28 March 2012
26 March 2012
Tarek Momen is probably the second most unorthodox and creative player after Ramy Ashour on the tour. I was lucky enough to witness him play in the flesh against James Willstrop at the 2012 Canary Wharf Classic (what a match that was!) and I can tell you, the British crowd was cheering more for the Egyptian boy. This must be due to his incredible touch, hazardous shot-selection and gentleman-like fairness (not that Willstrop himself wouldn't excel in these categories, except the hazardous shot selection of course, but Momen does all this in an extremely unorthodox, special way). In the next few posts I will try to analyze Momen's game through some recordings that I was kindly allowed to do by the PSA and the organizers (Eventis). The below rally is a simple one for his standards but it shows an essential ingredient of his game: the hard paced deep drives. It's the very high quality of these drives that allow him go for his famous volley-drops apparently so nonchalantly. But it's not nonchalant at all. He pushes his opponents - here the world #1 James Willstrop - far back on the court with these shots; few players find more consistently and severely the back of the court than Momen (observe for instance the quality of the one at 0:13). Hitting a good and severe length doesn't mean you'll have to hit straight and long all day long. Momen for example, as soon as the opponent's response is slightly loose, will go for his trademark volley-drops. He will not hold the shot and hit it back long, no, he will go straight away for the drop (80% of the times). In the below case he employs a cross-volley-drop faded into the mid-court side-wall (0:19) as a preparative shot in order to stretch his opponent and then the delicate deaf straight volley-drop just over the tin (0:22) to finish the rally. Looks simple, but requires a genius and a few thousands of hours of training to make it look that simple.
24 March 2012
Ramy Ashour keeps enjoying himself... You have seen the first and second version of the tea-cup sessions. Here is now a more simple one. However, the smile afterwards is probably even wider and even more adorable. One of the main lessons of these fun Ramy videos is: spend time alone on the court, keep practicing alone, feed yourself and experience the angles. The other lesson is probably that the one who loves it the most will also be the best at it...
17 March 2012
If you have read our last post, then you already know the beginning of the story. This here is the conclusion, the fifth game of that ominous 2007 Canary Wharf Final between James Willstrop and John White. By this time John White has had 19 games in his legs (1st round vs. Davide Bianchetti 3:2, quarter-final vs. Alex Gough 3:2, semi-final vs. Thierry Lincou 3:2 and here at 2:2), in other words, the veteran player had little chance against the younger and fresher one. In such a situation other players might crack and give up, but John chose to put his heart on the court (and the rest of his body a couple of times, as you can see it). This however was not enough as Willstrop was happy to inflict the so-called 'slow death' to his opponent. This is a typical Yorkshire-rooted strategy and it means that when you are aware of your superiority in terms of fitness, instead of aiming to killing off your opponent in no time - which would be risky and could even bring him back into the game as he doesn't have to work much - you are happy to mix it up and put the ball just always an inch further away from him and watch how he will run his lungs off his mouth. Don't take me wrong, I am not saying Willstrop was nasty with White by employing this strategy; James did what he had to do, he was exactly aware of facing one of the greatest shot-makers of all time, and by going for winners early in the rallies, he would have risked to give him a breather or to be straightly counter-attacked. At the brink of death, after giving himself again and again a lifeline, White is showing creativity and commitment at its utmost. I can only repeat it: Thanks James, and thanks John! (If someone has got the full version of this match in good quality, could you please let me know.)
15 March 2012
I personally believe that next to the Tournament of Champions at Grand Central Station New York, the Canary Wharf Classic in London provides the best overall settings on the tour. First of all, you have a full house from the very beginning (so different to most other main tournaments), secondly, the viewers area is set up close (very close) to the glass court; players visibly enjoy this and it creates a great atmosphere also for television coverages. Thirdly, the VIP gallery provides a fantastic, almost bird-view perspective to the lucky-ones (am afraid tickets are already sold out for this area). And not at last, the whole event is so smoothly organized by deeply engaged squash professionals (Peter Nicol, Tim Garner, Alan Thatcher just to mention the main ones). Now to the history. Probably the most remembered match of the tournament is the famous semi-final between Matthew and Willstrop, but I would like to remind you another one. One, that in my eyes is probably even bigger (maybe also for personal reasons, as I was there in the first row, and it was my first time to see a squash tournament, in fact I received the ticket as a birthday present). I am talking about the 2007 final between Willstrop and John White. Beyond the personal things, I continue believing that this match must have been one of the all time greatest. I was a total beginner at that time, but it was this match that showed me that squash can be played in hilarious ways, using all four corners and that if you want, there is a way to avoid interference almost completely (and you know that these two are really big blocks). If you are in a hurry you can wind forward to 0:35 where the rallies start, it is the third game of the match at one each. All the rallies shown are hilarious, but please don't not miss in any circumstance those at 3:1 (1:00) and at 8:4 to White (4:05), both examples of "four-corner-squash" at its maximum. The one at 8:4 was also crucial as it would have brought White to 9:4 and if he hadn't wasted that much energy to grab that game (13:11) I think he would have had a good chance to win the match (remind you he has had at that stage of the tournament already three five gamers behind him, and the one against Thierry Lincou in the semi-finals was a classic for itself). Anyway, if you couldn't get yourself a ticket, you can still follow the event live with squashtv. And I will come back soon with the conclusion of the below Willstrop-White match.
13 March 2012
Okay, here we have a few players I haven't had the opportunity to talk about yet. First on is flying Tarek Momen against Mohamed Abouelghar. I have already expressed a few times my admiration towards Tarek Momen (however, soon the results will have to be more consistent, otherwise he could become one of the greatest talents ever not to really make it. Let's hope he proves his points this year). His opponent, 19 year old Mohamed Abouelghar (in red shirt), is another stellar prodigy from Cairo. Watch his shots, hardly any back- and afterswing, his court coverage (both with the foot - to defend - and the eye - to attack!), so smooth and compact that I can't help but thinking of a certain Amr Shabana. By the way when I had the luck to bump into Abouelghar in the Queens Club in January he confirmed me that he mostly trains with Shabana form the big guns. And on top of all, he's got also what this highlight can not show: mental discipline. If this guy will not waste his talent in some way, then watch out for interesting things to happen. Next match is between good old Olli Tuominen - you probably remember our praise of him - against the biggest block on the tour, Omaar Mosaad (in black). It must be a nightmare to be on court with Mosaad unless you are a lot better or a lot smaller to get around him under his armpit. Mosaad is still young (24) and he's been in the top20 for nearly two years, I am curious to see how far he could go. He is probably the hardest hitter on the tour, he's got also great touch and is moving the court around pretty decently for being slightly oversize for this sport. Anything can happen yet with him, however the next two years will show if we shall whether expect him in the top5 or rather top10. Next on, I don't have to introduce Hisham Ashour (in red shirt), last month he achieved carrier high world #11 (grrr, still no top10!) Unfortunately Hisham seems to have gained some extra weight again, you can see it so clearly with him as not only does his upper body become really big, but also his movement becomes totally different compared to his slim times. His opponent, Mohd Ali Anwar Reda, another Egyptian youngster in the top30, is a highly skilled player, but I have seen a few times lack of mental strength in his matches. Last up is Amr Shabana against Cameron Pilley. Pilley (in blue shirt) is another famous hard hitter (you know what he did to his brother, don't you) and a very relaxed guy too. Why hasn't he achieved top10 so far? He probably lacks exactly that tiger-kind concentration that the really big ones have (and that Abouelghar seems to have too!)
11 March 2012
Probably many of you have already seen this video, as it has over 135.000 views on youtube. But TOC videos are always fun and there are a few things to observe. The first three rallies feature three great Australian players and it is interesting to observe the differences in their movement; John White has always been famous for hardly bending his bust, and not even much his knees when hitting the ball. In opposition, observe the extreme asymmetric bending that Anthony Ricketts is investing in almost all of his shots (and savor that beautifully ponded deep forehand dying volley that made him win the rally against Peter Nicol at 1:47). Bending-wise in between the previous two is David Palmer, who prefers keeping a relatively upright bust position countering it with well bended knees as he hits the ball. Jonathon Power is again someone who does not bend much the upper body if not necessary whilst Thierry Lincou engages his upper body almost as much as Ricketts. Lincou's seemingly rigid, square composure comes best to light in the last rally against Peter Nicol, who is more fluid and bouncy (and who generates hilarious racket-head speed due to an interesting extra-squeeze in his backswing). It's a great contrast to watch. And I also loved how Alan Thatcher, the commentator, expresses sincere amazement after the end of the last rally. Great rally also between the two ladies. To cut it short, great little compilation for the weekend.
07 March 2012
Even though it doesn't look like it, this video shows the highlights of a $50.000 tournament final (the 2012 Comfort Inn Open, back in January). Played on a traditional cement-wall court it gives you an idea how these guys might train back in their home clubs in Cairo; because indeed it looks - not like an exhibition - but rather like a well-spirited training-match, very fair, but without any deliberate and funny feedings, they just go for it, and it looks to me that the audacious geometrical solutions make them win more points than lose. I am personally a fan of the patient, steady, "up-and-down the wall squash", but when I see a highlight-compilation like this, it projects somehow a wider smile on my face. Thank you Shabana and Hisham for having had spent all those times alone on the court experiencing the angles! May the God of geometry be with you for long.
05 March 2012
If you have been following and reading this blog for a while, you will for sure have noticed that the author is a firm believer of the compact backswing. In squash you have often little time and a contained amount of free space to execute your shot. Hence the need of a reduced backswing. In fact, I have understood last week, with the return to action of Ramy Ashour at the North American Open, in what his technique is really different to the rest of the field; he has a pretty flowing swing when time and space allow it, but he is the only player to use on a constant base the "no-swing at all". If you hit a loose cross-court kill, most players will still raise their racket to prepare for their shot with a decent backswing; Ramy in opposition will not raise his racket at all, he will just block your shot at his feet, basically hardly moving his racket (no backswing/no swing). Unfortunately there is no video available about his 2012 NAO matches on youtube (except the final where Willstrop neutralized him as nobody ever before), therefore I have picked an old match where his opponent, Nick Matthew demonstrates the no-backswing drop-shot twice: first at 0:29 and lastly at the winning counter-drop at 0:47 in the replay. It's not exactly the one that Ramy does, as he does it mostly to reply to kills, whereas the below two examples show counter-drops whit basically no time even to try to execute a decent traditional backswing. But still, it's two great examples how to get under the ball when you have to go for the "scrape-off" counter-drop: on both sides it's a minimal reverse slice that Matthew employs to navigate the ball just over the tin.