23 February 2012


I have mentioned recently a few Egyptian youngsters who I believe will constitute the new big generation once Shabana and Darwish are retired. Ramy Ashour is part of both generations as already confirmed as one of the best players ever and still young in age (24), Mohamed El Shorbagy is also a confirmed top player notwithstanding his young age (22) with the potential of becoming in the future world #1. His younger brother Marwan (18) shows incredible qualities too and I believe that Karim Abdel Gawad and Mohamed Abouelghar will both make the top10 if not better in the future. But who will come after the current big English generation? There is Tom Richards coming up the rankings but he's not that young anymore (25) and I rather doubt in his abilities of becoming a top5 player (I however expect him in the top10 sooner or later). Chris Simpson shows recently improvement, but the real breakthrough has not happened yet. One of my personal picks would be Eddie Charlton, each time I see him playing in the flesh I feel like he's got the thing, both classy technique and a daring constructive mindset, but then when I check his rankings I keep seeing him stuck around the top90. So the most promising youngsters must be the two who we see in the below rally, Adrian Waller against Olivier Pett. For being the last rally of a championship, they both show impressive quality and commitment. Waller has beaten Olli Tuominen in the 2010 TOC but couldn't come up with any other big win ever since. Olivier Pett might still be lacking a big win to his name (Ong Beng Hee was sick a few weeks ago when Pett beat him in Chicago) but he starts to beat better ranked players regularly and climbs up the rankings massively. I have seen him playing for the first time two days ago against Gregory Gaultier at the 2012 North American Open, and I was very impressed with his performance. Gaultier can easily make someone look ridicules on court - he has both the ability and tendency of playing cat and mouse with weaker opponents, as he did with Tom Richards at the 2012 Case Swedish Open for example - but Olivier did not look ridicules for a second. I also believe that Pett has the right coach in the person of Tim Vail who is probably one of the most talented players ever to have missed a pro carrier. So, to make it short, my current pick for a bright future is Olivier Pett. We'll see. 

18 February 2012


Well, it's Saturday, and normally time for some short and strange bagatelle. However, as Ramy Ashour has been off for so long and as he might return to action in a few days time at the 2012 North American Open (from 20 February live on Squash TV), the below video is just a quick reminder what might await us if he has - this time finally - really recovered from his hamstring injury. Furious, playful, creative and fair. The best thing that could ever have happened to squash:

15 February 2012


This is an excellent camera angle to observe the so called follow-through or after-swing. Mostly coaches tell you to continue to draw your line with the racket and finish your swing high in front of you. If you watch Karim Darwish, you'll notice that he is rather doing the opposite : he cuts his follow-through and ends it short and low (except at 0:12 where he is looking to hit a hard straight backhand drive off a lowish ball from the back). To me this short and low version makes sense: most of the times your opponent will be near around you (without creating a 'Stroke' situation) and if you are able to reduce both your back- and after-swing, then you'll be able to prepare your shots rightly in many situations where players with higher/bigger swings will struggle. 

07 February 2012


Joey Barrington said whilst commentating the final of the 2012 Case Swedish Open that we are experiencing a specially intriguing period in squash as all the top players are peaking at the same time. Unfortunately this is not totally the case. Nick Matthew and James Willstrop might be better than ever, Gregory Gaultier seems to achieve or probably even exceed his own 2008 level, but you can't say that Amr Shabana is peaking; he was outstanding at the PSA World Series Finals in the Queens Club, but his results in the past 6 months are way to fluctuating for a former 33 months-long world #1. Karim Darwish is stellar years away from his 2008-2010 peak period (a good sample to demonstrate this is the video below, showing him somewhat slow and conservative); in that 2 year span he beat everybody outside the top6 mostly within half an hour and beat regularly all the other top guys (except maybe Willstrop, his dark horse, but they have hardly met those years). And what to say about Ramy Ashour? Is he peaking now? Unfortunately not, he is hassling with his injuries more than ever. However it is true, whilst he has been healthy, he was peaking indeed; many talk about how Nick Matthew dominates James Willstrop (13:0 since the 2009 British Open) but few have realized that in fact Ramy has had a 10:0 record against Gaultier from the 2009 Sky Open until the 2011 PSA World Open when Ramy had to retire due to injury. So my point is, to see who is really peaking these days, we first should see Ramy come back in full shape to the tour and then see if all the other top guys can invent anything against him. I am sure, they will be keen to do so. 

04 February 2012


Squash starts to show well on television as we could see it - latest - at the PSA World Series Finals in the Queens Club in London. Unfortunately, not all the main events are set up that well. The two biggest issues in general are: usage of colors and set up of viewers areas. Concerning colors, I've been saying it for long, the court colors need to be dark in order to see the tiny white ball well. It also makes the matches more spectacular, more dramatic. In Queens we were very close to the perfect color set-up, but the floor was still too light. The other thing is that the sidewall viewers area is often either totally absent or too far away. When you watch the event on a screen, it just makes a difference if you see crowds clapping and cheering in the picture like at the Tournament of Champions in New York or at the Canary Wharf Classic in London or if you see an empty hall like in most other tournaments. Even in Queens the sidewall viewer area was just too far away to enter into the picture. It's also not good for the commercial aspect; imagine a soccer live transmission without crowds. The below video is from Paderborn/Germany showing the last two rallies of the final of 2011 World Team Championships won by Egypt against England (Karim Darwish beating James Willstrop in the deciding match, Darwish's last noticeable win for over a year now). Colors are way too light, mostly the floor, but the spectator area is huge and nicely close to the court. It is a mutual thing - people being closer to the action get more excited and players feeling the crowds so near get more tuned up as well. And it shows great on the screen, transmitting a real social vibe and not just two men chasing a ball in a cage (as detractors happen to talk about it...) 
I would suggest that PSA creates a color-code and a viewer area set up-code for the tournament organizers. I know, what counts most, is the quality of squash, but believe me, how it is served counts a lot as well.

01 February 2012


  It all started at the 2009 British Open. Nick Matthew and James Willstrop met in the final that ended 12:10 to Matthew in the fifth; the two players exchanged some heavy words, Matthew for example asking Willstrop if he had been taught how to block by Malcolm (James' coach/father). 
  Before that match Willstrop had his fair share of wins, ever since he hasn't won a single one of their 12 PSA meetings up to date (the last one at the 2012 TOC Final, as video below). There was one occasion when he got close - one that will surely be remembered for long, some calling it even the greatest match ever - a two-hour five-game semi final at the 2010 Canary Wharf Classic. All the others were rather one sided, at least result-wise for sure. 
  It is rather unusual to have such a head-to-head between two top (very top) players. It must be a mental thing (related to that 2009 BO Final), as we can't say that Matthew would have progressed so much more than Willstrop himself in the last times; in this three-year span Willstrop has beaten several times everybody else (Ramy, Gaultier, Shabana and Darwish) and Matthew has lost a couple of times to players (Peter Barker, Daryl Selby) against whom James keeps winning rather easily and has never lost to (non considering his sole loss to Barker when he was visibly injured, 2011 CW). But it is also a tactical thing. 
  I just can't understand that after all those losses how come Willstrop keeps playing the same way against Matthew, how come he doesn't try to slow down the pace in a radical manner? He keeps hitting the ball mostly hard from the back, and as soon as they are slightly loose, the 'wolf' volleys them; and as the ball was hit hard, James doesn't accord himself to get back to the 'T' in time. Even Ramy Ashour - the only man who can play at an even higher pace than Matthew - employs regularly slow/high balls to break Matthew's rhythm (and vice versa Matthew doing the same to Ramy).
  Another note on the rivalry is that their matches - notwithstanding their personal conflict and the very high standard of squash - do not generate real enthusiasm in the public. As long as commenting/chat was enabled on squashtv, I've seen so many people mocking about "robot 1 having stronger batteries than robot 2..." This is not exactly my point, but fact is that Ramy, Shabana, or Gaultier (even paired with any of the two English men) induct way more emotions and positive reactions from the crowd.
  Last note, regarding the relative high number of 'Lets' that occur in their games; Matthew and some others pretend that Willstrop is slow to clear the ball. I think this does not reflect the truth. James has the best hold in the business; if the opponent plays anything loose James will hold his volley and only execute his shot when the other guy has already committed in a way or in another. Hence most players are so clearly wrong-footed, that even if they bump into Willstrop, they are most likely to receive a 'No Let'. 
  The problem is, that Matthew, on the other hand, can not be wrong-footed easily. Even if he commits as anybody else when James holds his shot, he is so strong and quick to recover and change direction (and subsequently, to bump into Willstrop at times) that he gets his 'Lets' from the referees - am not saying unrightly, am just saying that the interference is not created by Willstrop, but by the player who intercepts the wrong way in these cases. 
  Anyway, it's a complicated story between these two, and as long as Willstrop doesn't change his tactics radically, it will remain somewhat robotic for us, and somewhat painful for him.