Open at Nottingham’s Venerable Albert Hall
photo © 2003 Fritz Borchert
When you’re a professional athlete and have complications from surgery
to remove your appendix, this isn’t merely an inconvenience. The
easiest way of learning what muscles are required for everyday, mundane
movements is injure
a specific muscle or get sliced open. Suddenly simple tasks like opening
jar and tying your shoelaces require Herculean effort because of the pain.
Normally if a top
squash player is unable to get on court to train, then alternatives like
running, swimming, cycling, yoga or gym work will be used as a replacement.
Try doing any of those activities with stitches in your belly button –
not possible! This was the scenario that faced Palmer when he had an emergency
appendicitis in February. He was out of action longer than expected and
it seemed reasonable to expect his return to form to be gradual. I expected
his ranking and tournament results to suffer because of the injury. His
ability to return to top form quickly has been incredible.
Compare how long
it took Simon Parke to return from injury last year. Palmer’s second
British Open championships means that he is the most successful Australian
player since Geoff Hunt and along with Nicol the only current player to
hold two British Open titles.
Nicol had a form slump in the middle of the year. He went three tournaments
without making a final, losing in the semis of Qatar, the semis of Spain
and the quarters of his own English Open. We sometimes receive negative
emails complaining about who we consider has had a bad tournament. It’s
relative to the player’s ranking and how far they’re expected
to progress in the tournament. Nicol’s ranking means he is expected
to be in the final of the tournament and his performance history and competitiveness
means that he expects no less himself. Winning the US Open recently and
battling to the
final of the British Open has surely shown that he’s at peak form
His semi final match
against Power was incredible. Anyone who knows anything about squash would
have considered the match was over half-way through the third set when
Power was just toying with him, giving him a painful tour of the court’s
corners. Nicol seemed so physically spent that I would have bet the family
farm on Power winning the match. It was an incredible match that led to
one of the gutsiest comebacks I have ever seen.
Watch the boy become a man. Willstrop thrashed the opposition last year
on the way to cementing the World Junior title as hot favourite. There
have been some incredible juniors that have quickly made the transition
to the senior rank, but Willstrop seems to have extra expectations and
attention placed upon him. A year after Beng Hee won the World Junior
title in 1998 his ranking was still only in the 70s. 2000 was the year
Karim Darwish won the title. That year he made a dramatic climb from 128
to 38 in the men’s
world ranking. When he won the title he was ranked 49. Both of these players
are now in the top 10.
ranking at the same stage was better than both of them – 40. There
have been a couple of world junior champions that haven’t been able
to replicate the same level of success on the senior
stage. Finland’s 1992 champion Juha Raumolin (victory over Power)
and Egypt’s 1996 winner Ahmed Faizy (victory over Boswell) being
the obvious examples. Willstrop has shown that he isn’t going to
have any difficulties dealing with PSA events. For Palmer to win the 2003
British Open he had to defeat Amr Shabana (#12), Olli Tuominen (#30),
Anthony Ricketts (#6) and Peter Nicol (#1).
Willstrop only made
the quarter finals but to get there had to play more matches than Palmer.
He had a comfortable first round qualifying victory, then wins over Renan
Lavigne (#26) and Simon Parke (#16)
in the 2nd and 3rd round of qualifying then Joe Kneipp (#13) in the first
round of the main draw. It took an inform-Power to defeat him in the quarter
The Finn has spent the whole year ranked between 20 and 30 and has struggled
to get his ranking back to the high teens where he was for all of 2002.
A ranking jump can’t be too far off. His form so far this year has
been consistent and impressive. At the Tournament of Champions he had
to qualify, drew Palmer in the first round and got within two points of
winning after leading 2-0. At the English Open he again qualified successfully,
but failed to beat Nicol, his first round match-up.
At the US Open he
again qualified against the odds, taking out Mark Chaloner and Nick Taylor
along the way, but again drew Palmer in the first round and was unable
to beat him.
At the British Open
he had three rounds of qualifying and beat both Davide Bianchetti and
Adrian Grant. This time he was finally able to continue in the main draw
with a straight sets victory over Ong Beng Hee. Touminen will find his
work considerably easier once he can get his ranking below 24 and doesn’t
have to qualify as much.
Ricketts has found the consistency that is so important at the pinnacle
of this sport. He has now beaten McWhitey twice out of their three encounters
over the past year and got within a few points of beating Palmer in the
semis. He is always very intense on court and struggles to control his
verbal outbursts and interactions with the umpire. When I saw him play
he was on the receiving end of some terrible decisions, but like Palmer
he always seems to play his best squash when he doesn’t let this
There have only been 19 men that have won the British Open since it began
72 years old. Four of those men have won the tournament in the past five
years (Power 1999, Evans 2000, Palmer 2001 and Nicol 2002). Evans decided
not to attend this year’s event because of the small draw and ludicrously
competition (this tournament should have been too small to attract such
a strong field, but the prestige of having a British Open title understandably
Evans decided to
forgo the British Open to play a very small (super satellite) tournament
in Qatar. He won the tournament and the 105 points on offer. His current
ranking means that he wasn’t expected to
qualify in Nottingham (first round points were 100). I understand that
he probably made a smarter business decision, but it’s still a shame
when a former champion still ranked in the top 40 isn’t willing
to step into the ring.
Aaaarrggghh. What’s going on? Am I still capable of winning a squash
It’s been a
while since I was at the latter part of a tournament. My first round loss
makes it three poor results in a row. I’m going to tackle this issue
in a separate article, providing I don’t retire and become a
hydroponic lettuce farmer between now and then.
He has lost in the first round of the past two tournaments. Ask a top
player about lucky draws and unlucky draws. If you’re a player sitting
on the fringe of an important ranking (just outside the top 8, or 12,
or 16, or 24) then the deciding factor that helps you break that barrier
can be a lucky draw. Bengy has had a ridiculous run of good draws. Consider
this – statistically a top player should get a qualifier every second
So far this year
Bengy had a qualifier at the Tournament of Champions, a qualifier at the
Spanish Open, a wildcard at the English Open (even better than a qualifier),
a qualifier at the US Open, and another first round qualifier at the British
Open. At the next tournament on the calendar the Canadian Open sure enough
Bengy has another qualifier. Obviously as he and I have shown over the
past few tournaments getting a qualifier isn’t always such an easy
ride into the next round, but in theory it should make it
I was unsure whether to consider this tournament a success or a failure
for Power. Obviously the semi finals of the British Open is a good result,
and what is expected of the player ranked 5 in the world and seeded fourth
at the tournament. But I know he was disappointed with the result and
that to determine where I put him. He was impressive in despatching Willstrop
in the quarters, and incredible in his domination of Nicol. I was watching
the match with Simon Parke and he said it was very similar to a few years
ago when Power went through a long streak of dominating Nicol. He was
particularly good and keeping the ball on Nicol’s backhand, often
catching him out of position and forcing him to reach awkwardly behind
himself to dig the ball out. But he somehow managed to lose from a position
that seemed unloseable. It wasn’t just a case of Nicol’s incredible
determination, but also some impatience and wrong shot selection by Power
at crucial points.
interesting issue regarding Power’s attire. He brought out his own
brand of shoes last year, and has now begun to look at a clothing range
titled ‘dive guy’. Most people would have seen the famous
picture from the 1998 Commonwealth Games where Power is completely horizontal
only inches from the floor in a dramatic effort to retrieve a ball towards
the end of the match. It’s one of the best squash photos I have
Power has since changed
racquet and shoe brands, so the photo doesn’t have the marketing
value that it did then, but he has used a silhouette of the photo as his
logo (hence dive guy). There are only a handful of players that regularly
dive during matches – Power, McWhite and Boswell are the main ones.
The amount of diving that happened in the Power/Nicol semi final was ridiculous.
I began to wonder if prior to his match Power had been watching the start
of some Olympic swimming events, or his new clothes were inspiring him
to create better marketing. You can’t have ‘dive guy’
without lots of diving. He didn’t disappoint.
There is a side issue to this topic that only a few people would have
noticed. Power’s new clothes looked great, but could possibly land
him with a PSA fine. The clothing requirements for PSA tournaments are
very rigidly defined and includes a collared shirt, something that Power
didn’t have. I understand the principle behind this, but feel the
PSA is forcing a uniform that isn’t ideal for either movement or
marketing. The women have different clothing restrictions (a comment about
a thong would be appropriate here).
Have a look at the
women’s playing attire and no one is playing in a top that has sleeves.
If you have a sport that requires a ludicrous amount of shoulder turning,
swinging and stretching, it wouldn’t make sense to have anything
possibly restricting your arm or shoulder. Obviously the argument against
the men being allowed to play in singlets is that it would look less professional.
Tennis allows it and they’re a hell of a lot more professional than
our sport. Carlos Moya can usually be seen playing his tennis matches
Which brings me to
the second issue. There’s three main codes of ‘football’
played in Australia (not counting soccer). Rugby League is played mainly
in Queensland and New South Wales by the working class. Rugby Union is
played mainly in Queensland and NSW and is predominantly an elite game
played only at private schools. Aussie Rules is played mainly in the other
states, particularly Victoria and is less class-orientated. Marketing
analysts have spent a lot of time trying to work out why Aussie Rules
ridiculously strong female fan based compared to the other codes. One
of the answers that is constantly cited is the way Aussie Rules markets
their players. To play at the elite level you need to have the physique
similar to that of a triathlete or male gymnast. Unlike the two Rugby
codes Aussie Rules takes advantage of this by enforcing uniforms that
are minimal in size and bagginess, and expose the players legs and arms.
Compare that to squash.
We have arguably the fittest men in the world running around in a glass
box in front of a big crowd, but all the crowd can actually see other
than moving clothing, is the player’s forearms, calves and head.
Changing the uniforms to allow for sleeveless playing shirts similar to
what Carlos Moya plays in will not only give the players greater arm movement
on court, but couldn’t do any harm in attracting and keeping a young
female fan base.
ridiculously high level of female uni students was well represented at
the British Open. The ones that I met were paying a lot more attention
to what the players looked like and were wearing, not their game strategy
and forehand technique.
Lost to Ricketts in the quarters, for the second successive tournament.
His current career best of #2 in the world this month will help soften
Ten countries were represented in the British Open qualifying tournament
– Australia, Belgium, England, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands,
Pakistan, and Wales. Only Finland’s Touminen prevented the English
taking all prisoners on the way to the main round. Of the seven Pakistanis
qualifying only one made it past the first round. What was disappointing
was that there were three empty spaces in the qualifying tournament, and
no Egyptians, Scots or Canadians able to take advantage of it.
A sensationalist article by a table tennis player who seems to have a
grudge against squash and a reason for belittling our sport made for poor
journalism. I wonder in this case if ‘any news is good news’
considering the current struggle to get our sport to the print media.
The newspaper in question would have quickly learnt that squash has one
of the most dedicated and fanatical base of fans of any sport. I’ve
often said that I think a lot of squash people are virtually religious
in their attitude towards the sport
– you either love the game and feel a need to convert other people
to it, or it’s not your cup of tea.
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