28 February 2011


A couple of posts ago I mentioned that the shot that James Willstrop is missing - and that contributes to disable him to compete for the world #1 spot at the moment - is the volley kill into nick. He finds the nick on the drop shots, but hardly ever replies with the volley kill nick off the serve or even during the rallies when the loose ball comes around the service box around shoulder heights (he was finally trying though last weak with contained success against Martin Knight at the 2011 North American Open). Don't take me wrong, James is a highly creative player who, a part that missing shot, is pure joy to watch  - nobody plays the deep drop better than him for example, and maybe even his backhand trickle boast off around the service box area is one if not the best on the circuit. Add to this an ultra fast racket preparation on the backhand side that enables him to volley  very efficiently or play the ball in situations where most players would ask for a let.
Peter Barker is a different case. The question is not yet if he can make it to the world #1 spot, but rather if he can break into the top5. He's been now in the top10 for four years, peaking for a single month at #6 and usually standing at #8. If you watch psasquashtv, you might have noticed through the chat board that many consider him one of the most boring players to watch. Nevertheless, he's got some great qualities that for us club players must be valuable to observe. First of all, his movement - he's one of the most fluent movers on the tour. In comparison with Nick Matthew's brutal steps, landing generally on his heels, Barker employs more absorption due to landing rather on his toes (this is of course less visible in the below rally playing against Matthew as he has to do an awful lots of work to stay in the rally). If he seems to be a lot more 'lost' on the court against the top players compared to Matthew, this is due to the speed of perception and the reading of the game - factors in which Matthew is on the top of the scale, whereas Barker not. The other main positive of Barker's game is the quality of his basic strikes - as with the movement, racket preparation and the basic strokes are just pure and harmonic, close to perfect. The third positive is evident: his fitness level and his body strength are spot on, nobody can ask for more (there might be still an edge to progress his leg speed though).
Now to the weaker points. We already mentioned the reading of the game, but this is something that gets better with experience, so we might expect progression in this factor in the coming years.The second, and maybe main default is definitely his touch. His drops are lacking confidence and he struggles to find the right angles when he goes for the nick. But not being a natural talent shouldn't discourage, Nick Matthew's example proved it clearly, this is something that you can improve dramatically if you force it enough at training. And I do believe that Barker is finally aware of this, and started to focus on it. I was very much impressed with his performance against Matthew at the World Series Finals at the Queens Club in January: he was going short almost as frequently as Matthew himself and the quality was also way better than just a couple of months earlier. And in the below rally too, he plays some good counter-drops out of difficult situations (he does the fatal error though when he had time to prepare at the last shot).
To conclude, I would say that if Barker manages to analyse his weaknesses as coolly and consequently as Nick Matthew does his owns, and if he is keen to keep investing physically all the hard work that is required on this level to rectify them, I would not exclude that in two years time, or maybe earlier, he achieves the level that would allow him to break into the top5. And once you're there, you never know... and also, as said in the last post concerning Daryl Selby, let's remember: British players are often latecomers, they don't let themselves discourage because they are stubborn in the positive sense of the term.

17 February 2011


English squash is on a high, Nick Matthew is world #1, James Willstrop is a pretty constant actor of the world top5, Peter Barker of the world top10 and recently, in the last 18 month it's Daryl Selby who shows incredible improvement both game- and ranking-wise. You might remember that epic rally that Daryl lost to David Palmer - according to the incredible quality of retrieving that can be seen in the below rally, I don't think he ever again would lose a single point from such a situation. I shall come back with some more detailed analysis about his game soon, and Peter Barker shall not be forgotten either as in the last couple of months there are definitely signs that he has understood what are (were) his crucial deficits that did not allow him to compete really with the top guys, but for now just lay back and enjoy the below one!

10 February 2011


It's definitely a funny collision, but I wonder how could the referee give a 'let' as Wael El Hindi played a great deceptive trickle-boast that made David Palmer go the wrong way and then the ball just came back towards him and El Hindi couldn't play his shot because he was collapsing due to Palmer lying next to him on the ground. Palmer pretends that El Hindi stepped on his foot and this is why he couldn't clear - but that's a poor reasoning as he was lying on the ground hence couldn't have cleared in time anyway. But it has to be said that Palmer is defending his false point a lot more professionally than El Hindi his right point, which means that intellectually he is more accurate and probably that too adds to the difference between a great and a 'just' very good player.

08 February 2011


Let's talk less technique this time and bit more psychology; anyway, squash is full of psychological aspects as the two players are basically closed within a 'small cube' in which they are constantly very near to each other physically and  also because of the very high degree of deception that one has to employ to win points. In the below sample, we have young Ramy Ashour playing furious 'mad max' Anthony Ricketts in early 2007. Ricketts is obviously frustrated with both Ashour's shot-making and retrieving. At certain moments, he expresses his frustration in some really strange manner, like for example that half kick-half flick in the air at 0:15. He is rude with the referee who misses the score and spreads some nasty look towards Ashour, without really looking into his eyes. And what does Ashour do at this point? Nonchalantly asks the referee if he's sure that the score is not the other one? I think this reply is just part of Ashour's natural genius; when someone tries to intimidate you orally or with any type of meta-communication on the court, the worst you can do is to try to counter it in a similar manner. It won't work as it was the other guy who started that 'game' and he will feel that he managed to pull you into his trap. The other wrong solution would be to express your disgust with any type of 'educational' comments - again, he would feel like he managed to derail your concentration and to get under your skin at some degree. A better solution could be just being quiet, make it look as if you wouldn't even perceive his behaviour. But this is risky as you very probably have some thoughts about what he is doing, and repressing them might be counter-productive. So the best solution seams to me the one that Ramy employed: humour and sarcasm; "you are upset, dude, no problem, I still enjoy the game, well I even enjoy that you waste your energy with upsetting yourself more and more, so if you like it, just go on...".

05 February 2011


This is a really good example of an extremely attacking and counter-attacking rally (no lobs at all), with a spectacular ending (El Hindi's dive). But in my eyes the most interesting shot was the drop at 0:33. El Hindi was totally out of balance, not only on the back-foot but even on the back-run; according to traditional squash coaching guides, this is a position you are really not supposed to go for a drop, but apparently El Hindi doesn't care that much and made it a speciality of his as he is doing it more often than anyone else and also constantly at a surprisingly high quality. Funnily though, just as it can also be seen in an earlier example (at 1:02), after having created the opening due to this spectacular shot, it is at the next shot where he chooses the wrong direction, in the earlier example going for a useless cross-drop and in the current rally for a wide and hard cross - instead of a straight kill or straight dying length drive. Let's also pay credit to Alister Walker's athletic abilities. His movement might not be as fluid as the top guys' (throwing his upper body whilst lounging slightly John White-like), but he is still as quick as it can get.

01 February 2011


I've already pointed out a couple of times that David Palmer in general doesn't go for the inch-perfect ball, he rather looks to find the angle that makes the ball fade into the side-wall. And it's the same story in the below rally; watch the reaction volley drop at 0:08, the boast at 0:13, the cross drop flick at 0:15 or the counter-drop at 0:17, in each case the ball goes safely way above the tin and fades perfectly into the side-wall making his opponent stretch and cutting his options to return the ball in diverse angles. But then, at the end, there was no other option, after Ashour's lob that stuck near around the middle of the back-wall, he had to go for the inch-perfect shot, and with a shortened grip, David Palmer hit a Ramy Ashour-like crazy poetic deep drop into the nick. The public erupts and Joey Barrington calls it rightly "the shot of the century".