WHO KNOWS ANYTHING ANYMORE?
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.
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
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.
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).
MEN, QUIET WOMEN.
The game is for playing, Gentlemen, not for talking.
HALLABY MAKES IT THREE
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 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.