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Explosion and a Torn Musle
By Dan Kneipp © 2002 SquashTalk; all rights of reproduction reserved
Oct 19, 2002

Kneipp versus White
I have always said that one of the best examples of dynamic and entertaining squash is when Joe and John White play. As everyone knows Whitey has a vast array of powerful shots particularly winners. Joe’s strengths lie more in touch shots that work the ball in ways that normal squash players like myself have no concept of. And when both of them decide to work the crowd and be charismatic they can turn otherwise boring rallies into pure entertainment. Watch them play a match when there isn’t sheep stations at stake and you’ll see what I mean.

There was obviously a big difference between today’s preparation, and yesterday’s against Mark Chaloner. Firstly by making the semi finals Joe had already exceeded his ranking average and had therefore achieved the first goal of the tournament and was more relaxed. Joe and Whitey grew up near each other in North Queensland so are very familiar with each other’s game, and also very good friends. A lot of players will be cordial and friendly to each other during a tournament, until they find that they’re playing against each other and then all conversation stops. After Joe and John won their respective quarter final matches yesterday, obviously aware that they would then play each other, they went bowling together. (Both shooting PBs: Joe 192, John 216…me a lousy 153).

The two of them have played three times this year. Firstly at the memorial US Open quarters, then at an invitational Dutch tournament a couple of months ago, and most recently at the start of the month for Dutch league. Joe won the first two in straight games, and the recent match up in a tough four setter. So he approached today’s match with a quiet confidence while still being wary of Whitey’s ability to beat anyone when he’s slapping nicks.

Which was the way the match started. First rally – nick winner. Second rally – nick winner. Third rally – forehand length too tight for Joe to retrieve. We’d already discussed that if this happens Joe needs to just weather the storm and say too good. Obviously trying to keep the ball away from Whitey’s strongest areas. After the fourth winner Joe just turned to me and smiled. What can you do? But then Joe started putting more pressure on the rallies, Whitey hit a couple of tins, and then broke a string. Joe turned to the referee, who happened to be Simon Parke and said ‘Boy am I glad that racket doesn’t work anymore’ hoping that the new one didn’t have the same amount of nicks in its make-up.

Not long after this Joe turned around and gave me a look that I wasn’t familiar with. If it was at the end of an hour an a half long battle it would have obviously meant “I’m about to start cramping up and I’m in big trouble”. The match had just started so it wasn’t that. They had a long hard first game tussle and Whitey won 15-12.

Then during the break I heard the worst thing you can hear. “I have torn a muscle in my arse”. Very early on in the match, at about 5-3 Joe had lunged for a ball on the forehand and his glutius muscle went. Obviously not very badly, but enough so that he couldn’t lunge properly. At this level you might as well play left handed if you can’t lunge.

A tournament that is two and a half times bigger than this tournament starts in a week, followed by Toronto and then the World Open. So we had the dilemma of whether to try to play through the injury or pain, or be sensible and look at the long term picture. Joe went on court for the second game to see if he could just hit winners and move lightly, but quickly realised that only damage could come from remaining on court. He forfeited the match. Obviously a disappointing way to finish a good tournament.

John White (SCO) def Joe Kneipp (AUS) 15-13 8-3 retired, injury.

David Palmer versus Alex Gough

I thought this was going to be a one-sided affair, with David Palmer’s intensity and fitness going to be too much. But Alex Gough is a gutsy player, and most importantly, he believes that he can beat Palmer. This is a very important thing. In Wael El Hindi’s match against White yesterday I never got the impression that El Hindi thought he could win the match. Plenty of players go onto court with Palmer thinking they can’t win. Gough not only thinks he can win, but did so early the year at the British Open when Palmer was the defending champion.

The first game was a mammoth affair. If you would ask my advice on what not to do against Palmer, it would be ‘Don’t play short to his backhand’. He’s lethal there. Gough not only played short to his backhand, but frequently won the exchanges with perfectly placed lobs or disguised drives that left Palmer either lunging, or wrong-footed and down a point. At every stage where I thought Palmer was putting his foot down and exerting his dominance, Gough would turn the books and suddenly be level or leading. He continued this and had the first game ball, but Palmer clawed it back to 14 all. Gough called set three but at 15 all two errors handed the game to Palmer.

This game was straight after Joe’s so I was trying to see what was happening with the match, but more importantly looking after my player’s injury and making sure he was alright. So once Palmer had won the second game and was up about 8-4 in the third I thought I could look at making sure Joe got some food into his system, tried to stretch what wasn’t hurt and looked after himself.

When we returned to the court all pandemonium had apparently broken out. The third game had been tied at 13 all, when Palmer had taken an air swing missing the ball off a lob. This had obviously infuriated him at such an important stage of the match, and he had smashed the ball upwards and behind him. He was facing the back wall crowd at the time and had hit the ball behind him. What he hadn’t expected was it hitting one of the fluorescent lights, smashing it and causing the glass to rain down over the court.

This apparently caused Gough to demand that he be awarded the match as Palmer had made the court unplayable. Palmer’s air swing had caused the score to go to 14-13 in Gough’s favour. Chaloner was refereeing and gave a conduct point against Palmer which meant he lost the game. Palmer stormed off the court infuriated with the events and his bad luck. Gough was still insisting that he should be awarded the match as the court was unplayable. Glen Whittaker the tournament referee made it very clear that five minutes with a vacuum cleaner would make the court playable. Seeing as the first semi final had only lasted a game and a half with Joe’s retirement, Whittaker certainly didn’t want another match not going the distance. He made it very clear that the match would go on and to forget about any chance of Palmer being given a conduct match against him.

But Gough wouldn’t let the matter lie and had the head of PSA (based in Wales) called and rule books dragged out. This didn’t lead to any different of a situation, and after a long delay the match resumed. The final outcome of the battle was an eventual win to Palmer but how much strength that has sapped out of him for tomorrow’s match we can only guess.

Mike Way Toronto Clini c Nov 20 2002

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