26 December 2012


Last year we did our "back-and-forth" year-end resumé based on the 2011 December rankings. This year we do it based on the 2013 January rankings, as it is this one that reflects the whole of 2012 (the December rankings taking into consideration the results only until end of November, hence results of two major tournaments, the Hong Kong Open and the World Championships in Qatar are only included in the January Rankings which we have calculated for you in advance). 


After a year of injuries, he is back, stronger and healthier than ever. And he is back to number one as well. Apparently there is now also a new factor - not to his game, but to his mentality: consciousness. He is finally treating his training, his preparation, his body as a real professional, and it shows: no serious injuries and altogether only two losses in 2012, one against James Willstrop in the Final of the North American Open and the other one against Nick Matthew in the final of the British Open. Both time 0:3, both times he has been contained by the British forces. But it can be assumed that those two were bad days in the office, as every other time he met them, he beat them (Nick 5 times, James 3 times and let's add 5 more wins against Gaultier) in highly entertaining matches.
Predictions for 2013: world #1 


I think few of us have realized that Nick Mattew has only lost against two opponents this year: Ramy Ashour and Gregory Gaultier. Okay, against Ramy five times altogether. However, Matthew is still defying age and probability: whilst his notary contemporaries like Shabana and Darwish are clearly on decline, Matthew keeps improving technically and tactically and does not show any signs of slowing down or losing any of his legendary fitness. In last year's "Back and Forth" I asked the question: will he be able to defy age for another year? Well, this time am not asking anything, he has already proven his longevity.
Predictions for 2013: world #3 - #5


Infact, nothing dramatic has happened with James' level compared to last year, just both Ramy Ashour and Nick Matthew were healthy for the whole of the year and he lost to both of them three times (with only one win on the other hand against Ramy, however that match was a master-class of how to contain a shot-maker). James has had also losses against Gaultier (that's not a shame, and even less so if you consider that he also beat him twice this year), Shabana and most famously against Mohamed EL Shorbagy at the semis of the World Championships at the end of the year.
Predictions for 2013: world #2 - #4


I had the feeling throughout the year that Gaultier was playing incredibly well - he always has of course, but this year he seemed to improve further on, and finally also on the mental level (mostly since the arrival of his first child in June and not considering his headless loss against Peter Barker at the British Open). Hence the #4 ranking seems a real understatement compared to his global performance, but of course, the statistics, the ranking don't lie. Gregory has fad wins this year against everybody (also against Nick Matthew), the only player he hasn't beaten was Ramy Ashour (0:4). All in all I feel he would have deserved, just a fraction more than James, the #3 year-end ranking. It's always unpredictable what's going to be the next step of this moody but highly professional Frenchman. However I have the funny feeling it's going to be a strong one for him.
Prediction for 2013: world #2 - #3


Last year I said I was expecting big things from him for 2012. The big things didn't come until the very last tournament, the PSA World Championships at Qatar, where he beat in a thrilling five-gamer semi-final then world #1 James Willstrop and just - really, just - lost in another thrilling five-gamer to re-crowned world #1 Ramy Ashour. Anyway, he has matured into the top5, and next year he will be very eager to make sure to beat more than once the top4 above him. Age is on his side. Not that determination, talent, physical and mental strength wouldn't. Only domain where he has a slightly larger room for improvement is variation of pace and of usage of the full heights of the frontwall. But in Qatar there were already signs that he's been considering also these points.
Prediction for 2013: world #3 - #5


Well, with all the respect that we have towards this great former champion, there is nothing special to say about his 2012. Already last year it was clear that he is on decline but there at least he has had one big win against James Willstrop in the final of the World Team Championships. This year, no big wins, and his famous terminator-manners against the lower ranked players were not that redoubtable anymore; even if he still only occasionally loses to any of them. Joey Barrington form Squash TV has very well noticed that Karim has been using a lot less two of his major weapons: the forehand kill and the forehand drop. At the end of the year he seemed to realize this and started using those shots more again, and it showed for example against up-and-coming Simon Rosner in the last 16 of the World Championships, but there was not much he could have done then against his - presumable - successor, Mohamed El Shorbagy in the quarter-final, losing for the very first time 3:0 against his talented disciple.
Predictions for 2013: world #7 - #12


Next to Gregory Gaultier I think that it has been Peter Barker who progressed the most compared to his own 2011 edition. He has always been a role model for smooth moving and hitting, without having the perception/intuition of the top players how to go short. He has now progressed considerably in this domain even if his results and ranking don't show the progress. He's had only one big win this year (a rather ugly one) against Gregory Gaultier at the British Open, for the rest, he's been terribly reliable, even more than Karim Darwish, hardly losing (in fact, just once, against Borja Golan being diminished by an injury) to lower ranked players. Can we expect more from him next year, real top5 stuff?
Predictions for2013: world #5 - #7


Even though he has won at the very beginning of the year the World Series Finals - which unfortunately does not account for the world rankings - it hasn't been a great year for the Maestro's standards. In fact, it's been worse than last year (where he at least won one major PSA event, the US Open next to a few uninspired results). This year only one big scalp on his account: against James Willstrop in the quarter-final of the Netsuit Open. But the good news is that he went through a serious training regime during the summer. He looked really fit coming back to the major tournaments in September, but the results - apart from beating once Willstrop - were not really coming. When losing to Nick Matthew in the last tournament of the year he even looked gutted. I hope that was just a wrong impression as it would be great to see him doing a last major effort, even if obviously time is not on his side. But nor is it for Matthew, and look! But Shabana - being a God - is moodier than the British soldier, so it is really tough to predict the combination of how much his body will hold and how much he will be eager to give it a last big push in 2013.
Predictions for #2013: anything between world #5 and retirement (hoping to be wrong)


The big man, the most powerful hitter (yes, more powerful than Cameron Pilley, I think) of the tour has made the top10. He's been near to it for a couple of years now and in 2012, a single top10 scalp, the one of Karim Darwish, was enough to make this important carrier-defining step. Of course he's had a lots of other good wins against top20 players players as well, beating Tarek Momen, Alister Walker and Tom Richards for example. Mosaad's power/pace is really outrageous. And the thing that makes this pace even more of a problem for his opponents is that he's got even a fine touch, a good reading of the game and is also moving very well for being such a big fellow - I mean when he is indeed willing to move. Unfortunately he is not always, as he is also one if not the main blockers and fishers in the top100, and that makes this otherwise so intriguing package a bit faded. In this blog we are always concentrating on the positives of each player, or in the worst case the domains that one player might still improve. It's absolutely not our thing to insult anybody and I have even towards Mosaad a lots of respect. However, the above mentioned problems are not only making the life of his opponents tough but also harms the enjoyability of his matches and the general image of squash, and this is not a good thing. I really wish he will be looking to improve not only his rankings but also his reputation in 2013 and then he could become a really characteristic (and redoubtable) force of the top10, or even top5.
Predictions for 2013: world #7 - #9


Mad man, crazy man, emotional man Borja Golan is back in the top10! What a comeback! It took him years after his disastrous injury in 2009, but his devotion got him through all the pain (and the rankings). Interestingly I think his off-court attitude is more professional than his on-court attitude. Of course he is a very complete and strong player notwithstanding his unorthodox racket-preparation and movement-patterns, but I think he is capable of losing matches on the mental front. Whereas watching him warming up before matches or warming down after matches is absolute spot-on. For example at the British Open he has already been doing his warm-up routine for half an hour when his opponent of the day, Ramy Ashour, was just coming off the tube station. And what a lesson he gave to the Egyptian genius for two games and a half, just to collapse mentally 3 points away from victory. Bit like Gaultier, he is a strange mix of Mediterranean moods and highly professionalism and as such always a warmly welcomed colour spot in the top range of world squash.
Predictions for 2013: world #10 - #15

23 December 2012


To control a forehand drop shot, most players need to reduce their swing dramatically. The two guys who have developed an incredibly skill-full forehand drop technique are old master Karim Darwish and new master Mohamed El Shorbagy. We've had several examples already here on the blog as demonstration, but this is the first one where such a shot is filmed from the frontwall. 
Normally most of the players need to reduce both their natural backswing and the speed of their swing when they go for a drop shot. Try to pause the footage between 0:06-0:07 and you will see that basically Darwish's (back)swing is higher and quicker than he would do for a normal drive: he really fakes a big and hard shot; the only (huge) difference is that whilst with a hard paced shot you generally also have a big and round after-swing, by playing the drop-shot you have to brake your swing and stop your racket in order to hit the ball softly; pause the footage again a fraction later at 0:07 to see how Darwish used his body balance in order to help to stop his racket with as much control as possible.
Be assured that latest hot gun Mohamed El Shorbagy has been watching/observing this forehand technique ever since his childhood days every single time he got the opportunity to watch the 'big guys' (Shabana, Darwish, El Hindi, Abbas) training.

20 December 2012


Just for fun I have tried to film from the lowest position possible, under the tin, just behind that little ventilation whole. This is the point from where lucky mice, frogs and bugs can watch squash if they don't get caught by the maintenance team. 
And as it is always the case with James Willstrop and Amr Shabana, it's just a pleasure to see how much space one (two) can find on a squash court in order to avoid interference. It's easy, you just don't have to clear into your opponent's path (sorry for the very weak audio quality, I strapped my iPad with black tape in order to avoid to be visible for the main backwall camera, and I didn't notice that I also strapped the micro... clever boy). 

16 December 2012


Last year in our end-of-year ranking analysis I wrote that I would expect big things from Mohamed El Shorbagy for the year 2012. And before the PSA World Championships in Doha I was just thinking, well, El Shorbagy had a pretty mediocre year for his standards, top10 stuff for sure, but nothing new, no improvements, in fact, rather the opposite, as one of his main features, his mental strength - the ability of deciding for himself almost all the tight five gamers that he gets involved in - has suffered a contrary tendency with losing this year a big deal of them. 
Well, luckily, with his outstanding performance at Qatar, he has at the end of the day justified my predictions, even if he lost the final in five tight games against Ramy. All in all his whole week was just a crazy performance; that match against James Willstrop (highlights below), incredible blend of patience and attack, and he got really near to beating even King Ramy Ashour in the final, wow!
I am happy for Mohamed, but I am probably even happier for the world of squash. There are lots of guys improving (Rosner, Mueller, the younger Shorbagy: Marwan, Tom Richards, Tarek Momen, Saurav Ghosal, Karim Abdel Gawad, Abdullah Al Muzayen, etc., I'll get back to them in a separate post), but there are no new real stars, no real break-throughs in the last couple of years (in fact, it was Mohamed himself who was the last to come through in a stellar fashion about 3 years ago, when at the age of 18 he fired into the top10 with wins over Matthew, Willstrop and Lincou, but he got stuck around world #8 and without making big finals). 
Now he's definitely made his second break-through, and he definitely seems to be ready for more and we look forward to follow his ascension within the top5 of the world of squash. In fact, as I said it in that article last year, we needed someone who replaces Karim Darwish's role at the top scale of squash and Mohamed seems to be made definitely from a similar blend: power, speed, steadiness, interception, deception and an above-the-average sense for the nick. Not the very best of any of them, but best or close to it when considering the whole package.

15 December 2012


This is alien stuff. But if we even consider that this rally has been played at 9:9 in the 4th game of the World Championships final, after having played five matches each of them previously, both of them having had 90 minutes 5-gamer semi-finals the day before, and have put their heart and soul on the court for 60 minutes at this stage of the match, then we'll have to consider this even out of this world, out of the universe, beyond aliens, beyond the borders of imagination. My English is weak, but wouldn't be able to express my respect in any language anyway.
By the way, that deep drop shot between the legs at 1:04 by El Shorbagy, it's not the first time he is doing it. He has hit even a straight forward winner like this against James Willstrop at the 2012 British Open. If you haven't seen it yet, or don't remember, don't miss it, you can watch it here.

07 December 2012


The biggest tournament of the year, the Qatar World Championships will start today. To add to the excitement factor, 4 players have theoretical chances to become world #1 afterwards in the 2013 January rankings (which, as paradoxical as it sounds, is also the equivalent of the 2012 year-end rankings). We at No Let! have switched on our calculators to unveil the different scenarios. Read them through and let us know who your pick is below in the comment box.

Gregory Gaultier's chances are very low: if either Ramy Ashour or Nick Matthew achieve the quarter-finals, he will lose his chances even if he ends up winning the tournament. Even if Ramy and Nick fail to reach the quarter-finals, he must hope that James Willstrop will not make the final.

James Willstrop must get to the final or, even better, win to give himself a realistic chance to retain his world #1 title. But if any of Ramy Ashour or Nick Matthew make the semis he will surely concede his ranking regardless of winning the title.

If Ramy Ashour wants to become world #1, he has to make sure to make it to one more round than Nick Matthew.  He will for sure become world #1 if he makes the final (as that would mean that Matthew didn't get there as they are in the same half of the draw).

If Nick Matthew wants to become world #1, he has to make sure to make it to one more round than Ramy Ashour. He will for sure become world #1 if he makes the final (as that would mean that Ramy didn't get there as they are in the same half of the draw).  

James Willstrop is very likely to make the final (he's got Barker, Darwish or Mohamed El Shorbagy in his draw and according to their respective head-to-head history and current form he is unlikely to lose to any of them). Ashour and Matthew have a much tougher draw. Ashour will meet Gaultier and Matthew will play Shabana at quarter-final stage according to seedings. If Matthew and Ashour both win their quarter-final matches, then the world #1 ranking will be down to their semi-final match; the one who wins that will be world #1 in January irrespectively of further results. If on the other hand Gaultier and Shabana respectively beat Ashour and Matthew in the quarter-finals, then they open the draw for James Willstrop to retain his world #1 ranking. In this case, he would only need to get to the final and could even afford to lose eventually to Gaultier there.
                                                               quarter                  semi                final               win
    Nick Matthew                                      1171.0                1216.5            1291.0          1390.0
  Ramy Ashour                                       1163.0                1208.5            1283.0          1382.0 
    James Willstrop                                  1059.0                1103.5            1179.0          1278.0
    Gregory Gaultier             
                      908.0                  953.5            1028.0          1127.0

So basically it comes down to Ramy and Nick. If they both make the semis, one of them will be world #1; if they both fail to make the semis (with both Gaultier and Shabana producing a big win at quarter-final stage which they might be capable of) then Willstrop has a big chance to retain his #1 ranking. Gaultier can only become #1 if Ramy and Nick lose before the quarter-finals (very unlikely) and James doesn't make the final (unlikely as well, knowing his quarter of the draw). 

On the above pictures, Nick Matthew is smiling bright. But who will be really smiling at the end of the day? Who would you pick to be the world #1 in next month's ranking?

06 December 2012


We all love squash, and the best show is the one that Ramy Ashour and co. produce on the court. This time however we have a documentary movie, in production phase, that shows us the stars behind the scene. So far we could only see a few trailers, like the one below, but according to them, it's clear that the producer/director knows his stuff. 
It's a well known fact that in Egypt nine year old kids and world number ones mingle in the same clubs on a day in day out basis. Thanks to this movie we can now also see exactly how the good ambience helps to produce a context where current and former world champions are raised almost in a chain production.
Of course, the director is Egyptian himself, Omar S. Khodeir, a former promising junior squash player himself, this also explains why the set is predominantly in Cairo, which is anyway the world capital of squash right now.
But the aim of the movie is to become as international as the world of squash itself, there are already pieces under production with Nick Matthew for example, and the aim is to get to as many places as possible (main tournaments, main training centers). In order to get to most places outside Egypt the production needs the squash world's support. If you want to help the production with a few quids or more, you can do it by clicking on this crowd funding initiative site, where you can also read all the additional information you might want to know. If you know anyone who might be interested in properly sponsoring the production, you might contact Omar directly through the Wallbangers facebook or twitter page. He will be more than happy to listen to you and we will be even happier to see the movie as a finished product some time in the near future. By the way, the movie could also turn out to be another brick in the World Squash Federation's 2020 Olympic Bid due to its presumable high quality and its social involvements.

05 December 2012


Young and old generation of the steady school of Egyptian squash, Mohamed El Shorbagy and Karim Darwish. There are less angles than with Shabana or Ramy, they don't go short as much as them; also the higher part of the frontwall is used less (since they use less variation of pace, less lobs as Shabana and Ramy) but still, they can play all the shots, they have the deception, read the game as a book and are quick (Darwish a bit less compared to the old himself). 
This camera angle also allows us to see that these two players do not use that much the momentum of their upper bodies to hit the ball; this is one of the reasons why they are hard to read; a club player or even a lower ranked pro often unveils his intentions through his body preparation: more rotation of the upper body for drives, and even more for cross court drives, less or no rotation when preparing for a drop. El Shorbagy, and Karim Darwish even more evidently, hardly rotate their upper bodies, or in other words, their body language is not unveiling their intentions; a drop or drive is looking similar as far as body preparation is concerned.
Of course there is also another school which uses exaggerated upper-body rotation for deception; I remember Lee Beachill having often exaggeratedly opened up his upper body to show a cross-court whilst he went instead for a straight drive. But this type of deception you can only use it once in a while (in the current field Tarek Momen does this to fake a drive and then go for a boast from the back of the court). 
Anyway, keep in mind that deception is a result of mastering the full body-language, not just the wrist.