25 January 2012


Slowly but surely more and more people learn to know what an outstanding entertainer Miguel Angel Rodriguez is . He is goddamn fast, he loves to run (also the wrong way, just to exploit his speed in a funnier way), hits magic exhibition-like shots (he acquired first world fame with this shot), but has also a very smooth basic technique. He is one of the very few players who generates smile on people's face who watch him play. On top of that, Rodriguez generates smiles even on his opponents face after his extravagant, funny solutions. The below rally is the last one of his second round match against Amr Shabana at the 2012 Tournaments of Champions in New York. What a crazy rally to finish a tight five-gamer! To add to the fun factor in a broader perspective, this match is almost perfectly mirroring last year's semi-final between Shabana and Nick Matthew in the very same place. In that 2011 match, Shabana came back from 2:0, in this match Rodriguez came back from 2:0 down. In that 2011 match Shabana ended up losing 3:2, in this one he ended up winning 3:2. In the 2011 match the final rally featured crazy four-corner squash with Shabana tinning a backhand drop shot, in this match it was a similarly crazy rally and a similar backhand drop tinned by Rodriguez that finished the match as you can see it below. And both years, the spectators erupted and gave the players a long standing ovation. One more time proved: New York Grand Central Terminal is bringing out the very best of the players. 

23 January 2012


The J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions has always been producing thrilling matches throughout its 16 year history. This year, already in the second round there were high quality games. For example between mighty Amr Shabana and the "Charlie Chaplin" of squash, speedy Miguel Angel Rodriguez, 3:2 (unfortunately too late for me to watch live but according to reports very entertaining). Or Mohamed El Shorbagy beeting Cameron Pilley with the same score. But the most noticeable one was Mohamed's younger brother, Marwan El Shorbagy against Tom Richards (they both feature in our up-and-coming players of 2011 post). Marwan came through the qualifications where he already had to beat good players (Martin Knight world #39 and Adrian Waller #59). Then in the first round he beats the legendary Boudhist Monk Tiger that is Thierry Lincou. Only a few months ago, Marwan lost to Lincou simply and quickly 3:0. Now he beats him 3:1 in 46 mins. Very impressing. Both the fact of beating Lincou and the speed of the learning curve. Then yesterday he has to play up-and-coming Tom Richards, fit and fresh from his quick and easy first round match against Max Lee. And it turned out to be a drama. Five games of high quality squash. First, just to Tom. Second to Marwan, with 9 consecutive points after being 2:4 down (the below video shows the last few rallies of that game, have a special look at the boast at 1:08, the cross drop nick at 1:39 and the kill into the nick at 1:57). Third again to Tom. Forth again to Marwan. At this stage the 18 year old ran already on empty, he seemed half-dead. And this is why it was so impressing: this young lad played so intelligently at this stage. He slowed it down with ultra high backhand drives, he kept it straight with quality for a while in each rally, just enough time to have a breather that allowed him to get to the balls once Richards decided to go short. And in the front little El Shorbagy is very inventive (without over-complicating the deception). I don't want to make this post too long, so I conclude here: I don't think Marwan has much left to resist Daryl Selby's steadiness in tonight's quarter final, but I do belive he has a very bright future in squash. If I said a few times that his older brother might succeed Karim Darwish (style-wise, in terms of how he hits the ball), then I might be tempted to say now that Marwan might become the successor of Amr Shabana (again, style-wise, in terms of shot-selection, playing intelligence). Anyway, some intriguing stories to come from the Egyptian brothers in the following years, am pretty convinced. Stay tuned!

18 January 2012


This post has been written for two reasons. First: as indicated in the title, the 2012 Tournament of Champions is about to start (qualifications today, main draw first round: January 20, that's when squashtv starts to transmit it live). Generally it's one of the best events of the year. The beautiful and vibrating settings of Grand Central Terminal in New York seem to inspire the players to come out with some of the most spectacular squash. You surely remember when last year 'squash went crazy' with Shabana and Matthew, the shot of the century by David Palmer or the Ramy Ahsour masterpiece - it all happend at the TOC. Unfortunately no Ramy this year, but a revitalized Shabana, a newly crowned world #1 Willstrop, an again-on-fire Gaultier and a back-from-injury Matthew shall make it more than intriguing to follow the event. The latter one will be also eager for some additional reasons: Nick has been a former three-time finalist without having ever won the event. In addition, if he wins this year, he is warrantied to get back his world #1 ranking in February (for the same reason, James will be keen on doing well too in order to keep his new crown). So get yourself a ticket to New York, or if that's impossible, follow the event live with squashtv. The second reason of this post is that No Let! is having a bad debt towards Tarek Momen. We have mentioned him as the most promising up-and-coming player of 2011, but unfortunately there is hardly anything to be found on youtube about him. Not that this clip shows him from his best side (in fact, he is losing 11 points in a row and hardly hits any decent tight ball), but it still shows the style of this unique genius: strange, exaggerated racket preparation (not recommended) no lobs at all (not recommended), drops from anywhere of the court without waiting for the appropriate opening (not recommended), and he can also clear all the drops he is playing (unlike Wael El Hindi for example). Momen was 19 when he played this match against Hisham Ashour, he is now 23 and last year he has added also a bit of patience to his game (did you see when he beat Nick Matthew in Qatar? The only man apart from Ramy to beat Nick 3:0 in the last couple of years). Before omitting it, there is also a third reason to this post: Ramy Ashour is co-commentating and it's always fun to listen to this quick-speaking buddy.

16 January 2012


Holding the shot means that your backswing and swing are not tied up in one uninterrupted sequence; you get up your racket early and hold it before executing your shot. On pro level it's almost obligatory and even on club level you can find a good number of players who employ it efficiently. What do I mean when I say employing it efficiently; the point is that you want to create uncertainty in your opponent's mind about what shot you are going to play. Your hold should be simple and compact, so that you could eventually play both a touch shot (drop or lob) or a pace shot (drive or kill). As you can execute all four type of shots (plus the boast) with the same hold and compact backswing, your opponent will be always on his toes. For example Karim Darwish is a master of this on the forehand side at the middle and the front of the court, whereas James Willstrop employs it probably with the most effect all around the court. In fact, everybody uses it to a certain extent, except one guy: Laurens Jan Anjema. The 'Dutch Windmill' - as Paul Johnson from squashtv calls him gently - is a bull, and as such probably the second strongest guy on the tour from a physical point of view; he is also a keen player, he might not have the eye and variety of a Shabana or the steadiness of a Palmer or a Darwish, but he dictates a very high pace and plays the right shots and retrieves on a high level. The problem is however that he does not create uncertainty, exactly because he's got no hold in his shots; look how relaxed Barker looks in the rally, he can predict easily what shot will come out of those late and rushed backswing/swings. In opposition to Anjema, as soon as Peter Barker perceives what direction he has to take to get to the ball, he starts to raise the racket and holds it still for a split second before hitting the ball. This way he creates enough uncertainty to make sure that Anjema is less relaxed/harmonic on his feet whilst waiting/split stepping for the ball.

10 January 2012


It's been breathtaking, from the first to the last rally. The first tournament of 2012 (concluding the World Series events of 2011) in the prestigious Queens Club in London, featuring the 8 best players (minus two injured) and a 91min epic final that will enter into the history of squash as one of, if not the greatest ever (next to the famous Matthew-Willstrop semi-final at the 2010 Canary Wharf Classic and few others of course). This time nothing to be analyzed, just to be enjoyed, each second of it.

09 January 2012


Whilst Amr Shabana wins his first title on British soil (2012 World Series Finals, what a match, what a win!), Ramy Ashour is inventing toys not on British soil, but still around a typical British object, the "tea cup". Ramy has been struggling now for a few months with his recurrent hamstring injury. He tried to come back for the last tournament in India in December, but it was a failed try and he had to leave and get further treatment. He might be again out, but not down, as we could also see it from the previous tea-cup session. This time it's slightly less spectacular, but still, not bad at all, and mostly it shows again the good spirit that must rule in the squash club (probably the Heliopolis Sporting Club in Cairo) and around Ramy in general. I was however more amazed by the warming up of the ball; those backhand volley self feeds; what racket-head speed is this, my god!

08 January 2012


Before coming to the referee's decision... This rally is from the final in Qatar 2010. From this sole rally you can see the difference in Darwish's game compared to how he played in 2011 and these days (4-8 January 2012) at the ATCO World Series Finals in London at the Queens Club; he is still a world class straight hitter of the ball, but he lost his confidence in his short game. In the below rally as for example, he plays the boast at 0:07 almost casually but still with accuracy and control over what his opponent is going to do with the ball, and at 0:09 he employs that famous big-shot-fake sliced forehand drop shot (he used to win a third of his points with that shot). I haven't counted exactly, but in his four matches at the Queens Club he's made hardly any, and he just looked like a few classes below Willstrop and Gaultier when it came to initiate. On the other hand, Shabana looks very much in the mood, he gave a master lesson to the current world #1 and we should all look forward to a great final today at 15.00 UK time against Greg (who looks to enjoy himself very much and who moves again as agile as a teenager leopard-crab). But for now, is the below rally a 'Let' / 'Stroke' or 'No Let!' ?

07 January 2012


The World Series Finals at the Queens Club in London feature those eight players who gathered the most points in the 2011 World Series events. The tournament however is played in January 2012, hence the confusion whether to call it World Series Finals 2011 or 2012. This might be a promoting/marketing issue to be fixed in the future I guess by the PSA/WSA. Anyway, the best match of the third and final group stage day featured newly crowned world #1 James Willstrop and Azlan Iskandar. There was no real stake as James was already qualified for the semis and Azlan was already out as he has lost previously to both Mohamed El Shorbagy and Karim Darwish. Azlan played great squash and ended James' 17 match winning streak. James might not have given it his all, but he was far from playing badly or just letting it go. It was Azlan who was just so much better today compared to the previous days. Azlan is a relaxed, cheerful character and apparently he prefers relaxed situations, when the stake is not that high. For me, this is the only reason why he is not a top5 player. He should probably try to learn from Amr Shabana, the most relaxed character amongst the top players who, in opposition to Iskandar, can be slightly disinterested at less important stages of a tournament but is mostly a god of concentration when it comes to play the big matches.

03 January 2012


I might exaggerate, but I am almost convinced that within movement one of the most important things is how you master the split step. It is your very first reaction before starting to go towards the ball and it will determine the explosiveness of your movement. 
The split step is simple and complex at the same time. Simple, as you just need to jump up slightly with both feet before heading off towards the ball. Complex, as it needs delicate timing in order to avoid to land too early or too late.
What is the main point about the split step? It will allow you to put the weight as quickly as possible on the relevant foot before making your first step. You jump off with both feet from the ordinary parallel position as you wait on the 'T', but you will land with one or the other foot in front of the other, depending where the ball was hit by your opponent. 
Let's put it in order: 1) you have to jump just before your opponent hits the ball - this is the most delicate thing, to time the detachment from the ground well. 2) you want to be with both feet still in the air when you perceive/understand where your opponent has hit the ball. 3) depending on where the ball goes, you will land with your feet and weight accordingly.  
Peter Nicol has always been extremely agile, but nobody employs the split step more intensively than Ramy Ashour; combined with his phenomenal reading of the game, this is what makes him so damn quick. After having watched the below video, you might want to have a further look on this one, showing Ramy in extreme slow motion with another legend, Jonathon Power.