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Socializing
With Your Opponent

 

Oct
1, 2003: by Team Kneipp (Kah-nipe)   [Complete
Team Kneipp Archive]
       

 

Joe Kneipp this week at the British
Open
photo © 2003 Fritz Borchert

I was watching a
television programme on Wimbledon just before leaving for the Spanish
Open earlier in the year. The story centred around how much the game of
tennis had changed over the years with the skyrocketing prize money and
how it has affected the interactions between players. With the advent
of monstrous pay cheques most players were able to start taking a small
entourage on tour with them and minimalise the interactions they had with
other players.

An old and long-retired
Wimbledon champion laughed about how in his day of playing, decades ago,
he shared a hotel room and a practice court with his final opponent. He
understandably couldn’t see today’s pro
being willing or understanding of having to do this.

It’s a regular
occurrence at squash tournaments.

Perhaps not such
close interactions as having to share a hotel room and a practice court
with your opponent for the final, but not so far away. In South Africa
last year for a $40 000 tournament David Palmer and John White shared
both a hotel room for the duration of the tournament, and a practice court
everyday including the morning before their final match against each other.

Virtually every player
travels by himself to tournaments. There’s the occasional appearance
of a player’s girlfriend or coach, but for the majority of tournaments
it is just the players. Which means you’re often interacting and
socialising with the person you’re about to play and there’s
often a tension surrounding this situation. Sometimes this is very obvious.

THE BRUSH
OFF

At the first tournament that Dan attended with me, I introduced him to
most of the players. On each day we had the same practice time, and each
day it was directly before the player that I was scheduled to meet in
the semi final. It was particularly obvious to Dan that on the morning
of the first round and quarter finals, the player was friendly and chatty
to us, but on the morning of the semi final when we were due to play each
other that evening, he didn’t even say ‘hello.’

If there isn’t
already tension because there’s lots of money and ranking points
on the line, a sudden reluctance to even talk will create it.

SILENT FLIGHT
I was flying to one of the big tournaments where I was a top 16 seed and
had a first round match against a player ranked outside of the top 20
who had never beaten me. We are usually reasonably cordial to each other
and have even attended a couple of social events together with mutual
friends. I didn’t think he would be happy with the draw for the
upcoming tournament and wouldn’t be looking forward to having to
play me in the first round. I hadn’t noticed yet, but it turned
out that we were on the same plane. I was sitting in my seat reading a
paper.

He walked past and
instead of stopping to say hi and chatting, he simply whacked the paper
as a way of acknowledging me. I was going to be his opponent and was therefore
the person standing in the way of more money and ranking points, and he
didn’t
want to be chatting or even grunting a proper hello because of that. This
tension usually abates quickly once players are out of the tournament
and having a drink by the pool.

A FRESH APPROACH
I was initially supposed to play a qualifier in the first
round of the Spanish Open
. Once Power withdrew and the draw was redone
my first round opponent became the Spanish wildcard entrant Borja Golan.
As of last season Borja played on my Dutch league team. He is a very promising
player that is friendly, relaxed and enjoyable to be around. He needed
to stay in Amsterdam one week after league, so he stayed at my place and
we took him to a friend’s party. We hadn’t known him long
but he seemed like someone that could easily become a good friend.

Emerging Spanish Pro Borje Gola
photo © 2003 Fritz Borchert

We arrived from Amsterdam
to Seville at the same time as Borja arrived on his domestic flight. He
was as friendly and jovial as usual. It seemed so strange to have this
normal interaction with the person I was to be playing in twenty-four
hours that Dan even asked Borja if he had seen the redraw and was aware
of who his upcoming opponent was. He had seen the redraw. After so many
years on the tour you get used to
the way certain things happen and this was a pleasant change.

My first round opponent
at the US Open was Jonathon Power.

In July we spent
five weeks training at Dartmouth College with John Power senior. This
training base meant that if I was able to beat Jonathon in Boston, it
would be because of the training time I had spent earlier with his dad.
I was really hoping to have the situation where I thanked John for helping
me beat Jonathon. It didn’t happen unfortunately.

 

Kneipp’s
SquashTalk Forum

Feedback:
if you would like to discuss our columns or introduce questions
or comments, please email us at dan@teamkneipp.com.
We will post the good comments and question here on our SquashTalk
column together with our responses. We hope to get a good dialogue
started!

 

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