28 November 2011


They often say: "He's been a great artist, but a horrible person..." Well, Stewart Boswell has been an outstanding pro squash player and one of the finest souls I have ever met. And now, after losing in the quarter finals of the 2011 World Series event Kuwait Cup, he announced his retirement to the amazement of the whole squash community; he recently looked so fresh and strong, giving age-defying lessons to the up-and-coming players and beating old time rivals David Palmer and Thierry Lincou for example. Of course, Bozza must know better his own reasons, nevertheless he - as much his person as his squash - will be very much missed on the PSA tour. Boswell broke into the world top30 as a junior and a few years later he was already world #4. Very few exclude that he would have been a strong contender of the top spot of the rankings hadn't he undergone that terrible back injury that forced him to quit the circuit for almost two years. He however came back in style, winning the first seven (!) tournaments he entered and reasserted himself for a brief period again even in the top10. Ever since, he has been one of the most consistent players on the tour, hardly ever loosing to lower ranked players. His consistency is due to the extreme high degree of discipline in his game. Tactically he hardly ever choses a wrong shot, technically he is impeccable: movement fluid, racket-technique academic. He's not that quick on the feet, however he's earlier on the ball as many of the quicker players, due to his phenomenal perception and understanding of the game. He's been also widely considered as one of the fairest players ever to play the game on such high levels. If I were to be a coach, he'd be one of my first choices to demonstrate to the youngsters how to do things on the court. In tennis, when Edberg retired, the governing body, the ATP, has introduced the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award. If I were the PSA, my first thing now would be creating a similar award with the name of Stewart Boswell on it. 

27 November 2011


This time I am saying nothing, it's up to you to let me know whether the ref was right or not in according a 'Let' to Shabana. You will probably consider three factors. 1) Did Shabana take a genuine way towards the ball 2) Was it or not a minimal interference? 3) How good was Ramy's shot? Was the ball dying at second bounce before the backwall? In any case, Ramy contested, the referee reacted with a charming and clever 'thank you', which generated a lovely little smile onto Ramy's face. Whether the decision was right or not, it was dealt with great professionalism from both sides.  

23 November 2011


You probably remember that post which shows Ramy Ashour finishing off a match with a boast into the nick off the serve against Gregory Gaultier; a pretty stylish way to win a match, but a part from Ramy who else would have the guts (and the talent) of risking it? If he hadn't found the nick, Gaultier could have easily counter-dropped or killed the ball and who knows if you get a second chance? Anyway, if there is a moment where I would expected even less this kind of a shot is the very first point of a match. It is pretty common even for shot-makers to have a steady mentality at the beginning of matches, keeping the ball flowing, observing the other guy's weaknesses instead of initiating precipitately. Even historical greats like Jansher Kahn were famous of playing long long rallies in the first half of the first games, even against way weaker players, in order to get their legs a bit shaky before going short. But Ramy, we know, is different: he has been having hours of one-man training sessions all his life, and he has tried to find the nick from any point of the court in those sessions. He obviously remembers now which are those geometrical constallation from where he has a good chance to make the ball roll out off the nick. And apparently this situation, when the opponent hits a good serve that stacks close to the backwall, but not that close to the sidewall, is one of those geometrical points. The other thing to note in this rally is Ramy's second shot: he miscalculated Gaultier's semi-lob and had to turn in order to hit the ball which again stack close to the backwall. So many players stop in this situation, whereas if the only shot that you are realistically likely to be able to hit is a boast you must play that shot as your opponent is not in your way even if he covers the frontwall. Many players in a similar situation pretend they could have played the frontwall, but Ramy respects the quality of his opponent's shot and goes for the high boast in order to allow himself to get back to the 'T'. Then comes that famous flick-of-the-wrist-backhand-cross-court-length-kill and to conclude the cross-volley-drop into the nick. All this, within the first few seconds of a match. Do not try this at home!

20 November 2011


It's a bit unjust towards Anthony Ricketts, but what can I do of these are the videos that pop up in Youtube with him. Well, he was an animal, both in the good and bad sense of the term. He ran like crazy (or even more crazy here) and was famous for difficultly determinable oral-verbal expressions and body-language. It must have been no fun to get on the same court with him, unless you were Ramy Ashour, and you knew how to make fun of him. In this case he's hitting his 'good old friend' Jonathon Power deliberately with the ball, and the best is that the ball - in opposition of the referees assertion - was not going towards the front wall. Power then returned the favor, but in that case nobody was contesting that Ricketts was standing in his way. Joey Barrington recently suggested that this rule shall be somehow revisited by the PSA... it's not easy though, as the rule shall also encourage players to clear the ball sufficently in order to allow the opponent to hit a cross court. But then again, if you feel your opponent covers the frontwall, stop and ask for a Let to get a Stroke. This might be a solution, admitted refereeing (video refereeing included) evolves to a point where such occurrences can be easily verified in case of an appeal.

18 November 2011


For once nothing extreme - except that little horizontal clearing at 0:03 - from the lovely Miguel Angel Rodriguez, just some very smart squash. First a good, wide, greatly pounded backhand cross-court at 0:14 that bounced off hardly from the backwall, forcing the loose length from Lincou. Secondly, a perfect faded kill into the sidewall. The faded kill is a subtle weapon. I for example have not seen, not understood the existence of it until Professor Marcus Berrett has once pointed it out to me. This shot has been one of the main weapons of Jonathon Power, he has been initiating a large part of his attacks with this shot. What's the point? What's the difference compared to the 'real' kill? You hit it less hard (70-80%), slightly higher, less riskier over the tin, with emphasising the slice, and instead of looking for a quick second bounce you want to make sure that the ball fades into the sidewall with not leaving your opponent a chance to take the ball before it bounces on the wall (as the ball is still too quick for it) or to hit it after the bounce off the sidewall (as the ball is already on a down-course close to the floor). This shot does not have to be a straight winner, the goal is rather to make your opponent scrap off the ball the sidewall loosely. Well, JP or Rodriguez might both be magicians, but they employ also less fancy stuff in order to create situations where they can exploit their creativity. This is squash: a subtle mixture of intellectual engineering and instinctive magic.

12 November 2011


I've reposted a few days ago probably the greatest rally ever, featuring Peter Nicol and Gregory Gaultier. This here is another famous rally with Peter Nicol, this time against Jonathon Power.
However, I am not aware of the squash community's position in regard of the 'No Let!' decision that generated Power's extremely furious reactions. I might cause some discussion, but in my eyes this one was an excellent decision. Let me tell you why: 
1) Nicol hit a loose but deep straight forehand volley. It was not a great volley, but with the deception sufficiently good to make sure that Power could not have volleyed the ball.
2) JP was anticipating and going in the wrong way, he moved forward, expecting probably a volley drop. 
3) realizing he had to change direction, JP slipped and instead of making any effort to go towards the ball, he just opened his racket to demonstrate he was ready to hit the ball (the volley that he had wished, hadn't he gone the wrong way and hadn't he slipped), but in reality the ball has already passed him at that moment and he was not making a single step backwards to prove that he could have gotten to the ball after its rebounce off the backwall. 
4) JP has created the interference himself by going the wrong way and was not originally obstructed by his opponent. He didn't make any effort to show he could have still made it. Opening the racket in this situation was rather a desperate act of 'fishing' (even though understandable - from a fan point of view - in the heat of the situation).
These are my points why I would have come to the same No Let! decision as the referee. 
I can of course understand Power's reaction, it was a crucial rally and he was dominating it mostly. However, these are unfortunately not circumstances that a referee shall take into account. This is why I wonder why Martin Heath - who I consider a very good commentator - did not notice a single of the points above (notwithstanding his co-commentator Alan Thatcher tried to analyze the situation objectively). It's even more strange as Heath even says that "in principle the referee is actually right, he is interpreting the rulebook by the word..." I think, Martin was as excited by the rally as Power and had slightly too much sympathy for JP
Me too, I love all that JP brought to the world of squash, but this does not deflect me from trying to keep a cool analytic eye on the game. Well, you are welcome to through stones at me if you want;)


This rally is from the recent 2011 US Open final, where Amr Shabana made his nonchalant glorious return to the PSA World Series stage after almost a 6 months of non-playing. This rally is just a little bagatelle, a very rare instance to see Nick Matthew that winded in his movement. And as a consequence look how low and loose the quality of his shots are. I have always believed that in squash the shots come from the legs, at least the quality of the shot is mostly determined by footwork (path/position to the ball and strength/balance of leg). And Matthew seems to think the same if you consider his reactions at 0:15... he indeed hated his legs at that moment...

10 November 2011


In the first few years of his stellar break-through Ramy Ashour managed to beat pretty much everybody in the top10 at the first or second attempt. But he was suffering against Amr Shabana. It was only at the 4th attempt that he managed to beat him. What was it? Probably too much respect? Maybe. Shabana just so clever? Sure. In any case, these two are the two main heroes of what we might call the Egyptian Revolution of squash; these two have shown first that as a professional - with 15 years of training behind you - you are supposed to be capable to go short from any point of the court; and at the same time, you should be capable of covering the space in case your short attempt went loose. Of course, the game of squash is inconceivable without a steady basic long game; and these two without question are also great masters of the basic shots; it's just as they they have made a pact: "we are similarly good in the basic game, so why hitting first 25 deep shots before going short, let's make it within 5 shots..." And as they are used to this mentality since their early junior times, they have learned to read the game also when the ball is hidden and the opponent is in front of you. It's shoot-out squash, with hazardous nick-attempts off the serve (0:11), cross-court drops (0:13) and "invisible man" running across the court (0:15) - probably not as invisible as James Willstrop was at another exquisite occasion - but still, pretty invisible to generate a friendly & funny body-check from Amr Shabana. By the way, it was an important point; Shabana led by two games to one and 8:6. With 9:6 in the fourth it would have been tough to beat him, whereas by winning the point Ramy managed to come back in the game and then also won the fifth (...and then the final against Karim Darwish to become World Champion, at the age of 21!) Shabana then avenged the loss next year in the final, whereas in the last two years Ramy was injured at the World Open. Unlucky for him and the spectators, lucky for the rest of the field...

08 November 2011


Another spectacular rally from the fantastic venue of the 2011 World Open held at the Luxor Theathre in Rotterdam. A clearly injured Ramy Ashour played the always entertaining Alister Walker. You might remember Walker from another rally where he was flying around the court with another great entertainer, Wael El Hindi. Well, Ashour normally estinguishes Walker almost in a humiliating way. I remember, last January I saw them playing in the flesh in the World Series Finals in London, Ashour once again was just recovering from his usual harmstring injury (the same one that he was carrying in this tournament) and he gave there Alister a pretty incredible beating notwithstanding literally playing on one leg. At the post-match interview when the presenter Jake Humphrey asked Alister how it felt to get beaten like this, he was not reacting in a funny way at all I can tell you. This time however Walker seamed to be more aware of what he is supposed to do against a physically restricted genius, in the first two games he held his shots longer and made Ashour twist and turn which resulted in Ashour being constantly late on the ball (which also means that he either had to make a bigger last lounge and risk to worsen the injury or to accept to hit the ball out of position/balance). So Walker went 2:0 up, but somehow Ashour started to anticipate better and the result was really exciting, both of them flying and diving around the court several times as it can be seen in the below rally. In fact, spectacular squash often results from lacks; Miguel Angel Rodriguez's extreme speed and extravagant solutions is aided by the fact that his reading of the game is not at the heights of the top players; and in Alister Walker's case it's the quality and the reliability of the basic strokes that opens up the court slightly more for his opponents - but then, due to the fine mix of lightness and athleticism, he often recovers from the resulting attacks and the rallies become crazy - just funny and crazy.

06 November 2011


David Palmer is retiring, he announced to have played his last PSA match when he lost to Karim Darwish in the quarter finals of the 2011 World Open in Rotterdam. In this blog, we have mentioned and analysed several times the amazing professional qualities of the 'Marine'. His main weapon was always his physical and mental strength; just by appearing on the court he made opponents doubt, and at crucial stages of a match his concentration and self-belief might have achieved at times '√úbermensch' levels. Technically too, he was very complete, very solid, steady basic game coupled with a beautiful backhand volleydrop (enabled by great anticipation qualities). Palmer made himself also a reputation for his spectacular dives. With age he also made his squash evolve into a very intelligent lower-pace high-percentage game with looking to fade the ball into the sidewall instead of going for the just-over-the-tin shots (even though there were of course exceptions, like his hilarious and famous drop shot against Ramy Ashour at 2011 TOC in New York). However, there is also the other face of the coin; Palmer, in many regards, is also a representant of a type of squash that is less to our likings; the squash of the eighties, nineties, the squash of subtle and less subtle blocking, the squash of asking for 'Let' at the slightest interference (nevertheless caused by yourself due to a loose previous shot or going initially the wrong way). If PSA were capable of recording bit more elaborated statistics, I am pretty sure that Palmer's name would lead the list of most 'Lets' played in avarage. And that's no good for the general image of the game and also a bit of a shame in an era where the likes of Peter Nicol, John White, Shabana, Willstrop or Ramy (just to mention the main ones) have proved that it is possible to get to the top by playing free-flowing squash. Of course, the below rally is an extreme example, as Jonathon Power and David Palmer had a specificly tough story of their own within the history of squash, but it is still demonstrating the strange kind of rugby player qualities of this great squash player. Let's finish this post by emphasising that the positives of Palmer's game weight still heavier than the negatives, and he will definitely leave an unfilled hole in the pro circuit of squash.

04 November 2011


If in our last post we showed a special shot, a shot that only one player, Miguel Angel Rodriguez is playing, then the Mizuki is the other special shot linked basically to a sole player: Hisham Ashour. The below rally happened just a day ago at the 2011 World Open in Rotterdam. Hisham won the first game against Amr Shabana in just 4 minutes, he was up then 2:0 and it looked like this could be his first ever win on the PSA Tour against his "older brother", but as so often with Hisham, his lack of stamina or fitness enabled his error-count to grow to undecent hights and made him lose the match at the end one more time. Still, his movement is so much more fluid, so much more streaming compared to just a year ago; he should definitely give it a big push training-regime-wise as, given his age, it might be his last chance to become a top10 player in the next 12 month. I remember having asked/suggested the same to Mohd Azlan Iskandar, and indeed he became top10 just a few months later. If Hisham won't make it - I hope he will - then he might retire into history as one of the best players ever not to have figured ranking-wise within the world top10. Come on Hisham!