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An Unpredictable
Season
!
…Ricketts …Elriani … El Halaby … David Palmer…
more

Global Gallery, March
8, 2005

Martin Bronstein, writes this month from his
home in London.

© 2005 All rights
reserved.
all photos© 2005, Debra Tessier

WHO
KNOWS ANYTHING ANYMORE?

Anthony Ricketts and Amr Shabana at
this year’s TOC
photo©
2004, D Tessier

I keep wondering
whether this is one of the most exciting eras of squash for 30 years.
As the Tournament of Champions proved yet again, the winner of any tournament
is simply not open to prediction based on form or skill. The Hashim, Barrington,
Hunt, Jahangir, Jansher and Nicol/Power periods were fun in one way –
everybody likes the comic-book type unbeatable champion, but it can lead
to a lack of real excitement as the tournament draws towards the final.
For the past year or so, since Peter Nicol and Jonathon Power lost their
stranglehold on the finals, every tournament seems to produce a different
winner.

Who in their
right minds would have predicted that Anthony Ricketts would walk away
with the TOC title this year? I certainly didn’t. I wondered if
he would survive the first round against Laurens Jan Anjema, the fast
emerging young Dutchman. And if he did, would he get past the charismatic
Englishman James Willstrop? Well he beat both of them . And for my money,
the best match of the entire tournament was Ricketts and Willstrop. The
word pyrotechnics comes to mind. I cannot remember seeing so many drop
shots in one match – and so many incredible pick-ups. It went for
five breathtaking games with Ricketts winning 13-11 in the fifth. Quite
wonderful, one of those days where one feels privileged to be there.

For his troubles
Ricketts was rewarded with Peter Nicol in the quarter-finals. Another
huge five-game battle and still Ricketts came off the court a winner.
He had played more minutes on court than any other player and Amr Shabana
awaited him in the semis. He had a bit of a rest there, winning 3/1 in
just 42 minutes. The real test was the tough very fit Thierry Lincou in
the final. A memorable match with Ricketts winning in five after 89 minutes
of superb entertainment.

Now you have
to admit that was one incredible route to the final and if anybody deserved
trophy and the winner’s cheque it was Ricketts.

THE
VOLCANO SUPPRESSED
It
was four or five years ago that I saw Ricketts in the early rounds of
the British Open, trying to smash the ball through the front wall with
every shot. His temper was uncontrolled – in fact his whole game
was based on uncontrolled aggression.

He has matured
now and had the great Rodney Martin in his corner giving sound advice.
In New York he kept it under control and, while he likes to have the odd
conversation with the referee, he now concentrates on the game. His focus
is now getting to a point that it will start to intimidate his opponents.

KEEP
YOUR HANDS DOWN, MAN

Ricketts struggles to keep his temper
controlled
photo©
2004, D Tessier

He still gets
upset if he thinks an error has not been spotted by the referee. At one
point in a match he thought the ball had gone out. Up shot his arm to
bring the referee’s attention to the fact. His opponent stopped
playing after he had struck the ball claiming distraction. There followed
appeals, counter-appeals and complaints from both players until referee
Graham Waters cut through it all and said to Ricketts: ‘You put
your hand up. We’ll play a let’.

Ricketts responded
immediately. “I did not!” By this time he was out of the door.
Waters would have none of it, fixed Ricketts in the eye and said: ‘You
put your hand up.” Ricketts looked like a boy caught with his hand
in the cookie jar. “Well, just a little bit,’ he said, smiled
mischievously and went back into the court. It got a big laugh from the
spectators and Ricketts had won more fans.

My advice to
players is don’t put your hand up because your opponent will get
a let on the grounds of distraction. All you can do is wait till the end
of the rally and appeal. The referee will almost certainly say all balls
are good and you’ll get nothing anyway. Just play the ball.

NEW
HORIZONS EVERYWHERE
And
while we are on referee decisions, the instant replay has come to squash.
We already have it in top class cricket where the umpire calls for the
‘fourth’ official by indicating a square with his hands. An
umpire in the control booth sees a slo-mo replay of the play in question
and delivers his verdict of out or not out.

We also have
it in international rugby. Now Horizon Software , the British company
that has done a huge amount in squash, setting up websites for squash.orgs
everywhere as well as electronic scoreboards and other on-site gizmos,
will give referees the benefit of replays to help with difficult decisions.

My boss at SquashTalk,
Ron Beck, pointed out that replays will only help on factual points, not
on judgment calls. Was there obstruction? Did he make every effort ? These
are the sort of questions that slo-mo replays will not help.

Did the ball
hit the tin? Was there a double bounce? Did the ball hit the red line
or not? These are the questions that slo-mo replays can help answer –
if you’ve got 27 cameras all over the place as they do in all major
sports.

In British televised
soccer, when a goal is scored, we see slo-mos from four different angles.(Strangely
FIFA, the governing body of soccer, will not allow replays for the ref
which results in some horrendous decisions being allowed to stand).

I cannot see
Horizon putting up even ten cameras. Did the ball hit the tin? Well, the
camera behind the back wall is too far away, and the cameras through the
front wall can’t see the tin. The only way to know for sure is to
have a camera at tin height on both sides of the court, pointing at the
tin and only the tin.

To prove my
point, take out your squash video tape or DVD and play it one frame at
a time and you will see the difficulty of calling whether a ball hit the
red line or just below it.

Slow-mo cameras
rely on high speed frames-per-second and I do not believe Horizon have
invested in that sort of hardware yet.

(I shall be
at Canary Wharf for full reporting duties starting on Monday March 14,
so log on to Squashtalk for further reports on instant replays).

LOUD
MEN, QUIET WOMEN.
For
the first time there was a major women’s tournament alongside the
men’s in New York. The women did themselves proud producing some
engrossing, error-free squash (not always guaranteed with WISPA I’m
afraid). What they did demonstrate was that top class squash can be played
without constant screaming matches with the referee. The men still feel
it is their right to argue every point, which is not only unpleasant for
the spectator but it bogs the game down. It is up to the PSA to get stern
with their members and it also up to the referees to use the rules to
stamp out dissent quickly. In New York the referee (no names, to protect
the guilty) the Joe Kneipp/ El Hindi game degenerated into a farce with
nearly every point ending in a referee’s decision or argument. Had
the referee stomped on the players in the first game by handing out conduct
warnings, he would have had an easier time. Just in case I was completely
wrong I made this point to the man who assessed the match and he agreed
with me. Are referees afraid of being unpopular? Then get out of the game.
In International Rugby one word of argument from a player and there is
a ten yard penalty. Only the captain is allowed to ask the referee for
an explanation.

The game is
for playing, Gentlemen, not for talking.

MERE
STATISTICS
While
600 spectators crammed into Grand Central Terminal to see the final of
the Tournament of Champions, Over a thousand people crammed into the Harvard
Courts to watch the Men’s College championships, where Trinity once
more handed Harvard a beating. But those students certainly weren’t
paying up to $80 a seat as they were in Grand Central.

EL
HALLABY MAKES IT THREE

The Princeton number one Yasser El Hallaby won the individual college
title for the
third time. He has one more year at college and while we sat chatting
in the New York Athletic Club where he was trying to get in the main draw
of the TOC through some hard qualifying rounds, he told me that he is
going to give the professional tour a year when he finishes in Princeton
in the spring of ’06. Although he has lost a couple of times this season,
when he puts his mind to it, Yasser (possessed of the magic Egyptian squash
gene) is streets ahead of his opponents in the Ivy League. It will be
interesting to see how far he can go on the PSA Tour. One thing for sure:
he will need two or three months of hard training to acquire the fitness
required for the pro circuit. And he is the first one to admit that he
is not nearly fit enough.

LOVELY
LINDA

Linda Elriani against Vanessa Atkinson
in New York
photo©
2004, D Tessier

I thoroughly
enjoyed Linda Elriani’s performance in New York , Linda (formerly
Charman) gave one of the most focused performances I have ever witnessed.
She had a game plan against the two Grinham sisters and kept to it, knocking
them both out (They are ranked one and four in the world) Linda used the
height of the court better than anybody, man or woman. Her soaring lobs
simply undid the small Grinham sisters. She has had a superb year, beating
the hell out of everybody which is a great surprise because last year
she was struggling, not enjoying her squash and considering giving it
up. When Cassie Jackman was forced to retire, Linda realized how lucky
she was to still be able to play at 33 years old, and went back into training
with zest.

She is a well
built woman with lots of muscle. She was also one of the first players
to wear rings in her nose, giving her a bit of a punk appearance. She
was also quite confident in her discussions with the ref. This led journalist
Elspeth Burnside to describe her as ‘intimidating’ in one
of her reports. Linda read this and took exception to the word and came
marching into the press room , stood over the diminutive Burnside and
hollered: “I am not intimidating!” Poor Burnside almost melted
on the spot.

ST DAVID
OF OZ

David Palmer on his very best behavior
photo©
2004, D Tessier

David Palmer
was on his very best behaviour in New York. His outburst in the world
doubles was the equivalent of a ten on the Richter scale and led to a
year’s ban from the WSF. In our last Gallery we wondered whether
the PSA, who no longer own the men’s world open, but still run it,
would ban Palmer from the event or even penalize him for his behaviour.
Well it looks like Palmer will not receive further punishment and the
chances are that he will play in the Open this year. The change in ownership
came at the right time to put some doubt in everybody’s mind as
to whether they could keep him out. And there is also the fear of a lawsuit.

I am glad because
he is quite different from the other players in the top ten and brings
an interesting game to the court. Those who did not know Palmer’s
background could quite happily have mistaken him for a choir boy in New
York.