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One Highlights in Qatar

by Dan Kneipp

November 30, 2003, ©2003, SquashTalk

The recent World Team Championships in Vienna had a smorgasbord
of squash in the pool stages, but it was hard to find a good close match.
This tournament poses a different problem. There are so many good matches
that you have to choose what to watch and when. Aside from Joe’s game
I followed a couple of matches that presented upset possibilities and
enjoyable squash.

Kneipp versus Alex Gough

We’ve been going through a pretty bad slump lately, but leading up to
this tournament we worked out what was wrong, has some excellent training
sessions and a nice league victory over a top 10 player. So we came to
this tournament quietly confident of having a good tournament – or at
least of playing better.

Kneipp on the rebound?
photo © 2003 Debra Tessier

Gough’s results of
late at PSA
haven’t been wonderful, but he’s a player that can never be underestimated.
One of the top WISPA players asked me yesterday who Joe had in the first
round. When I replied Gough her response was "Gees, it’s straight
into the tough matches". I think the current depth in the women’s
game is similar to how the men were in the 80s and early 90s where upsets
in the first round weren’t as common and the top players often didn’t
get extremely hard matches until the quarters or semis. Obviously this
isn’t always the case, but ask any of the men and there really isn’t such
a thing as an easy first round match.

Joe started this
match well winning the first three points comfortably and completely dictating
the rallies. I was hoping that is would set the tone for the rest of the
match, but Gough immediately turned things around and controlled the T
for the next four points. The scores were close until 7-7. Gough is very
strong at the front of the court. He is the only player in the game that
uses a forehand topspin drop shot, and when it works it is lethal. Joe
stopped going short too much and began using the lob very effectively
and had Gough doing a ridiculous amount of work. From 7-7 Joe pulled away
and didn’t allow the Welshman to win another point in the game.

In the second Gough
was obviously still tired, the two-minute break obviously not making a
huge difference. There were some long, hard rallies early on, and despite
Gough controlling plenty of these, Joe was fresher and it was affecting
the Welshman more. Joe got a big lead and Gough began guessing shots and
the rallies became shorter as Joe finished reasonably comfortably, 15-6.

In the third Joe
went to a 9-2 lead, then Gough unexpectedly shook hands and conceded the
match. He said he woke up feeling bad and was even having trouble focussing
between points. He didn’t have food poisoning or similar symptoms, but
wasn’t 100%, and court sprints don’t help in that situation.

versus Abbas.

Mo Abbas handled Ricketts
photo © 2003 Debra Tessier

While there aren’t
any easy matches in the first round, there are definitely some where the
outcome seems more obvious than others. This match while promising to
be tough would seem like a certain win to Ricketts. If there is ever a
good example of mental preparation for a tournament, this was it. Abbas
was playing Dutch league a couple of weeks ago. He is on Tommy Berden’s
team and they got to talking about the draw for this tournament. Tommy
understandably expected Abbas to be unhappy with his draw. If you have
the possibility of getting any player in the top 16, number 6 in the world
isn’t great. Instead of being disappointed Abbas told Tommy he thought
it was a good draw and he was happy to play Ricketts. This is a strange
reaction when playing one of the most consistent players over the past
18 months. But Abbas was confident before the match and took that attitude
on court and was able to cause an upset in four games 12/15-15/7-15/10-15/11..

Mansoor Zaman
versus Olli Tuominen
when I come to this tournament to work with Joe I stay at the tournament
hotel. For this year’s event I am enjoying the wonderful hospitality of
a Finnish family that have been keenly following Qatar’s tournaments for
years. Finnish player Olli Tuominen normally stays with them even when
he has made his way through the qualifying tournament and reached the
main draw (which is when the hotel bonus kicks in).

So, as I was enjoying
the hospitality normally reserved solely for Olli, I watched this match
as a fringe supporter with the relatively large Finnish support group.
Perhaps four supporters isn’t so large, but the desert of Doha is a long
way physically and meteorologically from Helsinki, and you’d be surprised
at the amount of noise these four Finns made. Around twenty percent of
Doha’s population originates from Pakistan and there were a lot of Pakistanis
present at the match supporting Mansoor, but they struggled to drown out
the noise of the Finnish crowd.

These two started
wonderfully with some long tough rallies. Mansoor is left-handed and holds
the ball well and likes to hit winners. Olli’s game strengths can vary
but when he’s playing well he often gets to lots of shots that seem like
they should be winners and then hits a well placed shot or hits the ball
surprisingly hard from an odd position. They both played well and the
first game progressed with Mansoor maintaining a slight lead. Olli caught
him at 9-9 and then 12-12. Mansoor should give coaching lessons on how
to hit a working boast – his are spectacular. He was playing these so
they hit the front wall just above the tin and forced Olli to lunge right
into the corners to cut the ball off before it bounced twice before the
side wall or into the nick.

Unfortunately for
the Pakistani Olli was not only able to lunge to these, but was giving
a good demonstration on how to hit a great drop shot from a lunging position.
It’s a pretty basic concept that if your opponent boasts you, he’s normally
in the back of the court so that if you then hit a drop shot he is forced
to run the longest length of the court, whereas you only had to move from
the T. Despite Mansoor’s great boasts, Olli’s drop shots were causing
the Pakistani to run more and he was showing early signs of fatigue.

From 12-12 Mansoor
got to 14 first, but on his first game ball Olli hit a forehand overhead
crosscourt that rolled out of the nick. Mansoor had one more chance but
made an error to level the score. Both players hit winners to go 15-15,
then the Fin hit a back hand drop shot winner to get his first game ball.
During the next rally there was a weird interference. Mansoor hit a bad
cross court from the backhand front that sprayed into the middle, but
as he moved back to get ready for Olli?s shot there was a strange contact
that left Olli on the ground, but still able to hit the ball as he fell,
only straight back at himself for an obvious stroke. The contact seemed
light but Olli was on the ground for a while, and then tried to explain
to the ref that Mansoor had stood on his foot causing him to fall and
deserved a let. It was difficult to see the actual contact, but it was
obvious that something happened and Olli?s explanation at this point made
sense and should have warranted the ref to change his ‘no let’ decision.
Olli isn’t one of the player’s that would lie in this situation. The ref
stuck with his decision and Olli was forced to play on, his injury seeming
insignificant. I found out later that it had hurt him considerably and
from that point on he was unable to lunge properly on his right leg, but
he did a good job of concealing it from the crowd, and more importantly
his opponent. At 16-16 Mansoor hit a disappointing forehand drive into
the tin giving the crucial first game up.

The second game was
a virtual walkover with Olli going from 5-2 to 15-3 in a few minutes.
Mansoor was simply trying to hit nicks off the serves and wasn’t willing
to rally.

This changed completely
in the third. He was still going for nicks, but now he was happy to back
them up with more shots and rallies. Olli made more mistakes and Mansoor
took the game 15-10.

In the fourth Mansoor
went to a 6-1 lead, but couldn’t stop the Finn from winning the next 8
points. These points were a mixture of winners from Olli and errors from
Mansoor who was too impatient when it counted. The scores slowly progressed
with Olli reaching 14-11 and match ball. Perfect length from Mansoor saved
the first match ball, then a cross court nick attempt from Olli should
have rolled, but popped up a tiny bit, just enough for Mansoor to lunge
to it and hit a wonderful counter drop winner and save the second match
ball. The Pakistani then hit a backhand drop winner to level the score
at 14-14. Olli sensibly called set 1 to give himself another match ball.
The word tuominen in Finnish can mean numerous things including a present
or gift. There was no present or gift for the Pakistani fans as Olli hit
a forehand volley drop shot to win the match. He was particularly happy
with this result because the injury he sustained in the first game was
quite bad and he thought Mansoor would notice and exploit it.

Amr Shabana
versus Shahier Razik
we said in the preview these men both play lovely squash, are gentlemen
on court and very good friends off court. As expected it was good, clean
squash of a high standard.

Of the two players
Shabana is more known for his winners, but someone forgot to tell Razik
as he started the match with a forehand winner, a backhand volley cross
court nick, and an 8-4 lead. Razik doesn’t blast the ball, instead preferring
to use well placed and well weighted shots to force the other guy as deep
into each corner. This soft touch allows him to aim well and keep the
ball nice and tight.

Shabana is one of
the best players at holding and delaying the ball and was able to use
this to slowly claw his way back into the game, eventually catching Razik
at 13, then winning the next two points for the first game.

The score was again
close in the second. At 9-8 to Shabana he hit a backhand (he’s left handed)
overhead cross court nick that Razik was able to get to comfortably, but
it rolled out of the nick and between his legs. Never a fun point to be
on the receiving end of. Perhaps this demoralised Razik, or more likely
it encouraged Shabana who pulled away for a 15-9 second game victory.

The third game was
similar with Shabana winning it 15-11 and taking the match, but these
games could have gone either way and there was little difference in the
standard of play. As expected this was an enjoyable match to watch.
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