31 May 2012


I promised you some interesting footage from the 2012 British Open at O2 Arena. First of all, many thanks to the PSA for having permitted to record at these matches. Having such a nice close-up view allows you to catch a lots of technical details, but you can also still follow, enjoy and understand the whole structure of the rallies. But let's start with some fun stuff and not much analysis. 
The Ramy Ashour vs. Amr Shabana quarter final match had a few crazy swivel points; first game to Ramy; in the second Shabana was up 10:6, but it went again to Ramy 12:10. In the third Ramy was up 3:1, but ended up losing it 5:11. The fourth was all about Shabana: 11:1. The fifth went toe to toe until 4:4, from then on it was all Ramy again, and Shabana even ended up breaking his racket and playing the ultimate point with  it!
This rally probably is a good synthesis of the whole match, it's as crazy if not crazier as the match itself was. It's from that span when Shabana won 22 points against only 3 from Ramy; hence Ramy was a bit demoralized at this stage and in order to invent something to come out of that whole, he chose the playful way instead of the steady one.
By the way, did you count how many times Ramy touched (bumped into) the glass wall with his non-playing arm/hand? Six times. I quiet much like when players use all four corners of the court, but in this one the deep right corner was totally omitted. Let's call hence this rally 'three corner squash' from the 'Egyptian squash at its funniest' series. Mr.Ashour, Mr.Shabana, you are legends and we are grateful that you exist.

29 May 2012


I keep getting more and more surprised how Olli Tuominen keeps progressing his squash. He has certainly passed his peak years in terms of physicality - for sure he has always been one of the main animals of the circuit - but he has never played with so much variety. Also his racket-technique was a bit square, not natural, not fluid, however, by now, he is almost text-book even in this respect.
Let's have a more close look to the below rally. For example, at 0:10, observe how Tuominen holds the shot to hit a pounded low pace deep drive. Very nice. And even if it didn't create an opening, next time in a similar situation his opponent will be a lot more uncertain whether to expect a drop or a drive (or a boast or a cross kill or even a cross lob...).
At 0:18 however he hits a very loose cross-court and Amr Shabana does not ask twice to go for it: indeed, he goes for three volley-nicks in a row, The first two made Tuominen dig deep, however at the third one, Tuominen, due to his impressive fitness and body strength, manages to get there early enough to answer with a counter-drop; due to the tightness of his ball, Shabana had no other option than to counter-drop again, which not surprisingly ended up being loose enough to enable Tuominen for another time to hold his shot and menace with a kill; that made Shabana stuck on the 'T' and the last counter-drop ended up being a clear winner. Classic stuff.

22 May 2012


Nick Matthew might well have been only second best in the previous five meetings versus Ramy Ashour, this time, at the final of the 2012 British Open he has been clearly the better player. It is one thing - however extremely tough - to suffocate and extinguish Ramy's skills on court. It is another to give him even a lesson in finishing the shots.
Matthew was down in each game (6:8 in the first, 2:4 in the second and 7:8 in the third) and managed to conclude in the crucial parts of the games in Ramyesque style.
I mean, watch the backhand volley-drop on the stretch at 8 all (at 1:15), or the forehand volley-drop to close the first game at 1:52; or the rally at 7-8 in the third, where he prepares with a forehand cross-court volley-nick to conclude with a deaf forehand volley drop at (4:11), not to mention the final mid-court drop shot to win the match at 4:30.
These were all high quality drop shots in crucial moments, and on top of that, they were all different kind of drop shots, requiring different techniques. Matthew mastered them all.
Beyond being the toughest animal on the tour, I've always said that he is also one of the most intellectual guys out there and definitely the best learner. Matthew analysis constantly his own relative deficits and studies and learns from his greatest opponents without allowing them to catch up with him in his primary qualities (fitness, tactics).

21 May 2012


All credit to Nick Matthew for his third British Open title. He went through a relatively easy draw (for his standards) without complicating life too much for himself. Ramy had a more difficult draw, but the main lesson probably for him is to be a little bit more focused in the first few rounds of the tournament in order to remain mentally and physically fresher for the final. 
Nevertheless, we still have to say a big thank you to Ramy for his two matches against Amr Shabana in the quarters and James Willstrop in the semis. 
The one against Shabana was extremely fluctuating - at a certain stage with a string of 22 points to Shabana whilst Ramy made only 3! - the one against James was more conventional in the score pattern but probably even more exciting in terms of surrealistic squash being displayed. Just enjoy the below highlights from squashtv and I'll be back with some more technical stuff soon showcasing more rallies from the 2012 British Open.

18 May 2012


Yesterday we had a squashtv highlights and a bit of pre-match report of the Ramy Ashour-Borja Golan second round match that ended 3:2 to Ramy at the 2012 British Open.
Today I would like to publish the rally which swivelled the match totally. The rally starts, from Ramy's point of view at 0:2 down in games and 7:8 in the third. Up to this point Ramy was playing very messy, very much up and down, and more down than up. I have described some details of the mess in my yesterday post.
But the below rally has changed everything. The predator-artist that Ramy is came back all of a sudden (really in the last possible minute) and beyond the raise of quality in both his length and short game (every single shot in this rally by Ramy was near perfect) it was very evident watching in the first row how much this affected Golan mentally, who started to doubt suddenly and even suffer - apparently - physically in the fourth game that he lost 11:1. 
No way the reason of this apparent tiredness was due to the length or the intensity of the match that hasn't even lasted 25 minutes at that stage, that Borja dominated mostly and was full of short rallies with forced and unforced errors by Ramy. I presume that Borja's leggs suddenly started to tire because of the overdose of adrenaline that the very near possibility of beating Ramy Ashour at the British Open (and failing to do so by being so near to it at 2:0 and 8:6 in the third) has generated psychologically. 
Going into the match Golan was a clear underdog and I think his focus is excellent in general., but a bit less at crucial stages of the game. At the gate of such a big result, the stress can cause even cramps (do you remember that Argentinian tennis player, Guillermo Coria, who was leading type of 6:1/6:1 in the final of Roland Garros and started to cramp in the third so that he could hardly walk in the rest of the match and ended up losing it). Golan was not quiet there, but visibly his amazing reach, that beautiful last long lounge preparing tough-to-read ponded held shots has altered dramatically.
But let's get back to what Ramy was doing in this rally. Being three points away from defeat he avoided high risk shots (they were anyway not working very well during the match) but managed to apply more and more pressure with each shot. At 0:10 and 0:16 he played two near perfect - very deep but not overhit - backhand drives in situations where in normal circumstances he would have gone for drops. Then the two drops that he played at 0:13 and 0:21 were both low-risk (not too low, not too short) but highly accurate shots (tight and fading into the sidewall). Ramy, in this rally, pulled out the traditional squash-player of himself. He did not know when he was going to win the rally, but he knew he had to make sure to keep on the pressure.

17 May 2012


(2012 British Open, second round, Ramy Ashour - Borja Golan 3:2). 
I was in the players' lounge saluting Borja Golan who was already doing his dynamic warming up procedure in preparation for his match against Ramy Ashour. I went then to one of the O2's many Thai restaurants a few corners away from the glass court and as I was sitting and eating there for a while I noticed Ramy coming with his huge squash bag from the tube's direction, stopping and chatting in a relaxed spirit with some people out there. He was on his way to the site, whereas Borja has been warming up for more than 40 minutes by that time. 
I don't know if it was down to the difference in warm up, but in the first two games Borja Golan looked like a top5 player and Ramy like an amateur. In the beginning of the second game, after losing the first couple of points, Ramy even turned hysterically to Amir Wagih, the Egyptian national coach in the second row of the viewers area, indicating him to get him a new grip for the next break between games. Indeed, Ramy's grip was as dirty and old as it can get. At that point he seemed a mixture of an amateur and a primadonna. 
Well he got his new grip and a few suggestions from the national coach and things got better. It was still not straight forward, as at 6:8 Ramy was just three points away from losing in the second round of the British Open. But from that point onwards he won 27 points to 8 only from Borja
Ramy got away with his nonchalance for another time. I am sure he will give Shabana a lot more respect Friday 12.45 Uk time in their quarter-final encounter. It could be a hell of a match. 
And well done to Borja, the first three games were top5 stuff for sure. However winning matches is the real art, and that's what the very top guys know how to do even on the so-called off-days.


(2o12 British Open, 2nd round, Shabana-Tuominen 3:0)
Haven't seen Olli Tuominen playing for a long time and it appears to me that technically he became a lot smoother than in the past. He can be considered by now one of the veteran players, but he still very much looks the business. A part from the body letting you down somewhat with time, everybody keeps improving in squash it seems to me.
And Shabana looks in a good mood. First round he was a bit up and down against one of the upcoming rising stars of the game, Tarek Momen, but yesterday against Tuominen he was lethal all way long. Should be a great match against Ramy Ashour Friday 12.45 (UK time) in the quarter final. Don't miss this one, leave your office early and join us live or switch on to squashtv.

16 May 2012


Some coaches would make their junior players stop playing and force them to do fifty push-ups if they see them going for a drop in a situation where the ball is behind the body of the hitting player.
But by now we all know that Tarek Momen does not obey to the general rules of squash, or simply, of physics. Take into consideration that he went for this out-of-nowhere shot against one of the best readers of the game ever in the person of Amr Shabana
Do you remember Wael El Hindi? This shot, the drop from behind the body on the backfoot, has been his speciality. Check out all the four examples that we have had here on the blog with him, one more crazy than the other: vs. Shabana (at 0:24), vs. Alister Walker (at 0:33), vs. Darwish (at 0:37) and again vs. Darwish (at 1:02).

15 May 2012


This morning we had a spectacular receiving of Amr Shabana's serve by Tarek Momen and I pointed out that putting away a loose serve into the nick is a standard drill for Egyptian players at training. 
Not just to make things more symmetrical, but here we have the mirror situation: the lefty Shabana receiving Momen's serve and putting it into the nick as well. Being on the forehand it had more pace, but the real difference was that the serve was not even bad at all: Shabana scrapped it off the sidewall. This version requires even more training, and on club level, I would just satisfy myself watching - and never trying - it.


(British Open 2012, first round, Amr Shabana vs. Tarek Momen 3:2)
In Egypt one of the standard drills at training is to feed each other with weak serves (serves that either don't tend high towards the sidewall or are not hit straight to the body of the receiver). You have to put the ball each time into the nick at this drill. Yesterday we had Ramy Ashour showing an example from the forehand side, now it's Tarek Momen showing a soft version from the backhand.
This drill has two purposes. 1) you train hitting the nick from different heights 2) you learn and memorize which are those bad serves that really allow to go for this shot.
The serve is the only moment in a rally where you can allow yourself to stand almost still. Hence you can go for your shots with a near-perfect static balance. Going for the nick requires the highest level of precision, and standing still favors your chances to be precise. 

14 May 2012


(British Open 2012, first round: Ramy Ashour vs. Daryl Selby). 
The truth is that there were a lot less of these volley-nicks off the serve today as one might expect it from Ramy Ashour. I guess it was down to a two main factors. 1) First round of a tournament, you are always a bit more conservative 2) Daryl Selby served throughout the match very cleverly, varying wide serves often with serves hit straight onto the body. In fact, the current serve is one of the latter ones, just too high, which allowed Ramy to put it away the way he likes it. Ramy won 3:1 and will play Borja Golan on Wednesday (and Amr Shabana on Friday if both make it to that stage. Rather likely. That should make a near full house, shouldn't it).

13 May 2012


Can you imagine that suddenly there is no Wimbledon? Well, crazy as it sounds, the British Open - the Wimbledon of squash - has not been held for the last two years. But it's back now, and it's back in style: finally re-trans-located to London, to the O2 Arena.  
Main draw matches start on Monday 14 May, and the final will be played on Sunday, the 20th. With the recent rule of only eight seeds, already the first round feature some tough encounters: Ramy Ashour vs. Daryl Selby, James Willstrop vs. Simon Rosner, Gregory Gaultier vs. Nicolas Mueller and Amr Shabana vs. Tarek Momen. There are still some tickets to grab (check them out here), or if you are not lucky enough to hang around in London these days, then there is still excellent psasquashtv to transmit all the matches live.
The below rally is from the 2009 final, the last edition of the British Open. This is that famously poisoned match between Nick Matthew and James Willstrop where Nick accused James of blocking, and more severely: of having been thought by his dad to do so. 
To add to Willstrop's nightmare, it has been the second consecutive year that he lost the final of the British Open by holding, both times, matchball. In 2008, against David Palmer, he was denied the victory by a clearly wrong decision of the referee at matchball; had the three-referee system or video review existed those times, Willstrop would already be British Open champion. 
He is now world #1, and there will be few better occasions to fulfill this story. Even if, according to the seedings, he will have to overcome first Ramy Ashour in the semi, and then possibly again Nick Matthew in the final. None of them would be shy to cause another heartbreak to James if they have to.

06 May 2012


Last week's Yes Let/No Let sample between James Willstrop and Nick Matthew was rather straight forward: 'No Let!' This week's seems to me a bit more complicated, even if the appealing player was not contesting it. In any case, it is a borderline situation, it was not even far away from being a 'Stroke' to El Shorbagy, but the referees were not hesitating to call it a 'No Let!'. A let-ball would  have  definitely been the more conservative call, but would it have been also more appropriate?

02 May 2012


We have had a few extremely demanding rallies in the past - for example that epic one between Peter Nicol and Gregory Gaultier, or a few heavy metal versions (I., II. and III.) between Nick Matthew, Ramy Ashour and James Willstrop
Here we have a recent one between Karim Darwish and Mohamed El Shorbagy. The high intensity balance is a result of an old master on decline and a future master not yet at the peak of his art. Just a year ago, Darwish gave Shorbagy some simple and straight forward lessons in terms of high pace squash coupled with accuracy and subtle deception, but at the end of last year Shorbagy already managed to get his first win over the former world #1. Darwish managed to get his revenge at the PSA World Series Finals in Queens and a few weeks ago in El Gouna (current video).  But  to be honest, seeing how much slower Darwish is compared to himslef in 2010 and beforehand, and how much this has influenced his confidence in his short game, I wouldn't wonder if this has been one of the very last times he's got the better of El Shorbagy.