Dec 18, 2003,
Lahore, Pakistan — [HH Third round report;
we’re playing this tournament in the "Islamic Republic of Pakistan."
The capital is Islamabad, the head of state is President General
Pervez Musharraf (who will be attending the final I believe) and
the population is around 136 million, made up of 95% Muslims. The
currency is the Pakistan Rupee, the national language is Urdu but
I’m assured the official language is English. The national flower
Why am I writing
this now? Because right now is a great time to be in Pakistan. Everything
feels better after a good win. Here is how the 3rd round panned
|Darwish – now meets Bianchetti
photo © Deb Tessier
Darwish (Egy) versus Olli Tuominen (Fin)
Darwish won the first two games fairly comfortably and made this
match look like it was going to be over fairly quickly. Olli was
struggling to read Darwish’s flicks and kept getting sent the wrong
way. He was also going for too much on his volleys short and kept
dramatically in the third. From the first rally Olli took control
and maintained it comfortably. Darwish had done a lot of work and
he was showing fatigue and rested during this game. 15-5 to Olli
in 13 minutes.
It was going
to be interesting in the fourth to see if Darwish had rested sufficiently
in the third and could close the match out. Olli is able to maintain
an incredible intensity throughout his matches and there wasn’t
going to be any doubts about his fitness. The first rally of this
game was great with Olli eventually picking up a backhand drop shot
and driving it down the wall. Darwish was standing behind Olli waiting
for the drive, but didn’t anticipate it to be hugging the wall.
He asked for a let, expecting a stroke. I thought it should be no
let. Olli immediately screamed out at the ref "No way! No let!
I’m not in the way!." Then he quickly smothered his mouth with
his hand mumbling, "Sorry. Sorry. I’ll be quiet." Even
the ref couldn’t help laughing (and he appropriately gave no let).
just been resting in the 3rd game, he was genuinely very tired and
again struggled to keep up with Olli’s pace. He lost the fourth
in similar fashion to the third, 15-7 in 15 minutes.
in the deciding set what had been a great match was marred by Darwish’s
blocking and a ref that wasn’t aware of it. Olli was getting very
frustrated with the situation, and quite often it was simple let
situations where Darwish created contact and a naïve ref judged
no let. Darwish won the game and the place in the quarter finals
by five points,15-10, but there were a lot more than five bad decisions
throughout the game that were determined by blocking and incorrect
refereeing. It was a disappointing end to a great game of squash.
 Karim Darwish
(EGY) bt  Olli Tuominen (FIN) 15-8, 15-8, 5-15, 7-15, 15-10
Lincou (Fra) versus Tommy Berden (Ned)
has established himself over the last couple of years because of
his constant pressure and intensity. He isn’t a player that will
hit a lot of winners, but he will maintain constant pressure, track
every ball down, volley everything he can from the T using his strong
body and play text book squash. Although Lincou can play great squash
at a high intensity, he is still more of a defensive player. Watch
him compared to Palmer, White, Shabana etc and it is very obvious.
Dutchman Tommy Berden is also a defensive player. Darwish and Olli
had played some wonderful squash at an incredibly intense pace,
so Lincou and Berden’s match seemed like it was in slow motion in
contrast. I haven’t seen either bloke playing so nervously or tentatively
before. They both seemed like they were thinking too much about
the fact that a berth in the quarter finals of the World Open was
at stake. Both players were padding the ball around, making more
mistakes than usual and struggling to pick up balls that they would
normally have gotten to easily. The rallies were short and riddled
hesitant saying a match is bad or that players have put in a bad
performance so I sought opinions from others. When three players,
the winner of the match, a reporter and the tournament director
all say it was bad squash, then I can safely print it without feeling
like I’m being mean.
the lead in each game but couldn’t close any games out, going down
in three. If Berden had played to his normal standard he would have
won this match. During the 1st game Berden got a really bad stroke.
It was a bad call and Berden yelled out (without any malice or directed
aggression) "Absolutely not!" He got a conduct warning
for this. During the game break Joe couldn’t resist questioning
the ref on what the hell that was about. The decision, and the ref’s
explanation for it made no sense.
Joe was convinced
that Lincou’s performance could only be explained by either a really
bad injury or extreme nerves. I asked Thierry after the match if
he was injured. He told me, "Yes. Badly injured in the head."
Lincou (FRA) bt Tommy Berden (NED) 17-16, 15-13, 15-12 (44m)
Kneipp (Aus) versus John White (Sco)
interesting how different players prefer playing different people.
Most people hate playing John White. He’s a nightmare to compete
against. But we grew up in neighbouring cities to Whitey in Australia
(Cairns and Townsville – four hours apart, neighbouring by Australian
standards). They played each other in juniors, at the Australian
Institute of Sport, in leagues and in PSA. Joe likes playing Whitey
and was happy with the draw at this tournament. Very few people
like playing Whitey.
very entertaining when these two play, but I think Joe is good at
neutralising John’s arsenal. Whitey didn’t play his best squash
today, but Joe had a particularly good match as the scoreline indicates.
Kneipp (AUS) bt  John White (SCO) 15-11, 17-14, 15-3 (43m)
Shabana (Egy) beat David Palmer (Aus)
|Bianchetti – another timely
photo © www.davidebianchetti.com
A lot has been
said of Palmer’s injury. His movement isn’t 100%, but only under
extreme duress is it obvious. He can play virtually to his normal
standard if the rally isn’t at top pace. Unfortunately it’s hard
to play Shabana without going at top pace. Palmer was able to make
the quarterfinals of Qatar without being a hundred percent, but
that was possible because of his awesome racquet skills that meant
he didn’t have to rally too much, instead going for winners. He
made the mistake in the first game of rallying too much. Shabana
went to a 9-6 lead and extended that to 15-10 win.
struggling lunging into the forehand corners, playing off his right
leg, but following through with his left leg to push off, instead
of using his right leg. Palmer played with his injury in Qatar,
but obviously had to protect it, not putting complete weight on
the injury. This is the World Open. There is no reason to protect
an injury. All of the players would happily spend the next six months
on the sidelines with an injury if it meant winning this trophy.
to realise the injury couldn’t be protected, and that he had to
go for his shots. He came out firing in the 2nd and it worked. If
there was any doubt about Shabana’s eagerness to win this match,
diving at 0-0 in the 2nd was a good indication. Regardless of this
effort Palmer won the game 15-8 in 15 minutes.
normally a very cool and relaxed player. Palmer is usually very
focussed and intense about winning, and both players benefit from
there playing attitudes. Shabana was anything but relaxed during
this match. He was unhappy with reffing decision and unusually intense
on court. Palmer as the defending champion obviously had a lot to
lose in the match and had no hesitation pointing out any things
he disagreed with.
With so much
at stake, and Palmer’s restricted movement probably playing a part
in greater physical contact, there were a lot of points determined
by reffing decisions. Shabana wasn’t happy with the decisions. Palmer
was extremely unhappy with the decision. I agreed with some of their
complaints, but not a lot of them. It would have been a nightmare
of a match to try to adjudicate. Strokes were very common.
the 3rd 15-5 in under ten minutes.
At 2-3 to Shabana
in the 3rd Palmer argued another decision. He was told by the ref
that he had to stop disputing everything. He promptly argued that
and received a conduct stroke. This stopped the discourse between
both players and the ref, but not points being decided by a bloke
outside the court. Stroke 4-2. Stroke 4-3. Stroke 5-3. Stroke 5-5.
No let 5-6. Stroke 7-6.
I think you
get the point.
The score moved
along with Shabana hitting a backhand drop shot that hugged the
wall to take the score to 14-10. He had match ball against the World
Champion David Palmer. No! He had four or five match balls! Surely
he couldn?t blow this and miss out on a place in the quarter finals.
Surely he couldn?t screw up probably the most important match of
his life from such an important position. Unfortunately these thoughts,
or something similar went through Shabana’s mind and he self destructed.
Let’s not take
away from the squash brilliance of Palmer (injury-free no one is
in his playing category at the moment). He faced match balls last
year at the World Open and went on to win the trophy. He wasn’t
going to just lie down and hand this victory to Shabana. He played
sensible, intense squash and waited to see what his opponent would
do. Make errors was what the Egyptian did.
out; 14-11 match ball.
shot tin; 14-12 match ball.
shot tin; 14-13 match ball
another drop shot tin; 14-14.
Even a conservative
player should call set 1 in this situation. It does give your opponent
game ball, but most importantly it creates another match ball. In
Qatar two weeks ago Shabana was down 2 games to love against Nicol,
blew a 14-9 lead in the third, but still called set 1 despite it
giving Nicol a match ball (Shabana slapped a cross court nick winner
off the serve). For some bloody strange reason he called set 3 here.
Palmer would have been very glad at this decision and comfortably
won the next three points to level the games.
a head explosion it was going to be interesting how Shabana was
going to deal with the 5th. If he thought about his lost chance
it would guarantee that he lost. He came out firing. There was some
great squash, still a lot of points determined by the ref and a
growing lead by Shabana. He went to a 9-2 lead when Palmer walked
off court for an injury time out. Obviously he has a leg problem.
The rules are that you can take a three minute time out for an injury
provided it isn’t an existing injury. The injury has to occur during
the match. The ref wouldn’t allow Palmer to take the break. This
was a difficult situation. Palmer pointed out that there are three
adductor muscles, that he pulled one prior to this tournament, and
one right now. He questioned how the ref could determine the difference.
Most opponents would be annoyed in this situation if the injured
player was allowed a break. I don’t doubt Palmer’s word, but it
is a difficult call for a ref. Palmer didn’t get the break and Shabana
closed the match out 15-2.
 Amr Shabana
(EGY) bt  David Palmer (AUS) 15-10, 8-15, 15-5, 14-17, 15-2 (68m)
Ricketts (Aus) versus Mohammed Abbas (Egy)
was one of the most incredible drop shot hitting, lunging, counterdropping,
frantic rally-fests I have ever seen. Abbas has an awesome backhand.
It is strong and deceptive. He was shooting like crazy with his
backhand drops. They didn’t work at first and was a determining
factor in why he lost the first game. But once they did start working
the fireworks in this game started. Ricketts is incredibly hungry.
He wants to win so badly. He will run and chase and hurt and push
and scramble. It’s an incredible attribute that you can’t teach
someone. So Abbas was shooting for winners, and Ricketts was picking
everything up and counterdropping. Both of these boys can cover
the court well and it meant for a ridiculous number of rallies that
had breathtaking exchanges based around the front with both doing
incredible counterdrops, flicks and smashes that the other guy would
keep in play with incredible reflexes.
this match in four, but there wasn’t much between the two. It was
incredibly entertaining squash. They could have both played more
length, but the exchanges at the front were a joy to watch.
Ricketts (AUS) bt  Mohammed Abbas (EGY) 15-11, 15-13, 11-15,
Bianchetti (Ita) beat Gregory Gaultier (Fra)
upset was great for one reason. It means that Bianchetti’s victory
over Peter Nicol will get the respect it deserves. Sure Bianchetti
himself has said that Nicol was playing below his normal impeccable
standard, but Bianchetti must have been playing great squash to
take advantage of the situation, and continue the good form to beat
Bianchetti (ITA) bt  Gregory Gaultier (FRA) 15-12, 15-14, 5-15,
5-15, 15-7 (105m)
was too strong for an error-prone Taylor and Nick Matthew continued
his incredible month that will see his ranking go from mid 20s in
December to about 11 or better for January.
 Lee Beachill (ENG) bt  Nick Taylor (ENG) 15-7, 15-7, 15-6
 Nick Matthew
(ENG) bt  Renan Lavigne (FRA) 15-11, 15-8, 15-13 (46m)
We now have
two Australians (Ricketts and Kneipp), two Egyptian (Shabana and
Darwish), two Englishmen (Beachill and Matthew), an Italian and
a Frenchman left fighting for the World Championship.