escort with flashing lights and sirens blaring rush players
to the squash venue in Antwerp . (photo: ©2002 Dan Kneipp)
Worrying about the time
that your match begins in a tournament can be stressful. Most tournaments
work on a ‘follow on’ system of game times. Instead of
having an allotted time for your match, the tournament director will
only print the order of matches, and the time that the first match
is on. So each match simply follows on from the previous one with
no definite time allocations. This system is usually more beneficial
to the organisers and the audience. Unfortunately it can be tough
on the players.
It is the player’s
responsibility to make sure that they are ready to play their match,
regardless of any circumstances. If the referee announces the start
of your match, and you’re not on court ready to play within
fifteen minutes your match is forfeited and your opponent gets a
free ride into the next round.
So with the follow on
system of starting times, there’s many factors to be considered
including how long you expect the matches before you to take, how
long it takes to travel from the tournament hotel to the venue and
how much time you need to warm up properly prior to your match.
The average time of a
men’s game is around 50 minutes or so. The time will vary
depending on what stage the tournament is at, and who is playing.
If Palmer is playing Power in the semi final that will be a much
longer match than if White is playing a qualifier in the first round.
But the quickest matches are around 30 minutes, and the longest
matches about 100.
So if you’re playing
in a tournament with ‘follow on’ starts and you’re
the 3rd match, with the 1st one beginning at 4pm you know you’ll
be walking on court some time between 5pm and 7pm. The worst case
scenario of this is if a player before you forfeits due to injury,
particularly early in the match. It creates the situation where
two matches can be over in 40 minutes. So it’s wise to be
ready at the courts early just in case something goes wrong.
is how long it takes to travel from the tournament hotel to the
venue. In Qatar the trip is around 10 minutes. The recent Qatar
Classic had the Women’s World Open held at the same time.
So there were two 32 draw tournaments being played simultaneously
on only three courts. Which meant for some long days and some absurd
scenarios with the follow on matches. When the first match is 1pm,
and you are the sixth match on, it makes it very difficult to work
out when to be down at the courts. This is tackled by frequent phone
calls to the tournament desk to get updates on the match progress.
We had some unnecessary heart flutters when the person manning the
squash desk at Qatar didn’t have a very good grasp of the
English language. At one stage when we didn’t expect to be
on court for at least an hour and a half, he told me that Kneipp’s
match was about to start. This obviously caused an immediate panic
attack wondering if we could race to the squash venue within the
allocated fifteen minutes. This turned out to be a false alarm.
In Antwerp the first
two rounds were played at a venue that was about 10 minutes drive
from the hotel. The Egyptian player Amr Shabana made an error when
working out the time of his first round match. He was relaxing in
his bed contemplating a short sleep when fellow Egyptian Omar Elborolossy
sent him a text message saying his match was starting. Shabana had
to be on court ready to play within 15 minutes.
Peak hour traffic in
Antwerp can be ridiculous. Easily a big enough problem that players
could be caught in a bad traffic jam and miss their match through
no direct fault of theirs. Obviously if Shabana has only left the
hotel at the start of his match, it would be no one’s fault
but his own if he was forced to forfeit.
But the organisers in
Antwerp have thought of everything. Instead of just having a simple
shuttle service that transports the players, they have involved
the local council and police. The player’s van is escorted
by two police motor cycles with sirens blaring and lights flashing.
They work in tandem so that one blocks off upcoming intersections
while the other stays with the vehicle so that it is nearly impossible
not to have a smooth traffic-free ride. This was how Shabana was
able to make his match with a few minutes to spare (although he
hurt his arm slightly from being poorly prepared).
I was playing in the
same tournament when it was considerably smaller a couple of years
ago. I lost my match and had returned to the hotel to shower and
stretch. I had made plans to meet a couple of mates for a beer back
at the venue. The only shuttle that was available also had the police
escort. I was the only person in the van. So the poor people of
Antwerp were being forced to pull their cars off the road and stop
at intersections so that I could be rushed through the traffic…
to meet some mates for a beer. I didn’t know whether to feel
embarrassed, or like I was an important dignitary. If there is a
better way to travel to meet some mates for a beer I don’t
know what it is.