29 November 2012


I am very impressed by the progress that Simon Rosner has been showing in the last two years. Okay, he might still lack that big win - not counting when he beat a disinterested Shabana last year in Kuwait - but he is giving a really hard time to the top guys, extending the likes of Gaultier and Matthew to tie-brakes or even picking games off them. One of his best weapons is definitely the cross-court forehand kill, his is very severe with it form around mid-court but he is capable hitting such winners even from the back-foot from deeper positions as you can see it in the below rally. 
I am happy to have also Peter Barker in this rally, as in my eyes he is the other player who progressed the most this year. Maybe not yet ranking-wise, but his game has acquired so much more variety, so much more accuracy in the middle and in the front of the court. It's still not at the heights of James or Nick, not to mention Shabana, Gaultier or Ramy, but it's getting definitely closer and closer. 
By the way, most people look at me strange when I say this, but I am a really big fan of Barker's movement. It seems to me extremely soft and smooth, economic and balanced. He's got visibly heavy big leg muscles (not like James or Shabana) and still he seems to pop from one foot to the other in a cat-like manner. I would love to learn from him but I am afraid to acquire these qualities you need to invest an awful lot into training, a lot more than any club player could afford. I am also a fan of his racket preparation which is nearly as harmonic as his movement and nearly as compact as Darwish's.  
Rosner has already proved that he is an assiduous student of Egyptian squash; if I were his coach, I would make him sit down and watch and analyse a few Peter Barker matches, to understand how can you become smooth and economical, qualities that will have both mid- and a long-term effects on your carrier, to mention one: reducing the chances of injury, which is always a greater risk for the bigger lads (you might have read a thing or two about this subject in James Willstrop's book).

27 November 2012


The below video is not from Hong Kong, but it shows two contenders, Amr Shabana - who has already won the Hong Kong title four times - and Gregory Gaultier - who has lost to Shabana a couple of times in those finals. Nevertheless, Gaultier is in devastating form recently and must be considered as one of the favourites of the tournament. Shabana started the season extremely motivated, and playing even very well, but he could do but little against Gaultier and Matthew so far. But he is in good physical shape and he definitely wants one more big title. Of course there is Ramy as well, having beaten Greg and Nick Matthew recently at the US Open, and there is also James Willstrop who will have the extra pressure of having to defend his points from last year (will he fail to do so there is a good chance that he will concede the #1 ranking in January). 
Anyway, the draw is open - as is the below rally with a cut ending - and squash TV is transmitting all the matches. Some hard core stuff to be expected as soon as from the first round: for example Nick Matthew vs. Simon Rosner and Ramy Ashour vs. Tarek Momen. Action starts Tuesday the 27th of November and the final will be played on Sunday 2nd of December. Don't miss out.

20 November 2012


The best possible serve is the one that finds the sidewall high with a mid pace so that your opponent has to scrape his return off the wall as otherwise the next bounce on the floor would die around the backwall nick. If you can do this with a high reliability percentage, your opponent will take a position more and more towards the sidewall whist waiting for your serve; this is when you can start to serve occasionally to his body as well. 
Serving to the body requires a slightly higher pace, first bounce should be just a few inches above the service line and you should aim to find your opponent's body around hip heights. It is very difficult to aim for a dying ball in the backwall nick as for that the ball would be slow enough to allow your opponent to get out of the way and play a reverse angle shot (forehand from the backhand side and vice-versa) - unless he is tired/lazy (for example after a long rally that you have won) to do so. 
Anyway, you have to make sure one thing with the 'to-the-body-serve': don't hit it above your opponent's head, as Daryl Selby is doing it in the below rally. Guys with quick hands will punish you straight away as Ramy Ashour demonstrates it here, whereas slower-handed guys will get an opportunity to step away and wait for the rebounce off the backwall. 
If you have a subscription with squashtv, then go for some Nick Matthew match replays and observe how and when he is employing this type of serve; he is by far the most efficient with it (James coming second in my opinion, whereas in former times John White was a frequent and efficient user of it).

14 November 2012


Squash TV is recently publishing a lots of hot shots and mega rallies on their youtube channel. I am picking the below one because I think it demonstrates two things I would like to mention: 
1) the great potential that Simon Rosner has got; notwithstanding his big size, it is very impressive how well he moves, and especially how quickly he can get back from big lounges (generally a tough thing for tall players). He is also an excellent reader of the game, he is by now really very close to the top8 in this regard. 
2) But to get there I really think he has to modify one thing: his huge backswing. 
Watch this rally and observe how many times he lacks precision and accuracy exactly because his backswing requires too much time to prepare which makes him hit the ball a fraction too late. As long as he's got time and space, there is no problem with this kind of racket preparation, but as soon as you lack one or the other factor, you will struggle to hit precisely. This is mostly evident in situations when the opponent hits a slightly loose but quick straight ball as we can see it in this rally at 0:16 and especially at 0:23; in both cases Rosner hits late and this is why the ball finds the sidewall.
Of course, in certain situations this big swing favours Rosner, like when he is going for his trademark low cross-court kills in the front, but in situations around the 'T' he will need to study the top guys' swing, to start with the most compact one probably: Karim Darwish.
Will Rosner be able to adjust in this technical regard, then I feel there will be very little to separate him from the top10, or even the top6.
Oh, and just to mention also the obvious before we finish: what a beautiful carousel rally this was! Unlucky for the records that it had to end with a 'Stroke'.

13 November 2012


We had a top spin backhand drop shot last week, the first of the 'Shots that don't exist' series. Here is now another one from the same match, Ramy Ashour vs. Daryl Selby, first round of the 2012 British Open.
In fact, it's not true that these shots don't exist, they are just not very common. Whilst the top spin drop shot from last week is rather just a flashy thing, I deeply believe that the cross-court kill-nick that Ramy is displaying in the below video is really efficient - notwithstanding being way too underrated, under-considered and under-trained.
To go for this cross-court kill-nick, you will have to wait for a semi-loose ball from your opponent around the back of the service box (similarly as for the attacking boast). If the ball is too tight, you can't swing freely to go for it, whereas if the ball is too loose towards the middle of the court the angle is reducing and it is tougher to find the nick (and there are also other better shot-options in this case). However, if you play it from the right angle, then it doesn't even have to find the nick perfectly; it might not become a winner, but it will make your opponent stretch and scrap it off the floor just before the second bounce. Another important factor is the heights of the ball: you can only go for this shot if it bounces at least around hip-heights. And you have to make sure to find the side-wall first and not the floor (in case you miss the perfect nick); if the ball bounces first on the floor and then on the sidewall, it will decelerate it and make it bounce high whereas if you find the sidewall first it will result in a quick and short double bounce on the floor (unless you fail it completely by hitting it way too high). Anyway, you will have to practise this shot before employing it reliably in matches, and I suggest you start on the forehand side (most of the non-professionals - the writer of these lines included - will never be capable to play it on the backhand side),
By the way, I think Ramy has learned this shot from Amr Shabana, the only other player to use it on a regular basis over the years. And this is a story for itself: the more you are a 'genius' the less you are shy to learn from the others. Both Ramy and Shabana are assiduous watchers/learners (as you can also hear it in this lovely video).

06 November 2012


A very entertaining rally. Fantastic gets, a few shots from behind the back, you can't ask for more. 
Crazy rallies like this, we generally get them from Ramy Ashour vs. Nick Matthew or vs. James Willstrop.
These rallies are always a combination of higher and lower quality shots - but the one who hits a low quality shot is capable to recover with the next shot and then turn the momentum, and so on. 
But the difference between the two players in the below rally - Alister Walker, current world #12 and Chris Simpson #37 - consists I think in the movement. The court seems just a fraction bigger for these two guys compared to the very top players.
It seems to me that the top guys move in a more ergonomic way; they come out of the lounge like a "wave", their movement is not sectioned into "lounge, brake, stop, back", it's rather a constant flux. Don't get me wrong, Walker and Simpson are two great athletes, both heavy trainers, both quick and strong, but they do not posses that fluidity that you can observe with Ramy, Greg, James or even Peter Barker. 
I don't know if this is purely a technical question? Probably it is also linked with the speed of perception (how quick one reads his opponents intentions). When you are less in a rush, you can allow more harmony to your movement. And probably more harmony even to the execution of your shots, or even to your shot-selection. We are talking about nuances, but these nuances make the difference between the top8 and the top20 and so on.

01 November 2012


I feel Ramy Ashour's racket technique is sometimes slightly mystified. I think it's not as unorthodox as that, he just reads his opponents so much quicker than anybody else that he gets his racket back into position without any rush and that makes some commentators think that he's got no backswing. It is this extremely early racket preparation that allows him then to go for shots that others (even other professionals) can only dream about. 
The below video is, however, contradicting my thesis. This crazy back-foot top-spin drop is indeed a shot that doesn't exist (unfortunately the rally has been recorded a bit far from the court. You can push the 'fullscreen' button on the bottom right of the video player to see it better).
Playing a drop-shot on the back-foot is anyway forbidden according to conventional coaching textbooks. Sure enough, as in so many aspects, the Egyptians have slightly modified this thesis.
Wael El Hindi was the first one to go for drop shots on the back-foot on a constant basis (you probably remember the most outrageous one), and currently, besides Ramy Ashour, Tarek Momen is confident and talented enough to employ it with succes. And it might make sense on this (pro) level as it is a position where the ball is hidden from your opponent's eye-sight; add to this that he can also only see your back, so at the end of the day he can't really read/anticipate your intentions.
But it's not something for everybody as it requires extreme strength all around: leg, hip and wrist. Club-players just better lift the ball in similar situations, or assume an approx. one-to-ten success-ratio by going for it; the choice is yours.