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