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Quarterfinal Happenings
By Dan Kneipp © 2002 SquashTalk; all rights of reproduction reserved
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Oct 19, 2002

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John White versus Wael El Hindi

John White led off the quarter finals against Wael El Hindi. El Hindi upset Martin Heath in the first round, but would need to have a great match to do the same for the quarters. El Hindi is one of a number of players who uses specific gamesmanship tactics during matches. Most squash fans aren’t aware of the subtlety used by the players who have blocking and barging as on-court weapons. It’s very simple: play a good length then either stand your ground and don’t allow the other player access to the ball, or even more popular is backing into the opponent, or sticking a hip out to knock the player off balance. It’s very subtle and as most people are concentrating on where the ball is, it usually goes unnoticed. The other main tactic is pushing the opponent towards the ball while holding the racquet ready to hit so as to milk a stroke. This leads to scrappy squash that has lots of body contact and no smooth flow to the game. Every player is aware of which guys do this, but it’s becoming more and more obvious that most spectators and a lot of the umpires aren’t aware when this goes on.

El Hindi gives White a push in the back as he tries to retrieve the ball     photo © 2002 Dan Kneipp

 

For the Milo South African Challenge players have been marking and refereeing all matches. This can be both good and bad. I think it portrays a less professional image of the sport compared to having specialist umpires. But what it does do is ensure that players don't use blocking or barging as part of their game tactics. Players refereeing try to ensure that it’s a clean match and almost without fail pick up the on court moves that would be better placed in a hockey match.

White’s tactic to counter El Hindi’s body play was to make it very clear that he could give as good as he got. El Hindi kept most of the game flowing smoothly and allowed White to use his arsenal of shots. The first game was a complete white-wash with Whitey playing the attacking ruthless squash that has been his trademark. He won the first very comfortable.

As can be the case this type of squash leads Whitey to (understandably) believe that he can crack a winner off of any ball and any position. He can do this. But it also means that he can get a little over zealous with his nick-slapping shots. Then if they stop working, he still continues to go for everything. This is what happened in the second game. Shots that had been beautiful winners in the first game turned into unnecessary tins in the second. El Hindi also dug much deeper and went all out for this game. Whitey was still able to take the game leaving a tired and dejected El Hindi who rolled over in the final game.

 

El Hindi uses an unorthodox method to clear the ball
    photo © 2002 Dan Kneipp

 

John White beat Wael El Hindi 15-6, 15-11, 15-6

Joe Kneipp versus Mark Chaloner

Joe has always regarded Chaloner as possibly the best athlete on the circuit. His speed, fitness, court coverage and stamina are the main assets that have kept him in the top ten for many years. His racquet skills may not be as strong as some of the other top ten players, but he has the patience and endurance to make up for it by allowing his opponent to capitulate to his speed and relentlessness.

Anyone who has seen Joe play will be aware that he has awesome racquet skills. The down side of this is that he can too often determine his own downfall. If you play attacking squash that relies on winners, there will be days when the glorious tickle boast winner will continually clip the tin. There’s something wrong if a player walks off the court and isn’t physically spent, but has still lost the match. This usually indicates too many unforced errors and giving the match away. We’ve worked on Joe playing a more solid and consistent game that doesn’t rely on hit or miss shots.

The first game was all one-sided with Joe’s length and tightness too much for Chaloner. It looked like he was either nervous or just starting slow. This changed quickly in the second with Chaloner lifting up the pace and taking out the unforced errors that had been there in the first. He led from the start of the game, and despite Joe clawing back to 14 all, and then 16 all, the game went to Chaloner as a backhand drop shot from Joe caught the top of the tin.

This was a long and grueling game and probably went to the game plan that Chaloner would have had. But we’ve been working on Joe’s fitness and he had plenty left in the tank, with Chaloner showing the effects of the extra court coverage he had done. It looked like he was resting slightly during the third, saving himself for the fourth game, with Joe winning fairly comfortably.

Kneipp lunges for a good length ball from Chaloner
    photo © 2002 Dan Kneipp

 

At the start of the fourth it was obvious that Chaloner wasn’t saving himself, he was spent. His ability to push through the pain barrier and still lunge from corner to corner showed why he is such a respected athlete.

Joe Kneipp beat Mark Chaloner 15-4, 16-17, 15-3, 15-5.

Simon Parke versus Alex Gough

I have a tricky situation being at this tournament in the capacity of Joe’s coach, but also trying to find time to write stories for SquashTalk. I’ve got a digital camera that I use to take photos for the stories. You’ll notice that the photo of Joe’s game is from the back of the court. This is because I want to watch all of his match from the back so as to coach his as well as I can. If I take the time during a match to sneak to the front of the court and try to get a better photo, then I miss valuable match viewing.

I wanted to make sure I got a photo of all of the quarter finals. The court is situated in a shopping mall with noise, lights and movement coming from everywhere. On each side of the court is an escalator, behind the front wall are the lifts, there’s music playing the whole time and people walking around everywhere. These distractions are just a small handicap that pro squash players need to deal with so that the sport can get better exposure, more sponsorship and therefore a stronger tour. The best example of this is the Tournament of Champions in New York. There’s people filing past the front wall on their way to catch a train the whole time. Players just have to get used to it.

But I’m also aware that you don’t want to break the player’s concentration. Gough and Parke were half way through their first game. No player was really dominating with all corners of the court being used, plenty of lunging and volleying and long rallies. Neither player was going for any winners so it was attritional squash. Most winners were from tight balls that the other player could get to, but just couldn’t scrape the ball to the front wall. Behind the front wall is a huge black curtain to hide the elevators from the players’ view. I was waiting patiently behind this for a break in play so that I could put my camera at the front wall to get a photo. I picked a nice break in play and quickly got into position so as not to be moving. Parke had the serve and took the opportunity to walk to the front wall to wipe his hand dry. Gough spotted me and my camera and immediately waved me away. I shrugged my shoulders to try to get an idea what his problem was as I wasn’t moving and didn’t have a flash. He persisted while the whole crowd waited for the match to resume. Obviously this made me feel like a chump and I moved away quickly to make sure the game continued.

   
Gough stopping play once he spots the camera Gough stops play for the third time citing camera shyness
    photos © 2002 Dan Kneipp

My first reaction was thinking that Gough can’t really be that much of a princess. There’s lights everywhere on the court, movement and noise. If he is worried about distractions then he has no idea what squash needs to do to make sure it getting greater media coverage. So I got to thinking he either wanted to have a longer break and found a good excuse, or he was worried that I was taking photos of his game in the capacity as Joe’s coach in case both of them made the final. Gough ended up winning the first game 15-14 after Parke called set one. So by this time I had double-checked with the Glenn Whittaker the tournament organiser that I could get some photos for SquashTalk and told the umpire Renan Lavigne what I was doing in case Gough caused another commotion. Sure enough two minutes into the second game and with just my camera sitting on a tripod (with me hidden behind the curtain) he stopped the match to protest. I couldn’t hear the conversation, but I was quickly informed that it was the red recording light that was the problem. When questioned later during his victory interview he admitted that he was worried I was recording him from a coaching perspective. Fair enough. I don’t know what he plans to do for media exposure if squash ever gets to the stage that it’s televised regularly.

 

But Parke’s win over Lincou in the first round and tough battle with Gough has showed that he’s getting closer to being fully recovered from his surgery and isn’t far away from the intensity he had prior to his break.

Alex Gough beat Simon Parke 15-14, 15-10, 15-11

David Palmer versus Karim Darwish

Darwish won the recent tournament in Pakistan. Palmer won the recent US Open. Palmer has been at number one and is sitting at number 3. Darwish is knocking on the top ten door and is signaling that he’s one of the future stars of the game. I was curious as to whether Darwish could keep up with the pace that Palmer is able to play. He did it very well for the first two games, leading the first before losing 15-10. Palmer was leading 13-9 in the second but some silly errors and good pressure from Darwish leveled it at 14 all. Palmer upped the pace and won the second game 17-15.

Normally glass show courts are much slower than normal courts. It’s much easier to hit good length on them meaning usually the player with better racquet skills and greater intensity is able to win. Players who are just very fit and fast have a greater chance on normal courts. The court being used for the Milo South African Challenge is an all glass court but it’s bloody bouncy. Whether that’s from being at altitude or just the nature of this court I’m not sure. But it meant that all of the players had to reevaluate their game plans and play more like as if it was a normal court. Drop shots and boasts that would normally be winners suddenly become shots that leave the other player at the front with time to do what they want with the ball. One of Palmer’s main strengths is his drops that take all of the speed of the ball. He takes huge lunges jumping onto any volley opportunity and can then play a delicate drop that leaves the ball hugging both the side and front wall, particularly from the backhand. Not even the bouncy court could help Darwish combat Palmer’s touch drops. His feather drops were as lethal as usual and were not only deceptive, but forced his opponent to lunge completely into the front corner, sapping valuable energy. Palmer straight games victory reinforces he’s the player to beat not only at this tournament, but in men’s squash at the moment.

David Palmer beat Karim Darwish 15-10, 17-15, 15-4.

Mike Way Toronto Clini c Nov 20 2002

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