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.