circumstances that a referee shall take into account. This is why I wonder why Martin Heath - who I consider a very good commentator - did not notice a single of the points above (notwithstanding his co-commentator Alan Thatcher tried to analyze the situation objectively). It's even more strange as Heath even says that "in principle the referee is actually right, he is interpreting the rulebook by the word..." I think, Martin was as excited by the rally as Power and had slightly too much sympathy for JP
Me too, I love all that JP brought to the world of squash, but this does not deflect me from trying to keep a cool analytic eye on the game. Well, you are welcome to through stones at me if you want;)

WEEKEND BAGATELLE X.: A RARE INSTANCE, MATTHEW WINDED

This rally is from the recent 2011 US Open final, where Amr Shabana made his nonchalant glorious return to the PSA World Series stage after almost a 6 months of non-playing. This rally is just a little bagatelle, a very rare instance to see Nick Matthew that winded in his movement. And as a consequence look how low and loose the quality of his shots are. I have always believed that in squash the shots come from the legs, at least the quality of the shot is mostly determined by footwork (path/position to the ball and strength/balance of leg). And Matthew seems to think the same if you consider his reactions at 0:15... he indeed hated his legs at that moment...

10 November 2011

LIKE AN INVISIBLE MAN ON THE COURT II.: RAMY ASHOUR vs. AMR SHABANA

In the first few years of his stellar break-through Ramy Ashour managed to beat pretty much everybody in the top10 at the first or second attempt. But he was suffering against Amr Shabana. It was only at the 4th attempt that he managed to beat him. What was it? Probably too much respect? Maybe. Shabana just so clever? Sure. In any case, these two are the two main heroes of what we might call the Egyptian Revolution of squash; these two have shown first that as a professional - with 15 years of training behind you - you are supposed to be capable to go short from any point of the court; and at the same time, you should be capable of covering the space in case your short attempt went loose. Of course, the game of squash is inconceivable without a steady basic long game; and these two without question are also great masters of the basic shots; it's just as they they have made a pact: "we are similarly good in the basic game, so why hitting first 25 deep shots before going short, let's make it within 5 shots..." And as they are used to this mentality since their early junior times, they have learned to read the game also when the ball is hidden and the opponent is in front of you. It's shoot-out squash, with hazardous nick-attempts off the serve (0:11), cross-court drops (0:13) and "invisible man" running across the court (0:15) - probably not as invisible as James Willstrop was at another exquisite occasion - but still, pretty invisible to generate a friendly & funny body-check from Amr Shabana. By the way, it was an important point; Shabana led by two games to one and 8:6. With 9:6 in the fourth it would have been tough to beat him, whereas by winning the point Ramy managed to come back in the game and then also won the fifth (...and then the final against Karim Darwish to become World Champion, at the age of 21!) Shabana then avenged the loss next year in the final, whereas in the last two years Ramy was injured at the World Open. Unlucky for him and the spectators, lucky for the rest of the field...

08 November 2011

FLYING AROUND THE COURT II.: ALISTER WALKER vs. THE ILLUSIONIST RAMY ASHOUR

Another spectacular rally from the fantastic venue of the 2011 World Open held at the Luxor Theathre in Rotterdam. A clearly injured Ramy Ashour played the always entertaining Alister Walker. You might remember Walker from another rally where he was flying around the court with another great entertainer, Wael El Hindi. Well, Ashour normally estinguishes Walker almost in a humiliating way. I remember, last January I saw them playing in the flesh in the World Series Finals in London, Ashour once again was just recovering from his usual harmstring injury (the same one that he was carrying in this tournament) and he gave there Alister a pretty incredible beating notwithstanding literally playing on one leg. At the post-match interview when the presenter Jake Humphrey asked Alister how it felt to get beaten like this, he was not reacting in a funny way at all I can tell you. This time however Walker seamed to be more aware of what he is supposed to do against a physically restricted genius, in the first two games he held his shots longer and made Ashour twist and turn which resulted in Ashour being constantly late on the ball (which also means that he either had to make a bigger last lounge and risk to worsen the injury or to accept to hit the ball out of position/balance). So Walker went 2:0 up, but somehow Ashour started to anticipate better and the result was really exciting, both of them flying and diving around the court several times as it can be seen in the below rally. In fact, spectacular squash often results from lacks; Miguel Angel Rodriguez's extreme speed and extravagant solutions is aided by the fact that his reading of the game is not at the heights of the top players; and in Alister Walker's case it's the quality and the reliability of the basic strokes that opens up the court slightly more for his opponents - but then, due to the fine mix of lightness and athleticism, he often recovers from the resulting attacks and the rallies become crazy - just funny and crazy.

06 November 2011

WE WILL MISS YOU, MR. PALMER

David Palmer is retiring, he announced to have played his last PSA match when he lost to Karim Darwish in the quarter finals of the 2011 World Open in Rotterdam. In this blog, we have mentioned and analysed several times the amazing professional qualities of the 'Marine'. His main weapon was always his physical and mental strength; just by appearing on the court he made opponents doubt, and at crucial stages of a match his concentration and self-belief might have achieved at times 'Übermensch' levels. Technically too, he was very complete, very solid, steady basic game coupled with a beautiful backhand volleydrop (enabled by great anticipation qualities). Palmer made himself also a reputation for his spectacular dives. With age he also made his squash evolve into a very intelligent lower-pace high-percentage game with looking to fade the ball into the sidewall instead of going for the just-over-the-tin shots (even though there were of course exceptions, like his hilarious and famous drop shot against Ramy Ashour at 2011 TOC in New York). However, there is also the other face of the coin; Palmer, in many regards, is also a representant of a type of squash that is less to our likings; the squash of the eighties, nineties, the squash of subtle and less subtle blocking, the squash of asking for 'Let' at the slightest interference (nevertheless caused by yourself due to a loose previous shot or going initially the wrong way). If PSA were capable of recording bit more elaborated statistics, I am pretty sure that Palmer's name would lead the list of most 'Lets' played in avarage. And that's no good for the general image of the game and also a bit of a shame in an era where the likes of Peter Nicol, John White, Shabana, Willstrop or Ramy (just to mention the main ones) have proved that it is possible to get to the top by playing free-flowing squash. Of course, the below rally is an extreme example, as Jonathon Power and David Palmer had a specificly tough story of their own within the history of squash, but it is still demonstrating the strange kind of rugby player qualities of this great squash player. Let's finish this post by emphasising that the positives of Palmer's game weight still heavier than the negatives, and he will definitely leave an unfilled hole in the pro circuit of squash.

04 November 2011

2011 ROTTERDAM WORLD OPEN: ANOTHER MIZUKI by HISHAM ASHOUR

If in our last post we showed a special shot, a shot that only one player, Miguel Angel Rodriguez is playing, then the Mizuki is the other special shot linked basically to a sole player: Hisham Ashour. The below rally happened just a day ago at the 2011 World Open in Rotterdam. Hisham won the first game against Amr Shabana in just 4 minutes, he was up then 2:0 and it looked like this could be his first ever win on the PSA Tour against his "older brother", but as so often with Hisham, his lack of stamina or fitness enabled his error-count to grow to undecent hights and made him lose the match at the end one more time. Still, his movement is so much more fluid, so much more streaming compared to just a year ago; he should definitely give it a big push training-regime-wise as, given his age, it might be his last chance to become a top10 player in the next 12 month. I remember having asked/suggested the same to Mohd Azlan Iskandar, and indeed he became top10 just a few months later. If Hisham won't make it - I hope he will - then he might retire into history as one of the best players ever not to have figured ranking-wise within the world top10. Come on Hisham!

25 October 2011

PROBABLY THE MOST STUNNING SHOT OF ALL TIMES: by MIGUEL ANGEL RODRIGUEZ

Holy moly! I only believe my eyes because I've seen from Miguel Angel Rodriguez a similar attempt last year at the 2010 London Open. Well, the man who likes to go the wrong way as we called him last time, or if you prefer, the quickest man on earth on 5 meters likes not only dancing on the court but also has shots that only a Zen Buddhist Karate Matrix Magician - who has the power of slowing down the time and even foresee the future - should be capable of. Rodriguez, of course, went again the wrong way, then turned 180 degrees to hit this volley out of the blue and am afraid I called David Palmer's famous shot at the 2011 TOC in New York a bit prematurely the shot of the century. (By the way, Palmer and Rodriguez train these days together, let's hope that will enable this funny genius to go less often the wrong way and strengthen also the "boring structure part" of his game in order to get into the top10 - which would be just great for squash in general). Back to the current video, it is pretty funny how the commentators reacted: long seconds of silence before Joey Barrington started to employ various superlatives ("outrageous shot", "that's ridiculous", "who plays a shot like that?"). It's a shame this rally did not happen in front of a larger crowd, like Palmer's at the TOC, and that the referees did not see at first that the ball has passed Lincou by far by the time he raised his racket to appeal for a Let. But this time I don't really blame them, I guess they were as amazed as anyone else in the audience, facing a never seen, an almost religious-like revelation situation, kind of Jesus walking on water. Luckily science - video review - allowed to award this shot with what it deserved, a clear No Let! and point! Thank you Mr.Rodriguez for existing.

22 October 2011

WEEKEND BAGATELLE IX.: ANOTHER CLASSIC NO-LET: DAVID PALMER vs. GREGORY GAULTIER

This is a perfect example of a tough but still evident No-Let! situation; at first sight it might look as a stroke, as David Palmer's ball was loose and Gregory Gaultier managed to stop it. But! Palmer's ball was so fast that Gaultier could only stop it behind his body, therefore the question weather the frontwall was open or not does not apply. Gaultier could have only played a boast or in the best but unlikely case a straight drive and there was room to make both shots. Because there was no way of hitting a cross-court, the safety consideration is also not applicable, therefore Gaultier should have played the ball. As he hasn't, the decision should have been clearly a No Let! And Gaultier knew it best himself, just look at the expression on his face after the stopping.

20 October 2011

HEAVY METAL STUFF II.: RAMY ASHOUR vs. NICK MATTHEW AT THE ROWE BRITISH OPEN 2011

If the Nick Matthew-James Willstrop pairing is considered as the ultimate heavy-weight encounter (from a physicality point of view) then close next to it follows the pairing that has determined the top of the rankings in the last two years: Nick Matthew vs. Ramy Ashour. Let's don't be mislead by the fact that Ramy is a crazy genious, he is nevertheless very much conscious of Matthews' exceptional combination of strength, speed and fitness, and therefore pays huge respect to his gutsiness and retrieval abilities. A part from Darwish and Gaultier, Nick is the only player against who Ramy does not allow himself to go short any time from anywhere (he does it even against Shabana as I think they consider their matches as a kind of showcase of Egyptian squash flair). The below rally states it as well, Ramy, when he has to, is ready to construct the rally as patiently and accurately as it takes to tire the "robot" (as Joey Barrington calls NM at times). 

13 October 2011

HEAVY METAL STUFF: NICK MATTHEW vs. JAMES WILLSTROP AT THE 2011 US OPEN

In the past 130 posts of this blog I've been citing a few great pairings on the tour, such as Willstrop-Ramy, El Hindi-Darwish, Ramy-Gaultier or again Willstrop-Shabana; pairings that bring out the best from each other, players who inspire each other. But let's do not forget a hard core pairing: Nick Matthew vs. James Willstrop. These two have quiet some history with each other and they are the protagonists of probably the greatest squash match ever. The below rally is reminiscent of that match played a year and a half ago at Canary Wharf; it might not be audacious "Egyptian Squash", they just have too much respect towards each other's retrieving skills to go for unstructured attacking shots. But there is so much going on on other levels, on a constructing-structuring level; so many variations of trajectories, rhythm and pace. These two play the game on the highest physical level, nevertheless they are constantly entering into each other's mind in order to find that little breach of deception that will allow to squeeze out a sufficiently loose opening form the other one which then probably - probably I say, not sure - will allow to play a winning shot. And as hard as the rally is, it can also end with such a soft and delicate drop shot as the one Willstrop is demonstrating. However, one more time, all those incredible skills were not enough to beat the beast that Matthew is.

11 October 2011

NICK AND AMR: THE NEVER PLAYED FINAL AT THE 2010 WORLD SERIES FINALS

First of all, the quality of squash was so high between these two at this match (Round Robin). I had the luck to be there at the Queens Club that evening, and apparently this best-of-three-games format liberated the players mind (knowing that in three games there will be no stamina issues, so one can go for all right from the word go and for all the duration of the match). The other great thing about this event - the 2010 World Series Finals - was the colour and lighting settings; squash has never looked as good both on the screen and in the flesh. I've been waiting for long that PSA understands that squash courts need to be dark in order to see well the tiny white ball; the pink-brownish color of the court was elegant and friendly for the eyes, the lighting was dramatic, just like in a good theater (spectators are sitting in the dark). A shame the tent had to collapse the night before the finals (which would have been a repetition of the Matthew-Shabana match in the round robin stage). Just last weekend however Nick and Amr were allowed to meet in the final of the 2011 US Open, but Matthew being slightly diminished physically, had no chance against mighty Shabana and lost 3:1.  

08 October 2011

WEEKEND BAGATELLE VIII.: HITTING THE OTHER CHAP'S FACE: DAVID PALMER vs. JONATHON POWER

Poor Jonathon Power! He has revolutionized the game of squash (deception, extra-compact backswing), but he was for some reason (maybe for that reason) not always welcome by the fellow players. You remember I guess the weekend bagatelle from a few weeks back when Ahmed Barada kicked him in the leg; this time, even though without any intention, it was David Palmer to hit him brutally in the eye with his after-swing. If JP has introduced the compact backswing and the the extra sliced shots into the game of squash, then Palmer is definitely a representative of the old school at least in regard of his extra long and round after-swing and the almost top-spin like backhand drives. 

06 October 2011

THE MAN WHO LIKES TO GO THE WRONG WAY: MIGUEL ANGEL RODRIGUEZ

Finally I have found some footage about one of my favorites from outside the top20 on the PSA tour; Miguel Angel Rodriguez, probably the quickest person on earth on 5 or 10 meters, by the way a lovely squash player with a particular type of deception in his shots and a funny Gaultier- or crab-like lateral movement. Well, as we said, he's got definitely the quickest feet on the tour (yes, quicker than Gregory Gaultier or Aamir Atlas Khan) and he is also a clean striker. So why is he stuck outside the top20? Probably because back in his home country Colombia he lacks serious training partners. For me, this guy should come to the UK, and under the guidance of the likes of Peter Genever for example he could easily become top10 if not top5. So which are his weak points? Definitely his reading of the game. He often goes the wrong way, even though he almost seems to like to go the wrong way to exploit his hilarious speed. He is the only player on the tour to make on a constant basis 360 degree turns (like in the current video at 0:48 and like I've had the luck to observe in the flesh at the 2010 London Open; once there he was even doing it on the volley, and fellow PSA player Joe Lee who sat next to me said that this would have been the greatest shot ever if it hadn't hit the tin...) Once we said, that what distinguishes Amr Shabana from the other dive-kings on the tour (John White, David Palmer) is his ability to get up after a dive. Well, have a look at Rodriguez' get up at 0:22, and you will probably agree that Shabana is only number two in this respect.

04 October 2011

2011 US OPEN, ANOTHER SUPERB DIVE AND TOUCH: WAEL EL HINDI vs. AMR SHABANA

It's not the first time that Wael El Hindi is showing his exceptional touch and balance by playing a drop shot on the run, behind his body on the backfoot! This time add to the bill that he was just recovering from a dive in order to lob back a good faded drop by Amr Shabana. EL Hindi, in general might not be at the levels of a Ramy or a Shabana, but in this respect - playing drops from behind his body - he is probably the greatest on the PSA tour. Without looking specifically for the subject, we've already had previously three other similar solution by El Hindi here on the no-let blog, check'em out in this video at 0:33, in another one at 0:37, and in this one at 1:02. But don't try this at home!

01 October 2011

WEEKEND BAGATELLE VII.: FAIR PLAY AT ITS BEST: JAMES WILLSTROP vs. PETER BARKER

This is not a very special rally from a squash quality point of view. However we include it in our blog as it shows a very rare moment of an extreamly high level of fair play: James Willstrop overrules a 'let' decision against himself and concedes the point to Peter Barker. I've been watching now pro squash for a few years but I do not remember to have ever seen a similar situation. Hats off to James, really! It's another question that, even in the heat of a live pro match, how the hell could come to any referee's mind to give a 'let' in this situation? James then, in the rally that follows, shows his other great quality: his incredible touch, that allows him to play probably the best deep backhand drop on the tour.

23 September 2011

LIKE AN INVISIBLE MAN ON THE COURT: JAMES WILLSTROP vs. RAMY ASHOUR

It's a shame we don't have the outcome of this rally, but that behind-the-body shot by James Willstrop at 0:18 itself makes it a must for the blog. Extra pleasure to listen to the commentator's amazement in the box. Another thing to note: I often observed that Ramy Ashour, whilst running and stretching towards the front, in extreme situations puts his hand down to the ground in order to help to keep his balance, just as you can see it in this rally at 0:15.


18 September 2011

WEEKEND BAGATELLE VI.: NO COMMENT

At first sight this video seams a simple demonstration of Hisham Ashour's exceptional touch (and nerves, as he was finding the nick at game ball down). If you keep watching the video after the end of the rally you will hear Hisham shouting towards the referee, and this is why we included it in our 'Weekend Bagatelle" section. Then in the replay even the reason of the shouting becomes clear: Peter Barker deliberately hit Hisham's hand whilst the latter was looking the get the ball from him. No comment.

10 September 2011

WEEKEND BAGATELLE V.: NASTY SQUASH, AHMED BARADA vs. JONATHON POWER

That's pretty much the worst in terms of ugliness I've ever seen on a squash court (to be fair am only following squash in the last five years) and I know in the eighties-nineties sportsmanship was on a total different level compared to today. Well, what happened there? Ahmed Barada, whilst running and stretching into the front right corner to recover a drop shot, simply decided to kick with his back-foot into Jonathon Power's leg. You wouldn't believe it if you wouldn't see it.

07 September 2011

DON'T RUN, WALK! II.: ONG BENG HEE

It's another debt we are trying to minimize by showing finally some stuff with great player Ong Beng Hee. To be honest, as exquisite it was, that final nonchalant backhand volley into the nick is not that much a main characteristics of his, however, as you can see, under no pressure (6:10 down against the world #1) he is pretty much able to demonstrate his geometrical skills. More significant and characteristic about him is his movement: just as in Azlan Iskandar's case, it's funnily slightly square - but that's just an aesthetic note; more important is his economy: he is basically walking all the way down the rally! We've showed some time back John White doing the same, but he was doing it against a lower ranked player, whereas Beng Hee is doing it against the world #1! It's a one minute rally, with quiet a few short balls and swifts in momentum, and it's Beng Hee's perception/reading of the game that allows him to be that economic. On the other hand, Matthew seams to run all the time, not only because he is mostly dominated in this rally, but apparently also because that kind of dynamism is in his nature; he is also one of the hardest trainers on the tour so he can allow himself to spend more energy on the court than others; and running instinctively to every ball also enables you to be early on the ball which has its obvious advantages. However, if I were allowed to advise one thing to Matthew, then nothing else would come to my mind than telling him to observe and implement at least partially into his game the Beng Hee type of economic movement.

05 September 2011

EXQUISITE TOP SPIN VOLLEY WINNER: by KARIM DARWISH

This is a short few seconds rally, however with a very unorthodox and exquisite shot that you will not find in the books. To understand it better it makes sense to rewind and watch Karim Darwish's previous volley, a lot more conventional one: he hit the ball at service line heights with mid-low pace slice, looking to make it as tight as possible and as dying as possible. In comparison, the winning volley was hit with a totally unconventional top spin pretty low (however without risking to catch the tin); funnily even though it was a full pace shot, the ball died exactly in the back-wall nick, even if that was not necessary as Nick Matthew was going totally the wrong way, due to Darwish turning his upper body in order to fake a cross-court. Also, his backswing/swing was so quick, that it might have indicated a cross-court (straight drives, as they require more accuracy, are executed with slightly slower backswing/swing). Anyway, amazing shot from an amazing wrist as it has already been noticed in other examples too.

31 August 2011

NICK AND RAMY KEEP IT ROLLING - AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2011

After a long break on the tour, the squash elite came back on scene in August in Camberra/Australia. As so often in the last 24 months, it was Nick Matthew and Ramy Ashour to decide about the title. It's been a thrilling 5 gamer, with Ramy coming out fresher and more concentrated in the fifth. Absolutely no doubt, the below rally is good material both for our 'greatest rallies ever' and squash-analytics section. First thing that hits the eye is the speed and quality of some of the retrievings that are out of this cosmos, with probably the most surrealistic one at 0:48 by Ramy after a perfect nasty trickle-boast by Nick, and then the next one at 0:52, again by Ramy after a really good over-head volley-drop by Nick. Second thing to note is the way Ramy plays the cross-court: he turns the bust towards the side-wall and lets the ball slip almost behind himself to fake a straight drive, and indeed Nick is pretty much each time on the wrong foot (most noticeably at  0:22 and 1:04). Last thing I would like to note, even if it might seam a heresy in the middle of a celebration: I think at the last winning volley-drop (at 1:07) Ramy was considerably blocking Nick's path to the ball. The least to say is that the drop was far from being lethal and he cleared the ball in the wrong way. I know Nick was not asking for a 'let' (nor the commentators, Lee Beachill and Paul Johnson were contesting anything), but in my eyes this is only due to Matthew not wanting to spoil such a great rally with a 'let' outcome; I know my theory might sound naive, but I feel Matthew's general attitude (highly professional, conscious and also intellectual) enables him to look at the 'big picture' and sacrifice a point in order to raise the profile of his sport.

18 August 2011

FOUR-CORNER SQUASH II.: KARIM DARWISH vs. WAEL EL HINDI

After our last post with the same two protagonists, here we have another example of 'total' or as I allowed myself to call it: 'four corner' squash, even if the right back corner was only visited once (this is how much they mutually respect each other's forehand). And if in the previous rally Darwish finished it off at full stretch, here he concludes by keeping the arm close to the hip at the moment of impact to enable him to control the drop as much as possible; interestingly this drop was not looking for the nick, Darwish preferred to find the front-side-wall angle to make the ball bounce quickly twice on the ground. He had to play this drop with a pretty fast swing, and it was the angle's task to brake the speed of the ball and make it bounce quickly twice in a row close to the front-wall. Last time Darwish maintained control and pace whilst flicking the wrist, in the current example he could hold the wrist firm all the way down of his swing for this drop winning shot (it was the 8th drop in this 40 second rally!)

15 August 2011

FOUR-CORNER SQUASH I.: KARIM DARWISH vs. WAEL EL HINDI

If we've said that one of the most entertaining pairings in the current pro squash circuit is composed by Ramy Ashour and James Willstrop, then closely after them follow Karim Darwish with Wael El Hindi. You might remember an earlier example of hilarious attacking/retrieving squash by them, here we now another rally where they make each other visit all four corners of the court a couple of times within those 50 seconds. In the current sample I would specially like to point out Karim Darwish's wrist. We've talked a lot about his extremely compact backswing that enables him to hit any shot from any position without allowing the opponent to anticipate it; however, normally the compact backswing involves decreased power/pace. So how come Darwish can still hit the ball so hard notwithstanding the lack of momentum of the arm? The only explanation I can see is his wrist, the extreme stiffness of his wrist in the moment of hitting the ball in any position of the racket. As it can be seen, he is able to handle that wrist even in such extreme situations like at the last shot: he still managed to deploy power and total accuracy in a situation where he had to use an extreme flick of the wrist. "Well, that's what they call the Egyptian wrist" - says the commentator, Robert Edwards. Well, yes, Karim Darwish disposes of a pretty complete package in terms of an ideal squash arm: compactness, power and touch.

08 August 2011

DOUBLE FAKE, THE CORRECT WAY: JAMES WILLSTROP vs. THIERRY LINCOU

In our last post we've had a slightly over-confused double fake by Amr Shabana, here we have James Willstrop showing the most classic way to employ it correctly right after a highish counter-drop; after a good drop your opponent digs deep to 'grab out' a counter drop, he is still about to get back from his lounge when you threaten with a big swing and a quick fake swing-through to hit a hard cross-court kill; that makes him stuck or even move back slightly and that's enough for you to execute quiet securely a second drop.On club level you might expect it to be a winner straight off, pros like Lincou might get there again to scrap the ball off the ground, but without the time to recover your next winning shot (volley in the below case). The point is to employ the double fake only when the ball (and both you and your opponent) are pretty close to the front-wall, I think.

21 July 2011

DOUBLE FAKEING YOURSELF: AMR SHABANA vs. JAMES WILLSTROP

It has been said a few times, the great thing about Amr Shabana is the mixture, the perfect balance of keeping it simple and being tricky at the right times. However, sometimes it can happen even to the greats that they become confused with themselves, just as it happens to Shabana in the below rally at 0:30. He employs a double fake, I guess as a variation to avoid to proceed to the more usual holding of the shot or just taking the ball as early as possible (which both are better solutions than the double fake when your opponent is so close to you I think).Anyway, some mess will always come with creativity, you just have to make sure that their number remains restricted.


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19 July 2011

THE RAMY ASHOUR MASTERPIECE IN 2011 NEW YORK TOC

This one is one of my favourite one-sided matches ever. Ramy Ashour in general is probably the best thing that could ever happen to squash, but this semi-final match against James Willstrop at the 2011 TOC in New York Grand Central Station was probably his most outrageous masterpiece he has ever created (If you have a subscription with PSA Squash TV then you can watch it in the 'Replay' section). Beating the world #4 in about 30 minutes tells in itself the story. And don't think James was injured or played badly. Not at all. It's just that Ramy was more on fire than ever before, probably because he just had behind him a long and frustrating injury and recovery time and even against David Palmer in the previous round (with the shot of the century!) he seemed to be careful and hesitating at the start. Ramy probably felt euphoric not feeling any pain or fear for the first time after long. What ever the reason was, here we have the last three rallies. I just find it so intriguing when all four corners of the court are being used, when all kinds of pace (slow-fast) and trajectories (high-low) are employed in an embarrassing variety and when players are not afraid to go for the geometrically most risky solution: sending the ball into the nick. Add to this an exceptionally high level of sportsmanship (keeping playing when others might stop is search for a 'Stroke'), the direct and honest expression of admiration by the opponent (the mutual clapping after the first and second rally) and the warm friendly hug at the end. You just can't pretend to ask more than that form the phenomenon called squash, can you?


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10 July 2011

WEEKEND BAGATELLE IV.: THIS, A LET? JAMES WILLSTROP vs. PETER BARKER

If two weekend earlier's 'bagatelle', with Shabana and Willstrop, had a funny but probably right 'Let' outcome, the current one is a sample of exemplary bad refereeing. The decision is even worse knowing that for the first time in squash history, a challenging system with video replay was employed (what a great thing though). Should have been simple: there was minimal if any interference, Willstrop was not blocking or clearing in the wrong way, Barker had straight access to the ball, he didn't raise his hand for a 'let' at or before the moment of the minimal interference (exactly because he knew it was only a 'minimal interference'), he went through and was ready to play and chose not to do so because of the quality and tightness of Willstrop's faded drop. One or two of the above mentioned would already be enough for a 'No Let!', but if all of the above mentioned points are applicable, then there should be no question - also because cheap 'Lets' damage the profile of the game. Otherwise, congratulations to Peter Barker, this was his first ever win against Willstrop.


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07 July 2011

HOW TO FINISH OFF A MATCH: RAMY ASHOUR vs. GREGORY GAULTIER

You can't finish off a tight five-gamer (or just any match) more stylish than that, can you. And the amazing thing is that Ramy was definitely going for the nick-boast as everything else would have put him under huge  pressure (even if we know that he doesn't mind allowing his opponents to get in front of him). Concerning the Ramy-Gaultier story of the last couple of years, as incredible as it sounds, before their last encounter in Hurghada this year - which was won by Ramy 3:0 - their five previous matches went all to five, with each time Ramy coming out as the winner. If you have a subscription on PSA Squash TV I suggest to watch their quarter final match at this years North American Open (where the below rally is from), last year's final at the Hong Kong Open, their semi final at the Australian Open and mostly their 2010 quarter final match at the TOC in New York.


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05 July 2011

FROM THE BEST DIVES SERIES: AMR SHABANA vs. RAMY ASHOUR

The overall dive kings are David Palmer and John White, but close after them comes Amr Shabana. In one respect Shabana is clearly superior to Palmer and White: his aptitude of standing up after the dive. I guess being shorter helps in this respect, but even taking this into account the athleticism factor - the speed of getting back to his feet - of the below recovery is hilarious.


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03 July 2011

WEEKEND BAGATELLE III.: YES LET, CONDUCT STROKE... WARNING... THAT'S FINE!

If these two, Barker and Matthew were not the good mates they are, I could have imagined some more upset reactions from the guy who has been pushed. Just translate this situation into, let's say, a Palmer-Power, or Ricketts-Power context... Matthew argues funnily and intelligently with the referee just to clear the misunderstanding. He did not want to lose a point (conduct stroke) but was totally fine with a conduct warning. As a prologue let's mention that Matthew ended up losing this match, which ended also his incredible 6 months-long winning streak. After match ball, in his frustration, he threw his racket brutally into the glass-wall. I guess if there is a moment Matthew would have the power of cancelling from his squash-past, that one would figure high in the list.


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28 June 2011

WRONGFOOTING RAMY ASHOUR: MOHAMED EL SHORBAGY

We've had so many examples with Ramy intercepting beyond reason, here for once he's been taken on the wrong foot. To achieve it El Shorabgy bended extremely and played the ball relatively late, close to his body. Such preparation generally suggests a drop, and as you do not stretch your arm to hit the ball, you can relatively easily flick the wrist late and go suddenly for a cross-court. So even if some coaches teach in general to stay away from the ball and to hit it as early as possible, to add a higher deception factor to your game, you might rather chose to allow the ball close and hide it with your body. This way you will hold the shot and have more options (creating more uncertainty to your opponent) and also more control if you chose to go for the drop. Of course, to increase even more your deception factor, it makes sense to hit the ball at times also early and straight forward without any deception. Just like in chess, you look to drive your opponent crazy, and to do so, you have to keep being unpredictable.


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26 June 2011

WEEKEND BAGATELLE II.: STROKE, LET, NO LET - AMR SHABANA vs. JAMES WILLSTROP

The three referee system was definitely a wise thing to introduce to such a quick sport as squash. Three pair of eyes see more than one and the players are disabled to argue with one person - it's a committee they are facing. Situations like the below one - where the three referees make three different decisions - show the complexity of the referees' job. There are so many borderline decisions to make, therefore one of the most important principles is consistency. However, in the current case in my opinion the borderline was more between 'Let' or 'No Let', even if Willstop's shot was loosish, but it was way too fast and Shabana reacted too late to get a 'Stroke'. Funny acceptance of this funny situation both by Shabana who counts by name the different decisions and by Willstrop who notes somewhat sourly: "All different".


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23 June 2011

LOW PACED HIGH BALLS: RAMY ASHOUR vs. MOHAMED EL SHORBAGY

You will definitely like the final trademark backhand volley into the nick by Ramy. But observe also the heights and the low pace of his shots in the early part of the rally. His first six shots are all lob-like, El Shorbagy either has no chance to volley it at all or can volley it only behind the service box without much harm. Lobbing the ball constantly will also make your opponent's 'T' position push back by a few feet, which is beneficial once you decide to go short. I remember Nick Matthew, when he had that unbeaten streak for a six months span in the first part of 2010, the only guy who made him doubt for a game and a half was Mohammed Abbas at the North American Open, employing exactly these tactics.


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21 June 2011

CRAZY ANGLED TRICKLE BOAST: AMR SHABANA vs. JAMES WILLSTROP

The greatness of Amr Shabana consists in the mixture of simplicity and high creativity. We've been saying this already a couple of times: creativity and deception supposes you have also a steady basic game, otherwise your tricks will not work. Shabana is a master of both, and when you expect the trick, you'll get just a tough and tight basic length, whereas when you expect the basic length, you'll get unseen shots, just like this very rare angled crazy trickle boast. Observe it, remember it and employ it - not in every game though, not even in every match, but once in every 2-3 matches it might serve I guess - but only after having played already deep from the same position a couple of times earlier in the match. Extra note: it's funny that Shabana teaches a trickle-boast angle to James Willstrop, the master of trickle-boasts himself.


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19 June 2011

WEEKEND BAGATELLE I. - FUNNY SELF-PARODY: DAVID PALMER vs. GREGORY GAULTIER

WEEKEND BAGATELLE is a new series at No Let!, showing humorous or just strange situations from the pro squash circuit. Eventually we could have started with our previous post where John White produced that funny little scare to Gregory Gaultier. As for now: well, as far as I can judge, the majority of club players cheer for Shabana, Jonathon Power, Ramy, John White and Thierry Lincou. I've hardly ever heard that David Palmer would be someone's favourite player. I think people also look at sports as circus, and Palmer's personal appeal lacks maybe some charm. Well, myself I am almost a fan of his squash, of his steadiness, mental strength, shot selection, but one thing has always disturbed me: his clearing after playing  drop shots. A part from Anthony Ricketts and El Hindi, nobody blocks that much tendentiously in this situation. The below rally is a perfect demonstration of this, with the funny addition that Palmer, realizing maybe that he really exaggerated the blocking this time, thought it might have been useful to emphasize his action even after Gaultier was calling for 'let'. I guess Palmer intended to demonstrate his opponents behaviour, but instead - as Gaultier is all but a blocker - he ended up doing a slightly absurd self-parody.


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17 June 2011

A LITTLE SCARE: JOHN WHITE vs. GREGORY GAULTIER

It's been always a pleasure to watch John White on court, as well for the quality and high entertainment factor of the squash as for the human aspects. He never refused any opportunity to make some fun; the below joke was slightly scary, as you don't want to be hit by anyone, and surely not by one of the hardest hitters ever. However, even the scared opponent, Gaultier appreciated the joke. We might appreciate the sportsmanship spirit even more knowing that all this happens in the middle of a main tournament, at 5:6 in the deciding fifth game! As far as I know the history of squash, it's been John White to introduce this kind of relaxed, funny and friendly attitude on court. And to become world #1 with this attitude deserves the highest ratings of our appreciation.


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16 June 2011

PREPARING THE RACKET FOR THE VOLLEY

Some time ago we've already featured a rally with Adrian Grant and Aamir Atlas Khan as a demonstration of the difference of high and low-elbowed racket-preparation. This time I refer to the bellow rally mostly because of what Peter Barker is explaining in the commentary box. He is reproaching Grant's racket-preparation not in technical but rather in tactical terms. He is saying that instead of looking to keep the racket-head in front of him in search for a volley he immediately positions the racket backwards. I feel this point is very true and concerns not only Adrian but in general the old-school British attitude (except Matthew and Willstrop of course). How many times do we see mediocre cross-courts that the player lets pass himself to hit it then off the re-bounce from the back-wall. Looking for the volley does not mean looking for cheap winners, you are welcome to hit it deep if you feel it's not time to go short, but if you have the opportunity to volley a ball just do it, it will take away time from your opponent, which means less recovery for his body between two shots and more uncertainty about where the ball goes as from the 'T' where you volley you have definitely more options than from the back of the court. As the volley is often a reaction-shot, without time or necessity for a back-swing, a firm wrist will help the precision of your shot. Therefore - to follow Peter Barker's suggestions - it makes sense to keep the wrist already cocked when the racket is in front of you whilst you wait for your opponents shot.

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08 June 2011

TOM AND JERRY: RAMY ASHOUR vs. AAMIR ATLAS KHAN

Amr Shabana, Nick Matthew, Karim Darwish, Gregory Gaultier. And a bit back in time probably David Palmer, Thierry Lincou, Anthony Ricketts - these are the players Ramy Ashour has/had to give it his all to beat them. (And James Willstrop? Well, even though he has lost to him at a few occasions, in general Ramy looks deeply relaxed against James, just as at their last PSA meeting in New York this year January, where Ramy produced one of his most outrageous masterpieces in about only 30 minutes). But then, outside the top10, he just plays cat and mouse with his opponents. He just knows where the shot goes before his opponent plays the shot. And this is particularly amusing against someone as quick as Aamir Atlas Khan. No disrespect to Aamir - one of the quickest feet ever to run over a squash court - but there as very little he can do against the magician; as little as Alister Walker could in this older example.


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